Spork Feed Me, Seymour! A review of the Spork-Fed Cookbook

I have to say I enjoy cookbooks more than ever now that I live in a small town with a limited amount of vegan restaurants.  (We’re back up to one restaurant again!  Yay!)  Trying out someone else’s recipes is a way to learn some new things, sample flavors that are combined in interesting ways, and take a break from those favorite go-to’s that show up again and again in one’s dinnertime rotation.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying recipes from Spork-Fed.  I’ve heard many good things over the years about Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg, the women behind Spork Foods.  They teach cooking classes in Los Angeles, and my friends who have taken them have raved about them.  So I was eager to try out some of their recipes for myself.

The first thing I noticed about the cookbook is that the pictures are beautiful, and every recipe gets a photo.  I know this kind of thing shouldn’t matter.  It should be about the quality of recipes themselves.  However, when I’m looking through a cookbook, many times it’s the quality and quantity of photos that gets me going and puts a fire under me to cook.  (It sounds painful, but luckily I have a high threshold when it comes to cooking desire ferocity.)  Cookbooks that don’t have photos or that have generic introductions to the recipes themselves often languish in my cookbook cupboard.  I like to hear stories.  I want the authors to set the scene and tell me about the recipe itself or their experience creating it.  (That must be why I enjoy blogs so much.)  Luckily, this cookbook offers plenty of both where those things are concerned.

On to the recipes!  The first thing I made was the Lentil Pecan Pate.  I was going to a girls’ night that included about twenty other women, and so I made the full batch.  The recipe was easy to make and was actually better a day or two after I made it since it gave everything time to set up and for the flavors to meld.  In addition to the tastes of lentils, pecans, and fresh thyme, what really stood out to me was the fresh lemon juice that gave a tangy, fresh zip to the pate.  (It can also be made with white wine instead.)  I brought along carrots, celery, cucumber slices, and crackers for spreading.

The pate was a hit and people seemed to really enjoy it.  However, I had a lot left over.  My husband and I were eating it for a few days afterwards and still couldn’t finish it.  Since pate is eaten as a thin layer of spread, people don’t get through it quite as quickly as, say, salsa or guacamole.  Next time, I’ll make a half amount of the recipe, but I’ll definitely be making it again.  It would fit in perfectly at a winter holiday meal.  Plus, it’s nice that it can be made ahead of time when life is busy.

Next I made the Southwest Black Bean and Corn Mini Burgers with Smoky Paprika Cheese.  To make the burgers, vegetables are sautéed on the side, and then a mixture of black beans, rolled oats, breadcrumbs, and seasonings are processed in a food processer.  When I was making the bean mixture, I worried that it would be too dry and the burgers wouldn’t hold together.  However, when I added it to the vegetables and formed patties, they stayed together with no problem.  The burgers never got completely firm and dense; however, the flavor was very good.  I just love vegan Worcestershire sauce, which is included in the burgers, and I rarely have an excuse to use it.

The cashew cheese, which is made in a high-speed blender with smoked paprika pulls the dish together and makes it something special.  The recipe also calls for fresh thyme in the cashew cheese, which I will omit next time.  I felt it stood out in a way that didn’t fit with the other Southwestern flavors.  I’d also like to try baking the burgers next time instead of frying to cut down on oil and perhaps to firm the burgers more.

In my copy of the cookbook, above the recipe for Creamy Pistachio Pesto over Brown Rice is my handwritten note that reads, “Perfect!  David loved it!”  So if you plan on making this for someone named David, you should be safe.  This dish is gluten free, and as the name implies, involves making a pistachio pesto and combining it with brown rice.  What makes this pesto unique is the inclusion of light miso paste.  The miso provides a rich warmth that balances the nuttiness of the pistachios and brightness of the lemon juice.  The rice is topped with cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives.

I’ve actually made this twice, because we enjoyed it so much.  The second time I added roasted chickpeas to the dish, and it made it a complete meal.  This one will definitely go in the regular rotation, especially as summer edges closer and basil is more widely available.  (For now, I have two sad little naked basil plants in my kitchen window.  Hurry up, guys.  Mama needs basil.)

In the interest of “science,” I tried out one of the heavier items and landed on Beer Battered Tempeh Fish.  (A recipe for tartar sauce is also included, but I didn’t make that.)  I have to say, this one was my least favorite.  Some of it was that I’m not the biggest tempeh fan ever.  The pungent, fermented quality of tempeh has to be masked with spices for me to really get into it.

For this recipe the tempeh briefly marinates in a mixture of malt vinegar and agave nectar before getting dipped into the beer batter.  I’m a malt vinegar fiend, and I hoped that the tempeh would pick up a lot of that flavor, but it really didn’t.  It just tasted like plain tempeh in beer batter.  The recipe made at least double the amount of batter that was necessary, and so if you’re making it, I’d recommend reducing the amount by at least half.  The dish wasn’t bad per say, but I doubt I’ll make it again.  For the once or twice a year that I crave something beer battered, I’ll stick with the Beer Battered Tofu from Vegan Brunch.

Spork-Fed has a lot of indulgent, comfort food recipes.  It’s not unusual to see non-dairy butter, vegan cream cheese, vegan mayonnaise, agave syrup, or vegan cheese in the ingredient lists.  For that reason, it probably won’t be one I use all the time, but when I’m looking for something on the guilty-pleasure side I have earmarked the recipes for French Onion Soup with a Cheesy Crouton Topping and Nachos with a Melty Cashew Cheese, Lemon Herb Sour Cream and Guacamole.

Have you made any of the recipes from Spork-Fed?  What did you think?

I received a review copy of Spork-Fed at no cost from the publisher, but the thoughts and opinions about this book in general and specific recipes are completely my own.

Jackfruit Crab Cakes from Fat Free Vegan

Last year before Vegan MoFo began, I started turning my gears, wondering what I’d do for a theme.  During my brainstorming I thought about Jeff Foxworthy’s stand-up routine around rednecks.  If you’re not familiar with it, he does a whole series of jokes about goofy, backwards things and says that if you do any of those, you might just be a redneck.  I thought about how all lifestyles involve certain idiosyncrasies.  As ideas came to me, I started jotting them down.  If you ______, you just might be a vegan.

As the idea transformed, I decided to do a silent film-style series in black and white with various unconventional ways to suss out a vegan.  As we brainstormed, my husband and I left a sheet of paper on the table for weeks, and whenever inspiration would strike, we’d jot down little notes.

(This is one of the videos from last fall.  It seems that people either really get it or they absolutely don’t.)

Well, I had reason to look for that paper the other day when Susan Voisin over at Fat Free Vegan posted her recipe for vegan crab cakes.  As I scanned the ingredient list, which includes canned jackfruit, tofu, nutritional yeast, and turmeric, I instantly thought, “Great, I have all of those things on hand.”  People, if your kitchen staples include canned jackfruit, tofu, nutritional yeast, and turmeric… You just might be a vegan.

I love vegan crab cakes.  Any excuse to use Old Bay Seasoning is a winner with me.  I like to think of those crisp little cakes as an Old Bay Seasoning delivery service.  There’s something about that bite of celery seed that comes to life in the mouth in the most satisfying way.  I’ve actually had get togethers centered around vegan crab cakes, in which guests had to figure out which cookbook author created the recipe for which cake.  That being said, while I’ve made crab cakes with zucchini, tempeh, tofu, and now jackfruit, I’ve never made them with the body of a crab…  And you know what that means.  I just might be a vegan.

Susan gives two options with the crab cakes of either using tofu or white beans.  I went with the tofu, because like I said, that’s what I had on hand.  The cakes are baked instead of fried, and have a delightful crisp crunch.  I omitted the arame, because I’m not into that flavor of the sea.  While I was making my last cake, I only had about ¼ cup of the burger mixture left, and so I made one small cake.  I actually enjoyed that cake the most, since it was pleasantly appetizer sized.  It was just a few bites, and was a bit firmer than the rest of the cakes.

For two people this makes quite a lot, and so we were eating them for a few days.  However, they reheated well, and the flavor actually improved as time passed and the flavors melded.  We definitely enjoyed them and will be making them again.  They would be an excellent choice for a dinner party appetizer or even just a casual game night.  Since the cakes bake for 40 minutes, you could slip them into the oven when guests arrive.  By the time everyone is settled in and has a drink, it would be time to serve the appetizers.

This man scooping up the last remnants of chocolate banana soft serve from the Vitamix thinks he might be vegan. How can he know for sure?

In case you’re wondering if there are any more ways to figure out if or if not you’re vegan, here are a few:

If your neighbor stops by and wants to borrow a cup of flour, and you offer up teff, rice, vital wheat gluten, all-purpose, whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, and besan, you just might be a vegan.

If your cat’s favorite treats are mushrooms, squash, asparagus, nutritional yeast, and coconut milk ice cream, you just might be a vegan.

If you have plenty to eat at potlucks because people are kind of afraid of the food you bring (even if it’s just fresh fruit or chips and salsa), you just might be a vegan.

If hummus is a delightfully appropriate food choice for dinner, lunch, snacks, and breakfast, you just might be a vegan.