Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Conscious Cook Experiment: Part One


As I mentioned, I've been called upon to review a vegan cookbook for CBC Radio's In Town And Out. And not just any vegan cookbook. Tal Ronnen's much adored volume, The Conscious Cook. I have read countless glowing reviews of this book, so I was eager to get my hands on it. Once I started really reading the recipes, I wondered if all those people who reviewed it so positively had actually done much cooking of the recipes inside.

Because wow, the book is pretty. Well designed, great photos, lots of interesting text laid out in an appealing way. The kind of book you flip through and say, "Yeah! I love this!"

And then, you decide to cook something. And you realize that a large number of the recipes take more than a day to cook. Some take three days. And a lot of them require ingredients that aren't easily procured. Like, say, artichokes.

I must admit, I didn't think artichokes would be what broke me. Not when some recipes call for Red Palm Oil, and a specific brand of flora-only bacterial capsules, and a certain kind of high end fake meat (that Ronnen himself helped to create). No, my friends, it was the artichokes that gave me the most trouble. Because the first recipe I decided to cook was the Artichoke and Oyster Mushroom Rockefeller from the appetizer section of the book. Artichoke leaves stand in for the traditional oyster shells. It seemed like a good place to start. Relatively simple ingredients, a prep time of one hour, and yet enough novelty to interest me. I'd never actually cooked with oyster mushrooms before, though I'd admired them often while reaching past them to stock up on creminis.

conscious cook

The problem was, as you may have gathered, the grocery store had no artichokes. Correction, they had no fresh artichokes. Canned artichokes as far as the eye could see, but not a fresh one in the place. Normally I find grocery shopping very relaxing. Fun, even. But this was not fun. I did a lot of circling the produce section with my cart. The other recipe I'd picked out for the week required two days of advance prep. I needed to make the Rockerfeller dish. What could stand in for artichoke leaves?

conscious cook

Napa cabbage. More specifically, a few leaves of the gigantic head of napa cabbage that I had to buy in order to make the slaw for the second dish I planned to cook this week. The slaw recipe called for only half the cabbage. So I pulled off four leaves and chopped them into pieces that could stand in for the artichoke leaves. Problem solved. And the cabbage leaves had the added bonus of being edible, unlike artichoke leaves. Or oyster shells for that matter.

The recipe wasn't too hard to pull together after I had my artichoke problem solved. My food processor came in very handy when chopping and blending spinach, onions, parsley, and bread crumbs. And the oyster mushrooms? Oh, so delicious.

conscious cook

I don't have permission to rewrite the entire recipe here, but just to give you an idea, this has essentially three layers. Leaves, mushrooms, spinach mixture. I also topped each one with some breadcrumbs because that's how it looked in the photo beside the recipe. And yes, these were delicious. A bit beyond what I could have come up with on my own.

So I'm hanging in there with this book. It has the rest of the month to win me over. Tomorrow night I try a more ambitious recipe. Agave glazed tofu, pureed sweet potatoes, and the aforementioned slaw. I'll keep you posted.



Crystal said...

Man what a bummer. I hate when things take so long to make. I have a whole grain bread book that is the same- and this is why I have made one thing out of it.. good luck with the rest of the recipes you are trying!

Tami (Vegan Appetite) said...

I have this book, and you're right, it's beautiful. I still haven't made a thing from it so I'm going to really enjoy your experience with it.

VeganLisa said...

I'm currently working on my review of this book for the Toronto Vegetarian Association. I have tried the slaw and I'll be doing the sweet potato mash to go with it tonight. The book is beautiful but I get frustrated when recipes call for certain products to be used. It is hard especially with US authors and Canadian users involved. Good luck tonight!

Anardana said...

You didn't say you couldn't find these things, but FYI: the Flora stuff is at Herb and Spice, but is something like 30$, you can likely get red palm oil at Grace foods on Bank (in the African section), and Gardein is sold at Loblaws, frozen, as PC vegetarian chicken breasts.

J. said...

Crystal: Some cookbooks remain just pretty things that we look at, I guess.

Tami: I'm really interested to know how you feel about it when you try some of the recipes.

VeganLisa: Will your review be online when it's done? I'd love to see it. All the reviews I read were vague and positive, I'd like to read more by people who've spent some time cooking from the book.

Anardana: Wow, thanks for the Gardien tip! I never would have known. I don't usually look in the frozen section because we don't buy much fake meat and when we do it's usually just soyarie tofu burgers. Thanks so much for the tips. I may seek out the oil, but will probably skip the expensive flora. Have you cooked anything from this book?


deBeauxOs said...

Fresh artichokes have a season, IIRC, like pomegranates.

I'm someone who discovered your other blog only recently at knitnut so yah, I grumbled when you went all incognito.

Just to be on the safe side, I'm bookmarking It Ain't Meat Babe.

Anonymous said...

I want not concur on it. I assume warm-hearted post. Specially the appellation attracted me to read the sound story.

VeganLisa said...

Hey J,
My review should be up this week. I'm just testing a couple more recipes today-when I can actually take photos with sunlight.

Results have been good but I still don't appreciate the dependency on certain products in Tal's recipes. I hope you enjoy the month of Conscious Cooks.

Indianapolis social security disability lawyer said...

These dishes look absolutely delicious. Great blog. I'm loving it.