As some of you may know, I work in an independent bookstore and boutique. It's hands down the most fulfilling job I've had, and has cemented my hunch that my future will always lie in small business. The best part is that I end almost every single day feeling like I've made tangible differences and accomplishments.
But another, rather dangerous perk is the galleys. These early editions of books are sent to booksellers to be read and reviewed before reaching the general public, and as someone in the process of downsizing to 119 square feet, I usually try to avoid these shelves and their space-hogging temptations altogether.
However, once in a blue moon, I have to make an exception, and that's when cookbook galleys come around. I have a deep addiction to cookbooks, and the more beautifully photographed and tantalizing the recipes, the harder I jones to peruse the pages and dream up feasts. So when the good people at Artisan Books sent a copy of the new book from Tal Ronnen, currently darling of the vegan restaurant scene in LA, I immediately started drooling over the immaculately plated creations and itching to get in the kitchen.
So that's just what I did! 12 other lucky employees and I from13 bookstores across the country rolled up our sleeves and delved headfirst into 283 pages of sumptuous, plant-based goodness. The recipes range from comforting and classic (papardelle bolognese) to unusual and intriguing (cannoli with candied kalamata olives), and I plan on trying each and every one.
Now, being the unreasonable person I am, rather than starting out with one recipe and getting a feel for the book, I made a three course meal involving five of the recipes. It was worth the hellish mess my kitchen became, and then some.
First up- Ronnen's enticing leek paté. With a heavenly creaminess and luxurious weight on the tongue, this is a treat that only tastes sinful, with none of the guilt or heaviness meat paté leaves behind. To quote the author, "the challenge in vegan cooking lies not in cheapening the food by making it feel like it's a knockoff of itself or a shadow of the original, but rather in making the vegetables shine in their own right," and he can consider this mission accomplished. I initially served the paté on pita with roasted tomatoes and fresh basil, but have since eaten copious amounts on sandwiches, with hummus on cheeseless pizza, and all alone, and found it held it's own each time.
As a main I served gnocchi with spinach cream sauce, because it's a pasta I've yet to make since becoming vegan, and couldn't wait to give it a go. Unsurprisingly, the recipe highlights the delicate flavors of the potato, credited to roasting the potatoes rather than boiling, and the absence of overpowering egg. My only complaint here is with the balance of flour to vegetable- I found I needed more than twice as much pasta flour to get the dough workable than the recipe listed.
However, the gnocchi probably could have been the hottest mess in the history of pasta and I still would have licked my plate clean. That spinach cream sauce does NOT kid around. In the book Ronnen strains the sauce before serving, a finishing touch I skipped because I didn't want to get rid of any fiber-y, spinach-y goodnes, plus it's fairly smooth to begin with. Rich, buttery, and yet doesn't set in your stomach and weigh you down. That's the magic of plants, people.
Now, narrowing down what to make for dessert proved the greatest challenge of all. Ultimately, time constraints and a desire to make something that would finish off a heavy meal nicely led me to land on oat florentines and mocha sipping chocolate. My decision proved the perfect option, as the cookie dough and chocolate both come together incredibly quickly, and can be made in advance (in fact, you should - the dough that sat in the fridge overnight had even more heavenly flavour than that which only sat for two hours; no mean feat).
I did end up adding a touch more almond milk to thin out the sipping chocolate a touch, though it's intended to be a very thick and substantial sip. I need to state again, though, how marvelous the delicate florentines are. Generally I prefer my cookies thick with a nice chew, not thin and crispy, but not so with these oaty lovelies. They have a touch of cinnamon and orange zest to perfectly compliment chocolate. Or coffee. Or air.
For now that's all I can definitively report on, but I assure you I'll soon try out several of the mouthwatering small plates (hellooo, hearts of palm calamari), and as October has clearly decided to plunge us right into early winter, the soups are calling my name, especially the vegetable bouillabaise, as are all five of the cocktail recipes.
In all honesty, it could also function as a coffee table book. The photos are simply stunning.
One warning to newbies in the kitchen: this is a book by veteran food preparers for veteran food preparers. This is not to say that you shouldn't give any and all of the recipes a go, simply that the book relies a touch on the instinct of a slightly seasoned chef, and might initially stress out those who prefer precise instructions and step-by-step photos. But anything worth eating is worth working at, and there is most certainly enough of a spectrum to ease one's way in, and start rolling out homemade tortellini in no time.
Happy cooking (and eating!) all, and don't forget to go pick up a copy of Crossroads from your local independent bookstore on October 6th!