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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Reading

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 feature three diverse books that offer different styles of vegetarian eating.

The Simple Little Vegan Slow Cooker

By Michelle Rivera

Book Publishing Company, 2005
Paperback, $9.95

A few years ago it wasn't unusual to find crockpots turning up at garage sales, unloved, and fallen into disuse. But today the slow cooker is back in vogue with attractive new shapes and features that even include a computerized version.

Slow-cooker maven Michelle Rivera offers a concise, mini manual of pointers to help the home chef choose just the right one and to get started with recipes bound to be family pleasers. Vegan Slow Cooker

Michelle cautions against finding a good buy on a used slow cooker at the local thrift store or garage sale instead of purchasing a new one. That used cooker may have been immersed in water that could affect the internal wires. Because the slow cooker is often busy at work while no one is home, a damaged cooker might be unsafe to use without careful monitoring.

While slow cookers come in varying sizes from 1 quart to 6 1/2 quarts, the optimal solution is to purchase one small one that holds 1 to 1 1/2 quarts and a large one that has a 4 1/2 to 6 1/2-quart capacity. If there is only room for one slow cooker in the kitchen, choose the large capacity size that will easily cook small quantities.

Slow cookers with removable inserts serve a dual purpose. They are easy to clean and can stand in as serving dishes to keep foods warm. Look for one with a glass top that allows you to peek at the contents without lifting the lid. Another feature of some new slow cookers is a programmable setting that will automatically switch to a pre-set lower temperature.

Most of Michelle's recipes require 6 to 8 hours of slow cooking, but for those that are ready in 2 or 3 hours, the cooker will keep them pleasantly warm until the home chef returns.

The author covers many tidbits of helpful information in miniscule chapters, including a description of tofu and how to freeze it. She also suggests adding a small amount of sugar to recipes with tomato paste to offset the acidity of the tomatoes

The introduction to Michelle's Italian recipes includes hints on herbs inherent to the cuisine. Her preference is for fresh herbs rather than dried because their flavors and aromas are zestier. An eye-appealing little graphic that appears at the bottom of each recipe is the mini slow cooker drawing that indicates the serving size and number of servings.

Recipes include kitchen standards with the Michelle touch like Marinara Sauce, Minestrone Soup, Vegetable Soup Stock, Mushroom Barley Soup, Shepherd's Pie Casserole, Baked Beans with Molasses, and Sloppy Josephines.

Tucked into this miniature volume are a few standout originals like Firepot Crockery Stew, Asian Potato-Mandarin-Sesame Salad, and Chix and Wine. Tempting her readers with a tantalizing dessert, Michelle offers Apples with Bourbon Caramel Sauce.

For a quick, handy guide with 64 easy-to-follow recipes, choose The Simple Little Vegan Slow Cooker. With its short ingredient lists of familiar items the home chef is likely to have on hand, the book is ideal for busy families. Anyone puzzling over the perfect bridal shower or wedding gift might consider a slow cooker and a copy of The Simple Little Vegan Slow Cooker.

The Raw Foods Resource Guide
By Jeremy Safron

Celestial Arts, 2005
Paper $9.95

Hot on the culinary scene, the raw food lifestyle has caused a stir as it explodes into the mainstream in cookbooks, TV shows, and major publications like The New York Times, Newsweek, and USA Today. Jeremy Safron, author of The Raw Truth and The Fasting Book, offers a condensed volume that enlightens and guides new and experienced raw fooders.

A crisp volume of only 87 pages, the book is brimming with details and techniques on every page. In the opening chapter, the author explains that raw food is "fresh fruits picked right off the tree" and includes leaves and roots, tubers, herbs, greens, flowers, berries, vine fruits, mushrooms, and sea vegetables. Fresh and sprouted foods and those that are cultured, sun-dried, and dehydrated comprise the basics of the typical raw food diet.

Safron presents a brief history of raw food and espouses the benefits of consuming a regimen of organic raw vegan foods. "Eating raw food provides 100 percent of the nutrition available to us," he states. "The same food in cooked form can have up to 85 percent less nutritional value."

The Four Living Food Groups Chart highlights 60 percent fresh foods, 20 percent sprouted foods, 10 percent dried foods, and 10 percent cultured foods. The author discusses transitioning tips and outlines the importance of using distilled water, juicing, eating organic foods in season, combining foods, and storing raw food properly. Raw Foods Resource Guide

Seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes can be soaked and sprouted, a process that promotes the growth of immune building chlorophyll and increases their protein content. Sprouting also releases enzyme inhibitors, making the sprouts more digestible. The book describes the process and provides a handy spouting chart listing the type of seed, soaking time, and sprouting time.

Two methods of creating cultured foods are offered along with a resource for obtaining live cultures to start the process. Cultured foods such as miso, seed cheese, kim chee, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha mushrooms promote the growth of beneficial bacteria to enhance the immune systems and offer protection from unfriendly bacteria.

The author discusses the benefits of dehydrated foods calling them concentrated nutrition and describes methods for sun drying and dehydrating. He even provides instructions for building a dehydrator and offers a valuable chart detailing drying times and temperatures for different foods.

Safron demonstrates his own resourcefulness when he tells his readers how to forage for raw foods in the woods and in the city. He suggests bringing homemade kim chee when traveling by air to build up good flora that may be destroyed by airline security radiation. His favorite survival foods include sprouted buckwheat, chia seeds, coconut water, kelp, spirulina, wheatgrass, and honey.

Raw fooders are cautioned that some of the foods they commonly incorporate into their diets may not be truly raw. Listed are some of these foods that may undergo processes that involve high heat or freezing that destroys the food's lifeforce. Some contain unwanted ingredients such as chemicals or animal ingredients.

The last half of the book is a raw food information bonanza. Listed by state are Raw Friendly Restaurants, Healing and Educational Centers, Societies and Support Groups, and Festivals and Events. Also included are numerous resources for email periodicals and e-bulletins, retail stores and suppliers of raw and living food products, recipe books and books on raw lifestyle and nutrition, and suppliers of kitchen equipment for preparing raw foods. A succinct glossary completes the book. There is no index.

The ultimate raw food resource, this concise guidebook leads raw disciples to the best places to dine on nature's delights or to purchase products for food preparation at home. The Raw Foods Resource Guide will help the reader discover raw food websites, learn new techniques, and find other enthusiasts when seeking support. An ideal handy reference, the book is small enough to carry in a backpack when traveling.

The New Vegan: Fresh, Fabulous, and Fun
By Janet Hudson

Thorsons, 2005
Paper $19.95

Most readers would agree that perfecting 440 tried-and-true recipes is a daunting accomplishment for any cook, but Janet Hudson is not just any cook. She's a vegan caterer who waxes passionately about having found the perfect lifestyle as well as the perfect cuisine.

A long-time vegetarian, Janet worked as a registered veterinary technician for a number of years. Having experienced her share of animal suffering, she became vegan 11 years ago for ethical concerns. "I remembered the comfort foods of my childhood and wished to combine those tastes while on my quest for perfect vegan fare," says the author.

After building a repertoire of appealing plant-based dishes, Janet filled a niche by creating her own catering company, Vegan Feast Catering in 2000. She calls her cuisine Fusion Vegan and combines seasonings and textures to create impressive flavor that even win over the meat-eaters. Thinking "out of the box" she says she "never met a Brussels sprout I did not like . . ."

The Hors d'oeuvres section presents 50 recipes that make great conversation starters to tame the appetite. Some offer heartier fare that becomes the main course, such as the Nilonese Dim Sum. These tempting yeast-raised buns become the casing that holds a stuffing of veggie pork seasoned with scallions and tamari spiced with pepper. The Quinoa Poblanos stuffed with onion, bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro-seasoned quinoa, also stand in as a main-dish recipe.

New Vegan Cookbook Janet loves to stuff, wrap, and roll as demonstrated in unique hors d'oeuvres like the Squash Blossom Special, 'Tader" Skins, Asparagus Surprise, and Thai-style Spicy Spring Rolls.

The Salad section clearly illustrates that Janet enjoys combining unique ingredients and emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness. The first recipe, Blood Orange with Belgium Endive in Hickory Shagbark Vinaigrette, presents a colorful image of toasted sliced almonds topping a combination of pastel green Belgium endive leaves with slices of blood oranges. Finishing the dish is a dressing highlighted with Hickory Shagbark Vinaigrette.

The Smooch Salad, one that offers a healthy dose of deeper greens, combines arugula, spinach, and dandelion greens with enoki mushrooms and strawberries topped with a balsamic vinegar and sesame seed dressing.

Soups range from hot to cold and light to hearty with old standbys like Best Borscht, Potato and Leek Soup, and Split Pea Soup. The "out of the box" soups include Pappa Al Pomadora, Vegetable Gumbo Soup, and Artichoke Chowder. The Almond Cream Soup with its base of almond milk punctuated with almond paste even sounds luxurious and only takes minutes to prepare.

At a party where Janet served her Where's The "Beef" Burgundy Fondue, one man was so impressed with the tenderness of the "meat" he asked where she had purchased the sirloin. The recipe actually featured mushrooms.

Among the tantalizing desserts is a treasure called Hazelnut Lace Cradles, a unique nut-based cookie dough flattened and baked to either form cups, bowls, or cradles that hold a filling of mousse, cheesecake, or sorbet.

While a galaxy of good solid recipes forms the basis of any good cookbook, other aspects, such as headnotes, variations, side-bars, appealing graphic design, kitchen or pantry tips, photos, glossary, and section introductions lend personality to a cookbook. Here The New Vegan fails to deliver by not including any of these cookbook enhancers, turning a book with great potential into a disappointment.

At the least, the book ought to have included headnotes that help to entice the reader to prepare the recipe by offering appealing descriptions, historical information, or a great way to serve the dish. No fault of the author, blame goes to the publisher for being remiss by not incorporating any of the typical aspects that make a cookbook special.

Despite these failings, The New Vegan simply concentrates on presenting 440 well-seasoned, innovative creations from which to choose. Even picky eaters will find a plethora of favorites. Long-time home chefs and busy moms alike will appreciate this book for its flavorful, easy-prep recipes that can transform anyone into a successful cook.

Reviewed February 2006

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