Monday, January 13, 2014

Mayim's Vegan Table by Mayim Bialik and Dr Jan Gordon (2014)

I imagine there's this moment in publishing house planning meetings where they discuss upcoming titles and the kind of people who will buy them, maybe laughing at or wondering about the people who buy a book just because of the famous name on the cover. I admit - I am one of those people. If it is written by a female actor, I promise you it's on my list of books to read. Some, I liked a lot (Molly Ringwald's When It Happens to You and Lauren Graham's Someday, Someday, Maybe were both very good and the cookbooks from Real Housewives Bethenney Frankel and Teresa Guidice are excellent and in regular use at my house), some made me smile and watch Clueless again (The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone) and some were just awful (Oh Dear Sylvia by Dawn French and Skinnydipping by Bethenney Frankel were really, really bad). So when I saw Mayim's Vegan Table available on Netgalley, I was torn. I find Mayim Bialik fascinating - a woman with a PhD in microbiology who plays a character on TV with a PhD in microbiology - but I am not a fan of vegan cookbooks, as they are often full of frankenfoods and weird ingredients,. Clearly, my curiosity won out and I requested the title.

Upon downloading my copy, I was again a bit hesitant when I saw there were four chapters on veganism before the recipes even started. With all due respect to any vegans out there, I too have read the research and decided that it's not a lifestyle I want and I don't read books to feel lectured at about my choices (although I have more respect for vegans than I do for people who "eat paleo". Don't even get me started on people who follow "our ancestors' diets" and then cook with ghee and canned coconut milk - just like ancient man). However, these chapters were very reasonable and not polemic at all. I found myself nodding quite a bit - a healthy diet is about making better choices for the environment and our bodies - and, as a society, we eat too many meat products and way too much processed food. These authors (Bialik and Dr Jay) advocate for making better choices, which I fully agree with. They are argue strongly and persuasively that we need to be feeding our kids better food - less processed chips in individually packaged bags that go into landfill and more fresh, healthy food. Also (and I agree with this wholeheartedly) food needs to stop being used as a way to reward or console. Teaching a kid that doing something good means you get a sweet treat leads to adults with a unhealthy relationship with both food and rewards.

So, the writing gets a tick from me. But, at the end of the day this is a cookbook, so I picked two recipes that I had the ingredients for in the cupboard and started cooking.

First up, Spanish Rice. 

Excuse the photo - the steam from the hot food fogged up the camera lens! I served this with kidney beans, jarred salsa and fresh diced tomato in wholegrain tortillas and it was simple and delicious. My boyfriend ate all of the leftovers straight from the pan and didn't believe me when I told him it was vegan. I will definitely be making it again.

For dessert: Chocolate Fudge Cake.

It's a bit flatter than it should be because I halved the recipe. Bialik ices her cake but I actually don't particularly like "frosting" so I just dusted it with icing sugar and served with fresh raspberries and blueberries. This also was a winner - easy, simple, moist and tasty.

My one criticism of the book is that I would have liked to have a key added with information on recipes' suitability for freezing, making ahead and if they were gluten-free. What I liked most about this book is that it wasn't about trying to replicate food with animal products in vegan form - it is full of healthy, simple recipes that taste good and I've got a whole bunch of other recipes flagged to try. I never thought I'd say this about a vegan cookbook, but when my Netgalley copy expires, I think I will actually buy a copy. Four stars.

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