Monday, September 10, 2007

Vegan with a Vengeance and Carrot Raisin Muffins

I am not vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. I guess my approach might best be described by the new American term "flexitarian", a word which has spawned a new generation of cookbooks just for us occasional-but-not-every-single-day-of-our-lives meat eaters. Frankly I think it's all marketing. After all, quite a large percentage of the world's population is flexitarian and has been so for some millenia, so its not like this is some strange and unusual new culinary lifestyle or, even worse, "diet". But I digress. Let us return to the purpose of this post, which is to shout the praises of my favorite vegan cookbook.

One does not have to be vegan or even vegetarian to enjoy and appreciate Isa Chandra Moskowitz's great book, Vegan with a Vengeance. Isa, a modern, hip chef and product of the New York City Punk scene, eschews fancy lingo, expensive cookware and any cooking technique that cannot be safely performed in a cramped city apartment with bad ventilation. That is not to say that this book avoids anything that might be considered more "advanced" cooking-to the contrary, it has a whole section devoted to brunch and recipes include creations such as orange-rum tea cake, knishes (three ways), spanakopita, sweet potato crepes and ginger-pear waffles.

That said, Vegan with a Vengeance is great for the beginning cook, vegan or not. The book is divided into 10 sections, the first being an introduction that explains how to set up a basic kitchen (helpful advice for vegans and non-vegans alike), and a well-stocked vegan pantry. Isa's personal stories about food and punk culture in NYC make each chapter a fun read, and handy technical explanations address a myriad of different topics such as how to make the perfect vegan pancakes, roast garlic, "tame your tofu" and bake vegan desserts.

Then there are the "Punk Points" which are concise instructions on how to deal with ingredients related to a specific recipe. As if this wasn't enough, "Fizzle Says" are little boxes scattered throughout the book where the Post-Punk Kitchen's resident feline mascot provides translations and describes exotic foodstuffs as needed. The result of all this easy to digest information is a very user-friendly volume that would be perfect for anyone just learning their way around a kitchen.

The book includes chapters on brunch, muffins and scones, soups, "little meals, sammiches and finger foods", sides, pizzas and pasta, entrees, cookies and bars and desserts. A couple page color photo spread illustrates delicacies such as fresh mango summer rolls, lemon corn waffles with blueberry sauce, green Thai curry, matzo ball soup and ginger macadamia coconut carrot cake.

I can personally vouch for the banana split pudding brownies, which taste like banana pudding and chocolate fudge and are only 172 calories per brownie. And just this week I tried out her recipe for carrot raisin muffins and came away impressed yet again. Eventually I'm going to have to move out of the baked goods department and experiment with the black eyed pea and quinoa croquettes or if I'm feeling particularly adventurous, maybe some baked potato-edamame samosas with coconut-mint curry.

As if this cookbook wasn't enough, Ms. Moskowitz is also the author of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and has a very popular public access TV vegan cooking show in New York City. You can check it out online at her blog The Post-Punk Kitchen.

One great thing about these recipes is that they are very adaptable. I must admit that my version of the carrot muffins used regular old 2% milk instead of soy (but it was organic, surely that must count for something!). I know, its sacrilege. But they turned out delicious. I also used whole wheat pastry flour, added ginger, substituted dates for half the raisins, and tossed in some sunflower seeds for added crunch. Their nutty flavour perfectly complemented the carrot and spices. I will be making these again.

Carrot Raisin Muffins (with Dates and Sunflower Seeds)

This recipe makes 12 muffin, at 171 calories each (with 2% dairy milk and the dates)

1/2 cup raisins (or 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup chopped dates)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup rice or soy milk (or 1 or 2% regular milk)

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups grated carrot

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep your favorite muffin tin. I used nonstick, which didn't need any oiling for these-just let the muffins cool a bit before popping them out.

Soak the raisins in a little bowl of hot water while preparing the batter. Sift or stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt and spices in a large bowl. Create a well in the center and stir in the milk, oil and vanilla. Stir until just combined, then add the grated carrots, raisins, sunflower seeds and chopped dates. Fill the muffin tins 3/4 full and bake until a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle of one comes out clean. The book says 18-22 minutes, but in my electric oven it took longer than that.

I plan on lowering the heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and baking them for half an hour next time, as some got a bit crispy along the bottom at the suggested 400 degrees. These are great plain or toasted with a bit of peanut butter. Here's to vegan (and not-so vegan) cooking! *raises a muffin in toast*. Yes, I know its a horrible pun but you are all just going to have to deal.


Michele said...

Thanks so much for posting this recipe -- and for the review. I have been eying this book for ages (pretty much every time I browse, but am very skeptical about vegan cookbooks -- I am a long time vegan who hates vegan food masquarading as meat (i.e., tofurky) or vegan baking that requires 29 hard-to-find, pricy ingredients then tastes like super-sweet rubber. These muffins, however, look like hearty, tasty muffins, just without butter and eggs. Yum.

Anonymous said...

I was living on a farm full of vegetarians and vegans. This was a go to book and the recipes are perdy amazing. Thanks for posting the carrot raisin recipe it's my favorite and now that i don't have the book this was helpful.