Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chi-chi Vegan Eats


The Book: The Millenium Cookbook: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine by Eric Tucker and John Westerdahl, dessert recipes by Sascha Weiss (Ten Speed Press, 1998)
Review by A-K Thordin

Preamble/Overall Feeling: The Millenium Restaurant in San Francisco is in many ways the pinnacle of fancy vegan dining, and while I haven’t had the opportunity myself, I’ve heard only amazing things about eating there. This, their first cookbook, includes many recipes used at the restaurant, and is a go-to resource for those meals where you really REALLY want to impress your sweetheart or dinner guests. It has a simple look with well-demarcated sections and recipes under appetizers, salads, soups, pasta and pizza, sides, entrees, brunch and lunch, sauces/salsas, desserts as well as informative cooking basics and resources sections. The Millenium Cookbook is punctuated with smaller black and white “mood” shots as well as full-page color photos of some of the entrees, which is plenty to get you thinking about how to incorporate Asian Romaine Spring Rolls with Sesame-Lime Dressing, Tempeh Sauerbrauten Style with Braised Red Cabbage and Apples and Spätzle, Mad Good Chocolate Cake or Fig and Almond Tart with Red Wine and Pear Cream into your life as soon as humanly possible! And when I’m not ready to cook a gourmet feast, I find the Millenium Cookbook most useful either for coming up with unique flavor pairings or as a resource to pick and choose a couple smaller recipes from a larger meal.

Best Bits: I’ve had this cookbook almost since becoming vegan, and it is usually my first choice when I need inspiration for fancy meal ideas. In addition to its recipes for beautiful and full-menu meals, The Millenium Cookbook is also co-authored by a nutritionist to include lower-fat dishes as well as basic nutrition information — great for those who like to know what their food is providing them beyond flavor and satiation. While I haven’t had much chance to do a thorough cook-through of the book, my dabbling into the Ethiopian-inspired Lentil Stew with Millet-Almond Pilaf and Millet Crepes, Tempeh Pizzas with Puttanesca Sauce, Coconut Mashed Yams, Brazilian Black Bean Soup with Coffee and Orange, and the famous Chocolate Almond Midnight have all been delicious, gorgeous and crowd-pleasing. I’ve also made use of their Basics section to make Dark Vegetable Stock, Baked Marinated Tempeh, and Millenium Braised Garlic to name a few. The Millenium Cookbook is a great resource for seasoned cooks who want to make beautiful and gourmet dishes for special occasions, whether they want to cook a full-scale decadent meal or pick and choose subrecipes as sides or an incorporation into another dish.

Less-Wonderful Bits: As is often the case with gourmet food, ingredient lists can be long and certain items expensive, and the recipes can be quite time consuming. While many of the recipes are worth the effort, I’ve found them also to be overly complicated when they don’t need to be, or sometimes deceptively simple—until you realize you need to make two or three other recipes first in order to start the recipe you were planning to make. The scale of many recipes can feel pretty intimidating and are largely not for quick meals, but it’s more approachable when you remember that you don’t have to make every component of, for example, the Seitan, Wild Mushroom, and Corn-Stuffed Peppers with Poblano Chile Sauce and Quinoa Pilaf, which includes six subrecipes for various marinades and sauces. For those with allergies, sensitivities, or aversions to wheat/gluten and soy, they feature pretty prominently in several recipes, though there are many vegetable- and bean-based dishes if you take the time to read through the cookbook (there are no allergy indexes or other recipe markers). And apart from the sorbet section, the dessert recipe features lots of all-purpose flour, though experienced bakers can certainly adapt with a few substitutions, and the remaining ingredients make use of fruits and some alternative sweeteners like Sucanat and maple syrup.

Whole foods focus?: Generally, yes.
Vegan-friendly?: Absolutely!
Eco-conscious?: In that it features vegan recipes.
Web presence?: Sorta.

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