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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 a cookbook that shows desserts can be delicious and healthy without eggs and dairy.

More Great Good Dairy-free Desserts

By Fran Costigan

Book Publishing Company, 2006

Paperback, $19.95

How can you miss when you pick up a dessert cookbook by an author who has a lifelong bent for sweets and attended not one but two culinary arts schools? The first, the New York Restaurant School, included a comprehensive curriculum where Fran learned the basics of restaurant cooking, but recognized she was more attracted to the dessert classes.

After working six months as the baker in a gourmet take-out shop, Fran's health began to suffer and she had to leave the job she truly enjoyed. Her dramatic turn-around came after enrolling in the Natural Gourmet Cookery School where she realized that her SAD (Standard American Diet) was sapping her energy.

Fran Costigan Her health and career began to blossom when she started baking without eggs, dairy products, and white sugar. Focusing instead on whole grain rather than refined flours and using natural sweeteners in place of white sugar, Fran found her ovens were busy turning out a flurry of delicious cakes and desserts that didn't challenge her health.

In the process of teaching baking classes at the Natural Gourmet Cooking School and baking for private clients, she has convinced a sizable audience that it is possible to enjoy dessert without the negative effects of standard bakery ingredients like dairy, eggs, and refined sugar products.

More Great Good Desserts is a basic baking primer that doesn't look and feel like one, yet it's loaded with invaluable tips and excellent easy-to-understand directions. Fran includes a brief comprehensive chapter on essential ingredients and equipment she finds helpful. She understands the challenge confronting people trying to transition to a healthier lifestyle and suggests making dietary changes gradually.

Browsing through the recipes in the book just may bring on intense sweet cravings. These desserts, however, contain natural, whole foods rather than refined, manufactured products. From the Great Good Gels, Creams, Puddings, and Sauces at the beginning of the book to the last recipe section Great Good Fruit, Beverages, Frozen Desserts, and Confections, the book is a dessert enthusiast's dream

Most of Fran's recipes include common, easily found ingredients like chocolate, whole-wheat pastry flour, fruits and fruit juices, traditional leavenings like baking powder and baking soda, and flavoring extracts. However, the readers who purchase this book will learn the how-to of sophisticated techniques like gelling and creating softer textures with less familiar ingredients like agar, arrowroot, and kuzu. Fran makes it easy.

For instance, when making the appetizing Berry Crisp in a Cookie Crumb Crust, she first dissolves arrowroot in a bowl of water, then adds it to a simmering fruit mixture, stirring until it boils. The filling is allowed to cool before it is spooned into the crust.

Just as undaunting is the tantalizing Coconut Cloud Layer Cake with Island Coconut Cream Filling and Frosting that employs both agar and arrowroot. Even its name awakens temptation and visions of a tall, puffy white cake trimmed with golden toasted coconut.

Fran Costigan An old-fashioned favorite, peanut butter cookies, normally made with a hefty quantity of butter, becomes a healthy snack food with peanut butter replacing most of the fat. I Fixed My Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies creates a dose of nostalgia as well as a truly delicious cookie treat. You just may end up calling it a "great good" recipe.

Fran creates her version of "an honest bread pudding," a homey favorite she calls New Orleans Bread Pudding with Apples and Pecans. After browsing the tantalizing ingredient list with its many spices and sweet fruits like apples and raisins you may be motivated to gather up the items and begin baking.

With More Great Good Desserts as your guide, making successful vegan pastries need no longer remain a mystery. The introduction to the pie and tart chapter covers the many techniques the author has developed to help even the novice bring a great-tasting and great-looking pie to the table. The irresistibles include Pear Currant Pandowdy, Cranapple Maple Pie, Sticky Walnut Tart, and Glazed Grape Tart in a Cornmeal Pignoli Crust.

Following the recipes is an extensive Bibliography and Reading List, a listing of Resources for Ingredients and Equipment, and a number of Organizations and Publications, all valuable aids for those who experience the joys of preparing delicious desserts.

Unlike many dessert books that present recipes with complicated processes that frighten away the busy home chef, More Great Good Desserts by Fran Costigan is like having a genie in a book--her recipes are geared for success. With Fran "at your side," delicious desserts can easily become a regular family ritual of sweet delights.

Reviewed September 2006

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