28 January 2023

Fake Meat by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Weekend Cooking)

cover of cookbook showing a vegetarian "steak" with the title and author surrounding itHappy Saturday! Last week Mr. BFR had dental surgery, which meant a week of soft(ish) foods. I made mac 'n' cheese, soup, an oven-baked tofu, and other easy to chew dishes. Fortunately, the surgery went well, and the only restrictions he has for the next few weeks are no seeds, nuts, or crunchy foods. I can work around that.

This week I'm talking about Fake Meat by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a cookbook I received as a member of the Abrams Dinner Party. Spoiler alert: to be honest, this cookbook was a bit of a challenge for me.

The first thing to know about this cookbook is that title and cover photo of Fake Meat are a bit misleading. Moskowitz's recipes are meant to mimic a typical American omnivore diet, rather than rely on store-bought vegetarian meat products.

Inside Fake Meat, you'll find vegan, home-made versions of bacon, meatloaf, fried chicken, beef stew, fried eggs, and even lox. Moskowitz goes the distance and provides recipes for all the extras you'll need to make the meal complete, such as vegan versions of sour cream, ranch dressing, puff pastry, and Parmesan cheese.

Fake Meat is a cookbook specifically geared to people who are vegan but still want to enjoy the foods they likely grew up with. You'll find the expected veggie burger, but did you know you could make vegan lobster rolls? The recipe is based on parsnips. The schnitzel recipe uses cauliflower steaks, and the pork chops are really homemade seitan.

Vegans will be familiar with most of the ingredients needed for the recipes in Fake Meat, such as nuts, kala namak, tempeh, TVP, jackfruit, and agar-agar. Even the more unusual ingredients will be easy to find, such as beet powder and pea protein.

A photo of vegan club sandwichI made the mushroom bacon (see recipe below) and the dilly chickpea egg salad. I also marked a couple others to try, like the lox made from carrot strips.

Here are my thoughts on the bacon. I've always had trouble crisping things up in my oven--for example, I can't make crispy chickpeas and my oven-dried tomatoes never really dry--so I'm not sure why I thought I'd end up with dry and crispy mushrooms. In any case, the baked mushrooms tasted vaguely bacony but wouldn't fool a meat eater. On the other hand, fake bacon is a handy trick: put it out on a baked-potato bar for your vegan friends. If I make this recipe again, I'll use my air-fryer.

The fake egg salad was tasty and easy to make. The dish gets its eggy flavor from the kala namak (an Indian salt), which can also be used in tofu dishes and (so I've been told) even on fruit (?). My general conclusion was this: I have recipes for a bunch of chickpea salads, and the Fake Meat version, though good, is not likely to be my go-to.

Note too that both dishes were on the salty side for our tastes. If I made either again, I'd start with half the called-for salt.

Recommendation: Fake Meat by Isa Chandra Moskowitz would be a good choice for vegans who crave hearty, classic dishes. I bet people who keep kosher and those who have dairy issues will find a few tricks and tips for broadening their range of dishes. I, however, don't see myself reaching for this cookbook. When I want a vegetarian meal (I'm an omnivore), I'm looking for recipes that put vegetables on center stage. If I'm craving a meat dish, then I make meat. If you're at all curious about this cookbook, I suggest checking it out of the library before buying it.

Pantry Mushroom Bacon
Photo of dried mushroom "bacon" on a white backgroundMakes 1 cup

  • 1 (16 oz) package sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
Toss the mushrooms with the olive oil and salt in a medium bowl. Let sit for 1 hour until they release their juices.

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Drain the mushrooms of excess liquid in a colander and return them to the mixing bowl. Sprinkle with liquid smoke and toss to coat.

Transfer the mushrooms to the prepared baking sheet and spread out in a single layer. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring the mushrooms halfway through. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 325F (165C).

Sprinkle the mushrooms with nutritional yeast and use a thin spatula to toss and coat. Bake for another 15 minutes. The mushrooms should be crispy and firm.

Let cool on the baking sheet before using. They can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Note: The recipe and scans are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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14 January 2023

Three Recipes and a Cookbook (Weekend Cooking)

Happy Saturday! In today's post, I'm sharing some recent successful recipes and one new cookbook.

overhead view of ground meat and broccoli slaw cooking on the stove topIn my never-ending quest for interesting lunches (see last week's post), I came across a recipe for a deconstructed egg roll. It looked easy to make and delicious. In just about a half hour I was able to meal-prep this dish, divide it into four portions, and pop into the refrigerator for lunches. It reheated beautifully in the microwave, and Mr. BFR and I agreed I should make it again. The Egg Roll in a Bowl comes from the site Sweet Peas and Saffron (hit the link to get the recipe).

I made one change: I don't keep monk fruit in the house and decided to just omit the sugar altogether. We didn't miss it. At the end of the recipe, you'll find some options/variations: I used ground beef, broccoli slaw, and tamari. Note that in step 4, I made sure the slaw mix didn't get too soft; I knew we were going to reheat the dish, and I didn't want it to lose its crunch completely. Also, I sprinkled on the garnishes once I divided up the portions, just as a matter of convenience and so I wouldn't have to remember to do so later. This was a win.

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several cooked sausage rolls on a cooking rackDuring this past fall I had a hankering for sausage rolls. I used to make them all the time, but they slipped off my radar. When looking for a recipe online to double-check baking time and temperature, I came across Spiced Sausage Rolls from Indian for Everyone by Hari Ghotra (click for the recipe). Although I've made many a sausage roll without a recipe, I thought I'd give this one a try.

Here's what I did: I used olive oil instead of rapeseed. My green chili was a jalapeno. I used pork sausage and added the optional chili powder. Next, I interpreted the "large pinch" of coriander leaves as a few sprigs. Note that salt is mentioned in the directions but doesn't appear in the ingredients.

I use Trader Joe's all-butter puff pastry when it's available. It comes in two portions; I worked with one at a time, rolling each out to the correct thickness, but not measuring. I divided the meat mixture in half and rolled each puff pastry sheet into a log, placing it seam side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. After refrigerating, I cut each roll into 8 pieces, spread them around the pan, and then brushed with the egg wash. I baked 40 min, rotating the pan halfway through.

When I make sausage rolls for lunches, I let them cool completely before refrigerating, and we eat them cold for lunch. Puff pastry doesn't always heat up well. Note that you can use whatever ground meat you have on hand and mix in any spice or seasoning combo you want. Use the linked recipe for baking instructions.

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Right after the new year, I was looking through our meat freezer and saw a boneless pork roast that I needed to cook up. I decided to make one of my all-time favorite dinners, chile verde. I don't have a go-to recipe, but remembered that Alpana from GypsyPlate (she used to participate in Weekend Cooking) had a Chile Verde recipe on her site. I followed the pressure cooker instructions, but Alpana includes slow cooker and stove top directions too. I didn't change a thing in this recipe, except I used Wegman's roasted salsa verde instead of making my own. This was incredibly good. I now have a go-to chile verde recipe. Seriously, give it a try. (I forgot to photograph mine).

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Book cover showing colorful iced drinksFinally, the nice people at America's Test Kitchen sent me a copy of their Complete Guide to Healthy Drinks. I make a smoothie almost every day, and I'm really looking forward to giving some of the recipes in this book a try.

As it says on the cover, the cookbook includes all kinds of drinks: smoothies, juices, teas, tisanes, fermented drinks, flavored water, shrubs, spritzers, hot drinks, homemade non-dairy "milks," and broths. As you'd expect from ATK, there is also a section on equipment, so you can feel confident when buying. Don't miss the sections on ingredients and storage and the many very helpful features on techniques.

Here are some drinks I've marked to try: watermelon-lime agua fresca (I bet that's so refreshing in the summer), cafe mocha smoothie (with avocado and cocoa powder), old-fashioned mulled cider (hello, fall!), orange creamsicle smoothie (with carrots and yogurt), and spicy mango smoothie (dairy free but with a bit of cayenne). If it's America's Test Kitchen, you know it's good!

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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07 January 2023

Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread by Crescent Dragonwagon (Weekend Cooking)

Cookbook cover showing a drawing of soup and bread with flowers on the borderHappy new year to all of you! I hope your holidays and holiday cooking were fabulous.

Today I want re-introduce you to one of my favorite cookbook authors. I first wrote about Crescent Dragonwagon on my blog in 2009! One of the cookbooks I raved about was her wonderful Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread cookbook. I bought my hardcover edition in 1992, when the cookbook was first published by Workman. Over the years, I am still cooking from Soup & Bread, and my copy has a permanent place on the kitchen bookshelf, where only my most-loved and most-used cookbooks live.

Last fall, I was surprised and thrilled to learn that the University of Arkansas Press published a 30th Anniversary Edition of the Soup & Bread cookbook so a whole new generation of cooks can fall in love with it. Thanks to them and to Crescent for sending me the updated edition.

Oh, um, let me step back a minute. The recipes in Soup & Bread are so good and so solid that the only major change to the new cookbook is a new introduction, in which Crescent tells us more about the history of the Dairy Hollow Inn, her life since the inn closed, and her thoughts on contemporary ingredients and ways of eating, and information on the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow.

Don't skip the intro, because this is where you'll find tips for converting recipes to gluten-free, vegetarian, and/or vegan and tips for working with store-bought produce. After that, the anniversary edition is a reprint of the near-perfect original cookbook.

If you've been around for a while, you know I'm always on the look-out for lunch ideas. Even after 38 years of working from home, I have few go-tos. Here's where soup--and this cookbook--comes to the rescue. I've learned that if I make a pot of soup once a week and save it specifically for lunches (and the occasional, "oops we need something for dinner" nights), we're eating well all year round. This is why Soup & Bread is in steady use at my house.

So what's inside the covers of the cookbook? First up are the chapters on stocks and flavor boosters (what we now call umami). I admit, I don't always make my own stock, but when I do, I'm usually starting with one of Crescent's recipes. The following chapters focus on chicken, fish, vegetables, a basic soup with variations, bean soups, gumbos, dairy soups, fruit soups and nut soups. But don't stop reading there! Soup & Bread ends with a bread chapter (yeast, muffins, rolls, biscuits) and a salad chapter (with some excellent dressings).

I was looking through my stained and well-used Soup & Bread cookbook this week and thought I'd share some recipes and proof of how often I use it.

  • The Mushroom Barley Soup recipe page is so stained, the page is wrinkled.
  • One of the places Soup & Bread opens up to is the Italian-Style soup recipe, perfect for using summer veggies and herbs.
  • Another crease in the book is at the Cuban Black Bean Soup. I've written in instructions for making this in my pressure cooker.
  • I have three big stars on the page for Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon.
  • I have notes on almost all the ingredients for the Harira recipe. I remember wanting to make it but not really having all the needed ingredients in the house; I recorded my substitutions.
  • There's a permanent bookmark at the Greek Navy Bean Soup recipe.
  • There's another crease at the Cream of Leek, Herb, and Garden Lettuce Soup. It's a godsend when there's just too much lettuce in the house or garden.
  • The page for Rabbit Hill Inn Oatmeal-Molasses Bread has flour in the spine, and I've made some notes for using a machine for kneading and for making 1 loaf and 3 loaves.
  • Finally, I found the well-used page with the Whole-Wheat Butterhorns recipe. The notes on that page include when I served them to guests.
I can't recommend The Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon more highly. Any cookbook that stands the test of time--30 years!--in my kitchen and in kitchens everywhere, deserves a place in yours too. No matter your dietary concerns, you'll find plenty of recipes to nourish you and your family and friends. Take advantage of this anniversary edition so you too can have a pot of soup simmering on the stove.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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08 December 2022

Union Strong

As a long-time freelancer in the publishing sphere, I stand in solidarity with the HarperCollins Union and will not promote, review, feature or buzz HC books until an agreement for a fair contract has been reached.



Note: I will, however, continue to support HC authors by buying and reading their books. I'll post my reviews and thoughts on those books once the strike has ended.

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05 December 2022

AudioFile Magazine's 2022 Best Audiobooks in Science Fiction & Fantasy

A graphic showing two women audibook narrators and the covers of the books discussed in the post

Every December, I eagerly look forward to reading all the best-in-books lists so I can add titles to my own reading wish list. Of all the many such lists, my favorite by far are the audiobook genre lists compiled by AudioFile Magazine.

As many of you know, I've had a long association with AudioFile, both as a freelance reviewer and as a contributing editor. Thanks to that partnership, I'm very excited to share with you the magazine's picks for the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Audiobooks for 2022.

Before we get to this year's best SFF audiobooks, here's some background information. AudioFile's lists are unique in that they take into consideration the entire audiobook experience, which is headlined by the narrator's performance. In the case of fiction, the magazine's editors weigh such things as the narrator's use of voices to differentiate characters, their sense of pacing and tension, their ability to convey the emotional heart of the story, and their delivery of humor and dialogue. When an audiobook is narrated by more than one voice actor, AudioFile's editors take a look at how well the performances blend, contrast, or compliment each other.

Each one of the six Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Audiobooks for 2022 tells a great story, which is made all the better by an outstanding audiobook narrator or full cast. Here, then are the year's best SFF audiobooks to add to your listening queue. Click the titles to read the AudioFile Magazine review.

Audiobook cover showing the title overlaying gold concentric circlesThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake (Macmillan Audio; 16 h) is the first in the Atlas science fiction series, which involves a competition and a secret library. The audiobook is performed by a full cast of narrators—Steve West, David Monteith, Damian Lynch, Caitlin Kelly, Andy Ingall, Munirih Grace, Siho Ellsmore, and James Patrick Cronin—each of whom take on a different character. Six individuals with magical talents are recruited to be part of an elite society. They have a year to prove themselves worthy: five will get in, one will die. The narrators won AudioFile's attention for capturing the characters' personalities and signaling their flaws, strengths, and growth.

Green audiobook cover; the title overlays a sketched feathered birdA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas (GraphicAudio; 16 h) is the second entry in the Court of Thorns and Roses series, which is about how a teenage human copes after she's been transported to the world of the Faeries while hunting in the woods. This audiobook edition is a full-cast dramatization, performed by Melody Muze, Anthony Palmini, Henry W. Kramer, and others. The audiobook, which was released in two parts (the linked review is to part 1), includes sound effects and music to create an immersive experience. The AudioFile reviewer was particularly impressed with how the narrators homed in on the characters' emotional centers.

Brown and cream audiobook book cover; the title overlays two women kissingEven though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk (Recorded Books; 4 h) is a stand-alone mashup of fantasy and noir mystery performed by January LaVoy. If Helen, a detective with magical abilities, can find the vampire who's terrorizing Chicago, she hopes to be able to get out of her deal with the devil. One major problem: she has only three days. If she succeeds, she might have a chance to find a happy future with the woman she loves. LaVoy works her own magic, enrapturing listeners with her nuanced and thoughtful performance of this twisty historical fantasy.

A brightly colored audiobook cover; the title overlays the upper body of a womanMaxine Justice: Galactic Attorney by Daniel Schwabauer (Oasis Audio; 9 h) is a fast-paced legal thriller played out on a galactic stage and read by Aimee Lilly. Maxine, a struggling personal injury lawyer, gets the chance to take a high-profile case representing an alien medical researcher who claims to have a miracle cure for all that ails humans. Even in the future, big pharma isn't really looking to heal the sick, and Max soon finds herself on their enemies list. Lilly's spot-on delivery of Max's humor, feistiness, and determination makes this audiobook a winner.

Pink audiobook cover with the title interwoven in an African-inspired abstract of a woman's headMoon Witch, Spider King by Marion James (Penguin Audio; 31 h) is the second installment in the Dark Star trilogy. This audiobook puts a powerful 177-year-old female witch on center stage, where she provides an alternate perspective on the magical African-inspired world introduced in the first audiobook by a male tracker. Narrator Bahni Turpin's talents are in full bloom, as she gives each character a unique and appropriate voice all the while honoring the pace and rhythm of the author's style. The audiobook takes listeners along as the witch discovers and then learns to use her powers.

Green audiobook cover; the title is bordered by witches on broomsticksWitches Abroad by Terry Pratchett (Penguin Audio; 10 h) is the twelfth entry in the beloved Discworld series, which takes listeners on adventures across a 10,000-mile-wide (and disc-shaped) world. This new audiobook edition of the story of how a godmother-witch must prevent a marriage in order to save her kingdom is principally narrated by Indira Varma, who delivers on the humor and picks up on the characters' unique traits. Peter Serafinowicz and Bill Nighy perform supporting roles. Both new and old fans of the Discworld universe will be delighted by this audiobook.

To learn about the top audiobooks of the year in other genres, be sure to visit AudioFile's Best of 2022 webpage. For exclusive interviews with the narrators of these winning audiobooks, tune in (and subscribe) to the magazine's Behind the Mic podcast.

Photo credits: January LaVoy photo by Todd Cerveri; Bahni Turpin photo Linda Posnick.

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