Do you think “Isa Does it” Well? – A Cookbook Review

isa does it

Sometimes you just gotta live outside your comfort zone. By comfort zone, we mean cooking the same weeknight chicken fajitas over and over – not that there’s anything wrong with it! Although we don’t claim to be vegan experts, we thought we would test some vegan recipes with the best selling “Isa Does it” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Isa is the author of the previously successful “Veganomicon”. This author’s motto is very clearly stated in the first paragraph of her writing: “To get you into the kitchen, cooking satisfying meals with fresh ingredients any day of the week”. Well, that line had us hooked!

Isa starts by explaining her cooking journey and it is refreshing to note that she is not a professional chef. She admits to growing up on hamburger helper and frozen food and even disliked spending time in the kitchen. She relates to many of us who do not want to spend hours and hours in the kitchen making extravagant spreads, but just easy delicious food that gets on the table in a timely fashion.

The first few pages make for some fun reading. Isa includes her must have tools and gadgets such as a good quality blender and immersion blender. Her favourite simple tools include a solid wooden cutting board and a proper chef’s knife. She stresses the importance of stocking your pantry correctly and we like that she categorizes her spices that she uses all the time versus just some of the time. She provides simple ways to organize your pantry in a non fuss type of way. We like her “Vegan Butchery” section, designed to teach you how to correctly cube and triangle vegan protein options such as tofu and tempeh with easy to read pictures and steps. The rest of the cookbook is organized into interesting sections of food such as “Handheld” – including different types of burgers, “Sunday night suppers”, which are comfort meals and “Bowls”, such as a hummus bowl, spinach burrito bowl, etc.

So what did we try? A bunch of recipes! When one recipe turns out great, you feel like trying more and more and there are lots of great reviews online which is always a plus.  We gave her Pesto Cauliflower Soup, Tofu Mushroom Stragonoff, and Malai Kofta a whirl and were pleasantly surprised with each meal. Isa makes vegan cooking seem delicious and instead of reverting back to soy for every meal, as one might imagine vegan cooking to be, she makes it versatile using different things like cashews, tempeh and of course lots of tofu.

As with any cookbook, there are just a few points that we weren’t thrilled at. Perhaps Isa touched on this in her other cookbooks, but we wanted to know what drove her to become vegan. Was it allergy related? Did she grow up eating only vegan? Not sure, but we would have liked to hear the story. Also in her special tools section, she describes a must have tool as a thin metal spatula. We would love to see what this spatula actually looks like! Finally, while we enjoyed the recipes that contained cashews for a creamy base, anybody with a nut allergy might find it hard to work with.

“Isa does it” is an easy light read that is also charmingly witty and humourous. We sense a “punk rock” side to Isa that might be different from any other cook you encounter and the number of recipes we made that actually turned out have us experimenting with Meatless Mondays. Although we can’t say we would go full throttle Vegan, Isa might just open your eyes to the possibilities of flavor, ease and the simplicity of cooking and baking for your loved ones.

Here is a favourite from the cookbook:

Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans and Greens

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This creamy soup just become a summer time staple in your home.  It is full of rich pesto flavour, a creamy (cauliflower base!) sauce, dotted with white beans, soft pillowy gnocchi and healthy greens! Not to mention it comes together very easily and you might even clean out your fridge and pantry as a result.  Enjoy, it’s a good one!

Makes 4-6 servings

Taken from Isa Does it

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head cauliflower (about a pound), leaves removed, cut into florettes
4 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
Big pinch dried thyme
Lots of fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, plus a little extra for garnish
8 oz frozen gnocchi, partially thawed (leave on the counter for 30 minutes or so)
1 15 oz can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 small bunch swiss chard, stems discarded, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

Preheat a 4 quart stock pot over medium heat. Saute garlic in olive oil for about a minute, being careful not to let it burn. Add cauliflower, 3 cups of broth (alert! only 3 of the cups! you’ll be adding the last cup in a bit), salt, thyme and several dashes fresh black pepper. Cover pot and bring to a boil, stirring every now and again for about 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender.

Vigorously mix together the final cup of broth and the arrowroot until dissolved. Lower heat a bit so that the soup is at a slow boil. Mix in the broth/arrowroot and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes until slightly thickened. stirring often. Add the basil leaves, and remove from heat. Use a immersion blender to puree until smooth. Taste for salt and seasoning.

Return to the stove over medium heat and add the gnocchi, cover and let cook for 3 minutes or so. Add the greens and beans and cook until greens are completely wilted and beans are heated through, about 5 more minutes. Be careful as you stir not to crush the gnocchi or beans. Serve garnished with extra basil and pine nuts, if you like.

Tyler Florence helps your baby “Start Fresh” – A Cookbook Review

“It’s time to stop making excuses about what we put on our tables and in our children’s bodies and recognize that companies that produce cheap food are not doing you any favours.” – Tyler Florence

Tyler is one of our favorites here at Scratch is Better, so we knew in order to create some new baby food recipes, we’d have to give his cookbook Start Fresh a try. Tyler’s philosophy is simple: Forge a foundation early on with your children for a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime. This cookbook is good one to keep handy since it begins from single-ingredient purees (4-6 month old baby) all the way through 12 months and beyond. So it’s not just a baby cookbook, rather a cookbook that speaks to the whole family.

Tyler’s recipes explain the importance of making baby food taste as good as food you would serve to the entire family. Nothing is fake or processed and he encourages you buy certified organic whenever possible. We like that he simplifies preparing baby food. All you need is a steamer basket and a blender, which you probably already have in your kitchen. He also suggests roasting fruits and vegetables instead of just steaming – adding a different, yet tastier dimension to the food.

The single-ingredient purees are a no-brainer but the rest of the sections – the flavor combinations he suggests are pure genius! He claims his parsnip, pear and fig puree tastes like Christmas – we couldn’t resist trying it out! The mango, carrot and apple puree is so delicious even we licked the spoon! We really enjoyed his Turkey Meatball Stroganoff and it has definitely made its way into our weekly rotation.  Tyler even includes a recipe for Baked Halibut fish sticks, which is kid friendly and easy to prepare.  The mantra of sitting down and eating dinner together as a family never gets old and Tyler makes this act seem doable and necessary.

Even though Tyler focuses on fresh healthy foods, we found that a few of the recipes, especially the stage two section (6-9 months) contained a heavy salt and sugar content. Many fruits and vegetables already have a natural sweet taste so there really is no need to expose children to extra salt and sugar. He also encourages you to add Parmesan cheese and maple syrup to baby food recipes, which we thought was unnecessary. We just omitted these ingredients when trying out his recipes, and the results were still fantastic!

There are a lot of excellent baby food books out there, but we found Start Fresh to stand out. Tyler allows us to gain appreciation for creating not just edible food for children, but tasty and flavorful food combinations that are healthy. By the end of the book, you will think twice before opening up a jar of runny goopy fruits and vegetables that are slopped together. Of course we all just want what is best and healthiest for our baby and Tyler hits it with the nail on the head – by starting fresh.

Here is one of our favourites from the cookbook:

Carrot, Apple, Mango Puree

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Sunshine puree…

In his book, Start Fresh, Tyler claims this puree to be “one of the best things I’ve made”- so naturally we had to give it try! This beautiful puree has a wonderful sweetness that makes it very delicious. Your little one is in for a treat!

Taken from Start Fresh by Tyler Florence

Makes about 2 ½ cups

1 mango, peeled and cut into chunks.
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 apples, peeled and chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a roasting sheet with parchment and add all the ingredients. Roast for about 20 minutes, until carrots are soft and tender. Puree with a hand blender or Vitamix.

Trust Ina Garten to help you “Make it Ahead” – A Cookbook Review

“I didn’t just want to write recipes that were okay when they’re made ahead, I wanted to write recipes that were actually better if they’re made ahead” – Ina Garten

Thinking of picking up a copy of the Barefoot Contessa’s latest Make it Ahead? Look no further! We test countless recipes daily and experimenting using Ina’s book was a really fun project. Laden with beautiful food photography, each recipe contains little side notes about how exactly the recipe fits the bill of “make it ahead”. The book is also riddled with notes about safely storing food, how to freeze items, and also a section geared towards the biggest foodie day of the year: Thanksgiving. The book is written in true Ina fashion, with a focus on fresh, simple ingredients for a fancy dish, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or cocktail hour!

Reading a Barefoot Contessa cookbook is truly a treat. Ina includes little heartfelt stories about how the book came to life and her love of food is apparent with every turn of the page. She is a truly a masterful host and she shares her entertaining tips and tricks. One can only hope of one day wistfully being invited to her beautiful East Hampton home for dinner!

While Make it Ahead gets our stamp of approval, we also noticed a few points about the book that may not be so ideal. Ina includes salads as part of the “make it ahead” philosophy, which to us doesn’t really seem practical. Yes, you can prep every single item ahead of time for a salad, but if that were the case, wouldn’t every dish be “make it ahead”? Ina also writes about her perfect thanksgiving, where she completes two schedules, with every side you can imagine. Through close inspection, we realize it was only possible because she used two ovens. Come on Ina – most of us do not have the luxury of cooking a Thanksgiving feast in a gourmet kitchen equipped with two ovens!

We love Ina though, and cannot find too much fault in this amazing cookbook! The recipes are mouth watering and Ina makes everything look so easy. We especially enjoyed the “Vegetables” section and created many of the side dishes for Thanksgiving, such as “Pear and Parsnip Gratin” and “Make-Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes”. Make it Ahead has a cozy spot in our Kitchen nook, nestled in with all of the rest of our Barefoot Cookbooks.

We’ve included one of our favourite recipes from the book below:

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” -Julia Child

Ina describes this pudding-like cake as “unassuming” and that it is! Such a simple and easy to prepare cake, yet rich and fancy enough to serve to even your fussiest of guests! Enjoy plain or with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Serve alongside a fresh brewed pot of coffee and your all set.

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Something between a pudding and a cake…

Taken from Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Serves 9-12

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 5 tbsp sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 (12-oz)can evaporated milk
1 (14-oz sweetened condensed milk)
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
8 cups mixed berries for serving
Sifted confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside.  Place the eggs, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes (really!) until light yellow and fluffy  Reduce the speed to low and slowly add half the flour mixture, then the milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture.  Mix well.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Set aside to cool for 30 minutes.

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract, and vanilla seeds.  Using a bamboo skewer, poke holes all over the cooled cake and slowly pour the cream mixture over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed completely before continuing to pour on more of the mixture.  Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To serve, toss the fruit with the 5 tablespoons of sugar.  Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, cut into squares, and place on dessert plates.  Surround the cake with the fruit, put a dollop of whipped cream on top, and serve.

Make it ahead tip: Prepare the cake completely and refrigerate for up to 5 days.  Serve with the berries and whipped cream.