The other day my friend Ricki and I were talking about just what makes someone a foodie. I think it’s safe to say that devoting a good chunk of one’s time to writing a food blog is one qualification! And I think you really have to like eating, there’s no doubt about that. Sometimes foodies get a bad rep but I think that’s when they’re inaccurately grouped with food snobs. In contrast to the latter, a foodie genuinely enjoys learning about all kinds of foods, appreciates the both the artistic and scientific results achieved by combining different ingredients, and draws inspiration from many types of cuisines and eating styles, even if it’s not exactly what they would eat.

This is why I, a non-vegan was really excited to be offered the chance to review Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites: Lip-Smacking, Belly-Filling, Home-Style Recipes Guaranteed to Keep Everyone-Even the Meat Eaters-Fantastically Full, by Celine Steen and Joni  Mari Newman. Certainly, this title doesn’t conjure up the typical images of vegan nosh that the unenlightened might equate with rabbit food. So why was I, a meat-eating, healthy food-loving kind of gal so eager to dive into its hefty, “cheese” and meat substitute-laden pages?

Like I said, it’s part of being a foodie! (And remember that little bit about me cutting way back on dairy? I knew this book would have some great dairy-free recipes for me to try my hand at.)

If you’re looking for rich and creamy ice creams, layered casseroles of pasta and “cheese”, satisfying freshly baked breads and plenty of “meat”, this is your book. There are recipes for all occasions and for all times of the day. If you can’t imagine how ingredients like vital wheat gluten, tofu, and nuts come together to create these dishes, that’s where the big, beautiful pictures are helpful. That’s not to say there aren’t some healthier choices, and per my own preferences, I naturally sought them out.

We started with the vegan mozzarella, made from a clever combination of coconut oil, non-dairy milk, vinegar, starch, and seasonings. There’s some sort of crazy chemical reaction that occurs when you heat this mixture and then allow it to cool, during which it takes on a gel-like consistency. It’s not necessarily something you’d slice and serve with fresh tomatoes and basil, but it’s actually pretty wonderful if you pull it apart into bits and scatter on top of a pizza. That’s exactly what I did, albeit on top of a very non-vegan pizza. But warm, melted, ooey-gooey, non-dairy cheese is what I was going for and that’s exactly what I got.

The mozzarella is one of several recipes for “cheese” you can put to  use instead of expensive store-bought counterparts. Maybe you caught mention of the hemp-almond parmesan last week, which I used in my Mushroom Pesto Pinwheels? Yup, that was courtesy of this book too.

The concept of a tofu scramble wasn’t new to me, but making one in my own kitchen was. I was immediately drawn to the Tofuevos Rancheros, a clever spin on the spicy Mexican breakfast.  Let me be clear that I didn’t go into this expecting to be fooled and to taste eggs; but rather I was excited about a new way to enjoy tofu, something we already like. The crumbled, pan-fried tofu gets its hefty color and spice from a combination of nutritional yeast, turmeric, onion and garlic powder. The other component of this satisfying recipe is a quick, thick and spicy bean sauce. We enjoyed it with corn tortillas, sliced avocado, and homemade vegan sour cream, another recipe found in the book. While the last component wasn’t my favorite, we both enjoyed the meal overall and I would most certainly make it again.

But the highlight for us so far has been the Chorizo and Potato Lasagna Bake. This is the one that made my husband comment, “you’d never know you’re eating something meat and dairy free.” This rich, savory tort is filled with layer upon layer of tender potatoes, a spicy chorizo filling laced with briney olives and capers, and a vegan “bechamel” whose components were actually very similar to the mozzarella recipe. There is even an accompanying recipe to make your own soy chorizo, though I chose to be lazy (resourceful?) and use the Trader Joe’s version, which I know and love. This meal takes a little extra time to prepare, but makes up for that by providing several meals’ worth of leftovers. Leftovers that I really, really looked forward to.

Other things I’m looking forward to eating? Banana split waffles, Coconut Creme Brulee Baked Oatmeal, Chocolate Stout Chili, Avocado Rolls, Brussels Sprouts and Chestnut Pot Pie, and perhaps even Bacon Maple Donuts. Yup, I just said bacon.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of the book to review, but as always, opinions and photos are entirely my own.

And here’s something for YOU to look forward to. Kathy Hester (author of The Vegan Slow Cooker, which I’ve reviewed last fall) is helping to market the book and she’s offered a copy to one of you as well! I know there are some foodies out there, vegan or not, who will really enjoy adding this one to their collections. To enter, simply do any of the following, leaving a separate comment for each action:

  • Tell me about your favorite vegan dish
  • Follow Joni Mari Newman on Facebook or Twitter
  • Follow Celine Steen on Facebook or Twitter
  • Tweet about this giveaway with a link to this post. Here’s an example: “I want to win a copy of Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites @carascravings http://bit.ly/xOcLG0 @@JoniMarieNewman @cakeonme

Giveaway Rules:
No purchase necessary. The contest will close on Wednesday, February 22th at 11:59pm EST, at which point a winner will be chosen via random number generator. Winner must reside in the continental United States and supply a valid email address in the commenting form. Winner will be contacted and have 4 days to respond, at which point s/he forfeits the prize and another winner will be chosen. Winner will provide name, email address, shipping address and phone number and give me permission to supply this information to the sponsor of the giveaway items.

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Vegan Potato Chorizo Lasagna Bake

Yield: 6 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes baking, 20 minutes cooling

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

A hearty layered casserole of satisfying potatoes, spicy soy chorizo, studded with briney olives and capers, drenched in a creamy "bechamel." A robust meal for a monster appetite, vegan or not!

Note: the original recipe calls for baking the lasagna in a 9" square baking dish. I opted to use an 8" springform pan placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet. This recipe does have quite a bit of fat, but much of it drips off when using the latter method.

Ingredients:

2 lbs peeled russet potatoes, thinly sliced

"Bechamel" Sauce
1 cup unsweetened nondairy milk (such as almond milk)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon arrowroot starch or corn starch
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

Chorizo Filling
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, inced
20 oz diced tomatoes from a BPA-free container
1/2 cup (80gm) green olives with pimientos, chopped
1/4 cup (60gm) capers, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
freshly ground pepper, to taste
12oz soy chorizo sausage, such as Trader Joe's brand

Place a steamer basket on top of a large pot with a few inches of water at the bottom. Arrange the potato slices in the basket. Cover and turn on heat to high. Steam the potatoes for 5-7 minutes, until just tender. Set aside.

To make the "bechamel" sauce: Place all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and stir well. Cook on high in the microwave for 2 minutes, watching to make sure the mixture does not bubble over. Set aside. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

To make the chorizo filling: Heat the olive oil in a large, deep saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Increase heat and add diced tomatoes (with their juices), olives, capers, tomato paste, oregano, paprika, pepper and chorizo. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Place an 8" springform pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet (alternatively, you can use a 9" square baking dish.) Spoon in just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Top with a layer of potatoes, then more sauce. Repeat until all of the potatoes and chorizo filling have been used. Stir the bechamel sauce, and pour evenly over the the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

Directions:

Cara Lyons, www.carascravings.com, slightly adapted from Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites