I like cookbooks, and I particularly like those by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. So naturally, I picked up her latest, The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook. I am not vegan, but I lean in that direction, and I like cookbooks that A) don’t preach, and B) don’t use a lot of obscure ingredients or equipment.
So far, I have read through the whole book, and worked my way through the Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes. The recipes themselves are up to Isa Chandra’s usual standard of yummy, and not overly difficult to make. I would give this book 5 stars, but the one problem is that there are some discrepancies, which leads me to suspect lazy editing or rush to print. For example, in a Christmas recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Buche de Noel, one of the more complex recipes in the book, the ingredients list calls for raspberry jam, but the recipe itself does not tell you what to do with it. The recipe also does not tell you when to add the milk, and order of ingredients in baking, especially the vegan sort, can really matter to the overall result.
The introductions and the occasional tips in the recipes are pretty useful and fun to read. In the recipe referenced above, the author mentions that you really do need a specific kind of pan for the recipe to turn out correctly, and she’s right. There’s also advice about possible substitutions and general background for either the recipe itself or the season with which it is associated.
Something else I really appreciate about this book is that the introductory material is not too extensive. Some cookbooks, especially themed ones, can spend far too much time and pages in the beginning talking about their premise, in this case veganism and entertaining, and requisite equipment/ingredients/techniques. There is a little information and background for those unfamiliar with ingredients and substitutions, but again, this book is written so that even if you don’t already have the knowledge or experience, you don’t need too much to do well with the recipes.
Another thing I appreciate is that there are few pretensions here; recipes acknowledge their background, but also their sometimes lack of authenticity without apology. In the Superbowl section, there’s a recipe for runzas, a specialty of the state of Nebraska where the author now lives (having previously lived for much of her life in Brooklyn, NY). She briefly explains what a traditional runza is, and makes no apologies for the veganized changes. It’s really good results, and I say this having been to Nebraska to visit family there quite a few times, and having had runzas in their native environment. Similarly, in the Chinese New Year’s section, she says, “What follows is the Chinese New Year menu of a Jewish girl from Brooklyn who has never been anywhere near China. Chinese New Year is a two-week long journey involving traditions, deities, and customs I’m not familiar with. But it is nonetheless a celebration that is close to my heart because the day of the parade was always an exciting time for me.” I really like the way she acknowledges and seems to respect the cultures and traditions involved in some of the things she presents, but still owns her own versions.
I’ve already got my New Year’s menu planned, and I’m looking forward to gradually working my way through this book with each holiday.