Burning Down The House: Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking

Schultz, Dana. Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking: 101 entirely plant-based, mostly gluten-free, easy and delicious recipes. New York: Avery (Penguin Random House), 2016.

This fall and winter J.K. made recipes from Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking: 101 entirely plant-based, mostly gluten-free, easy and delicious recipes. I loved this cookbook and was excited about every recipe. J.K., on the other hand, liked but didn’t love them.

The cookbook and accompanying blog (minimalistbaker.com) are gorgeous, so gorgeous, in fact, that the author, Dana Schultz, offers a food photography school as part of the blog.

The Minimalist Baker’s intention is to include recipes that are relatively simple and that follow at least one of the following guidelines: 1) one pot or bowl; 2) 30 minutes or less; or 3) 10 ingredients or less. I always opt for simplicity in cooking, and I’m an eager corner-cutter (peeling, schmeeling!). J.K., on the other hand, tends to make complicated recipes and even whole feasts with glee, so I was surprised by her feeling that some of the recipes had too many ingredients and were too much work.

“Only 10 ingredients?” she said. “That’s still a lot.” 

Ultimately, we realized, the problem was that she just wasn’t that excited enough by the results. Since she is neither a vegan or gluten-free, the extra trouble wasn’t worth it to her, though I was really wowed by the gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookies she made. J.K. would just as soon bake and eat standard garden-variety chocolate chip cookies with less effort.

Likewise, I thought the gluten-free vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oat Bread she made was the best thing ever, but if she had made it with “regular” ingredients it might have been even better.

It’s true that I set the bar pretty low for gluten-free vegan food—if it’s edible, I tend to be pretty excited—while J.K.’s standards are a little more rigorous.

Recipes we (okay, mostly she) made from this cookbook include Better-Than-Restaurant Vegan Nachos, The Vegan Breakfast Burrito, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oat Bread, One-Bowl Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies, DIY Almond Milk, and Angel Hair Pasta with Harissa Romesco, as well as the Fluffy One-Bowl Sugar Cookies recipe from the blog.

All of these recipes were so delicious that I don’t think a casual eater strolling by and snatching some off a plate would have realized they were vegan and gluten-free. To our surprise, our fellow eaters and I really liked the vegan nachos, even the vegan cheese. Anyone who’s experimented with vegan cheese knows this is not a result to be sneezed at.

Presentation-wise, the only questionable outcome occurred because we didn’t follow the instructions to let the pumpkin chocolate chip oat bread cool completely. The pumpkin bread, though incredibly delicious, was crumbly and not beautifully sliceable. Other guests at the Halloween party we attended stuck mostly to candied eyeballs and spiders, leaving me to eat most of the loaf.

Those wishing to try this for themselves (with or without the discipline to let pumpkin bread cool) can check out two recipe variations on the blog: vegan gluten-free pumpkin bread (http://minimalistbaker.com/1-bowl-pumpkin-bread-v-gf/) and vegan pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (http://minimalistbaker.com/pumpkin-chocolate-chip-muffins/).

As far as substitutions go, I have no problem swapping gluten-free flour for wheat flour or a flax meal “egg” for a chicken egg without factoring in the delicate considerations of chemistry/texture/rising, etc. But Dana Schultz does care about these things, and it’s evident she has worked hard to make the substitutions successful.

One of my favorite things about the cookbook was that after J.K. made the chocolate chip cookie recipe, which uses pumpkin puree (or unsweetened applesauce) in place of an egg, we started replacing eggs in other recipes with pumpkin puree, all with good results.

In a similar vein, the cookbook contains a handy “resources” section at the beginning for recipes such as a flax egg (1 Tablespoon flaxseed meal with 2-1/2 Tablespoons water), DIY almond milk, gluten-free flour blend, vegan parmesan, cauliflower rice, and roasted garlic — pretty much all things I think are worth trying. I particularly like this flax egg recipe because you just add cold water, unlike other versions I’ve used where you have to boil the water, which adds time and effort.

The only criticism I have of the cookbook is that the index sometimes isn’t easy to use. Vegan Breakfast Burritos, for example, weren’t listed under Vegan or Breakfast or Burritos, though I finally found them under black beans, listed as “The Vegan Breakfast Burrito.”

For the convergence of the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve in December, J.K. made the sugar cookie recipe from the blog. She’d brought cookie cutters to a cabin we were staying in for a few days, though once there realized we’d forgotten to pack the flour and baking soda. There already weren’t going to be any eggs, with pumpkin puree acting as the egg substitute. Unfazed, J.K. swapped gluten-free apple cinnamon instant oatmeal for the flour.

That night we chipped away at the caramelized greasy brickle with spoons to dislodge it from the pan, enjoying the crispy bits that were kicked up into the air and rained down. The official verdict: this was really good. “Disgusting but yummy,” Fred said.