Like any vegan cookbook enthusiast, I have a lot of love for Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her recipes are always flavoursome and well-seasoned, and even the more ambitious ones seem somehow achievable thanks to Isa’s no-nonsense approach. Her latest book was published in back in 2016 and I got it as a gift last Christmas. It’s a hefty tome, divided into sections based on different holidays throughout the year, and first glance told me there were far too many good recipes here to try to squeeze it in as a standard cookbook of the month.
So I decided to do a cook-along through 2017, hitting all the big celebrations. Of course, I did cook some of the recipes at other times as well, but I made sure to make something here for every special occasion. Here is what I’ve cooked from the first half of the book (roughly!), taking in all the holidays from New Year to Passover.
And I’ll get my main (only?) complaint with this book out of the way – why so few pictures? I want more, dammit!
I’ve never really cared for New Year – staying up till midnight on 31st December is a challenge for me, and my family has never done anything special on 1st January. We’ve started a new tradition of Dr HH cooking a huge Indian feast on 31st (and he’s attempting to make a ‘New Year, New Cage’ tradition where we watch a Nicholas Cage film to start every year – I’m putting up the expected resistance), but with no other food traditions to guide me I was happy to turn to Isa for some early January inspiration.
Like most people I follow on Instagram, I made the hoppin’ John bowl for New Year’s Day. I’d heard of eating lentils on 1st January because they resemble coins, but black eyed beans was a new one for me. I find bowls quite stressful to make because they involve so many elements and so much washing up, but the end result is always so good that it’s probably worth it. The highlight of this dish was the sauce which was absolutely delicious and I will definitely make again.
We made these orange pecan sticky buns for breakfast on 2nd January. It was a real team effort, as I’m terrible at making bread. Dr HH did all the kneading, while I mixed the dough, made the topping and filling and managed the kitchen (a role I excel in, incidentally). I was somewhat concerned about inverting the dish after cooking, but fortunately they just dropped straight out. These are the best cinnamon rolls we’ve ever made: the dough was perfect, and the topping was deliciously sticky and sweet. The orange and cinnamon flavours are perfect for Christmas as well as New Year.
Who could resist tempeh sausage-stuffed mushrooms? Not Dr HH and me, that’s for sure! Dr HH flew solo on this one and, as usual, did a splendid job. There was so much flavour in the tempeh mix, it was incredible. Salting the baking tray was a good idea from Isa, as it gave the mushroom a good kick of seasoning too. These would be delicious little party nibbles – or you could eat a whole plate of them for dinner, like we did.
“Take out your stovetop smoker and smoke the tomato” go the instructions for the ‘nox’ element of these bagels and nox with wild mushroom caviar. Perhaps I’m a bad vegan, because I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a stovetop smoker. As such, I replaced the smoked tomato slices with some smoked tempeh, and this was a delicious breakfast. I was worried about the cream cheese, which was made from beans rather than cashews, but of course, I should have trusted Isa: it was delicious. The mushroom caviar was also sublime.
If you are aware of the time difference between the USA and Europe, you will not be surprised to learn that I did not make lots of party snacks for watching the big game. But there were lots of good recipes in this section, and I’d say the sports connection is optional.
I simplified the buffalo chickpea pitas by ditching the dollop of ranch dressing on top, which made them very quick and easy to whip up. Well, easy except for the fact that chickpeas are pretty difficult to mash, in my experience. Anyway, they made for a good spicy, creamy bite.
Sticking with the buffalo theme, I made the buffalo cauliflower on the day of the Super Bowl itself, but we ate it while watching the ‘big game’ from the UK: Manchester United vs Leicester City. The food was delicious (and Dr HH was delighted with the result), and perfectly suited for pecking on at a party or gathering. It seemed a bit of a shame to me to go to all the trouble of breadcrumbing the cauliflower and baking it till crispy, then get it all soggy from the sauce, but I’m just assuming this is the American way. I’d make it again regardless.
I’m considering the warm artichoke dip for our Christmas Eve Party Tea, so I decided to give it a test drive. As usual, I was hindered by having just the one huge oven-safe dish, so it was an extremely thin layer of dip, but it was absolutely delicious! It had a slightly fishy flavour to it which I really liked, and was very enjoyable indeed. I’m thinking about making a half portion and cooking it in little ramekins for Christmas.
I toned down the spiciness of the chipotle mac and cheese with roasted Brussels sprouts, just using chilli flakes for personal preference. The cheesy sauce was perhaps the best I’ve ever made (I think the miso is the key ingredient), and the roasted sprouts provided a nice colour and texture contrast. It was delicious! I’ve made this at least once a month since its debut in January.
The half-time meatball sliders were adapted into a more regular dinner! I used the same meatballs and marinara sauce from the recipe and served them with pasta and store-bought pesto. The meatballs were really good (though I’d forgotten to get an onion in), and I liked how they held together. Tempeh meatballs are the best meatballs, in my opinion.
I made the Cincinnati spaghetti on the day of the Super Bowl itself. It was really easy to make and the chilli was delicious – but it seemed a bit weird eating it with spaghetti! Truthfully, I think next time I would just serve it with rice, unless I was trying to confuse someone.
The Philly cheesesteak casserole was really tasty! It has a creamy cheese filling with lots of sliced up seitan, and is topped with bread crumbs and lined with sliced bread on the bottom. I won’t put the slices on the bottom again though – it was a nice idea to recreate a sandwich, but it made cutting it up a bit of a faff!
When we moved abroad we resolved to spend as little as possible on kitchen utensils and equipment because we already have loads of kitchenware in storage in the UK. As such, we only have one dish that we use for everything baked or roasted, and it was far too big to hold the batter for these peanut butter brownies: you can see how the mixture doesn’t even spread to the edges, making it oddly misshapen. They turned out very flat, but really delicious, and I will make them again one day when I have a full array of tins to choose from.
3.Chinese New Year
When I lived in Asia, I loved celebrating Chinese New Year. This was mostly because it meant a holiday from work, but also due to the impressive fireworks, lion dances and general mirth. I haven’t celebrated it since leaving Hong Kong, and I almost never cook Chinese food, so it was nice to experiment with this section. I hadn’t expected to enjoy the recipes quite so much!
Hot and sour soup was a completely new dish for me, and I’m not sure how I felt about it. The white pepper was perhaps a bit too hot for my tastes, and it was difficult to eat a full portion, so it might be nice for a small starter as part of a Chinese feast, rather than a lunch. It was nice, but a bit weird.
Another entirely new dish for me was General Tso’s seitan: deep-fried seitan chunks in a spicy sauce. Perhaps mine was saucier than it should have been, as I used a full portion of sauce with a half portion of seitan, but I enjoyed that ratio. The seitan had a lovely crispness around the edges, and the sauce was lovely, if a bit spicy. The recipe called for chilli flakes on top of the sriracha, but I wisely decided that one dose of heat would be enough. It was a great dish.
We ate the mu shu pancakes on Chinese New Year itself, and they were time consuming (it does tell you how long each recipe takes, but somehow I didn’t quite believe it would be a two hour affair). Forming the pancakes was a wee bit fiddly, but everything else was quite straight forward. I followed Isa’s suggestion of adding some seitan to beef it up into a main course, and the final result was lovely. I’d never had mu shu pancakes before, so I wasn’t really sure what I was aiming for, and I’d describe them as burritos with Asian flavours. The dough was really dry at the start and needed a good kneading, but it turned out fine. I would definitely make these again.
Dr HH’s face lit up when he saw the tofu short ribs with gingery root veg mash, so I had to make this over the Chinese New Year period in January. I wasn’t sure how well the mash would work with the ribs, but actually it was a good combo (I’ll still probably just serve them with rice next time, for ease). The sauce on the ribs was the real highlight, it was sweet and sticky and wonderful.
I served the Peking portobellos alongside the ribs, and found them a very good match. The mushrooms were so good, and they soaked up the flavour from the sauce very well. We don’t have a grill, so I just roasted them instead, and I don’t think they suffered.
Dr HH and I are not romantic people in the hearts and flowers sense, but we certainly use food to show our devotion to each other and to celebrate our special events. As such, I really enjoyed trying the recipes in this section.
The almond-crusted French toast was semi-successful. The first slice I fried was golden brown, crisp and perfectly cooked. All the subsequent slices were slightly blackened and also underdone. Isa warns in the instructions not to burn the nuts, but I don’t understand how to achieve this. Cook them at a lower heat and sacrifice the texture of the toast? Once I’d pulled off a lot of the blackened nuts, it was delicious. I’d like to eat it again, but need to refine my technique, clearly.
The broccoli strata was my choice for our anniversary breakfast. I fried the veg and made the custard the night before, and assembled it in the morning. Unfortunately, I think the custard thickened a bit overnight, so there wasn’t quite as much liquid as I would have liked. But it was delicious nonetheless! There were some nice crispy bits of bread on top, and the softer, almost omelettey bottom contrasted wonderfully. For fairly minimal effort, it was a fancy and impressive breakfast. Usually my special-occasion-breakfasts are sweet, so Dr HH was pleasantly surprised.
I was a little anxious about making the sweet potato soup, as I feared the addition of vanilla would make it nauseatingly sweet. This is yet another example of the importance of always having faith in Isa: the lime juice and generous helping of chilli flakes maintained the perfect balance.
I made the green lasagna rolls for our anniversary meal in January. I liked the fact that there were lots of little tasks I could do throughout the day, rather than one huge chaotic cooking session in the evening: I made the white sauce nice and early, did some shopping, made the pesto, had a lunch break, made the ricotta…it was a pleasant way to cook.
The rolling, however, was less pleasant. It turns out that when you cook a load of sheets of lasagna, they all just stick together. Fortunately I had enough supplies to start afresh. Even the sheets that tore held up fine in the dish. I popped the leftover pesto on the top for the last five minutes of cooking time. It was a delicious dish! The pesto and the garlicky spinach were wonderful together. This was one of those dishes where I really wish there’d been a picture as I had absolutely no idea what I was aiming for.
I only just got round to making the porcini-crusted tofu, and I wish I tried it sooner – it’s fantastic! I’m currently wondering if I can persuade my family to try this for Christmas dinner. The tofu is marinated first and then coated in ground porcini and breadcrumbs and fried to perfection. It is so flavoursome, I really couldn’t get enough of it! The gravy was surprisingly bland, but there was enough flavour in the tofu to balance it out anyway.
I made the arancini for Dr HH’s birthday feast, and they were a huge hit. I made arancini before in my non-vegan days, and they used to fall apart quite a bit, so I took some extra precautions to make these hold their shape. I made the risotto bright and early in the morning, and left it to cool for hours, then formed the arancini an hour or two before cooking so they had plenty of time to hold their shape. I was worried that they wouldn’t cook right the way through when frying as they were so hefty (the recipe alternately calls for 16 and 8 balls, and I ended up with 13), so I popped them straight into the oven after frying to keep them nice and warm.
And they were so delicious! The crumb coating was lovely, the flavours were simple, the cheese didn’t really get gooey, but it was nicely cooked just the same. Most importantly, Dr HH was very impressed.
On February 15th, while Dr HH was on half-term holidays, he whipped up the cauliflower tikka masala and pistachio lentil biryani. Tikka masala is famously a dish that was invented to placate British taste buds, and as such Dr HH had never actually tried it before (he has Indian roots, so he eats the real deal). Even he really enjoyed it though! It was very flavoursome and creamy, and the balance of spices was just right. He also said it was very easy to make. We’ll certainly be revisiting these two!
My bundt tin is buried somewhere in my mum’s loft, so I when I made this chocolate yoghurt bundt cake I made them in little cake cases, with the bonus that they were suitable for packed lunches. They were pretty rich cakes – there was a lot of cocoa and chocolate in there – and I found them a touch dry, but they were really tasty. Probably not an everyday bake for me, given how decadent they were.
Mardi Gras is Pancake Day to most people in the UK, so I was very disappointed to find no pancake recipes in this section. All of these dishes were unfamiliar to me, as I had no real idea what people usually eat for Mardi Gras, but I enjoyed some fun flavours.
The recipe for the corn fritters with tomato jam claimed to produce 18 fritters. I made six. They didn’t seem particularly huge either, but I’m no fritter expert. I was worried they would be a little bland as the fritters themselves are only seasoned with salt and pepper, but there was plenty of flavour from the tomato jam to keep them interesting. I was definitely a fan of these.
I love savoury scones, so I was excited about trying the biscuits and white pepper gravy. As someone who favours dry food, I was worried that the gravy would make the scones sloppy or detract from their loveliness, but this was in fact a winning combo.
I had no idea what cauliflower and shiitake etoufee was meant to be, but hopefully it’s meant to look something like this! It was a little spicy for my taste, so Dr HH was a bigger fan than I was, but generally we both found it to be a tasty stew with good textures. There was no serving suggestion, so we just scoffed it with some bread.
The andouille and cannellini jambalaya was really delicious and easy to make. I managed to get hold of some spicy Veganz sausages, but red rice is not really an option here so I used regular old long grain. I’m sure red would have looked prettier, but this was still extremely tasty, so who cares?!
I love the Oscars, even though most of the big contenders haven’t been released in the UK/Europe at the time of the ceremony. Of course, I can never watch live with a table full of nibbles because of the time difference. This year, the ceremony was ending just as Dr HH and I were having breakfast and I was checking the live BBC updates on my phone. “Ugh, La La Land won best film,” I told Dr HH as the latest update came in. “Ugh!” he agreed, and I put my phone down. When I checked back ten minutes later, all hell had broken loose and I frantically tried to catch up on the chaos: “Moonlight won! The La La Land people were mid-speech and they had to stop and give the award to Moonlight! Yes!” Oh, how we rejoiced. Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that we haven’t tried much from this section yet.
I find making pesto quite stressful, due to our inadequate blender, but nevertheless I resolved to try the pesto chickpea salad bruschetta. Actually, the pesto worked a treat – it blended easily, and had loads of flavour. The coriander was a really nice touch. Please note they were much greener in real life than in this photo!
The salted caramel corn with peanuts wasn’t especially successful – I scaled down the recipe to serve two, and the caramel did not scale down particularly well (probably due to careless measuring on my part). Also, I didn’t scale down the cooking time well and the caramel was a wee bit burned. In the end the popcorn had that pleasant sweet and salty flavour, but there wasn’t enough of the caramel and there was that slightly bitter burnt taste. Not a great hit, but I’ll have another crack at it one day.
7.St Patrick’s Day
It seems like St Patrick’s Day is an excuse to wear green and get drunk, neither of which I’m particularly keen on. However, I liked this section of the book because it’s mostly hearty, comforting recipes, and I am very keen on them.
I was inspired to try colcannon for the first time, and I loved it! Dr HH and I enjoyed this the day after St Patrick’s Day, in our pyjamas, watching The West Wing, which seems like a good way to enjoy such a comforting dish. Truthfully, mashed is one of my least favourite forms of potato, but this was a nice simple dish and I probably would have it again as a side.
I used chorizo for the pepperoni potato soup with kale, so I’m not sure how Irish it ended up being (though how Irish is pepperoni, anyway?), but I am sure it was delicious! Actually, it would have been great without the meat slices too – the soup was really thick and flavoursome, and I loved the little flashes of green kale and orange carrot in the yellow broth. A great spring dish!
I loved the Irish stout stew, though I made it without the stout (finding vegan stout in Prague seemed like it would be a bit of a hassle, largely because I couldn’t even be bothered googling to see what stout even is). The potato scones were the highlight, of course, though they seemed a little underdone to me even after 25 minutes in the oven – they looked perfect on top but were still a little doughy underneath. Maybe this is normal for potato dumplings? The stew itself was flavoursome, and this was a good filling dish.
I was a little disappointed by the shade of my shamrockin’ shakes – not nearly as vibrant as I’d hoped. But taste-wise, I have no complaints! Actually, I like my shakes a little sweeter than this usually, but I’d drink it again. Possibly with more mint, just for the colour!
I don’t associate Easter with any food besides chocolate, so this wasn’t a chapter that particularly called to me on my initial flick through. In the end I did make some good food from this section though!
Making the eggplant caponata bruschetta was a spur of the moment decision, and I’m really glad I went for it. It was really easy to make, though it took a while to roast the aubergine and let everything cool to room temperature at the end. The flavours were simple but beautiful, and caramelising the onions was a wonderful touch. We didn’t have any fresh basil in, so I just chucked some dried into the pot – less visually pleasing, but still delicious.
I wasn’t too sure about trying the devilish potatoes, never having tried devilled eggs before. I’m glad I gambled though, because they were delicious! The potatoes are halved and roasted, then a spoonful is scooped out and mashed up with cashew cream, turmeric and black salt for a lovely eggy bite. I could have eaten a million of these!
The glazed tofu ham looked spectacular, but I’m not convinced it was worth the effort. It’s in such a huge block that the marinade doesn’t get very far. Likewise the glaze on top doesn’t have that huge an impact on the overall flavour (and how are you meant to glaze something with cloves poking out, eh?!). It was nice when I had a flavoursome end piece, but probably not something I’d make again just because of the long preparation time.
We wolfed down the so veggie pastitsio on Easter weekend. I’d never so much as heard of this dish before, and I would describe it as a kind of baked bolognese dish. The lentil and vegetable sauce was really nice, though I’m not sure how Isa’s photograph had such a vivid red pool of sauce underneath. The cheese on top should be made with pine nuts, but I’m not a millionaire so I just used cashews. I also added some nooch to the cheese sauce, as it was a little bland. I’d also recommend sprinkling some oregano and thyme on top to give it a good flavour boost.
I transformed another cake recipe by making it as cupcakes/muffins, in this case the classic carrot cake. It was really easy to make, and as there was quite a lot of sugar in the batter I decided not to bother icing them. This was a good call – they were sufficiently sweet, and a beautifully spiced and sticky cake. I’ll certainly make these again!
I tweaked this recipe a bit. First, as you can see, I made the glazed blueberry and meyer lemon scones using raspberries, because I hate blueberries. And second, I made big misshapen scones rather than the nice neat triangular ones, because I was making them for breakfast and I didn’t want to waste time shaping any dough. They were delicious! They baked really well, and the icing was a real nice addition – the lemon juice in there really packed a punch! I regularly use this basic recipe now to make chocolate and hazelnut scones, which I would also heartily recommend.
I also don’t know very much about what people eat at Passover, and I don’t really know what matzoh is or where to buy it, so that ruled out a lot of recipes here. But I did try one!
I love both tempeh and shepherd’s pie, so the tempeh shepherd’s pie with whipped sweet potatoes was a must! I sprinkled cheese and thyme on top before popping it in the oven and I’m glad I did, as I found the topping a bit too sweet. Maybe I’d use half sweet and half regular potatoes next time. The filling was spot on though! You can’t go wrong with tempeh!
Not a bad start, eh? At the end of December I’ll post part two – there are still numerous Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes I need to try! It’s been a promising start though, and hopefully you’ve already got the impression that I loved this book. The Super Bowl section alone is worth the money. If you haven’t got your copy yet, there’s still time to stick it on your Christmas list!