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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we review two vegan cookbooks. One makes it easier for anyone with food sentitivies and intolerances to enjoy delicious vegan baked desserts. The other eases meal preparations for busy working families.

Click here for a review of Vegan Express


By Erin McKenna
With Chris Cechin
Photographs by Tara Donne

Clarkson Potter, 2009
Hardbound $24.00

Cupcakes, the hotties of every bakery, grace the cover of babycakes in stunning life-size glory. Anyone who loves sweet treats and desserts and enjoys an occasional baking stint in the kitchen would feel compelled to reach for this appealing book, curious to explore its dazzling baked goodies that tempt with brilliant color photos and clearly detailed recipes.

A convincing foreword by Tom Colicchio seals the deal. BabyCakes NYC, a tiny bakery that opened in New York City in 2005, has attracted lines of cupcake-craving, cookie-loving, muffin-chomping, and cake-eating aficionados waiting to make their purchases. Navigate the long lines and meander into the kitchen to find author Erin McKenna, who opened the bakery. Erin developed recipes that bring delicious desserts not only to those with celiac disease, but also to anyone with food allergies and food sensitivities.

babycakes Erin admits to having been a "competition-level snacker." After she was diagnosed with wheat and dairy allergies, she was determined to have her cake and eat it too, though her cakes would have to be vegan and made without wheat and dairy products. Never trained as a baker, she embarked on experiments using alternative flours, sweeteners, and dairy replacements. A few flops served as learning experiences while she prevailed and finally amassed a treasury of sweet rewards that fill the pages of babycakes along with gorgeous close-up photos of melt-in-the-mouth desserts like Double Chocolate Crumb Cake and Apple Cinnamon Toastie.

To help the reader bake these delights, Tools, Ingredients, and Tips covers the necessary utensils like a whisk, measuring spoons, and a dough scraper as well as a few tools unique to the needs of the baker, like a plastic squeeze bottle for drizzling on sauces or an ice cream scoop to create uniform size cookies or cupcakes. The Ingredients listing is highly specialized and mentions items like garbanzo bean flour, xanthan gum, coconut oil, and gluten-free flour. Covered also is advice on substituting ingredients, how to properly measure ingredients, and a brief note on spelt flour, a cousin to wheat that some wheat-sensitive people find easier to tolerate.

"But a life without a muffin was simply not an option for me," says Erin who offers a delectable selection of these little cakes that make breakfast something to anticipate. Begin with two varieties of roasted apples and a hefty measure of cinnamon, and add some gluten-free flour and a few spoonfuls of muffin accoutrements to start your day with a couple of Apple-Cinnamon Muffins. Next to the photo of golden brown Ginger-Peach Corn Muffins is an informative sidebar that offers helpful hints on using fruits and vegetables in recipes throughout the book.

Don't miss the one-page course in Advanced Biscuitry before preparing treats like the Raspberry Scones or Strawberry Shortcakes. Plenty of variations provide endless diversity in Scone magic like Chocolate Shortbread Scones with Caramelized Bananas.

babycakes Even celebrities know about BabyCakes. Erin shares personal messages she's received from vegan advocates like Natalie Portman, Pamela Anderson, and Jason Schwartzman, along with friends and relatives. Dotted throughout the book are their heartwarming testimonials that rave about their favorites.

From Teacakes like Jalapeno-Cheddar Corn Bread and Lemon-Poppy Teacake to Cookies like Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches and Sugarplum Cookies, each delight is a work of art derived from a labor of love. Each tantalizing recipe from Brownies, Cupcakes, and Frostings to Cakes, Pies and Cobblers is kitchen-friendly to the home chef with instructions that are easy, fully tested, and delicious.

Erin has made an effort to create recipes that will turn out successfully by infusing the book with sidebars detailing delicate processes, coloring frostings naturally, enhancing basic recipes, and even how best to store the homemade treasures. Innovative to the max, this clever author even uses vanilla and chocolate cupcakes as the base for creating a crumb mixture that can be turned into a host of treats like rum balls, fudgy truffles, and even pie crust.

The book closes with a resource section that directs the home baker to websites that sell unique flours, sweeteners, and flavorings used in the recipes. Attractive graphic layout and tantalizing full color photos on nearly every page makes this book a browser's delight.

babycakes is a unique volume that concentrates on totally vegan, wheat and dairy-free familiar, home-style desserts that bring comfort and pleasure to the palate along with big smiles of satisfaction. Each recipe is carefully crafted to bring success, visual appeal, and more than a pinch of sweetness into one's life. It's a cookbook that delivers the ultimate in sweet indulgence.

Vegan Express

By Nava Atlas

Broadway Books, 2008
Paperbck $18.95

Does author Nava Atlas snap her fingers and out pops another outstanding vegan cookbook? Well, not quite, but Nava does readily accept challenges that result in positive outcomes. While writing Vegan Express, she returned to graduate school and completed a thesis, all the while cooking wholesome vegan meals for her husband and two hungry teenage boys.

Nava's consuming student status and the recipes in Vegan Express are living testimony that delicious homemade dishes need not be a forgotten treasure in a busy household with diverse activities and demands. This author keeps her promises when she says, "These recipes really do fit into a busy (perhaps overly busy) life. Most of the individual recipes in this book can be made in thirty minutes or less …."

Nava relies on a well-stocked pantry with a few prepared items that are a great help at times when she turns to shortcuts like natural salad dressings, salsa, peanut satay sauce, flavored tofu varieties, and canned beans and lentils. During extra busy days, those convenience items allow extra time to focus on preparing fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables in season. Vegan Express

The introductory section of the book contains a brief primer on the vegan diet and lifestyle and covers nutrition basics like protein concerns, calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Like many who appreciate fresh ingredients, Nava emphasizes buying produce in season when fruits and vegetables are at their peak of ripeness and full of flavor. She asks, "Who wants winter squash in July or strawberries in January?" The pantry necessities are extensive, detailed, and informative.

Sprinkled throughout the book are charming illustrations by the author who is able to convey a sense of home, kitchen, and the love of food with a few strokes of the brush that are sometimes just suggestions.

Highly appealing are the numerous menu ideas that follow each recipe and give readers a host of easy-fix choices to pair with the dishes that are also accompanied with nutritional analyses. Missing from the analyses is cholesterol, not actually needed because plant-based foods contain zero cholesterol.

Speedy, Savory Soups introduces the recipe section and offers enough choices to enjoy a different soup everyday for two full weeks. The chapter includes hearty soups like Tomato Chickpea Soup with Tiny Pasta and Fresh Herbs as well as lighter bowls like Nearly Instant Thai Coconut Corn Soup.

Global cuisines play a major role, providing the home chef the opportunity to explore the foods of the world with easy recipes like Tofu Shakshouka, a Middle Eastern sauté made vegan with silken tofu in place of the traditional eggs. Many could look forward to a taste of Jamaica with a hearty helping of Jerk-Spiced Seitan or dining Greek style with Seitan Gyros in a pita.

Nava Atlas In addition to whole grains like brown rice, other grains like quinoa, grits, and bulgur are featured and paired with a wholesome source of protein from legumes such as black beans, garbanzos, and lentils. Bulgur with Lentils, Parsley, and Raisins is a tasty, quickly prepared dish that includes onions and vegetable bouillon, and employs a light seasoning of cumin, salt, and pepper.

For dining on the lighter side, the book includes fourteen tasty recipes in the Salads with Substance chapter and even more selections in the Salads and Veggies on the Side. Even old standbys like coleslaw can become special with extra touches in Nava's Creole Coleslaw.

When a dish needs a little dressing up, a dollop of Instant Roasted Red Pepper Sauce or Mustard-Spiked Cheese Sauce provides tasty choices. For a rich nutty flavor there's an easy recipe for Cashew Butter Sauce that can be quickly prepared in one saucepan.

The eight full-color pages featured in the center of the book contain eight choice recipes so beautifully photographed anyone would be tempted to buy the book, head for the kitchen, and start cooking. Pictured on the last two pages are two dessert favorites: Berry-Apple Skillet Crumble and Our Favorite Chocolate Cake that represent the two opposing ideas the author explains in the Sweet Finales introduction. The desserts are mostly quick-fix fruity treats that are eaten right away, while a few, like the chocolate cake, require more than 30 minutes in the oven.

For author Nava Atlas, Vegan Express is the well-traveled road to her express kitchen where she created this banquet of 160 appealing dishes in a minimum of time. For anyone who values delectable, wholesome foods with fresh ingredients but finds limited time for complex cooking, Vegan Express is the jewel of the times. The recipes are easy to prepare quickly, focus on familiar ingredients, and offer delightful, delicious diversity. Every family who shares the common experience of hectic days or weeks will find this uniquely inspired cookbook invaluable.

Click here for past book reviews

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