Living Vegan In Charlotte, NC

Well-Read Wednesday – The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

Now that we’ve passed the Autumn equinox, the weather is getting decidedly cooler.  Night isn’t just creeping in on little cat feet anymore; it’s sprinting to beat me home from work! Spending time in a warm, cozy kitchen experimenting with recipes sounds like just the thing on an Autumn night.

Two of my furry sons, enjoying watching the Autumn night creep in on you-know-what

the concious cookThe Conscious Cook looks like it might be just the book to keep me company!  It is a big, beautiful vegan cookbook filled with mouthwatering recipes, photos of drool-worthy food, and step by step instructions.  It’s written by celebrity vegan chef Tal Ronnen (who cooked Oprah’s meals for her 21-day cleanse and catered the vegan wedding of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi). 

Vegan foodies will love it!

Here’s what I liked:

  • Wonderfully creative gourmet recipes. Picture the food at Fern, Flavors from the Garden (or, if you’re not familiar with Charlotte, picture any 5-star gourmet restaurant, only vegan). That’s the kind of recipes you’ll find in this book.
  • Gorgeous, full color photographs of every recipe. This is especially helpful since I, for  one, need help picturing foods such as “quinoa, avocado, and sweet potato timbale with roasted tomatillo dressing.”
  • You’re not just making a main dish, but also a well-chosen side item.  In other words, a complete meal.
  • Step-by-step instructions, including directions on how to plate the food so you can recreate that elegant fine dining experience at home.
  • Interviews with other groundbreaking vegans and vegan chefs, including:  
    • Don McKinley, who brought quinoa to America.
    • Bob Goldberg, who invented the much beloved eggless mayonaise Vegenaise at his restaurant almost 40 years ago.  (Yes, sorry Bill Gates, you were not the first person to come up with this idea.)
    • Yves Potvin, creator of Yves Veggie Foods and Gardein.
    • Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza, owners of New York’s famous Candle Cafe and Candle 79.
    • Seth Tibbott, found of Turtle Island Foods (Tofurky).

I was a bit worried that these recipes would be heavy on the faux meat products, since Tal Ronnen is apparently an investor in Gardein and has also acted as a consultant.

And it’s true there are many recipes that rely on Gardein (some of them a bit odd; in one recipe you use Gardein steak-style strips and are then instructed, “Using a dish towel or paper towel, rub each strip to remove the seasoning that comes on the packaged product.”).

old bay tofu cakesHowever, there are many recipes that don’t rely on commercial faux meat products – such as Old Bay Tofu Cakes, Peppercorn Encrusted Portabello Fillets, Tempeh Creole, Nori Dusted Oyster Mushrooms and Wine-Braised Artichoke Hearts, Agave-Lime Grilled Tofu, Whole Wheat Penne with San Marzano Tomatoes, and Asparagus and Meyer Lemon Risotto.

Who This Book Is For:

  • Vegans who fancy themselves a bit of gourmet chef or have secret daydreams of one day becoming a bit of a gourmet chef.
  • Vegans with intermediate cooking skills who want some knock-your-socks off recipes for special occasions.
  • Vegan foodies.  Even if you don’t like to cook yourself, you may still enjoy looking at the beautiful food photography and reading the interviews.

This Book May Not Be For:

  • Beginning cooks. Even though the directions are extremely detailed, most of these recipes would be frustrating for a beginner to make.
  • Those looking for quick meals to throw together after a long day at the office. Tal thoughtfully includes preparation time for all the mains – from the time you start the prep to the time you plate your gourmet creation. Many are quite time consuming – Prep Time:  1 1/2 hours.  Prep Time:  45 Minutes.  Prep Time:  1 Hour, 30 Minutes, plus chilling.  
  • Those who live in smaller towns who may not have access to many of the gourmet ingredients – pine nuts, dulse, anise-flavored liqueur, saffron.
  • Those who have tight budgets.  Gourmet ain’t cheap. Recipes calling for multiple expensive ingredients – cashews, artichokes, and capers, for example – could put quite a dent in your food budget for the week!
  • Those allergic to nuts. Quite a few recipes call for Tal’s “cashew cream.” Fortunately, I’m not allergic to nuts, but I do get weary of soups, sauces, and cheeses made from nuts.  It’s just soo heavy (and caloric)! I would have preferred Tal included some alternate methods of creating creamy soups and sauces – for example, using a potato, some silken tofu or soy yogurt, or even just blending some soup vegetables into a puree!

Have I cooked any of these recipes myself? Not yet, but a friend of mine has, and I can tell you they were delicious! Tal’s Asparagus Soup was particularly outstanding – the secret is adding a few cups of spinach, to give the soup a brilliant bright green color.

"Peppercorn-encrusted Portobello fillets with yellow tomato béarnaise and mashed potatoes."  On my to-try list!

“Peppercorn-encrusted Portobello fillets with yellow tomato béarnaise and mashed potatoes.” On my to-try list!

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4 Responses »

  1. I’m so glad I came across your blog! I have this cookbook and it’s one that just keeps staring at me and hasn’t been used. The soup sounds wonderful. I think I’m going to have to dust it off and get cooking!

    • I’m glad the review was helpful! I know exactly what you mean about having a cookbook “staring at you”. Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed or intimidated by a new cookbook – just so hard to figure out what to try first!

  2. I have this book and cannot put it down. the flavors are absolutely amazing. you feel like ,…no, you ARE, eating 5-star food. The book was given to me as a gift and it just keeps on giving. I cannot stop raving about it.

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