Monday, January 4, 2010

The Conscious Cook by Chef Tal Ronnen

It's official... we are a few days into the 2010. I know this because I took my usual trip to the gym on Sunday morning, and had a very hard time finding a parking spot when usually I have no problem at all. That's okay though, I am not complaining. I am happy to see so many people off to a healthy start.

Speaking of the new year, I am going to add a new genre to The New Vegan Blog, and that will be cookbook reviews. I have gone through many cookbooks in my lifetime that have influenced my cooking over the years. These are not only vegan cookbooks, but cookbooks from when I started cooking that I still use this day to influence some of the flavors and sauces in my vegan recipes.

The first cookbook that I would like to tell you about is The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen. Since most people want to make healthy resolutions, I thought this would be a good one to start with since the recipes focus on transitioning from meat to meatless. Chef Tal Ronnen is a former steak lover, and these recipes are designed to show you that you can have meatless recipes that have the bite and flavor of meat, and that you aren't giving up anything when you take out animal products in your diet.

I fell in love this cookbook for many reasons. First, there is a captivating picture to go with every recipe, and each one of them makes my mouth water. It was difficult for me to pick out which recipe that I would make first because all of them looked so delicious and creative.

Second, the ingredients used are pretty normal and the recipes are not too labor intensive. I like to know that I will be purchasing herbs, spices, and grains that I am going to use often rather than a once a year. And, I don't mind a little bit of labor... I love the art of cooking, chopping vegetables, and mixing sauces. It's all very therapeutic to me. It gives me a chance to go into another world away from the stresses in life, and make something to blog about! But, all in all... these recipes are not too difficult.

The third reason I love this cookbook is because it's not just a cookbook, but it also tells many stories. The cookbook opens with, "Welcome, meat-eaters," and then he goes onto explain that he used to be a meat eater, but gave it up as a teenager, and he says, "I became obsessed with eating vegan food that was just as mouthwatering and delicious as anything I'd ever had as a meat-eater. This book is my chance to share these discoveries with you."

Throughout the book, he explains why vegan is the healthy choice, and even quotes Paul McCartney and Albert Einstein promoting the lifestyle. He goes onto break through the vegan myths, and mentions that going vegan even three days a week lets you in on the benefits. There is a page dedicated to each food group, and he highlights what his favorites are in each category.

He goes on to feature guest chefs that he has worked with who tell their stories of why they decided to adopt this lifestyle as well as share a few of their recipes. One story that I found fascinating was by Chef Chad Sarno of Saf, London's first full vegan restaurant and bar. Sarno actually begins by saying, "I was blessed with asthma-blessed in that it brought me to where I am today," and he goes onto explain that he didn't eat a lot of meat to begin with, but after he was told to cut out dairy from his diet, he never had another asthma attack again and was able to stop using all of his inhalers.

This cookbook also includes interviews with:

Don McKinkey, who brought quinoa to the United States from South America. "Quinoa is a grain that is really high in protein and iron and had sustained the Inca - a very poor people who barely ate any meat."

-Bob Goldberg, who is the cofounder of Follow Your Heart products and inventor of Veganaise (Vegan Mayonnaise).

-Yves Potvin, who created the first veggie hotdog, and is the founder of Gardein and Yves Veggie Cusine. You can find these imitation meat products in the frozen and refrigerated section of your grocery store.

-Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza, who are the owners of Candle Cafe and Candle 79. These are one if the first fine dining vegan places on New York's Upper East Side.

He uses all of the ingredients by each of these interviewees in some of his recipes, and it makes the dishes more fascinating since you learn about the history of these products and how they were influenced. You really do learn where your food is coming from, how it is made, and the love and compassion behind it through this cookbook.

Some of the recipes that you can expect to find in this cookbook are Artichoke and Oyster Mushroom Rockefeller, Gardein "Chicken" Piccata, Tomato Bisque, Tomato "Mozzarella" and Pesto Panini, Herbed Cashew Cheese Baguette with Tomato and Watercress, Paella with "sausage" Nori Dusted Oyster Mushrooms, and Wine Braised Artichoke Hearts, Agave-Lime Grilled Tofu with Asian Slaw and Mashed Sweet Potatoes, and Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cake with Berry Sorbet.

This book is perfect for beginners because it is not only a book filled with delightful recipes, but it's also a how-to guide. It is filled with stories and explanations of the food that you will be using which may be unfamiliar to you, and this helps to put your mind at ease. The recipes are all takes on contemporary dishes that are featured in everyday restaurants with common ingredients, so you don't have to worry about any strange or unexpected outcomes. Chef Tal Ronnen has traveled the world working with master chefs, and it shows with the variety of exotic flavors and cultural influences in these recipes.

Since I have purchased this book, I decided to try quinoa and fell in love with it, and it will become a staple in my diet. I also can't wait to tell you about the Gardein Chicken Piccata that I made from this cookbook in my next recipe blog. I will make the same promise that Chef Tal makes in his introduction, and that is... "I promise, you won't miss the meat."


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