Monday 2 January 2023

Holiday Meals: Recipe and Cookbook Reviews

For my birthday this past year, my daughter gave me an Indigo gift card. It took me awhile to decide what to get with it, but finally on Cyber Monday, when the cookbooks were 30% off, I ordered these two. 

I follow Dreena Burton on Instagram and Facebook and have tried a few of her recipes, so I figured her cookbooks would be good.
As I was flipping through Dreena's Kind Kitchen, I discovered that it has a Holiday Fare section that has some interesting recipes in it. With Christmas coming up, I decided to give some of them a try. 
I generally make the whole Christmas dinner myself. Because of this, I like to have as much made ahead as possible, just having to reheat on Christmas morning. That way, I'm free to enjoy my company without too much hubbub with dinner preparations. 
2022's Christmas dinner consisted of tossed salad (no recipe: spinach, grape tomatoes, red onions, black olives, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries with vegan mayo), Roasted Squash and Sweet Potato Puree (Dreena's Kind Kitchen), Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes (Oh She Glows), Mary's Brown Gravy (Country Kitchen Collection), Shamburgers (Country Kitchen Collection), Old Fashioned Bread and Celery Stuffing (old family recipe), Guinnessless Sheet Cake (Dreena's Kind Kitchen) and Coconut Cream (Country Kitchen Collection). 
Originally, I was planning on using more recipes from Dreena's Kind Kitchen, but was a little too overwhelmed (very easy to happen when you have mental health struggles) and decided to stick with some old standbys. 
The stuffing was delicious as always.
Country Kitchen Collection is an old favourite cookbook. I find it rather amusing that one of the things that younger people complain about is no pictures in a cookbook. I think I can safely say that the majority of my cookbooks have no/few/black and white pictures/line drawings. And this is one of them. But I've still been happy with this cookbook and Shamburgers is a recipe I have used multiple times. Scrumptious without too much fuss. I had tried Mary's Brown Gravy before, but it's been years. It didn't disappoint. The Coconut Cream I used to top the cake was a new recipe to me, but it was quick and easy and quite tasty. Dreena's Kind Kitchen did offer a couple of topping options for the cake, but this one was simpler and didn't require any obscure ingredients (more on this later). 
I have made the Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes from this cookbook a couple of times before. Prior to that I would never have dreamed of the combination, but it is delicious and has become my standby for mashed potatoes. Tasty and more nutrition, a winning combination. 
The Roasted Squash and Sweet Potato Puree was delicious. The taste was reminiscent of pumpkin pie. However, I don't necessarily want to eat pumpkin pie for my main course. I actually enjoy the taste of squash and sweet potatoes without the addition of spices, except maybe a little sweetening. And what is the purpose of pureeing it? It's just an added and unnecessary step, in my opinion, unless I'm feeding someone with swallowing difficulties. And the Guinnessless Sheet Cake was good, but not great. And I think the spices could have been toned down in this as well. 
Unfortunately, the weather was not great Christmas day, and my family (daughter, grandson and ex-husband) did not make it. I hadn't heated the food up yet, so we planned to try again the next day. As it turned out, we eventually decided to try for New Year's Day, and I ate the leftovers all week, with plans to create a totally different menu for New Year's.
2023's New Year's Menu consisted of Lemon-Dijon Roasted Potatoes (Dreena's Kind Kitchen) topped with Golden Gravy (Dreena's Kind Kitchen), 
Smoky Kale Caesar Salad with Smoky Caesar Dressing and Bread End Croutons (Dreena's Kind Kitchen), Cran-Apple Compote (Dreena's Kind Kitchen), Rice and Pecan-Stuffed Squash (Vegan Holiday Kitchen), Holiday Dinner Torte (Dreena's Kind Kitchen), Carob Nut Balls (Vegetarian Cooking: a World of Difference), Dreena's Nanaimo Bars (Dreena's Kind Kitchen). 
First of all, I will say that the menu from this meal did not reheat as well as the menu from last week. I can also honestly say that, aside from dessert, the first meal was tastier than the second. 
I ended up making most of the recipes from Dreena's Kind Kitchen that I had originally hoped to make for Christmas dinner. The potatoes were good fresh from the oven when they were first roasted and really didn't require gravy. I did find that they were slightly lacking in flavour and likely would have benefited from more of the marinade. Or possibly a vegan chipotle cheese sauce. The gravy improved them after reheating. The difficulty of making both this recipe and the torte was that they required different cooking temperatures. That would have made it very challenging to cook them both on Christmas morning unless I had a second oven. And my Breville Smart Oven is too small for either of these dishes. I've been eating a vegetarian/vegan diet for a lot of years (decades) and I don't remember ever having to prepare an entree in the food processor. Yet that's what the instructions said to do with the torte ingredients. As my food processor is not very large, I had to do it in batches. It also said to cook it in a springform pan, which would not lend well to reheating. So, I cooked it in a pie plate. Oddly, the recipe called for a diced apple tossed in lemon juice. I know the lemon juice was to keep the apple from turning brown, but since it was being baked in a savoury dish, I was puzzled why the lemon juice was used. Personally, I just waited until I had processed the rest of the ingredients
 and then peeled, cored and diced the apple, but I did still toss it with lemon juice just in case it was somehow needed in the recipe. I covered my serving with gravy and didn't notice any fruity taste. But my daughter did not use gravy and did notice and didn't like it. I found the flavour fine, but not as delicious as the Shamburgers from last week. And adding the cranberries to the top was a bad idea as they mostly ended up black. As far as the gravy was concerned, I had downloaded the Golden Gravy recipe from the web and tried it on a previous occasion. It said that it only took about 5 minutes, but I was still struggling with it half an hour later, while my guests were waiting for dinner. Trying to make a roux using tahini is, in my opinion, a foolish endeavour, as tahini doesn't melt like butter or margarine. And adding one ingredient at a time prolonged the process unnecessarily. This time, I browned the flour - and I used hard whole wheat flour, not spelt, whole wheat pastry flour or millet flour. When the purpose of the flour is to thicken the gravy, you want the gluten to do the job. I dumped the browned flour into the blender, added the rest of the ingredients (except the bay leaf), whizzed it to combine, poured it into a pan, added the bay leaf and cooked it long enough to thicken. The gravy was fine and much less hassle than following the directions in the book. The compote was not exciting and I found it a little too tangy for my taste. 
The salad was not as exciting as the title sounded. I chose to wilt the kale by pouring boiling water over it first, though the directions said to add dressing and salt to it and leave it to sit before adding the Romaine. Mature kale is pretty tough and I didn't think that just adding salt and dressing would do the trick. I'm beginning to think that humans were not meant to eat kale. It really isn't delcious and even after removing the stems and poring boiling water over it, it still was kind of like chewing on plastic. Which impacted how delicious the salad wasn't. The dressing was good and the croutons were good, but the kale was not. 
The Nanaimo bars were fabulous, but much too sweet. You can find the recipe online here, but it only calls for 3/4 cup of sugar. In the book, it calls for 3/4-1 cup, and it said that the sugar helps to firm it up. I figured I'd better err on the side of caution and used the full amount. Much, much too sweet. I think I could likely get away with half a cup. I used carob, by the way, which is naturally sweet, not cocoa or chocolate, so that was a factor as well. The main ingredient in the middle layer is coconut butter. I live in a small town in rural Alberta - where to find coconut butter? I didn't have time to order online or drive into the nearest city. Fortunately (???), I found instructions for making my own online. It says it should take ten minutes. Well, I didn't run my food processor continuously because I was also working on other recipes and the processor was really vibrating and I was afraid it would rock itself onto the floor. Or burn itself out. However, I would say that it took about 30 minutes of processing time not 10, and even after adding some coconut oil to try to expedite the process, I was still not happy with the results. So I dumped the goopy, grainy mess into a plastic container and stuck it in the fridge and figured we would just have the carob balls for dessert, which I had already made. The following morning, which was New Year's Day, for some perverse reason, I decided I was going to try again with the Nanaimo bars, substituting cashew butter for coconut butter. But when I went to the fridge, the goopy mess had solidified and, after warming it a little in the microwave, I was able to use it in the recipe. 
I picked this cookbook up at a thrift store and hadn't used it at all yet, but I figured the stuffed squash would kill two birds with one recipe: a stuffing and a squash dish. Unfortunately, when I went to Walmart, all they had left for squash was over-ripe and very orange pepper or acorn squash. I'm not sure if that was the problem or the fact that I didn't cook them long enough after stuffing, but parts of the squash were still hard and inedible. The stuffing was delicious, however, and I will try this recipe again when I can get better quality squash and maybe alter cooking times. 
This older cookbook has been in my library for years, but I've seldom used it. That's what happens when you're a cookbook hoarder. Nevertheless, I did remember a carob ball recipe from this book and I made those for dessert. Very good and nowhere near as sweet as the Nanaimo bars. By the way, they are not pure vegan because they are made with honey. 
Now, I'm going to get back to my discussion of Dreena's Kind Kitchen. Most of the recipes I've tried so far are relatively tasty. But I have found some of them are more labourious than they need to be. The gravy and the puree, for example, as I mentioned previously. And even the torte probably doesn't need to be processed in a food processor. 
If you go to the Cookbook Criteria tab at the top of this page, you'll see that number 4 is "limited use of obscure, exotic and specialty ingredients". That's my second issue with this cookbook. I already mentioned my problem with finding coconut butter, but I didn't mention that the recipe also called for "natural icing sugar". Yes, it does give the option of grinding coconut sugar in a blender, but still... (I used organic, unbleached cane sugar). The two topping recipes suggested for the sheet cake both called for pure vanilla bean powder. One of the things I believe about being vegan/whole food plant-based is that it shouldn't cost a fortune. Try looking up how much vanilla bean powder costs (if you can even find it). Another issue is the regular use of fresh herbs. I have nothing against using fresh herbs except that they're not always readily available, they can be expensive and they go bad quickly unless you use them soon after purchase. Then there's aquafaba and coconut milk. If I have a recipe that calls for aquafaba that doesn't also call for chickpeas, where does the aquafaba come from. Yes, I can store it in my freezer as some anonymous beige liquid in individual cubes... And it's really frustrating to open a can of not cheap coconut milk to only use a couple of tablespoons. Then I have to look for more recipes calling for coconut milk before it goes bad. I really believe that whole food, plant-based/vegan cooking should be simple or people are not likely to do it. That includes the shopping, the processing, the time and the cost involved. I have to be honest that some of my older, no pictures cookbooks are more user friendly than this one. I'm on the fence as to whether or not I regret buying this cookbook. I probably should have bought a quilting book from my wishlist instead.
By the way, I'm not prepared to do a review on Oh She Glows or Vegan Holiday Kitchen yet as I don't feel I have tested enough recipes.  


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