Saturday, 18 June 2016

Cookbook review: Minimalist Baker Everyday Cooking

To justify my addiction to buying recipe books I've started to review my collection. You can read a bit more about my project, and a review of Keep it Vegan, over in this post.

Another vegan recipe book!
As I mentioned in my review of Keep it Vegan, I love buying vegan recipe books despite being a non-vegan as there are always some really creative ideas in them, and I often find when I buy "regular" recipe books I have to write off around half the recipes that contain meat (however, I will be reviewing some non-vegetarian/vegan recipe books). I like to be able to flick through a recipe book and know I can eat everything in it!

I've been a fan of the Minimalist Baker blog for a long time, and was really excited when I heard they were releasing a real-life book, however it took me a while to bite the bullet and order Everyday Cooking. 
With the book being American, I found Amazon had really disproportionately marked it up, and I really couldn't justify spending £25 on a recipe book. There was a point where I almost ordered it from Amazon US as even with £7 postage it would work out cheaper with the exchange rate.
Eventually, however, I managed to pre-order the book when it was out of stock and down to £17, guessing that it might go back up when it came back in stock. I was right, and thankfully got it for £17 before it went back up to £25.

One of the reasons I finally caved and purchased it, however, was because someone on the Post Punk Kitchen forum kindly posted a list of all the recipes in the book and I knew straight away it would be a book I would use a lot.

I was right.

First Impressions


First up, this is a beautiful book. There is a picture for every single recipe, which I love, and it's just a lovely book to flick through. I've mentioned before that I like to "read" recipe books like novels, and this is one that has accompanied me on the sofa dozens of times since I bought it!

The first thing I do when I get a new recipe book is go through with a post-it note writing down all the recipes I want to make. In Minimalist Baker Everyday Cooking I had 39 (you can tell by my list I'm not too bothered about desserts!).

One thing that struck me right away was that this is a very "midweek" recipe book, which is exactly what I need. While I do sometimes like to spend a bit more time on dinner on a Saturday or Sunday evening, most of the time I need quick midweek meals I can get on the table within an hour of getting home from work. With my new job and my new commute I get home about 45 minutes later than I used to, so easy cooking is exactly what I need. All of the recipes in this book are either under 10 ingredients, one bowl recipes or take less than 3o minutes.

I also love the fact that there are a lot of main meals. I'm not interested in desserts or drinks, and rarely interested in side dishes or breakfasts, so I'm glad the bulk of the book is dedicated to actual suppers.

Compared to a lot of other vegan recipe books I own (some of which I hope to review soon!) there didn't seem to be many "weird" ingredients, beyond things like nutritional yeast and tofu, which most veggies are well acquainted with (I'm ridiculously lucky to live around the corner from an amazing veggie supermarket, 8th Day Cafe, but I'm confident most people will be able to get nearly everything they need for this book in a big supermarket, with perhaps an online order or two needed). However there were some easy substitutions that could be made, for example, sugar instead of the recommended coconut sugar or maple syrup.

Speaking of sugar, one initial concern was there seems to be added sugar in a lot of the main dishes I wanted to make - even things like curries and pasta sauce.

There is also the argument that a lot of the recipes in this book aren't that original-sounding - three bean chilli, chickpea curry, bean burgers etc - but that doesn't put me off in the slightest. I actually enjoy finding new variations of classic dishes.

Oh it's also worth mentioning that none of the recipes in this book are repeats of recipes on the blog, which was great to find out. I buy a lot of recipe books from bloggers and often find a good chunk of the recipes can be found on their blog. So this was a nice surprise.

On to the recipes...

Masala Chickpea curry

I make a lot of chickpea curry. I probably make chickpea curry at least once a fortnight. It's easy, it's quick, I always have the ingredients in, and it's an excuse to eat extreme volumes of mango chutney.
This recipe had a different method than I'm used to, with the sauce being made separately and chickpeas added in later, and the sauce involved little spice and was thickened with blended carrots.
It was absolutely delicious. I've written in my notes "amazing flavour and lovely thick sauce." I actually had a friend over for dinner the evening I made this and was thrilled at how delicious it was! I'll definitely be making this again soon (maybe with some kale or spinach for some greenery) and it's a real storecupboard dinner I can see myself making over and over again. Oh and I have the add, the sweetness from the added maple syrup worked a treat.

The best vegan enchiladas
Apologies for the blurry photo! This image nowhere near gives them justice

Enchiladas without cheese? I've done this before and Phil sheepishly asked after 5 minutes, "can I put some feta on top?" so I thought this would be another alright-but-not-as-good-as-cheesy-enchiladas situation. I try to avoid adding cheese to vegan recipes because I think the proof of a good vegan recipe is that it doesn't need anything added to taste good.
There weren't a lot of ingredients to these enchiladas, which I was quite surprised by, and I felt canned refried beans were a bit indulgent (I would normally make my own, and because we shop in Aldi a special trip to the overwhelming huge Tesco near us was necessary to pick some up). I also felt like buying canned refried beans was cheating? 
Anyway, this was surprisingly easy and quick with a few substitutions - chipotle paste rather than canned chipotles, green pepper over pablano - and a delicious enchilada sauce.
And the result? Phil said they were "some of the best enchiladas he'd ever had". What a review! They were absolutely delicious, and worth splashing out on refried beans for! We didn't even miss the cheese!

Super-thick three bean chilli
It's basically a rule that every vegetarian/vegan recipe book has to have a chilli recipe. I've spent a long time trying different vegetarian chillis (my favourite being Cookie and Kate's sweet potato chilli which I make in the slow cooker). I love veggie chilli.
This one had a few unexpected ingredients in the form of courgettes and carrot, but I had issues with the instruction to add "partially drained beans" and as a result mine ended up a bit watery (how drained is partially drained?!), so it wasn't as "super thick" as the title might have suggested. However it was still a pretty good chilli, and one I'll undoubtedly make again!

Carrot, potato and chickpea red curry
Phil told me a few weeks ago that adding potato to a recipe made it an instant winner for him, so I thought this would be perfect. It was a pretty standard red curry. Pretty quick and easy, tasty and Phil-approved. Not the most exciting meal in the world, but a good mid-week option.

Tofu stir fry
I've committed a lot of time and effort into trying to like tofu. It bothers me that I don't like it. Because I really, really want to. I can eat it, don't get me wrong, but I just can't get excited about it and I just haven't found a recipe that has made me really enjoy it.
Phil was away last weekend so I decided to buy some tofu to try this stir fry. I pressed the tofu for half an hour and marinated it for 2 hours. I ended up making way too much (my fault!) but it was still... blah. The tofu was very flavourful from the marinating time, but the texture still didn't work for me (the recipe did suggest an extra step of baking the tofu, but I ran out of time for that) and the marinade was okay, but not exciting enough for me to want to make again. The only recipe so far I wouldn't make again.

Tofu tostadas
After Sunday's uninspiring tofu, I wasn't particularly excited to be using the rest of the block. This time instead of being in chunks, it was crumbled like a tofu scramble, and cooked in spices and salsa. I was a bit dubious after adding water as it seemed very liquidy so I cooked it with the lid off to ensure it boiled off. Rather than tostadas, we had it as part of burrito bowls with brown coriander and lime rice, guacamole and lettuce. Phil still thought the texture was "weird" but I thought it was delicious! We didn't even need cheese on our burrito bowls. I'm still not a big tofu fan, so I'd be tempted to try this technique with beans or chickpeas instead.

Breakfast burritos
I love breakfast burritos, but normally make them with eggs and cheese. This version involved coriander and lime rice (I made extra when we had burrito bowls), breakfast potatoes, avocado cabbage slaw and black beans. All the different elements sounded complicated, but it all came together relatively quickly. We had my friend, Eve, over for dinner again so I made a bit of a self-assembly burrito bar with lettuce, salsa and avocado, and it went down an absolute treat. This was really delicious and I would definitely make these again (although probably not for breakfast!).

Lentil tomato ragu
Another vegetarian recipe book classic is the "bolognese" made with lentils, but I wanted something easy and quick to throw together and this sounded like a good option. I'm not a big pasta eater at all (I tend to keep it quiet that I don't really like pasta as a vegetarian!) so I had mine over courgette noodles and Phil had spaghetti. This was another quick, easy recipe with lentils making it feel really "meaty" and hearty. We both really enjoyed this and will definitely make it again.

Pizza burgers

It's hard to resist something called "pizza burgers" - especially when they're on the cover of the book, but the truth is I am terrible at making veggie burgers. I'm always too impatient to let them cook properly before I flip them, so they always, always fall apart and I end up trying to smush them back together. But I decided to give these a go.
Because of my usually disastrous burger making, I saved these for Saturday night (we've literally just finished eating them), but they were actually quick enough for midweek. You have to make "vegan parmesan" first (a mix of cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt) and then it's pretty quick going from there - fry onions and garlic, mash cashews, add everything to a bowl and stir. I especially loved the game-changing suggestion to fill a measuring cup with cling film, then scoop in the mixture and flatten it out - another reason I hate making veggies burgers is that I hate getting my hands dirty so this meant I didn't have to shape them with my hands. I was planning to make my own marinara sauce, but I was worried the suggestion of tomato sauce with some seasoning might be too thin and sloppy, so I used a jar of tomato and mushroom pasta sauce I had in the cupboard, and I splashed out on the suggested ciabatta rolls.
The result? To quote Phil, "the best veggie burger I've ever had." What a result! I have to admit, as a person who has probably eaten a hundred times as many veggie burgers as Phil, it wasn't quite the best I've ever had (there was a suggestion to bake them to firm them up and I think that would have helped as they were quite soft), I think I'd definitely make them again.

Conclusion

If you can't tell, I love this book. With the exception of the tofu stir fry (which I'm sure would be lovely if you like tofu - for me, my search for the perfect tofu dish continues), I'd make everything again. Everything is easy to make, relatively quick (and if it isn't, that's clear in the recipe which includes cooking and prep time) and gives clear instructions (I hate recipe books that say "cook the onions" with no suggestion of how hot your pan needs to be). I couldn't recommend this book more to veggies and vegans (I have dozens of vegan recipe books and I think this is my favourite) and I think it's a great introduction to vegan food for curious meat-eaters, who I think would also appreciate that it's "non-preachy" and actually refers to itself as "plant-based" rather than vegan.

I still have loads of recipes I want to make from this - maybe there will be a part 2!

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