Vegan Meal Prep, a cookbook review

Meal prep is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I’m often prepping 4 days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Sundays.  I try to go for meatless for breakfast and lunch, mostly because I know that I should amp up my vegetable intake in general.  You would think about after three years of meal prep (more or less) that I’d have it down to a science, but I really don’t.

Breakfasts tend to be the same recipe, week after week, until I can’t stand it anymore.  Lunches can go either way. They are variations of the same basic recipe or simple-but-new-to-me recipes.  Dinner is the one meal that I give myself more time and freedom for experimenting. I’m often flipping through recipes all week long, trying to decide what I am willing and wanting to make that weekend.  And sometimes, I end up in a mild panic and just use a tried-and-true recipe when I’m too indecisive and running out of time.

I’ve always wanted a cookbook that did all the thinking for me, which led me to pick up a review copy of Vegan Meal Prep by Robin Asbell.  Asbell’s latest cookbook is basically detailed step-by-step meal prep instructions, from start to finish.

The book is split into three major sections.  “Setting Yourself Up for Success: Five Weeks of Vegan Meals” is the first section.  The highlight in this section, in my opinion, is Vegan Nutrition Basics. Asbell is pretty detailed: listing sources of protein, omega-3, calcium, iron, and zinc.  It’s a pretty good one stop reference if you’re fully vegan.

The second section is “Meal Prep 101: Planning, Shopping, and Prepping.”  This is where you’ll find the overview of the five week meal plan, shopping lists, and the prepping instructions for each week.

The third section is “Let’s Get Cooking! 125 Vegan Recipes”, which is broken down into these chapters.

  • Vegan Staples
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Salads, Dressing, and Sides
  • Desserts and Snacks

Here are the recipes that I’m most interested in trying:

  • Whole Grain Baking Mix
  • Lemon Pecan Muffins with Apricot Cashew Spread
  • Smoky Tempeh Taco Meat
  • Sweet Potato Chickpea Cakes
  • Barley with Vanilla Apples and Spiced Sweet Potato
  • Blueberry Breakfast Squares
  • Farro and Kimchi Bowls with Kale and Sesame Dressing
  • Farro Salad with Apricots, Carrots, and Spinach
  • Tempeh, Brown Rice, and Roasted Veggie Wraps
  • Tempeh Pasta Salad with Tomato and Avocado
  • Black Bean and Sweet Potato Curry
  • Black Bean and Squash Chili with Dumplings
  • Matcha-Glazed Pistachio Blondies
  • Peanut Butter Raisin Cookies

The things I liked most upon first impressions were the tips, variations, and “to pack for lunch” blurbs that frequently show up on corners of the recipe pages.  I also like how the ingredient lists are generally not intimidating nor filled with hard to find items.

The only critiques I have are two.  I wish nutritional information were listed.  I’ve seen other meal prep books that do. But for the purpose of mixing and matching for people who might be trying to watch their sugar intake, etc., it would be handy to have.  The other issue I have is the order of the recipe section. The whole book is planned around the five week meal plan/schedule but the recipes are in order by course. At least within each course type chapter, recipes are back in order by schedule and marked with which week/day the recipe belongs to.  If you’re planning to mix and match, then recipes ordered by course type makes sense. But I think if you’re planning to use the book as written, then having the recipes ordered by course type makes less sense.

In neither a “pro” nor a “con” comment, all of the recipes are meant to make about 4 servings.  So while I had originally planned on following a full week of recipes for this review, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t feasible for me.  I am not trying to feed a family of four (But you might be!),

I ended up testing two recipes: Baked Marinated Tempeh, and Breakfast Protein Cookies with Dates and Pistachios.

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Breakfast cookies

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Both were easy to make.  I’ve made breakfast cookies before but it never occurred to me to use dates and pistachios.  I tend to use a lot of raisins. (In fact, I didn’t have time to get dates for this recipe so I used golden raisins which I think are milder in raisin flavor than the more familiar thompson seedless raisins.  Please don’t hate me for substituting.)  The cookies have good protein content, due to the sneaky addition of tofu, and don’t taste too sweet.  Having said that, the cookies actually use more sweetener than my typical baked oatmeal, and I don’t think you can reduce it as the maple syrup acts as part of the wet ingredients.  (Well, maybe you could increase the tofu?  Maple syrup and tofu are the only wet ingredients in this recipe.  Vanilla doesn’t count.  And like I said, it doesn’t taste too sweet so would reducing the sweetener be a futile exercise?)  The portion size is 3 cookies, and it seems to mostly sate my morning hunger.  (But I have a really high appetite in the mornings.  Sometimes I want more food.  Your mileage may vary.)

I liked the baked marinated tempeh too.  It never occurred to me to use apple juice as part of the marinade before.  I decided to mix up the baked tempeh with leftover marinade (which I cooked with cornstarch thinking i could use it as a sauce) and some cauliflower rice.  The natural tempeh flavor was not too strong in this recipe, so I think I’ll use it again in the near future. (However, the cooked marinade plus cauliflower tasted like… fish?  It’s a subtle enough flavor that I will push through it, but yeah, I’m never doing that combination again. lol!)

Overall, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to do more meal prepping, want a reasonable food budget, and have more than one mouth to feed.  Oh, and if you’re just trying to up your veggie intake (like me). I do have the minor reservations as listed above, but that might not bother you as much as it does me.

 

Reference Link:

https://www.robertrose.ca/book/vegan-meal-prep-5-week-plan-125-ready-go-recipes

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Robert Rose for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

 

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One Hour Dairy Free Cheese, a cookbook review

I have a weird fascination with faux cheeses.  In case you’re not sure what I’m referring to, I mean products made with nuts and nutritional yeast, and label themselves as cheese for people who are vegan or dairy free.  It might be because, while I like cheese, I am not obsessed with it. I have friends who can eat nothing but cheese for days and they’d be happy.  Me? Not so much. I like mozzarella and queso fresco, but I’m not interested in feta and really dislike goat cheese.

To be fair though, it’s less of an obsession and more of a “how close does this taste like the real thing?” curiosity.  Or maybe even, “could I like this better than the real thing?”  (I would love a goat cheese replacement that I liked.)

I’ve made faux cream cheese and faux grated parmesan, both of which were really tasty and I plan to make again.  But this time around, I thought I’d try a Claudia Lucero recipe.

First of all, Lucero is a cheese maker of the traditional kind.  I didn’t realize until I had a copy of her new book in my hands, One Hour Dairy Free Cheese, that she’s also the author of One Hour Cheese, a book that I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of (and has been sitting on my Amazon wish list for over a year now).    I won’t lie, her background makes me want to experiment with her faux cheese recipes even more! In my head, I think if a cheese maker can make a faux cheese that she’s proud enough to put into print, then surely the recipe has some merit.

Here’s a quick rundown of the book.  The chapters are divided between:

  • Chapter 1 – The Basics: Equipment, Ingredients, and More
  • Chapter 2 – Wheels, Blocks, and Rounds
  • Chapter 3 – Melts and Dips
  • Chapter 4 – Schmears and Spreads
  • Chapter 5 – Shakes and Grates
  • Chapter 6 – Inst-Cheeses
  • Chapter 7 – Just for Fun
  • Chapter 8 – Make It Yours
  • Chapter 9 – Basic Fermentation
  • Chapter 10 – Bonus Cultured and Aged Cheeses
  • Chapter 11 – Cheese Platter Pairings

One of my favorite features of the book is that every recipe seems to include substitutions, variations, and follow-up recipes.  For example, the ingredients for the Lemon Garlic Feta are listed as blanched almond flour, water or dairy free yogurt, sauerkraut, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, tapioca starch, red wine vinegar, sea salt, garlic, oregano, white pepper, lemon zest, and agar agar.  Don’t have almond flour? Lucero offers ideas for using almond slivers, cashews, macadamia, or sunflowers instead. No sauerkraut? Fake it with onion and lactic acid. No nutritional yeast? Still not a problem, because you can use garlic, tahini, or miso. Then, the recipe variations included are rosemary feta, and kalamata peppercorn feta.  Once the feta is made, you can use it in her recipe for Spicy Beet Salad.

For recipe testing though, I went with the simplest recipe in the book which was the One Bowl Ricotta.  It only has four ingredients and a fifth optional ingredient. I used blanched almond flour, sea salt, lemon juice, water, and miso for my batch.

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Faux cheese on cracker

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In some respects, while the easiest, this recipe could be the worst to start with.  I think for someone who has experimented with faux cheese before, this one might seem almost boring.  I tasted it straight, and I tasted it on a cracker. The flavor was quite mild. It probably would have tasted better with lactic acid and dairy free yogurt, but I didn’t have those on hand.  (And again, I was purposefully going as easy as possible.)  But for someone who hasn’t experimented with faux cheese before, it’s a fantastic beginner’s recipe.

While I don’t think it’s the best faux cheese I’ve made, it’ll probably be the one I’ll end up making the most.  It’s just so easy that I’m not sure I’ll be able to give it up, especially if I’m making something for my vegan or lactose sensitive friends.  It’s also given me momentum to experiment more with faux cheeses, and given me the inspiration to work with less familiar ingredients to make a more convincing product.  I am not saying this lightly.  I even ordered some lactic acid online this week just to make more faux cheese.

So, yeah, I highly recommend this book.  I’m not sure which recipe to test out next though as they all sound good.  (Oooh, maybe I’ll make the Margherita Pizza Melt once my lactic acid arrives at my house.)  If there’s a recipe in particular that you’d like to see me make, just drop me a line with your suggestion!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.urbancheesecraft.com/collections/cheesemaking-books/products/one-hour-dairy-free-cheese

https://www.workman.com/products/one-hour-dairy-free-cheese

Disclaimer – I received this book from Workman Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Kenji’s Vegan Ramen, a Kitchen Conclusion (and a spice blend for you)

I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats.  Besides referring to it for general cooking questions I might have, I really adore their series “The Vegan Experience” (and I’m not vegan… heck, I’m not even vegetarian).

One of the vegan recipes that I bookmarked but was intimidated by the number of ingredients and steps was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth.  What does one do when they are not sure they can pull off a recipe on their own?  In my case, it was finding a friend who said “So when you want to cook together? I want to do something new and crazy.  Just something fun, y’know?”

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

The ingredient list isn’t all that bad.  It would have been nice if there had been a condensed shopping list.  It’s essentially this:

eggplant
onion
garlic
ginger
oil*
fresh shiitake
fresh maitake
kombu*
dried porcini
dried shiitake*
napa cabbage
leek
scallions
sweet potato
shichimi togarashi*
mirin*
soy sauce*
miso*
tahini*
noodles

Everything with an asterisk were things already in my pantry.  Well, except for the shichimi togarashi but we’ll get to that later.  And for the ramen noodles, Jared and I decided to be extra experimental and try the pasta with baking soda trick.  Several times, we asked each other if we had forgotten something because our shopping cart seemed like it didn’t have nearly enough ingredients waiting to be paid for.

One hurdle done.

But the doing?… ah, this was the real challenge.

And half the challenge was matching the ingredient list with the ramen component we were working on.  We both really wanted to reformat the whole recipe for easier reading in the kitchen.

On my own, I had read the recipe through a couple of times but I wish I had studied the photos in the blog post more.  We didn’t notice that the sweet potatoes and the maitake were not mixed on the baking sheet.  It made for a slight inconvenience to pick out sweet potato chunks for the blender.

For the soy-tare, I would leave the ginger and scallions in large identifiable pieces because you have to separate it from the quartered shiitake caps when done.

We also recommend upping the eggplant from 1 small to 2 small.  We had very little eggplant compared to the number of servings when all was said and done.  Also, you don’t get a lot of cooked liquid from 1 small eggplant.  Spinning out said liquid felt fiddly.

But more importantly, how did it taste?

The components of the ramen are their own were good but nothing I felt impressed by.  The baking soda noodles were really interesting!  The baking soda made the noodles a bit chewier, and taste very eggy.  The sweet potatoes baked in the spice blend gave a nice heat that quick dissipated.  But, altogether, the dish was very lovely and satisfying.  Jared’s wife got a gluten free version for health reasons.  We replaced the soy sauce with GF tamari in the recipe, and made a separate pot of rice noodles just for her.  Her reaction was “This is amazing!”  We also fed a friend of theirs who is vegetarian and planning to go mostly vegan.  The friend thought it was one of the best things she had had in a very long time.  In short, those with dietary restrictions are probably going to enjoy it best.

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Making flavored oil

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I can definitely see myself making parts of the recipe for other noodle and soup recipes.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever make the whole recipe on my own (but if I do, I think I would spread it over two days).  Jared and I may make it again, but not for at least 6 months and we’ve had time to recover from the amount of steps this ramen involved.

I will definitely make the sweet potatoes again.  I never thought to bake them with shichimi togarashi before, and I like the idea blending some of it to give the broth more body.  True story, I’ve never cared for shichimi togarashi before.  So I didn’t have it in my pantry, nor did I see the point in buying it for just this recipe.  So I made it with ingredients I did have in my pantry.  The spice blend is supposed to be a blend of seven spices.  (Shichi means seven.)  I used five, so I’m going to start calling my blend “five-mi togarashi.”  It is not traditional but I was quite happy with it.  (I suppose I could also call it go-mi togarashi since go is five in Japanese).

FIVE-MI TOGARASHI (GO-MI TOGARASHI)

1 tablespoon mandarin orange dust
4 teaspoons gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix altogether, and store in a tightly fitted lidded jar.

Reference Links

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-the-ultimate-vegan-ramen-rich-and-creamy-vegan-experience.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/02/vegan-ramen-miso-creamy-vegan-vegetarian-food-lab-recipe.html

http://penandfork.com/recipes/cooking-tips/mandarin-orange-dust/

Pantry friendly pasta sauce, version 1.0

I wanted to make a pasta sauce that wasn’t a traditional pasta sauce.  Partly because I like being difficult, and partly because my right thumb has been swollen all day for reasons unknown.  So I was not inclined to do a lot of cutting or anything remotely similar.

So I came up with the recipe below.  I may fuss with it in the near future, but I was happy with it today.  It also happens to be vegan and nut free.

Pantry friendly pasta sauce, version 1.0

  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds, roasted and unsalted
  • 1 garlic clove (I cheated and used 1/4 tsp Penzey’s minced garlic)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (Honestly, I used 1/2 of a lemon but that was too lemony)
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

 

Blitz everything in a high powered blender.  If you don’t have one, you could probably let everything soak for an hour in a standard blender before turning it on.

Makes about 2 cups.

Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Whole Wheat Soda Bread
So, here’s a picture of my first attempt at a vegan soda bread with millet and currants that I tried from my new cookbook, Veganomicon. It was a little overdone (dry) but otherwise pretty decent. I’m now in pursuit of finding the perfect adaptation of the cookbook’s recipe for raspberry chocolate cookies. Mmmmm, chocolate cookies….