Lane Gold's VEGAN JUNK FOOD is my new favorite cookbook. (The previous title holder? Wheeler del Torro's THE VEGAN SCOOP - which should tell you a little sumthin' sumthin'! Namely, that I like my vegan food filled with empty calories.) At my request, I was lucky enough to receive a review copy - along with two copies to give away - from the publisher, Adams Media. With a name like "Vegan Junk Food," I figured it couldn't disappoint.
Whether you like your junk food sweet or savory, chocolaty or cheesy, Lane (can I call you Lane?) has got you covered. The 225 recipes in this collection are divided into ten categories: breakfast foods; deli favorites (i.e., sandwiches, wraps, burgers, and sliders); comfort-meets-takeout foods (entrees); crusts and carbs (pizzas and breads); festive grub (party foods!); dips, hummus, and sauces (including sundae toppings!); savory treats; cakes; candies and cookies; and grab `n' go sweets (brownies and bars). As you can see, the recipes are roughly divided between meal-type items (entrees, main courses) and snacks/desserts.
The husband and I tried out about twenty recipes before I sat down to write this review; and, while I don't usually review cookbooks, this is easily the largest number of recipes I've sampled for a cookbook review, like, ever. (I just couldn't stop myself; everything looks so good!) Possibly it's the most recipes I've made from a single cookbook, period. Though I own a ridiculous number of them, I don't use cookbooks with much frequency; more often I cook from memory or pull recipes off the internet. But VEGAN JUNK FOOD? Most definitely joining my repertoire!
The book's obvious strength, of course, is the food: oodles and oodles of junk food! Pizza. Pasta. Tacos. Pot pies. Casseroles. Cupcakes, pies, and brownies. Empty calories as far as the eye can see! Wait, that's not entirely fair: some of these foods aren't all that bad for you. Ironically, many of the recipes in VEGAN JUNK FOOD are actually healthier than my own versions. The Mac and Cheese Bake, for example, uses a vegan Velveeta-like cheese sauce made of potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, nutritional yeast, and soy milk. Even factoring in the additional vegan cheese shreds in this dish, it's still way better for you than my own mac & cheese recipe, which is basically just pasta and processed vegan cheeses (namely, Daiya and Follow Your Heart). Don't let the book's title fool you: while these foods may look and taste like junk food, they're not all super-trashy.
With options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, VEGAN JUNK FOOD is versatile. Mix and match the recipes for something new - or experiment to make them your own. For example, I used leftovers from some of the recipes to create new banana ice cream dishes!
While some of the recipes call for pricey vegan meats and cheeses, Gold doesn't rely on these products exclusively. (Unlike my own blog, VEGAN JUNK FOOD doesn't read like a Lightlife ad!) In fact, she offers diy recipes for many of these vegan staples so you can make `em your own bad self, oftentimes at a fraction of the price! See, e.g., gravy (page 61); ricotta (pg. 120); sour cream (pg. 120); cheese sauce (pg. 121) basil pesto (pg. 124); and ranch dressing (pg. 126), to name just a few!
My complaints are few and relatively minor. Some recipes reference other recipes - to return to the Mac and Cheese Bake, the Cheese Sauce is its own recipe, located in a different section of the book - but don't include a page number alongside the recipe title, thus forcing the reader to consult the index in order to find it. A minor annoyance, compounded by the index's lack of user friendliness. (I find it counter-intuitive and difficult to use.) An estimated cook time and rating for difficulty on each dish would have been nice too, but I suppose both are easy enough to gauge by reading through the instructions.
I also ran into issues with two of the recipes - the batter for the Almond Joy Bar Cake and the Red Pepper, Caramelized Onion, and Hash Brown Quiche wasn't pourable when it ostensibly should have been. (Also, the Bar Cake stuck to the pan!) Still, out of twenty recipes, two small glitches? Not so bad! Especially when you consider my lackluster track record with baked goods. Brownies, why you no like me?
Super stars: Pesto Chicken Pizza with Creamy Garlic Sauce; Cinnamon Roll French Toast; Fettuccine Alfredo; Chicken Pot Pie; Tater Tot Breakfast Casserole
Simple pleasures: DIY Vegan Parmesan; Basil Pesto; Sausage Gravy
Still on my to-do list: Strawberry Daiquiri Crepes; Waffles with Creamy Maple Sauce; Black Bean Burger with Onion Rings; Pizza Rolls; Sausage Puffs; all the pies, cakes, cupcakes, and brownies, starting in mid-2013
Enjoy with: Riots, not diets