One month cooking from Crazy, Sexy Kitchen

A good friend of mine told me a while back that her sister-in-law was going vegan. She asked me if could recommend a good cookbook for a present, and I suggested Crazy Sexy Kitchen. The reason why I mentioned that book above all the others in the vegan cookbookosphere is because it's got a good mix of stuff: there's breakfasts, fancy food, cheap and cheerful dishes, and they're (mostly) all easy to make and tasty too. The nada egg wrap and save the tuna on rye sandwich, among others, are in my regular rotation. I was looking forward to this cookbook challenge before it had even begun.

Like last month's cookbook challenge, it didn't begin well. I'd set my heart on making the breakfast hash. The has involves sweet potatoes, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onions, and vegan rashers. I had sweet potatoes, I had red pepper, I had... no, that was it. The supermarket near me had run out of yellow pepper, I forgot the red onions and bought white instead, and I couldn't face tracking down the vegan rashers.

So, with red onions transformed into white, yellow pepper into red, and smoked tofu standing in for rashes, I forged ahead. After whacking it all in the oven for the recommended 20 minutes, and finding the potatoes still as hard as rock, I wasn't best pleased.

Another 15 minutes in the oven, and the sweet potatoes had softened, and everything was cooked through. Even still, the whole dish was a bit on the dry side - working may through a bowl felt like doing one of those challenges where you have to eat two plain cream crackers without drinking a glass of water. The book recommends serving it with a tofu scramble, which sounds like a good idea. I'd be tempted to chuck in a couple of quartered tomatoes to give it a bit more moisture if I made it again.

Things looked up when I got involved with the cornmeal pancakes. Is it bad that I've never had a cornmeal pancake before? I did eat blue corn waffles once, but that was mainly because I wanted to have a breakfast that was a fetching shade of indigo. Turns out cornmeal pancakes have just as gorgeous a colour, only this time a beautiful shade of sunshine yellow. It's like looking at a summer's day on your plate.

Cornmeal also gives the pancakes a depth of flavour that the flour-only ones just don't have. TL;DR: cornmeal pancakes make your breakfast look and taste that little bit better. Go make some.

The farmer's salad was also very, very good. In the fictional vegan Paris that exists in my mind, I waltz into a small cafe, peruse the menu, and order this farmer's salad. (I also order it with a load of French bread and a glass of white white big enough to warrant its own diving board, but that's a separate matter.) I don't normally do a happy dance when I make a salad, but sometimes, they can just hit the spot, and this was one of them.

The salad is made of a few layers, all of them delicious. The base is potato salad with capers, lemon zest and tarragon, and on top is a mix of watercress and cannellini beans in a gorgeous dijon vinaigrette. The red pepper slices didn't bring a lot to the party apart from colour, but the overall mix was lovely.

As a side note, I really like that Crazy Sexy Kitchen often has a lot of substitutions in its recipes - you don't have butter beans? Use some other bean. Go mad.

As well as swapping out the butter beans in the farmer's salad for cannellini beans, I also invoked took up Crazy, Sexy Kitchen on its offer to swap pumpkin for squash in the pumpkin bisque

The best thing about soup is that it doesn't take too much effort. Oddly, rather than cooking the squash (or pumpkin) in stock, the recipe calls for roasting some garlic in the oven, then boiling the squash, draining and setting it to one side, then sweating off the onions, then adding everything back together to blend it. Even writing that felt like an effort -- imagine how cooking it felt. It was fine, if unexciting. I don't think I'd make it again. (And to add insult to injury, this was the best picture I could take of it...)

I think Crazy, Sexy Kitchen is at its best with really simple recipes. Take the zucchini carpaccio for example. If I told you it's a bit of chopped up courgette with a few pine nuts on it, you'd probably shrug (or laugh at me for needing a recipe for something like that!) But if I could share a few forkfuls of this plate (and it would only be a few forkfuls, as I'd be shovelling the rest down my gullet and I'm not good with sharing food), you'd be convinced that there's beauty in simplicity.

I ate this - courgette, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper - with a couple of slices of bread, and it was the loveliest meal. Who needs fancy food? Give me a courgette and some nuts, and I'm happy.

Then I made the raw stir fry. I didn't use the exact same veggies, but the sauce was made to Kris Carr's recipe, and very nice it was too. The book says you can either use the veggies raw, stir fry them for a bit, or put them in the dehydrator. I really enjoyed the dressing, but I felt like a cow chewing the cud labouring through the uncooked plant matter. I'd make the dressing again, but give the veggies a miss. I've decided to put my under-loved dehydrator on Freecycle now, so the recipe had some unexpected bonus side effects.

I made a bit of a mistake with the next recipe, coconut and red lentil soup. The recipe said 'white onion', and as I didn't have any, I thought a red onion would do the trick. After simmering the soup for the requisite half hour, the red onion had turned the soup lilac. I mean, I like lilac, but it's sort of offputting in a soup, unless you like your dinner with a radioactive hue. The soup's taste was the opposite of its colour: a bit underpowered. The spices needed amping up a bit, and then it was rather nice.

In the spirit of trying new things - or rather old things that I don't much like - I thought I'd make a root vegetable tagine. I like root vegetables a lot, but I've never quite nailed Moroccan food to the extent I'd happily make it at home. While Crazy Sexy Kitchen's tagine recipe hasn't made me into the accomplished Moroccan food cook I'd secretly quite like to be, I did enjoy the dish (and I'm a big fan of Kris Carr's regular inclusion of alternative ingredients, allowing you to use what you have on hand rather than stick exactly to a prescriptive formula.) Again, I found the spicing a bit on the light side - double up the quantities, and you're starting to get there.

Next up, and my last recipe from Crazy Sexy Kitchen: crazy, sexy breakfast tacos. I don't need much encouragement to eat tacos, at breakfast time or otherwise, so I dived right in. There are a few elements to assemble here: homemade refried beans (more cumin necessary - you'd get more spice from coughing on the beans after a strong curry), sprouted lentil and heirloom tomato salsa, salad leaves, avocado, and (glory be) hot sauce.

A couple of negatives on this one: one, homemade refried pinto beans make any dish look a bit scatological and two, sprouted lentils are nice, but do not belong in salsa. Other than that, this is what every breakfast should be: fresh, satisfying, flavourful.

This whole month of cooking from Crazy, Sexy Kitchen reminded me of the following things:

1. This is a good cookbook
2. I should use it more often
3. It has a terrible name
4. Even after a month, there's loads more I want to cook from it
5. I hope the person who was given this on my recommendation enjoys it as much as I do
6. I should remind anyone who I recommend it to to ignore all the health stuff at the front, because it's - how should I put this? - a bit guff. Enjoy the recipes, ditch the rest. I did, and it's made me happy all month.

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  1. You had a good month of cooking - I love how you had blue corn waffles for the colour. I would love to try the carapaccio. And I love soup but only because it is easy so all those steps sounds like too much for a bowl of pumpkin soup.

  2. It looks like the month improved and was full of delicious things! Cornmeal pancakes have me well and truly intrigued now.

  3. You've made a good case for owning Kris Carr's book. Looks like there are enough great recipes to balance the ones you didn't love.

  4. Great review of the cookbook, especially the notes at the end. Thank you! Always thought I was the only vegan who didn't care for raw vegetables - too much chewing. :-)

  5. I'd never even heard of this book (and agree that it has a rubbish name, unless it was written by a member of TLC), but now I'm going to look out for a copy. The breakfast options look good, and that is the main selling point to me! The cornmeal pancakes look so nice and neat.


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