Monday, January 30, 2012

Vegan Holiday Kitchen
Book Review and Giveaway!

I have an addiction—an insatiable appetite and one true weakness. I admit it. I am obsessed with vegan recipe books. Maybe it's because when I first became vegan there were so few really great vegan cookbooks available. I was out there stumbling around, hungry for delicious recipes to delight my newly vegan taste buds, and there were very few inspiring options. Now there's a seemingly unending stream of fabulous vegan books to choose from. It seems as though every time I am just getting into a fantabulous new book, there's another one right around the corner! I'm making it my mission to own, review, and share them all. Today's post is about a book I am mad-crazy in love with: Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas. The recipes are superb, and Susan Voisin's photographs are gorgeous. And best of all, the heavy, hardbound edition means the book lays flat when open to any page! I can't tell you how wonderful it is to not have to prop a jar or small plate on a page and get it all dirty with sticky fingers, just not to lose my place in the middle of trying to follow a recipe. Well, I don't have to tell you, my lovely readers. You know exactly what I'm talking about!

You think I'm kidding when I say the pictures are gorgeous? Even with my crummy snapshots of the book's spectacular photos, you can see just how eye-poppingly beautiful they are! 

My mouth was watering just thumbing through the pages! Without a doubt, I am making this scrumptious-looking Strawberry Snack Cake for Valentine's Day!

Inside the pages of Vegan Holiday Kitchen, you'll find delectable recipes for holidays, potlucks, and special occasions. But you don't have to (nor will you want to) wait for a special occasion to dive into the recipes. Each and every one will make every day a celebration!

I dove right in to Nava's recipe for Baba Ghanouj, because I go ga-ga for this classic Middle Eastern dip. There used to be a little Lebanese restaurant down the street from where I live that made great baba ghanouj. But they closed their doors a few years ago, and there hasn't been any decent baba ghanouj around since then. The problem with baba ghanouj is that if it's too garlicky or doesn't have enough garlic or has too much or too little tahini, it can be rather uninspired. But the recipe in Vegan Holiday Kitchen turned out the most delicious baba ghanouj I have ever tasted! Who knew it was so easy to make this at home? All this time I have been missing the joy of eating great baba ghanouj, and little did I know, I could create it right here in my own kitchen! If like me, you are in love with baba ghanouj, don't wait another minute. Get your hands on a copy of this book! (You can even get lucky and win yourself a copy. Find out how at the end of this post!) 

While in a trippy-dippy mood, I decided to try the recipe for Mock Chopped Chicken Liver.  Growing up in New York, one of my fondest childhood culinary memories is of the Sunday meals our family enjoyed at the once-famous Jewish-Romanian-style restaurant, Seymour Kaye's in Forest Hills, Queens. Picture crisp, white linen tablecloths and napkins, smiling servers in black vests and bowties, a gay African American piano player belting out Yiddish tunes, and a Puerto Rican chef turning out the most incredible Yiddish cuisine. That was Seymour Kaye's. Seymour's larger-than-life personality, (he'd make loud "kissy" noises when he wanted to get the attention of one of the servers!), the impromptu designer clothing store "hidden" behind a wall of curtains, the upbeat, boisterous, family-friendly atmosphere, and the incredible Yiddish cuisine made the restaurant a cultural landmark that attracted customers from Manhattan to LA. Celebrities like Walter Matthau loved the place, and I even tended bar there for a short time!

A favorite appetizer at Seymour Kaye's was the chopped chicken liver. My father used to slather it in schmaltz and grebbenes—liquid chicken fat and fried chicken fat and onion cracklings. (Sounds gross, I know, and talk about a recipe for a heart attack!) But I cannot help associating many fond memories with the flavor of this dish, and Nava's cruelty-free recipe for this Yiddish pâté, made with cashew, onion, and mushrooms is a deliciously heart-healthy counterpart to Seymour's dish. Whether or not you've ever tasted chopped liver, you will love this yummy spread! 

And while we're talking about great Jewish cuisine, I went nuts over Nava's recipe for Moroccan-Style Vegetable Soup with Matzo Balls! Matzo ball soup is usually enjoyed during Passover, and vegan matzo balls are typically made with tofu. But that's a problem for many religious Jews, because beans and bean products (like tofu) are forbidden foods during the week of Passover. What a brilliant idea to substitute quinoa flakes! Let me tell you, the matzo balls tasted fabulous and held together beautifully (even after reheating), and the soup was hearty, flavorful, and filling!

Vegan Holiday Kitchen is filled with fabulous soup recipes. And when it's cold outside, soup is a staple at our house. Being the coconut fool that I am, the recipe for Coconut Butternut Squash Soup looked too tasty not to try. With a hint of curry and ginger, and the delightful additions of red onion, apple, and kale, this hearty soup was a tantalizingly delicious departure from corn chowder, miso, and tomato soup.

I was lucky enough to receive my copy of Vegan Holiday Kitchen in time for the winter holidays. I couldn't resist including several of the delectable dishes from within its pages at our holiday dinner table. I'll let the photos speak for themselves, and just say this: each and every one of these dishes was beyond scrumptious! 

Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd's Pie ...

Sweet Potato Biscuits ...

Walnut Apple Stuffing (to which I added a few dried cranberries) ....

Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Hint of Chocolate (lusciousness!)...

Ruggelach (sweet cinnamony-chocolate cookies) ...

I hope your mouth is watering at this point, because I know you, too will fall crazy in love with the 200+ festive recipes you'll find in Vegan Holiday Kitchen! And I hope you'll get yourself a copy of this book right away, and start making each day your very own happy little vegan holiday!

Update: Congratulations to Emily Soleil! The wonderful, handy-dandy random number generator selected her number, and Emily has won a copy of Vegan Holiday Kitchen! Emily, please send me an email with your postal address so we can send you your book! Thank you to everyone who made this giveaway such a huge success! Stay tuned for more great giveaways in 2012!

Want to win a copy?* Okay, here's your chance: All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me which one of the recipes in Vegan Holiday Kitchen you'd most like to try. It can be one of the recipes above, or you can view the complete recipe index here on (Please make sure I have your email address so I can contact you when you win!) If you'd like to earn additional entries, please do any or all of the following, and leave a comment for each item you complete:

1. Follow this blog by clicking the "follow" link in the upper left-hand corner of this page, subscribing via email, or through NetworkedBlogs.
2. Tweet the following message: Win a copy of Vegan Holiday Kitchen via @Vegiegail & make each day your very own vegan holiday! #cook #vegan #giveaway
3. Like VegKitchen on Facebook!
4. Follow @Vegiegail on Twitter!
5. Follow @navaatlas2 on Twitter!
6. Follow @susanffvk on Twitter!

*Sorry international friends. Giveaway is only open to readers with a valid US postal address.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Celebrate Vegan Review and Giveaway

Happy New Year! A new beginning, and a year full of opportunities to show your family and friends just how delicious eating vegan can be! Unbelievably, there are still folks out there who still think that eating vegan is tantamount to some sort of deprivation, when in fact, eating vegan is truly a celebration of taste, texture, and color! To my burgeoning collection of fabulous vegan cookbooks that illustrate this point, I recently added Dynise Balcavage's new book, Celebrate Vegana spectacular collection of the most delicious, celebratory vegan recipes you'll find anywhere! 

With 200 sumptuous, recipes for every occasion, Dynise invites readers to "use holidays—both our own and those of other cultures, as a conduit to affirming life and to savoring and sharing its pleasures." She writes, "Life, after all, should be a celebration. And vegan food certainly celebrates life in every sense of the word." I couldn't agree more!

Check out the Table of Contents, and you'll find some fascinating holidays represented! There are recipes for Diwali (the "festival of lights" in India), Barbados Independence Day, Eid al-Fitr (an Islamic feast that marks the end of a month-long period of fasting called Ramadan), Earth Day, and even Festivus! Some of the yummy recipes for the aforementioned holidays are respectively, Clementine-Sweet Potato Halwah, Farfalle with Shallots and Chard, "Conkies" (a mildly sweet cornmeal-based pudding), Muhammara (a lovely sweet and spicy dip), and Prismatic Wild Rice Salad. Of course, the book is filled with dishes for more familiar holidays and celebrations like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Passover, and St. Patrick's Day. But I can't tell you how much fun it was learning about international celebrations with names like Vesak and Timkat! 

While I received this book just before the winter holidays, I wanted to sample a wide variety of dishes, so I didn't limit myself to recipes designated to Hanukkah, Christmas, and the New Year. One dish that was a part of our Christmas eve dinner, was EZ Tzimmes. While this sweet side dish is normally associated with the the Jewish New Year (celebrated in September), it paired fabulously with the Celebration Roast, stuffing, and gravy I served on Christmas eve. As Dynise points, out, there are as many recipes for tzimmes as there are cooks. But I love her citrusy-sweet medley of carrots, parsnips, sweet potato and fruit, which brought back some very warm family memories.

I like to include greens with our holiday dinners, because they are usually pretty heavily laden with starchy foods. Sicilian-Inspired Kale (for Columbus Day), is a brilliant fusion of garlic-infused olive oil, raisins, and pine nuts which cling lovingly to gently wilted kale. This tasty dish gave our dinner just the right balance. 

It was really chilly here just before the holidays, and I had a hankering for soup. (Did I mention the recipes for tailgate parties, slumber parties, and snow days you'll find in Celebrate Vegan?) Dynise's Minimal Pastina with Spinach Soup sounded like just the ticket to warm my cold bones. (It gets awfully chilly inside our house when it's cold, wet, and gloomily grey outdoors.) This tasty soup made with itsy-bitsy pasta and a hint of lemon was a snap to prepare, and was satisfying, warming, and nourishing—just the kind of dish you'd enjoy, even when you're not feeling well!

Since I've talked to so many people lately who are feeling a bit under the weather, here is the recipe for Minimal Pastina with Spinach Soup from Celebrate Vegan reprinted with the kind permission of Dynise Balcavage ©2011. 


4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup pastina (or any small pasta like orzo or ditalini)
1 cup spinach, shredded or cut (frozen is fine, too)
Nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper to taste
Splash of lemon juice (optional, but I highly recommend it!)


In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Add pasta, lemon juice if desired, and spinach. Cook according to pasta package directions. Adjust seasonings, and serve. Yields 4 (very yummy!) servings.

When Kwanzaa rolled around, I was still craving soup, and the recipe for Tanzanian Curried Chickpea-Banana Soup sounded intriguing. Boy, were we ever in for a treat! Coconut, tomatoes, chickpeas, and bananas came together to create a happy dance of flavors right there in our bowls! I was so glad that I made a huge pot, because I ate this soup for lunch every day for a week, and with each new slurp, I fell ever more deeply in love with it!

Back in November, I visited Palm Beach County, Florida. As some of you know, for very personal reasons, it wasn't a fun trip. But while I was there visiting with family, my nephew and I dined at a vegan restaurant called Darbster. My nephew's favorite dish there is the Hearts of Palm Cakes, and he urged me to try it. I never ate crab cakes, which is what they are reminiscent of, but holy WOW these were great! So when I spotted Dynise's recipe for Old Bay Cakes (think 4th of July picnic!), I couldn't wait to try them. Made with tofu, instead of hearts of palm, these babies were every bit as tasty as the cakes at Darbster!

Dynise's recipe for Thai-Centric Cheezy Mac takes a classic American comfort food dish and infuses it with my very favorite ethnic cuisine! Made with red bell pepper, carrots, So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer, and just the right amount of nooch, this is the cheesiest, creamiest, most delicately spiced mac 'n cheese ever to cross my lips. It's so good, I almost feel like licking the screen when I look at this photo:

As you can see from the book's beautiful cover, you'll also find lots of taste-tempting dessert recipes in Celebrate Veganfrom Mexican Wedding Cookies to Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Crust! You can bet I'll be delving into all of them!

Now, you can certainly wait for the next holiday to roll around to start celebrating vegan, but I say that everyday is the perfect day to celebrate eating compassionately and deliciously. So, get yourself a copy of Celebrate Vegan, and make every meal a festive occasion and every day a holiday!

Update: Congratulations to Ashley! She won a copy of Celebrate Vegan! Ashley, please send me an email with your postal address so I can send you your book! Thank you to everyone who made this giveaway such a great one! Stay tuned for more great giveaways in 2012!

Would you like to win a copy of Celebrate Vegan? All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me what your favorite holiday is.* (Please make sure I have your email address to contact you when you win!) If you'd like to earn additional entries, please do any or all of the following, and leave a comment for each item you complete:

1. Follow this blog by clicking the "follow" link in the upper left-hand corner of this page, subscribing via email, or through NetworkedBlogs.
2. Tweet the following message: Win a copy of @theurbanvegan's Celebrate Vegan via @Vegiegail and make everyday a holiday! #vegan #cookbook #giveaway
3. Like The Urban Vegan on Facebook.
4. Follow @Vegiegail on Twitter!
5. Follow @theurbanvegan on Twitter!

Good luck!

*Sorry international friends. Giveaway is only open to readers with a valid US postal address.