About three years ago, I happened to buy a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the book changed my entire approach to food. While I've always been a reasonably competent and enthusiastic cook, there were certain things I never did. I had never made my own stock, always relied on storebought pasta sauces, never attempted to make bread at home, and so on. It's not that Bittman is all that amazing, really, it's just that his approach caught me at the right time.
In 2007, Bittman published a followup, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. This resonated with me because the reason I knew how to cook in the first place was that I was vegetarian from the age of 14-21 (the rest of my family was not), so I had to do a lot of cooking for myself. While I have been eating meat again for a bit more than a decade now, my old favorite vegetarian recipes still figure prominently in my cooking, there's frequently tofu in the fridge, and it still seems more natural to me to have bulgur, not beef, in my chili.
Unfortunately, most of my old vegetarian cookbooks, with the notable exception of Yamuna Devi's wonderful Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking (a complicated book Bittman gave me the confidence to return to seriously), sat gathering dust on the kitchen bookshelf. That's because the characteristic they share in common is a consistent penitential joylessness. There's a sense of self-denial running through them -- particularly a horrific book called Tofu Cookery whose worst excesses (including a quasi Jell-o salad based on tofu, agar flakes, and frozen peas) easily qualify for the Gallery of Regrettable Food. The focus was nearly always misplaced: cookbook authors seemed unable to conceive of a non-meat-centered plate, so the recipes aimed to replicate old meaty favorites, neglecting the array of non-meat ingredients.
It was also apparent that most vegetarian cookbook authors were idealogues first, cooks second.
This brings me to the Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. It came to my attention while perusing the reviews of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian on Amazon. I had never really given vegan cooking a second thought - even when vegetarian, it just seemed too stringent, but the reviews of the book seemed outstanding from vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike. As I've said above, I eat meat, and I'm not seriously considering becoming vegetarian or vegan. But I do agree with the premise that it is not sustainable for us to eat as much meat as we in the Western world do, and I think the idea of working within a certain set of limitations and seeing what happens is fun.
So here's what this blog's about. I've cooked a few recipes from the book, and really enjoyed them. Inspired by the outstanding Julie/Julia Project and French Laundry at Home, I'm going to work through the entire catalog of recipes. While I won't be attempting any of the amazing technical feats Julie and Carol have, I will be exposing my social network to seitan and nutritional yeast, which may be just as bold. I'm taking advantage of my indulgent boyfriend, friends, and neighbors as guinea pigs (or...whatever the not-tested-on-animals equivalent would be), and bringing you good people along for the ride. Let's see how it goes.