Monday, January 18, 2010

The Conscious Cook Experiment: Part Three

Dinner table

"What the hell is 'chiffonade'?"

Sometimes, my friends, it is good to know you're not alone.

As you know from my last few posts, I'm doing a great deal of cooking this month from Tal Ronnen's super-fancy vegan cookbook The Conscious Cook so that I might review said book on CBC radio at the end of the month. What perhaps I haven't mentioned is that I am one of two food bloggers tasked with the cooking and reviewing. The program's producers wanted to give the book to two different bloggers, one vegetarian and one omnivore. Geoff, who chronicled every dinner her ate in 2009 over at A Year of Supper, was the other blogger selected. He and his partner Nicole generously invited the Man of Science and I over to their place for a Ronnen-tastic feast last night. Do we know how to make great radio or what?


The meal began, with the Fresh-Baked Focaccia with Caramelized Onions. Or rather without caramelized onions. Because I fancied olives instead. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter. I'd never made focaccia before, but it wasn't any more complicated than an average bread recipe. It looked and smelled delicious when it came out of the oven and I was eager to get over to Geoff and Nicole's so we could dig in.

We ate the bread dipped in a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a delicious bottle of red wine. It was lovely. Crusty on the outside, soft on the inside. And the recipe made a ton. There were enough leftovers for us to bring some home for our Sunday lunches. It was still great the next day after a minute in the toaster.

Geoff's cucumber salad

Geoff and Nicole handled the next course, the delicious Fresh Mint and Cucumber Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette.* This was a perfect illustration of why the dinner party was a good idea. I never would have looked twice at this recipe if left to my own devices. But now that I've actually eaten it, I think I'll make it myself some time. It was fresh and crisp, the perfect mid-meal dish. I can't believe how light the dressing was. I had to be told it was tahini, I wouldn't have guessed.

Geoff's Tofu Cakes

Our main course was Old Bay Tofu Cakes with Pan-Roasted Summer Vegetables, Horseradish Cream, Apples and Beets. Whew! I'd hate to be the waitress rattling that title off to tables of hungry people. This was amazing. I think it was another of Ronnen's epic recipes, since Geoff spent quite a while in the kitchen putting the final touches on the whole dish, hence the shouting about what the hell a chiffonade was. But I would say it was worth the hard work, given how tasty the dish was. Like the meal I prepared in my last post, this one had a great assortment of textures and flavours. We all really, really liked it.

peanut butter chocolate cake

I handled the dessert, choosing the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cake to end off our meal. Again, I messed with the recipe a bit and left out the berry sorbet that was supposed to go along with the cake. This was not merely a whim. The recipe for the sorbet required an ice cream maker which is one kitchen gadget I do not have. Or want.

I was a bit worried about the cake, frankly, because when it came out of my oven it looked kind of dry. I wondered if maybe the sorbet was crucial for the enjoyment of the dessert. Also, the cake took much longer to bake than the recipe said it was supposed to. The instructions said 25-30 minutes and I ended up leaving mine in the oven for 50 minutes. Regardless, the cake was great. My texture-based fears evaporated with my first bite. This was a very easy recipe and it yielded very satisfying results.

We all agreed that the thing about the book is, though the recipes are complicated and do call for a lot of unconventional ingredients, the food that results is unfailingly delicious. And even though we put away a lot of food we were still able to drink lots of booze (well, everyone else was, I was driving) and play a few rounds of Rock Band (those drums are HARD!) before I drove a rightly hosed Man of Science home for the night.

*It just took me about ten minutes to find that recipe in the book. Here's a complaint! The index is crummy. I looked up "cucumber" and I got a list of about ten page numbers. No other information, like what some of those recipe titles might be. The table of contents does not list recipe titles either. So I had to look at each page listed under "cucumber" to find the salad. Pain in the butt.



Anonymous said...

Is that a coffee cake? It looks like it has a crumbley topping.

Tami (Vegan Appetite) said...

What a feast!

Anardana said...

Great post! Now it is your turn to tell me where to find something in Ottawa- where do I find Old Bay seasoning?

J. said...

Anon: yes, it was a crumbley peanut butter topping.

Tami: Yes, but we ate over a few hours so it didn't seem as overwhelming :)

Anardana: I actually don't know! Geoff had it, so I'll ask him when I see him.

XUP said...

I have a question: When you test recipes for/from a cookbook, aren't you supposed to follow the directions precisely? Or is that just when you get paid big bucks to be a professional recipe tester? The entire dinner sounds amazing. You already sold me on this cookbook at Part I

The Ordinary Vegetarian said...

Awe inspiring feast!

I've really been enjoying this series of posts on The Conscious Cook. I'm certain that your radio segment will be amazing!

i heart kimmie said...

Wow. I am very impressed. These recipes seem oh so complicated. I'm more of a shoestring fries kind of girl. Simple is my specialty!

J. said...

XUP: I think when people are testing recipes for a cookbook prior to its publication it's important for them to follow the recipe to the letter. For my purposes, I'm supposed to be reviewing the cookbook as a user, which means that if I don't have an ice cream maker, I won't make the ice cream. I followed the recipe for the cake to the letter, so I can comment on it. As for the bread, I left off the onions, but did everything else as the book said.

OV- Thanks! I'm nervous about the radio. Hopefully there will be a link I can post so people can hear it.

IHK- you're right, they are mega-complicated. Most of them aren't for quick dinner kind of nights.

Hilary said...

LOL, my mum was just ranting and raving the other day about how publishers never spend the time or money on proper cookbook indexes anymore.