EAT: Everything I Needed to Know About Cooking I Learned From the Veganomicon

This beautiful gem has been in my possession since 01.07.08!
        This is the post where I'm gonna get all mushy-like and profess my love for all things food.  I must admit, we haven't always been best friends; there is a formidable period of time when I hated my body and we were downright bitter enemies, food and I.  Now as a woman on the cusp of turning thirty (ZOMG!) who has weighed approximately the same weight for around 10 years, it's safe to say this is the body I'm made with and I should probably accept it because it seems to like being how it is.  My acceptance does not equal negligence; I have maintained a more-healthy-than-not diet and prefer to stay fairly active to avoid stress and boredom.  It's a pretty average body, but together we have done extraordinary things.  And without it, well... I'd be dead and that would be boring.

        Because of this love for food, cookbooks hold a very special place in my heart.  I don't just look up recipes in them, I learn an entire new way of life.  Cookbooks have become significant enough in my life to have attained the status of being regarded as a "holy book" for at least the past five years.  When I first moved out on my own, my cooking skill was just high enough to keep starvation at bay.  Eating out at fast food places was too expensive and not to mention wildly unhealthy.  I was also a pretty strict vegetarian at the time too, so even when I did have money to go out, most of the enjoyment was lost due to the time spent scouring the menus for items other than salads and french fries that I could feel okay about eating.

        I knew how to cook a few staple meals:  spaghetti, burritos, rice, oatmeal, brownies...  uhhh... now that I think about it, what the hell WAS I eating?!  Hrm...  I think I ate a lot of cold cereals and noodles with frozen veggies -- cheap, easy, and (mostly) fool proof.  It was around this time I found out the hard way that my oven didn't work.  I had waited the obligatory 15-20 minutes for a frozen pizza to bake, only to I realize, "hey, it doesn't smell like pizza in here."  I ended up having to chop it into chunks and cook it piece by piece in the toaster oven.  Wah-wah.  (Thankfully maintenance fixed this problem once I alerted them to it.)  Spaghetti was a tasty, easy meal to make, but I'd only ever made it for my family, so me, not knowing how to adjust for less people, would end up eating a mountain of spaghetti for a week.  I didn't have easy access to the internet (hello free wifi hotspots!) and I never thought to look recipes up when I did.  If I had, maybe the two meals that went horribly wrong (and still haunt me to this day) could've been avoided.

        I had been trying to be fancy and make a "restaurant" dinner for myself.  The easiest meal I could think of was fettuccine alfredo with spinach.  Not too difficult, right?  HA!  It would've been fine had I not used CANNED spinach instead of FRESH.  I don't remember if the canned spinach was flavored or not, all I know is that it DID NOT make my meal taste like the pasta I got at the restaurant.  I didn't drain it, I just opened the can and tossed it right on top of my lovely noodles and sauce (which was also from a can.) It was just wrong and icky and I didn't know how to fix it.  And to make things worse?  I HAD TO EAT IT.  I had a strict budget for food so that meant what was in my pantry was all I had to eat.  Ugh.  What better incentive to learn how to cook than to be stuck eating the gross nonsense you thought up!

        The other incident involved jalapeno poppers. This was not as dire a mistake as the alfredo, just a very painful one.  I thought you could just shove some cream cheese in a hollowed out jalapeno, stick it in the oven and call it awesome.  Nope.  Truth is, you burn your face off and have to give in and throw them away because they're just TOO DAMN HOT!  I'd had enough.  I was tired of eating crappy food.

        That's when the magick happened.  I was wandering around Barnes & Noble one day after work and a book left on a table caught my eye called the VEGANOMICON: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook (written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romano).  All I could think was "What the hell, this looks good, what is it?!"  I sat down, cracked it open and am forever grateful I did!  Though I was a vegetarian at the time, I didn't really have the convictions or the know-how to become a vegan.  I had a couple of friends who were, but no one really close who could teach me how to cook.  I also thought it would be too expensive to go vegan since the majority of things on the market are horribly over-priced.  This book quickly changed my mind.

        With an emphasis on using real foods rather than over-processed imitation foods, Veganomicon teaches you how to create all kinds of delicious meals that are often quick and cost-effective.  It has everything from breakfast to dessert to snacks and gourmet dishes!  I only scanned a few of the pages, but it was enough to convince me that this was the book I needed to treat myself to.  (I had started a habit of saving a bit of money each month to allow myself to purchase something nice for myself, often times it was an art book from B&N since I got a discount there for being a GameStop employee.)  I left cradling my lovely new possession under my arm, not knowing at the time how great an impact it was about to have on my life.

        Actually READING this book can teach you what foods make good staples to stock your pantry with, what equipment is most useful to keep in your kitchen, definitions of commonly used cooking terms, and basic instructions for cooking most veggies, beans, and grains.  Again I applaud the author for not relying on commercially produced vegan/vegetarian products and teaching you how to make real, made-from-scratch food.  I feel it's an essential skill to have and saves you a lot of money in the long run.  (Not to mention the health benefits received by eating non-overly processed foods.)  And to make things even more interesting, each recipe is often embellished with a cute anecdote worth reading too!

        To give you an idea of the range of recipes you'll find in this book, I'll list some of my favorites (in order of appearance in the book, I don't think I could pick a favorite!!):
  • Everyday Chipotle-Vegetable Tamales
  • Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes
  • Blueberry Corn Pancakes
  • Snobby Joes
  • Roasted Butternut Squash with Coriander Seeds
  • Ancho-Lentil Soup with Grilled Pineapple
  • Almost All-American Seitan Potpie
  • Potato and Kale Enchiladas with Roasted Chili Sauce
  • Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-fry
  • Fudgy Wudgy Blueberry Brownies
  • Individual Heart-Shaped Apple Galettes

        I wish I could thank whoever it was that left this book on the table that day at the bookstore!  My copy is so well-loved now:  bulldog clips dividing each chapter, stuffed with recipes I've found from different sources, all the notes I've scrawled on the pages while cooking each recipe...   Though I never went full vegan and have since incorporated meat back into my diet, I still rely heavily on the recipes in this book.  It makes it easy to add (or sneak!) more veggies into your diet by providing countless examples that go above and beyond the standard flavors of steamed or sautéed side dishes while maintaining the amount of ease with which you can cook them.  Want to make pancakes but you don't have any eggs or butter?  I know how to make that happen now!  Learning vegan substitution for common foods comes in handy when you're missing certain items or want to make your groceries stretch a little further than normal.  Plus when you do entertain company with special food preferences, you'll be able to accommodate them without pressure! 

        The authors have several other delicious cookbooks which you can find listed at their website The Post Punk Kitchen!  You should just check out the website in general because it's awesome and there are tons of recipes on there for free if you're not convinced you need to buy this book yet.  (Well why not?!)  I can't tell you enough how much I love this book.  Well, yes I can, but I don't think a page full of OMGGGILOOOOVETHIS!!!111!! would make for good reading. 


VSR said...

Nothing like learning because you have to survive! I know you've raved about this book, and I've scoured thru a many just to find the RIGHT recipe, but I have to commend all the useful information that this book gives. There was that time I had to cook vegetarian, boy was that fun,(sarcasm)but I thought I made a good vegetarian chili by myself. I'm glad this book helped you out, they should pay you for advertising it as you have.Heh!

{j} said...

Hahah I don't feel this was an advertisement because I wasn't writing this for monetary compensation nor was I asked to do it by the authors. It's just a review about a thing I really love! Trust me, not all reviews on here will be favorable. I don't like EVERYTHING you know. HA!

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