A few weeks before Christmas, I received an email from a friend asking me if I’d like to take part in the Cookbook Club scheme he was cooking up (pun intended) for his partner’s Christmas present. The words ‘cookbook,’ ‘cooking,’ ‘dinner’ and ‘friends’ were all present and accounted for in his email. “Sign me up,” I replied.
The idea was that every month, we’d pick a cookbook, make a selection of dishes from it, and then get together to eat and critique the food and the cookbook. Thug Kitchen was chosen as the first cookbook.
A few days after Christmas, Corinne emailed to confirm my membership with six other friends in the newly minted, fresh from under the Christmas tree Bowen Island Cookbook Club. She would host the first dinner in the new year. All I had to do was pick something to cook from Thug Kitchen. She shared a spreadsheet with the seven of us so we could each specify our dishes–a sensible way to ensure we didn’t all bring appetizers or desserts.
And so we were off. At our first gathering on January 4th, we decided to document our Cookbook Club journey with blog postings. Since I have a blog already, I volunteered to take notes over the course of the evening and then write up the results to share with the Cookbook Clubbers and the world.
Here goes! And fair warning–strong language to come. Also, note that each one of the Cookbook Clubbers is a good cook so any criticisms of the dishes reflect on the cookbook, not the cook!
Thug Kitchen is a New York Times bestselling (and controversial) cookbook that uses a panoply of cuss words (cook like you give a fuck) to present vegan recipes and tips for eating animal-free. Instead of a conventional direction such as Mash the chickpeas, avocado and lemon juice in a big bowl, the authors admonish us to Add the chickpeas, avocado, and lemon juice to a big bowl and mash the fuck out of them in the recipe for Smoked Almond and Chickpea Salad Sammies. The description of the recipes states You don’t even know about this sandwich. Like goddamn, we can’t even . . . just fucking make it. Trust.
The constant swearing is supposed to be funny and for the most part, it is. I personally enjoyed reading the various tips on how to make tofu palatable, how to peel a mango, how to cook couscous (. . . these tiny bastards will be ready in 10 minutes flat), etc. I usually learn something in every cookbook I read and Thug Kitchen is certainly more entertaining than most conventional cookbooks. A significant strength is the cookbook’s presentation of vegan recipes that people might actually want to make with or without the swearing. Another strength is the book’s obvious targeting to young people who may not have much experience cooking and eating healthy, plant-based food. The idea of communicating with young people with “street” language could either be considered condescending or brilliant. The current sales and reviews of Thug Kitchen suggest the latter.
On paper, at least, the recipes look amazing.
Let’s get started. We’ll go through each of the dishes presented in the order in which we consumed them.
After arriving at Corinne’s lovely little cabin overlooking the water on the northwest coast of Bowen Island and being exuberantly greeted by her two large dogs, we got right down to serious tasting. The appetizers brought by three of the Cookbook Clubbers were already laid out on the table in Corinne’s kitchen along with glasses of wine.
Phase 1: Appetizers
Roasted Siracha Cauliflower Bites with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Page 129 of Thug Kitchen
The little fuckers prepared by Becky, who actually is a chef and has run her own restaurant, looked very appetizing. Small flowerets of cauliflower were drenched in a bright orange sauce that was particularly cheerful on a cold January evening. We dipped the flowerets into the peanut sauce and gave our verdicts: Nice and spicy! Pretty good! A bit soggy. While the cauliflower flowerets were well-spiced and quite tasty when dipped in the peanut sauce, their mushy texture was a turn off. Becky explained why the recipe failed. Instead of coating the cauliflower flowerets with the sauce and then roasting them at a nice, high temperature to get them crispy, the recipe called for the flowerets to be roasted first and then covered in sauce. Big mistake. Most of us thought we might make the Cauliflower Bites again, but would follow Becky’s tip to heat the cookie sheet in the oven first and then to roast the already coated flowerets until they started turning brown and crispy. Becky also suggested we add more chili sauce instead of vinegar to the peanut sauce and to add more lime juice since we couldn’t taste it.
Cumin-Spiked Pinto Bean Dip and White Bean and Rosemary Hummus with Baked Zucchini Chips
Pages 108, 109, and 114 of Thug Kitchen
Mariana presented the bean dip and hummus along with the zucchini chips. Never one to mince words, Mariana informed us before we tasted her dishes that she thought all of them were disgusting. Most of us thought her assessment a trifle harsh, but we all agreed that the dip and the hummus suffered from a distinct lack of flavor and that the zucchini chips were soggy and under-spiced. Parsnip chips were suggested as a better alternative and that using more salt would have crisped up the zucchini according to Becky. The dips also needed more salt. Two Cookbook Clubbers liked the rosemary hummus; the rest of us were meh, except for Mariana whose opinion did not change.
Ginger-Mushroom Summer Rolls
Page 56 of Thug Kitchen
After the dip/hummus/zucchini chip fiasco, things started to look up with Jacqui’s presentation of ginger-mushroom summer rolls. They were bright and crunchy with a spicy sauce made with chili-garlic paste. Jacqui used shiitake mushrooms which worked very well. A money-saving tip is to buy dried shiitake and chanterelle mushrooms instead of the real ones. You get way more mushrooms for your money which is always a good thing (or should I say fucking dope).
Phase 2: Main Course
Three Cookbook Clubbers produced the dishes for the main course. Corinne made mango curry; Helen made collard greens and couscous, and Kate made coleslaw. Taken all together the meal was palatable enough, but not spectacular. Flavors were again quite bland and textures lacking. Here’s a rundown of each dish.
Page 158 Thug Kitchen
Red curry paste was used to provide the flavor for this dish and the consensus was that more curry paste would not have come amiss. The Dry-Fried Tofu (page 154) was surprisingly good (no easy matter for tofu) and the various vegetables–green beans, red peppers, onions, and zucchini–were satisfyingly crunchy. The recipe called for one-and-a-half cans of coconut milk which is rather a lot. Corinne used only one can and the sauce was sufficiently coconut-y.
Moroccan Spiced Couscous
Page 42 of the Thug Kitchen
Helen’s couscous also needed help–which she well knew but valiantly chose to stick with the recipe which called only for couscous and tiny amounts of spices (1/8 of a teaspoon of ground cumin – seriously? Who has a fucking 1/8 teaspoon?) along with spinach and chopped orange segments. The result was edible, but it would have been so much better if she’d added what she knew would work well–something salty like olives and crunchy like almonds. Still, the idea of throwing in oranges is a good one. The spices just needed to be ramped up and some texture included.
Creamy Peanut Slaw
Page 71 of Thug Kitchen
Kate substituted almond butter for the peanut butter in this slaw and it worked quite well. The slaw was crunchy and nicely flavored but not particularly memorable. A bit more hot sauce and fresh ginger would have brightened up the dish.
Page 80 of Thug Kitchen
Yeah. No. The recipe promises a stupid-simple how-to for the don’t-know crowd to cook greens, but the results were really not good. Kate cooked the stir-fried black kale with garlic, lemon juice, and soy sauce as directed, but ended up with blackened, overly chewy pieces of leather. I pushed mine to the side of my plate and hoped no one would notice.
Have you detected a pattern in our critiques of each of the appetizer and main course dishes? The authors of Thug Kitchen were perhaps wanting to be sensitive to younger taste buds raised on pre-fab and fast food, but the result is too light a hand with the spices and flavors. I know when I make recipes from Thug Kitchen in future, I will consult my own instincts with regard to flavorings.
Crispy Millet and Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Page 186 – Thug Kitchen
These little fuckers were a big hit–so much so that when I went back into the kitchen to take a picture of the few buckeyes left over, I found a cleaned off plate. Corinne’s partner–he who is responsible for starting the Cookbook Club–had snuck into the kitchen and taken the leftovers. We could hardly begrudge him. The buckeyes consist of balls of peanut butter, icing sugar, and toasted millet dipped in chocolate. I added chopped candied ginger (definitely a good idea), but unfortunately did not cut down the sugar (which I normally do when making desserts). The buckeyes were a bit too sweet (albeit tasty), so the next time I make them (and there will be a next time), I’ll cut the sugar in half or just leave it out altogether. The recipe only asks for a quarter cup of sugar, but that was more than enough. The candied ginger and chocolate add enough sweetness IMHO. A highlight of the buckeyes was the rather odd inclusion of toasted millet to add a satisfying crunch. Kudos to the authors for thinking of it.
The evening ended with cosy conversation by the fire in Corinne’s living room while we all digested our Thug Kitchen dishes and talked about the state of the world. We also chose our next cookbook and found a time when almost all of us are available for another meeting. We’ve chosen My New Roots, a vegetarian cookbook (welcome back dairy!) that posts a great many of their recipes online.
As soon as I got home, I went online and chose the recipe for gado gado. I can’t wait!