Cookbook Reviews

Cookbook Review: Vegan Finger Foods

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We all learnt some valuable lessons about cocktails the night I decided to review Vegan Finger Foods by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes. Firstly, we discovered that just because my mother calls a bottle of booze ‘violet liquor’, it doesn’t actually mean there is violet liquor in said bottle. Always Google the label, lest you end up creating the WKD martini (on the bright side, I reckon there’s a market for these – I mean, not in any bar I’d like to visit, but whatever).

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We also discovered that we can make an endless supply of olive juice by topping up the jar with tap water after each drink. Nisha and I like our martinis really fucking dirty, so this discovery was a life changer. A truly dirty martini has to be saltier than a merman’s spunk and spiked with enough vodka to take the lips off Cher and we achieved that from the comfort of my kitchen without having to make awkward sex jokes with inept bartenders or buying twelve jars of olives just for the juice. On the other hand, “endless supply of olive juice” meant there was nothing to stop of from drinking the best part of a large bottle of Absolut. Oh, the regret.

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The cocktails were accompanied by what I shall modestly refer to as serious kitchen wizardry. I was offered the chance to give Vegan Finger Foods a spin, and decided to whip up some snacks to be washed down with our strong ass drinks. I say ‘whip up’ as though it was an easy breezy five minutes stirring pans and sipping martinis like a Stepford wife instead of a sweaty military operation in which I slugged vodka like my life depended on it.

As soon as I turned the first page, I was in love with this book. It was the vegan RuPaul to my Michelle Visage, the Piper to my Crazy Eyes. I was one tapenade recipe away from changing my Facebook relationship status to “It’s Complicated.” It’s the kind of book that people flick through and then put on their ‘seriously what the fuck is this witchcraft’ face.  I decided to make a spread of Party Olives, Marinated Mushrooms, Chipotle Almonds, Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites and Pantry Raid Ranch Dip.

The subsequent snacks were a hit and it wasn’t just because we were shit-faced on Absolut and olive brine. I always know my urban family are knocked sideways by a meal when no one will talk to me whilst we eat and I’m telling you, you could’ve heard a bollock drop in the silence that loomed over that dinner.

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Party Olives are a jumble of kalamatas, queen greens and almonds, baked in a boozy mix of red wine, berbere, garlic and shallots. Unfortunately, I did botch this one as I was a bit fast and loose with the assumption that I would easily source berbere in London. I cobbled together my own version and ended up with mulled olives which smelt like Christmas in July. Aside from that one error in judgement, the rest of the recipes came together without a hitch. The Buffalo Bites were to die for: breaded tofu marinated in a spicy buffalo sauce, baked and served hot, dipped in creamy Pantry Raid Ranch and a maple-sriracha sauce. I’ve taken the buffalo bites to a barbecue too, and I have a feeling they will become a staple in my regular recipe revolution.  The mushrooms – raw, marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, minced shallots, agave and a blend of dried and fresh herbs – softened in the acids almost like a ceviche. Not a lone button mushroom remained by the end of the night.

Aside from my cock up with the berbere (which I later found in Whole Foods), the ingredients err on the side of simple – tofu, fresh vegetables, the odd dairy-free substitute like almond milk or soy yoghurt, dried herbs. It’s a book of casual eating for carefree home cooks and I couldn’t recommend it enough to vegans and non-vegans alike.

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

Cookbook Review: Honestly Healthy for Life is Honestly Bollocks.

Here’s the T: I wouldn’t have agreed to review Honestly Healthy for Life if I’d realised it was a cookbook pushing a fad diet. The tagline – healthy alternatives for everyday eating – sounded innocuous enough, and when I skimmed through a PDF preview of the book, I skipped the verbose 57 page intro straight to the spread of recipes. Honestly Healthy appeared to be serving up wholesome vegetarian meals and snacks with a strong foundation in fresh ingredients that looked simple, delicious and healthy.

Honestly Healthy is actually the name of the latest anti-cancer-live-forever-quack-don’t-crack miracle diet in which you mostly eat foods that “turn alkaline in the stomach” and in return you become like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. The Honestly Healthy diet claims to cure everything from heartburn, psoriasis and cystitis to stammering, allergies and miscarriages – oh, and you can ditch the antidepressants because everything will come up roses once you quit eating steak, miso and honey.

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I gave my copy of Honestly Healthy for Life to my resident beardo Smokin Brofu, who gesticulated a lot as he worked his way through all the Bad Science. He explained that you can no more turn acid into alkaline than you can turn a pig into a duck. A quick Google pulled up more anti-bullshit articles and it quickly became apparent that Honestly Healthy is Honestly Bollocks.

The thing is, I’m sure following this diet to the letter would result in weight loss, reduced blood pressure, clearer skin and all that jazz: that’s the nature of preparing all your own meals, reducing your intake of fatty snacks, fizzy drinks, caffeine, booze, dairy, red meat, corn syrup and living a bland but virtuous lifestyle. This is healthy eating 101 with a new name slapped on its rump, a new arbitrary list of bad foods to avoid and the same old irresponsible promises.

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It’s frustrating because it is otherwise a brilliant book: yeah the ‘Girls Night In’ chapter made my eye twitch (must we? MUST WE?) and I think I verbally sighed at the ‘Flat Tummy’ chapter (yo, French Women Don’t Get Fat called and wants its pro-ana bullshit back), but the photography is gorgeous and the recipes are actually surprisingly great.

I whipped up the sundried tomato pesto, watermelon gazpacho and the ‘Perfect Salad Dressing’ – three very basic recipes, with easily sourced corner shop ingredients. Truthfully, each one was delicious, healthy and fresh, easy to prepare and store in bulk. We stirred the pesto over pasta, spread it on bruschetta and in sandwiches and we also used a smear as a pizza base. The watermelon soup was the perfect chilled accompaniment to a hot summer evening. The recipes are solid, the food photography is solid. The foundation is as shaky as a shitting dog.

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I’m torn: on the one hand, this is a brilliant collection of vegetarian and vegan recipes. On the other hand, they are draped over a framework of straight up bollocks. I’ve held onto this book for a long time, debating whether or not it’s fair to write a negative review for a book that’s almost fantastic, but ultimately my inability to keep my mouth shut won. Pick it up for the food inspiration, but don’t spend too long picking over the intro.

If anyone has any reputable links to scientific papers that support the Honestly Healthy alkaline diet, hit me up in the comments because I’m genuinely curious.

Cookbook Reviews

Cookbook Review: World Food Café Vegetarian Bible.

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Last summer, the kind folk of Frances Lincoln sent Smokin’ Tofu a copy of World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey to review. You may recall that review it I did, and I absolutely chuffing loved it. What a lucky bunny I am, because I’ve also had the opportunity to take the follow up cookbook, World Food Café Vegetarian Bible, out for a spin.

P1030386I’m currently sitting in my living room drinking black instant coffee. Outside, the sky is the colour of cooked rice and there’s a chill in the air that completely spoils the illusion that spring is about to give way to summer. My boyfriend is sitting on a mattress on our living room floor, freshly showered, with a bowl of leftover Thai takeaway from our anniversary treat last night. The smell of garlic and coconut, lime juice and chilli, mingled with the boyish scent of body spray and shampoo, permeates the air. He is happily munching, lost in his bowl.

There are three types of cookery books, in my experience: books of basic staples P1030110like the perfect arrabbiata sauce or how to bake a simple loaf of bread; books of ambitious recipes that, with a little practice, can become part of any confident cook’s repertoire. And then there’s the super involved, ten-page-per-recipe books that use a never ending supply of obscure ingredients. They are complicated, beautiful and kind of hard to understand, like gastropoetry. They are more like arty coffee table books than cookery books. World Food Café books are the best of all three – staples, show-stoppers and absolutely beautiful – in one.

The 200 recipes span 38 different countries, islands and regions, from North Africa to French Polynesia, Southeast Asia to Central and Southern America. Whilst recipes like Moroccan mint tea, Marrakesh tajine, falafel and homemade harissa paste form the basics for the North African chapter, the more adventurous cook can skip straight to the Ouarzazate Couscous or the Briq Á L’Oeuf.

2013-02-14 14.23.09Thai green curry was the first dish I cooked from World Food Café Vegetarian Bible. It wasn’t so much that I set out to cook something from the book, but that I wanted to use a Thai spice set Brendan gave me for Christmas and after some fruitless internet searching, it occurred to me to check my new culinary bible for a simple paste recipe. Sure enough, there was a recipe for vegetarian Thai green curry, from paste to accompaniments.

Living in a multicultural quarter of London, I have easy access to most of the ingredients featured in the book, like jaggery and tempeh, but authors Chris and Carolyn Caldicott are always mindful to suggest alternatives when a particularly regional ingredient is listed. On the most part, the recipes are comprised of simple core ingredients that are available from even the crappiest supermarkets, and any cook with a spice cupboard worth her salt should be able to navigate the longer ingredients lists with ease. We are living in a post-Ottolenghi world, after all.

I’ve found, over the few months I’ve had World Food Cafeé Vegetarian Bible knocking around my kitchen, I reach for it often, whether I’ve just got a load of shiny cheap aubergines from the market and am wondering if there’s a decent baba ganoush recipe (there is), or if I feel like cooking something completely new. It’s a brilliant Mother’s Day gift if you have a mom that likes to whip veggies into shape, otherwise it’s just a handy volume to have knocking around, should you spontaneously decide that today is the day you try refrying your own refried beans or try your hand at homemade flat bread.

You can order yourself a copy of World Food Cafe Vegetarian Bible for £16.00 spondoolies including free UK p&p (RRP: £20.00), by givng Littlehampton Book Services a bell on 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG58.

 

Cookbook Reviews, Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

Cookbook Review: World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey

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Uh huh. Check out that bad boy, all lime green and bright fuchsia up in your face. I know Miley isn’t twerking on it, but it is still worthy of your attention. The nice people at Frances Lincoln sent Smokin’ Tofu a copy of World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey so I could slap on my bitch face and judge it to hell.

It just so happened to arrive the day I had tickets to a triple screening at the Prince Charles Cinema. My boyfriend and our pals Richard and Natalie hit the Before trilogy running, armed with vegan snacks from Cookies & Scream, courtesy of Natalie. I hadn’t seen any of the Before movies, but here’s an interesting little side note for you. Writer and director Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation), is a vegetarian. Throughout the Before trilogy, you see the characters eat and drink all sorts of things, but never a morsel of meat touches the lips of either character. I am so into that.

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Anyway, each film is set in a different part of the world (Vienna, Paris and the Greek Peloponnese peninsula), much like each chapter of this wonderful book. Each chapter covers a different trip undertaken by the couple – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Chile, Cuba, Japan, Laos, Helsinki & Lapland, Namibia, Syria and Vietnam.

A week after the movie marathon, Brendan and I finally had the chance to knuckle down and do some serious eating. World Food Café by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott is a travel book as much as a cook book, and we loved poring through each chapter, trying to decide what we wanted to eat first and where we’d most like to visit.

The recipes are quick and dirty – expect lots of butter, feta and yoghurt – but, for the most part, they’re very easily veganised. There are also a good handful of vegan recipes, and very few of the non-vegan recipes hinge entirely on the dairy ingredient(s). Each page is beautifully illustrated with colourful, glossy photos of both the food and the country of origin. Admittedly, I wish there were a few more of the recipes themselves, but we can’t have everything, can we?

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The writing and photography are certainly evocative. I can practically smell those paper bags of freshly fried nachos, taste that Vietnamese café au lait. From avocado shakes to za’atar spice mix, I’ve learnt a little about the cuisine of twelve countries that I haven’t stepped foot in (and, in turn, I’ve added to my travel wish list).

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In the end, we settled for three dishes: buttery Bhutanese asparagus with crumbled feta; apple, saffron and honey butter rice (also from Bhutan), and Bengali curry in a hurry, which was quick, simple and exquisitely spiced. It was a cinch to throw together all three dishes simultaneously, and the sweetly spiced buttery rice will be an autumn hit in Smokin’ Mansions.

If you fancy World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey, you can get yourself a sweet little discount of 20%. No, really. I insist. Give Bookpoint a bell on 01235 400 400 and quote the code 46WORLDFOODCAFE (offer code is valid until the end September 2013). It’ll be yours for £16 and a song, which is £4 off the RRP. Then you too can eat sweet buttery apple rice from the pan and dream of greater surroundings.

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Cookbook Reviews, Gossip, Veg*n Events, Veg*n London

Veg*n Events: MsCupcake Book Launch


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Last week I went to the launch of Ms Cupcake’s new book, The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!
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The launch was basically a bustling street party in front of the shop with vegan DJs, vegan canapes, cosmopolitans, vegan cookies and wine in bright pink plastic cups.

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And obviously… there was a helluva lot of cake with that signature just-stiff-enough-buttercream that makes me go weak at the knees. Oh Ms Cupcake, everyone wants to marry you. Mostly but not entirely for your baking skills and your hats.

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Obviously I picked up a copy of the book – it was far too pretty to ignore. Also, ever since I started following My Boyfriend’s Kitchen and In Vegetables We Trust I’ve wanted to up my baking ante, and this seemed like a good excuse to start.


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Ohoh yes, Ms Cupcake signed my book for me and I got to gush about how wonderful the event was. The food was amazing, with platters of vegan sushi and things-on-sticks and fake chicken nuggets circulating between trays of chocolate chip cookies and cocktails. I also left with a pair of cupcakes for Brendan and I to share, but I was too giddy on sugar and booze to take photos. I can tell you that a) one was rose flavour b) one was piña colada flavour and c) both were awesome.

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A week later, and we were itching for another fix of that creamy sweet stuff. I don’t have suitable deep cupcake trays, but luckily the book also has loads of tray bakes, loaves and cookies. I decided to make the blueberry lemon loaf cake because not only did I have everything bar the fresh fruit in my cupboard,  I also had a vaguely suitable loaf tin. I know. Gripping shit going down over here.

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Anyway it turned out awesome because the recipe was straight forward and easy to follow, with both cups and weights to adapt to either cooking style. So basically go forth, purchase Ms Cupcake’s new book and EAT CAKE.

Big kisses to Brendan, Mel and Christina for the photos.