Burning Down the House: Fuss-Free Vegan

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Since beginning this column about two and a half years ago, J.K. has regularly made recipes from a few favorite food blogs, some of which we’ve featured here. In October her two favorite bloggers, Sam Turnbull of It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken and Candice Hutchings of The Edgy Veg, coincidentally both came out with vegan cookbooks.

In the first few weeks that she’s had Sam Turnbull’s Fuss-Free Vegan, J.K. and/or her sous-chefs have already made several recipes: Ah-Maz-Ing Peanut Butter Cookies, 15-Minute Peanut Noodles, Mexican Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burrito, Lasagna Fit for a King (or a Queen), Dude-Approved BBQ Chickpea Salad, Pumpkin Spice Pancake Perfection, and Oh Mommy Umami Lettuce Wraps.

Overall, J.K. really likes the cookbook, and our family has really liked the recipes. Though J.K. had “already made a ton of recipes from her blog”, these are different recipes, and “it’s nice having a hard copy.”

What I like about this cookbook is 1) the sense of research and reliability—you get the sense that Turnbull has really worked on perfecting these recipes and that everything is going to work out great and 2) Turnbull’s totally can-do attitude. As she says in her “Crème Brulee (Yes, Really)” recipe, “Anything can be veganized. I repeat, ANYTHING CAN BE VEGANIZED!” I tend to set the bar low (I typically don’t care if homemade gluten-free vegan bread feels like a brick, I’m just happy to be eating warm, homemade bread), but Turnbull sets the bar high, meaning that her recipes don’t just taste good, but they look really good as well.

My only quibble with the cookbook—and J.K. disagrees with me here—is that I think it might have been misnamed. While Turnbull emphasizes the lack of obscure/expensive ingredients and that eating vegan doesn’t mean having to swap weird boring food for your nacho cheesey old favorites, I think the strength of these recipes is their deliciousness and trustworthiness. But not their speed.

For the record, J.K. thinks the recipes don’t take that long. I’m not saying the extra time isn’t worth it, but only that we should recognize its existence. If a recipe in this cookbook includes some kind of homemade vegan cheese, it’s probably going to taste amazing (not something that one should take for granted)—but the recipe will then understandably take longer to make than dumping in a package of something you bought at the store.

Also, I should note that we made the recipes gluten-free (except for the peanut butter cookies) and without cashews, a preferred ingredient in various vegan cheeses. Even with these added challenges, the recipes have still turned out great.

In fact, the peanut butter cookies were the only recipe that maybe didn’t turn out as planned. J.K. made them with a friend after school, who said the cookies were “good, but a little crumbly.”  Later J.K. commented, “I think we messed up because we ate a lot of the wet dough before adding the dry ingredients, so that made it too dry.” Ohhhh….

We happened to eat the peanut noodles on Halloween, and they happened to be especially great with the addition of toasted salted pumpkin seeds. But using nice bright fresh veggies and homemade peanut sauce made this dish so much better than the way we normally have it, with frozen veggies and bottled peanut sauce, and it really didn’t take that much longer to make. J.K. and a friend made this while passing out Halloween treats to kids, which her friend noted was “pretty talented.” (Okay, in the interest of truth in journalism, they didn’t pass out “treats,” they gave out plastic insects and little wooden gliders.)

Next up, J.K.’s younger brother made the sweet potato burrito. He said, “I already know it doesn’t take 10 minutes to make this, because it’ll take 10 minutes just to chop the sweet potato.” He and J.K. liked the burrito all right, but thought the avocado sauce was “kind of strange.” Fred and I, on the other hand, really liked it, and I especially liked the creamy green sauce. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything with sweet potatoes and black beans—and if you throw in an avocado, there’s no contest.

I also liked the subtle smoky flavor—due, alas, not to the recipe’s called-for smoky paprika (we had regular paprika) but to, ahem, a video being watched while cooking.

The biggest showstopper we’ve made so far from Fuss-Free Vegan is, not surprisingly, the lasagna. People were coming and going as this was being made, and so all four of us made different parts at different times, though that was never anyone’s official overarching plan. Substituting almonds for cashews made the preparation more laborious; for example, soaking almonds meant an extra step of removing almond skins. (Note: A bowl of almond skins is not a treat. I checked so you don’t have to.) Nonetheless, everything still tasted fantastic.

The lasagna’s vegan mozzarella cheese was indeed gooey and really good. I think Turnbull might be a genius for coming up with these recipes, especially the vegan ricotta, which looked and tasted similar to ricotta but probably even better. I really liked the slight lemony flavor and wouldn’t have known it was vegan.

In this recipe as with other recipes, we would have benefited from soaking the nuts the night before. However, we compensated by using the Mama Katie Method (named for one of our kids’ grandmas) of not cooking the lasagna noodles ahead of time, and just layering in the uncooked noodles, which seemed to work fine.

J.K. followed the lasagna with the chickpea salad, which we both found beautiful and delicious. I wanted to eat more, but realized that since it’s called “Dude-Approved” we should maybe check with some actual dudes. Our two resident dudes both liked it, though J.K.’s brother preferred it without the vegan ranch dressing.

Next up, I made the pumpkin pancakes. We hadn’t planned ahead in order to chill coconut cream for whipped cream, but we all thought the pancakes were good with maple syrup. Fred said, “They look like little golden animals, and they taste good, too.”

Personally, I found it kind of thrilling to be able to make vegan gluten-free pancakes that everyone thought actually tasted good.

I decided on a whim to make the lettuce wraps, because they sounded really good—and they were. Though they too took longer than the predicted time, I really like the idea of lettuce wraps, and hope we’ll try some variations in the days to come. We substituted sunflower seeds for the walnuts.

Not wanting to leave out Ollie, our bearded dragon, Fred called out, “Mic the lizard!” But she was already in one of her moods and just rolled her eyes, then crawled underneath a lettuce leaf and pretended to be asleep.

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"Excerpted from Fuss Free Vegan: 101 Everyday Comfort Food Favorites, Veganized. Copyright © 2017 Samantha Turnbull. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.”