Thug Kitchen Party Grub ReviewJanuary 18, 2016
A while back I mentioned my intention of reviewing vegan cookbooks, so I've decided to kick things off with Thug Kitchen's Party G...
A while back I mentioned my intention of reviewing vegan cookbooks, so I've decided to kick things off with Thug Kitchen's Party Grub, which came out a few months back. I received the first Thug Kitchen book for Xmas last year and cooked from it a ton over the year that followed, and this Xmas I received Party Grub (thanks Julia and Steve!).
Silky Roasted Red Pepper Pasta with Zucchini and Basil Robbons from Thug Kitchen I
While this book has received a lot of praise, it's also met its share of criticism, both of which I mean to address. First things first, I want to discuss the authors' failed attempt at "edgy" rhetoric (their first book's full title is Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck and this newer book focuses on "Party Grub" for "Social Motherf*ckers"). This rhetoric is, at best, distracting and obnoxious, and at worst, cringe-worthy and potentially offensive in its flirtation with dialect writing. It's unclear why recipes this strong need to be decorated with cursing so frequent that it diminishes its own shock value and, more importantly, with what boils down to cultural appropriation. This may speak to the lengths writers have to go to have their books stand out enough to be published. But there must be other angles to choose, right? Overall, I think the decision to write in this tone is really unfortunate, not only because of its potential to offend people but also because the recipes in the book are really strong: original, accessible, and satisfying. I've decided to review the book positively because I think it's a great resource for vegans, especially new ones, but I don't want to lose sight of these serious presentational issues.
Spring Veggie Bowl with Red Curry Lime Sauce from Thug Kitchen I
I take issue with cookbooks filled with "recipes" that require you to go out and buy a bunch of expensive, hard-to-find, pre-packaged / already-cooked products. For example, a typical recipe in a different cookbook I recently purchased instructs you to place store-bought Gimme Lean sausage, store-bought vegan bacon, and store-bought vegan cheese on a bagel to create a vegan breakfast sandwich. It's fine to cook like that, (I use products like that sometimes!) but publishing that in a cookbook doesn't really seem worthwhile. By contrast, the Thug Kitchen books are full of original recipes that are absolutely accessible to all people, whether they have never cooked in their lives or, if they're like me, have been cooking their way through vegan cookbooks for years. The Thug Kitchen books never call for ready-made or rare specialty products, and the authors even acknowledge "nooch" as a weird ingredient that someone who isn't used to vegan cooking might freak about about finding and utilizing. The recipes are super straight-forward. They're also super healthy most of the time. (They never even call for vegan mayo.)
They make a special claim to veganism and specify that their veganism is not incidental. It's nice to see people make a deliberate decision to go vegan, rather than make something that accidentally contains no animal parts or products. What I intend to do here is review the quality of the recipes, and so the rest of my opinions are pretty much going to solely reflect what I thought of the ingredient list, the directions (barring the language I've already discussed) and the outcome of each dish.
So we can talk about this pasta salad now. This pasta salad was like the kind in my dreams. Doughy pasta bites are engulfed in a vinegar-based dressing, with tons of texture and crunch from the other veggies, and a salty pop from the olives. It's pretty much the pasta salad your aunt always brings to 4th of July, except you don't need to ask her to leave out the boiled eggs. Classic. Easy. Awesome.
For the record, I have never made a "breakfast casserole" in my life and have never felt like such a n00b in the kitchen while I made this grits-based breakfast casserole. I had never had grits, let alone made them before making this "grits casserole." The casserole was to be comprised of grits, with sauteéd shredded zucchini and sweet potato stirred in. Turns out, grits are pretty great! I baked the whole thing for 30 minutes and it was still really soft, but I think that's okay. It tasted great, so I think I did it right. I started scoring off portions with my knife like the dringus I am before I realized that I hadn't taken a picture!
In the bowl the squares weren't quite firmed up enough to keep their shape, but it didn't really matter to us, since we were both having our first grit-eating experience. Two thumbs up from two yankees!
I don't think I've actually made a baked ziti since going vegan, but this recipe totally blew me away. It always seemed like the cheese was the important part. There is no image in the book of this dish -- just a caption stating that it "doesn't even need a picture, it's that good" and they are sooo soo right. I broke all my own rules when I added shredded Follow Your Heart Mozzarella that I found at my bodega (not included in the recipe) because you can't pass up vegan stuff when you find it in non-vegan places. Anyway, I had no clue really what to make with it, so I topped a little part of my ziti with it, since I know Alex wouldn't like the cheese. The rest of it is topped with a nice breadcrumb topping as called for in the recipe.
This dish was so good I never wanted to eat anything else ever again. The white, cheesy sauce is made from tofu and artichokes blended together with some lemon. Then it's got some caramelized onions and spinach stirred into it. Then that gets stirred in with the pasta. Then it's topped with an amazing red sauce which is basically just tomatoes blended up with roasted red peppers. Then it bakes, and gets all crispy on the top and molten hot and bubbly in the middle, just like a baked ziti from your childhood, except there's not really anything to feel bad about in this dish. It's so full of vegetables :)
Of course the garlic pull-apart bread was calling my name from the box this book was delivered to me in. I mean, just look at it. Have you ever even heard of something so perfect? I was obviously making this to serve alongside my ziti because if you don't you are basically heartless.
I am looking at this picture thinking that I really should have just made this tonight for dinner, and then again every night forever.
I went on to make the "Cobb Salad" next, which is more impressive looking than tasting in my opinion. I would have gone with a heartier dressing for this one I think, and added more avocado, but that's just me. The chickpeas were super good, but again, I need more, give me more of the good stuff! This salad was good, but not great. The presentation is definitely important to make it look appealing, but don't all cobb salads come looking this way? I have no idea what cobb salads look like; I'm vegan. It's a great idea, but I need this salad more amped up to really get behind it. Maybe next time I'll add some baked smokey tofu, or some crunchy coconut bacon. I can't get stoked on chickpeas anymore, I just can't!
Lastly, meatballs. Alex loves a meatball sandwich. I haven't made one in ages, so I decided to test these out. They were baked and white-bean based. They were flavorful but a bit mushy, a very common problem amongst vegan meatballs. I enjoyed my sandwich just fine. But they were not like Chloe's meatballs which are, well, the best.
Alongside I made the Citrus Almond Salad, which I loved! Toasted sliced almonds seal the deal with a nice crunch on top of a sweet orange-y dressing and crisp romaine and hearty massaged kale. Nothing too fancy, but perfectly easy and good-tasting.
I also made the "Fudgy-as-Fuck Brownies" (eye roll) and the Roasted Veggie Pasta but failed to photograph both of those. They were both very, very good while being simple to follow and calling for no abnormal ingredients. Honestly I think this book is conducive to spreading veganism, since the recipes are straight-forward, definitely on the healthy side, and yield consistently great results. The recipes all sound really appealing, much on the comfort-food side, while still being responsibly healthy. The layout of the book is aesthetically pleasing with color-coded pages corresponding to each chapter and beautiful pictures which always draw people to a cookbook (what's the deal with cookbooks without pictures?). And if you can stomach the rhetoric or ignore it, it's a great book for new vegans starting out cooking or even just for people looking for healthier and more accessible meals without spending half a month's pay on a bunch of pre-packaged stuff that's not only super processed and maybe even a tad unhealthy but also really expensive. Their highly questionable rhetoric aside, the Thug Kitchen books contain recipes that are refreshing to read after picking up books filled with processed ingredients likely to intimidate new vegans. This is honest, real cooking and I can really appreciate that. The angle, not so much.