Review: The HappyCow Cookbook

HappyCow Cookbook ReviewWhen I heard that HappyCow was coming out with a cookbook, I was intrigued. For years I’ve been using their website to locate vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants when I’m home and while traveling, and their app is one of the most used and appreciated apps on my phone. For finding vegan restaurants when I’m on the road, it is incredibly useful.

Like the global reach of their website, The HappyCow Cookbook features recipes from vegan restaurants all over the world. The restaurants are from across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Denmark, England, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Spain. In addition, there are interviews that precede the recipe(s) for each restaurant. They highlight the owners of the restaurants, their most popular dishes, lessons they’ve learned, and what inspired them to go vegan and/or open a vegan restaurant.

So often when I travel, I wish I could bring back a souvenir from the trip that encapsulates an experience that I had, and this book offers that. Of the restaurants listed in the book, I have been to 11 of them: Café Blossom (now Blossom on Columbus), Candle Café, Karyn’s On Green, Millennium, Native Foods, Peacefood Café, Portobello, Real Food Daily, Stuff I Eat, SunCafe Organic, and Veggie Grill. (Click on the highlighted links to read my posts on those restaurants.)

In addition to revisiting some favorites, there’s also the opportunity to learn about restaurants I may never visit and sample some of their offerings. Even without cooking from it, the cookbook would make for a fun coffee table book. So far I’ve made 3 things from restaurants I’ve visited in the past.

Bistro steak sandwich - Native Foods - from the HappyCow CookbookI started with the recipe for the Bistro Steak Sandwich from Native Foods. This sandwich is one of my favorites from Native Foods. The sandwich is a multi-layered affair with marinated seitan steak, crispy shallots (like olive rings but in shallot-form), Native bleu cheese, and oven roasted tomatoes.

With this many elements, it was no small process making all of it. Plus, I had to first make a batch of seitan from scratch. (There’s no recipe for the seitan, just the marinade. I used the white seitan recipe from Viva Vegan and added freshly ground pepper to it.)

The end result was very tasty, but required quite a bit of changes because of confusing and possibly flawed directions. My sense was that the recipe needed more testing, especially with a home cook in mind (as opposed to a restaurant’s needs). However, with some changes, I’d make this sandwich again.

In case you’re making it at home, here are my thoughts:

Native Foods seitan steak sandwich - HappyCow CookbookI made a half batch of the crispy shallots, and it was plenty for 4-6 sandwiches. It’s not clearly noted that the salt is divided into two parts of the recipe – one for soaking the shallots and one for salting afterwards.

I think there was a typo with the Native Bleu Cheese, and it should be 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, not 2 Tablespoons. The full amount of vinegar made it inedible, and I had to compensate by adding double the amount of silken tofu. Again, just a half recipe of the bleu cheese would be more than enough for a full amount of sandwiches.

For some reason, the marinade recipe calls for the reader to make double the amount of marinade necessary. Then they are told to save half of the marinade for another time. Outside of a restaurant situation where you’ll definitely make more sandwiches in the near future, it seems counterintuitive to assume a home cook would want to make more than needed, especially when it’s simple enough to make just the amount you need.

Coconut Milk Butternut Squash Soup recipe from Karyn's On Green - HappyCow CookbookNext I made Coconut-Squash Soup with Garbanzo Bean Garnish. I had this soup at Karyn’s On Green a couple of years ago. This simple recipe has just roasted butternut squash and coconut milk for the soup, and then it’s topped with garbanzo beans that have been browned in a pan and tossed with paprika, salt, and sugar.

The recipe didn’t specify the size of the butternut squash needed, and squash can vary quite a bit. It said to bake the squash for an hour and a half, but mine was totally soft and ready at an hour. After tasting the soup, I ended up doubling the amount of squash, because it just tasted like coconut milk. So I’d recommend using large butternut squash for this recipe.

Because there weren’t any spices in the soup or onions or garlic, I found it to be quite bland. If I were to make this recipe again, I would definitely start by sautéing onions and garlic, and I’d add some spices like cumin, coriander, paprika, or curry powder.

Seitan marsala recipe from Cafe Blossom - HappyCow CookbookFinally, last night I made the Seitan Marsala from Café Blossom in NYC. I visited the restaurant last month, and it was one of the highlights of my trip from a food perspective. This is one of their most popular dishes; although, I’ve never tried it at their restaurant. The recipe calls for seitan filets, but there’s no recipe for the actual seitan. So I made a batch of the chicken-style seitan from Vegan Diner, which is one of my favorite seitan recipes, and cut large pieces from it for the filets.

This dish involves a layer of mashed potatoes, a bed of kale, and seitan that has been cooked with fennel, mushrooms, and shallots in a wine sauce. Since this recipe calls for 2 different kinds of wine, Marsala and port, it was definitely one of the pricier dishes to make.

Seitan marsala - HappyCow CookbookThe recipe is supposed to serve 4-6; however, I made a half amount of the recipe, and it was easily enough for four. There was a lot of liquid that was supposed to reduce in the pan, but after doubling the amount of time it was supposed to reduce, all of the ingredients were still swimming in it. So I removed about a cup of liquid from the pan. Then I took a little bit of the liquid, made a slurry with a tablespoon of flour, and put it into the pan to help it thicken.

The building blocks of this dish tasted good – the mashed potatoes, the seitan filets, the kale, fennel, shallots, and mushrooms. However, the flavor of the sauce was overpowering; it was both bitter and sweet all at once. Perhaps if I had purchased a different variety of marsala or port I would have liked it more. Since those flavors were the most prominent, they covered everything in their path and made it impossible to taste the mushrooms and fennel underneath. As it was, I don’t think I’d make this recipe again. It was too expensive and time consuming for the end result.

Seitan Marsala from Cafe Blossom in the HappyCow CookbookFinal thoughts: Because there were so many contributors in this book and because the recipes are from restaurants that need to cook in bulk, I think the recipes could have used some tweaking for a home cook. For example, there’s a recipe for Chia Pudding from Luna’s Living Kitchen, and the recipe makes enough to serve 7, and the first ingredient is 25 dates. It is more helpful for cookbook recipes to make enough for an even amount of people, so that the recipe can easily be divided. I don’t know who is making chia pudding for 7, but it seems more like the kind of thing a person would make for herself/himself for breakfast or maybe for one another person.

There are also instances where specificity could be improved, like in the size of the butternut squash in the soup recipe above, or in the seitan marsala recipe when it called for kale, but never noted to remove the leaves from the rib or chop them. It simply said to sauté three bunches with olive oil and garlic.

Finally, it would be handy if there was an index by ingredient, as opposed to just the name of the dish and by location. When trying to find a dish, it makes it easier than trying to remember the very specific name or restaurant.

Want to see more? Kelly at easyvegan.info has made quite a bit from the HappyCow Cookbook and wrote a lengthy and helpful post with pictures on her blog. 

Disclaimer: I received this cookbook from the publisher, BenBella Books.  The thoughts and opinions are totally my own.  This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Birthday Dinner at Karyn’s On Green

Karyn's On GreenAfter our very substantial meal at The Chicago Diner, we checked into the hotel and walked to the nearby Magnificent Mile.  We did some window shopping and people watching, and then it was time to get gussied up for dinner at Karyn’s On Green.

I visited Karyn’s On Green last fall, and the visit had its flaws.  (You can read the post about that visit here.)  However, before that David and I both had positive experiences with the city’s upscale/special occasion restaurant, and so it seemed a safe bet to give them another chance.

wine at Karyn's On GreenWe were seated near the back at a small table for two.  Karyn’s has a varied cocktail list, extensive wine list, and fresh juices.  We both opted for a glass of Tempranillo and ordered the nut-based, Aged Raw Cheese Plate to start.

cheese plate karyn's on greenUnlike the softer raw cheeses served at Karyn’s Fresh Corner, these firm cheeses, which had been aged for at least three months, were sliceable for laying onto a dehydrated cracker or thinly sliced apple.  They were highlighted with a drizzle of agave syrup.  Also on the plate was a pile of radish micro greens, which complemented the saltiness of the cheese and sweetness of the apple.  Each cheese was slightly different in flavor, and we rotated between them, picking out a favorite until they had all disappeared.

vegan chicken legs at karyn's on greenFor the main course, I ordered the “Chicken” Legs.  I can safely say that it’s something I’d never seen on a vegan menu before, and I was curious to try it.  They’re made with texturized tofu on wooden skewers, lightly breaded, and fried.  It was the weirdest sensation holding each “chicken” leg and eating it by hand, revealing the flaky tofu layers underneath the crisp breading.  The strangeness of the experience almost overshadowed being able to taste it.  They were served on a bed of creamy hazelnut sweet potato mash, charred rapini, and smears of smoky sweet barbecue sauce offering a feel of Southern fine dining.

portobello mushrooms at karyn's on greenDavid ordered the Roasted Portobello, which came with three large grilled Portobello caps.  Underneath the mushrooms laid a root vegetable hash and sautéed greens, and they were topped with crispy leeks providing a pleasant combination of textures.  It was all served in a Tempranillo reduction, which gave the dish umami and depth.

The portions on the main courses were quite large, especially considering the hefty lunch we’d eaten at The Chicago Diner.  We both had about half of our meals taken to go.  We could have easily shared either one of the entrees and had plenty.

Chicago sitesThe weekend we were there, Chicago was experiencing its coldest July weekend in 30 years.  It was a wonderful reprieve after the muggy temperatures from earlier in the month.  So we decided to take advantage of the comfortable temperatures to walk to Millennium Park, about a mile and a half away.   On the way we enjoyed the views of the city skyline, architecture, and artwork.

Cloud GateOnce we reached Millennium Park, we took many pictures of Cloud Gate (because you know I can’t refuse a photo opportunity with a bean).  Rarely does one come across a piece of art that people are so eager to interact with, and the simplicity of the design becomes complex as you move around it, getting new reflections, even standing underneath it and looking into its center.

After a few more pictures, we continued on to the hotel bar to toast the end of my birthday and a wonderful night in Chicago.  In the next post, I’ll cover our final hours in Chicago, before we headed homeward.

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