I was SO excited when I found out the world renowned vegan chef/blogger, Lauren Toyota of Hot For Food, was coming out with her first book: Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes To Feed Your Face! I’ve used vegan recipes from her website for years, but I know modern chefs often save their very best work to be immortalized in print, so I knew it would be next level impressive. When Vegan Comfort Classics arrived, I was blown away by not only the abundance of information, the consistently humorous prose, and the perfect balance of recipe genres (other cookbooks never have enough sandwich and pasta recipes, in my humble carb-loving opinion), but also by the gorgeous glossy photos! Just a quick flip through the pages is enough to make your tummy rumble, even if you just finished a big meal.
The problem always is that these mouth watering, eye-catching, professionally staged photographs can be intimidating to the average home cook. Sure, the waffle topped cottage pie LOOKS amazing, but who am I to think I can create something that would even be comparable? And okay, mac ‘n cheese onion rings sound phenomenal, but I’ve never deep fried anything before- should I even bother?
These are the thoughts that go through my head whenever I get my hands on a new cookbook from a chef whose talents I admire. However, I decided to put my big girl pants on and try a few recipes that I’d otherwise shy away from. I wanted to write up a real review to give my beloved readers a preview of what they can expect if they order this epic cookbook for themselves. So, without further ado, here were my completely real, completely honest, completely unprofessional experiences when using recipes from Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes To Feed Your Face!
PS: This review does contain affiliate links. That means if you click through my links to buy your book, I’ll make a small commission. 10% of that will be donated to Hand In Paw rescue, so you’re helping shelter dogs with your purchase! Learn more about my affiliate partnerships here.
Recipe #1: The Oyster Mushroom Po’ Boy
Upon my first few flips through the pages of Hot For Food’s Vegan Comfort Classics, my eyes and fingers kept gravitating to this recipe. I’ve never had an authentic New Orleans style Po’ Boy, but their reputation as true Louisiana comfort food has always intrigued me. Also, I love mushrooms. I was a little afraid of the deep frying, being that (as far as I can remember) I had never truly fried anything at home before. However, I figured it was now or never!
When my Mom saw my Instagram story about this meal, her first reaction was, “that
looked like a LOT of work.” Honestly, it really wasn’t. Yes, I had to think a few hours ahead to marinate the mushrooms, but that process was pretty simple. I also had to make chef Lauren Toyota’s recipe for Thousand Island dressing which was SO FREAKING GOOD I don’t even know how to explain it to you. I was so happy I had enough leftover for my salad the next day. I suspect this incredible flavor is due to one secret ingredient you don’t typically see in Thousand Island dressing, but I don’t want to give away the chef’s secret! Point being- don’t skip any ingredients if you plan to make it.
The frying honestly wasn’t too difficult (I forgot to take photos…sorry!). I suppose that’s not shocking, given that there are probably thousands of fast food employees deep frying potatoes while I write this sentence. It’s helpful to have a digital cooking thermometer, as Lauren recommends heating the oil to 365º – 375º F, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to test that without a tool. I used this one, and it worked quite well.
The end result was incredible. My husband and I both easily devoured two whole Po’ Boys. 10/10 would eat again.
Tip from The Tree Kisser: Proper hoagie or kaiser rolls are hard to find at the kinds of health food stores (Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Sprouts, etc.) I tend to frequent. When previous recipes have called for such sandwich rolls, I’ve lazily grabbed hot dog buns instead. Don’t do that. You may have to make one extra stop if you don’t open shop at the more mainstream grocery stores, but that’s usually where you’ll find the best rolls! Most of them are vegan (like the Sara Lee rolls shown on the right), but obviously check the ingredients before committing.
Recipe #2: Bacon Mac ‘n Cheese Skillet
I was immediately intrigued by this recipe, because some of the best vegan bacon I’ve ever eaten has been mushroom based. This recipe uses Hot For Food’s shiitake mushroom bacon, which you’ll want to make first. The flavor of the mushroom bacon was incredible; so good, in fact, that I ate way too much of it before making the rest of the meal…resulting in a final product that was slightly lacking in the bacon. Oops. My fault, not Lauren’s. I’m not going to set false expectations that this will have the exact taste and texture of pig bacon- it won’t- but the flavor is exceptional, and that’s all that matters!
This recipe was a bit different for me, because as opposed to the techniques required for the Oyster Mushroom Po’ Boys, I’m actually very well-versed in cashew based cream sauces. It was really hard for me to ignore my instincts and not improvise, as I’m usually prone to doing. The only major change I made was that I skipped making The Parm (the cookbook calls for homemade nut-based parmesan) and instead used the Follow Your Heart parmesan I already had in the fridge.
The final result was decadent, creamy, and bursting with flavor. If you follow my Instagram stories, you may have noticed a lack of raving about this recipe, but that’s not due to lack of quality. Honestly, I’m just really really good at making vegan mac ‘n cheese, so I knew it would be great…and it was!
Recipe #3: Spicy Black Bean Taquitos
So, on the morning I made this recipe, I handed my husband the Vegan Comfort Classics cookbook and told him I’d make whatever he picked out. He chose the Spicy Black Bean Taquitos, and I committed to making them that night. I didn’t initially realize that this recipe required me to make three additional recipes (the Nacho Cheese, The Guac Sauce, and The Sour Cream), all of which can be found in the back of the book. They all have to be made in a blender (if you don’t yet have a Vitamix in your vegan kitchen, you need to remedy that ASAP!), so just be sure to set aside enough time to make each of them! They’re all pretty simple, so don’t be intimidated.
This meal did take a few hours to fully make, but that doesn’t really bother me. Sometimes I need a quick, easy meal, but when I have time, multi-step, complex meals can be a labor of love. I’m the girl who grew up watching Everybody Loves Raymond and wanted to be Marie, the matriarchal domestic goddess. I’m also sure it’ll take half the time when I make it again (which I absolutely intend to)- the first attempt is always slow, given all the recipe reading and rereading. If you want to speed this one up, you can always use store-bought vegan sour cream and just buy/make guacamole instead of the blended guac sauce, but I was trying to do justice to the original recipe so I made them all from Lauren’s recipes. If you can make time, I heartily encourage following all the book’s instructions, because it resulted in a phenomenal meal.
The standout element from this recipe was really the Nacho Cheese sauce, which you end up mixing into the taquito filling. I was skeptical about a creamy, cheesy sauce that didn’t call for cashews as an ingredient, but my skepticism evaporated as soon as I dipped into the blender for a taste test! SO. GOOD. I’m already planning to make actual nachos with the sauce this weekend.
I had a little bit of difficulty when frying the taquitos- about 1/3 of them opened up and fell apart in the pan. Multiple Instagram followers (who watched my IG story that night) recommended using toothpicks to hold them together next time. I also might have fried them a little too long, resulting in an overly crispy shell. Regardless, they were delicious. The only thing I added at the end was a little bit of chipotle Cholula sauce, because I pour that on pretty much everything.
I had a lot of leftovers, some of which I used two days later to make soft tacos for lunch. I used all the original ingredients, I just didn’t fry them, and they were delicious. So, if you’re afraid of deep frying or you just want to avoid extra oils, you can definitely go this route and still end up with a fabulous meal.
Recipe #4: Fudgy Brownies
I’m not much of a baker, so I was hesitant to make these. I just hate having to be so careful with measurements, because I don’t want to mess up the chemistry and whatever other scientific magic turns batter into baked goods. However, I do LOVE brownies, so I decided these would be a worthwhile experiment.
I discovered early on that I didn’t have an adequate pan. The recipe calls for a 9 x 9 pan, and I only had a 9 x 13. Three of my Instagram followers advised me to double the recipe, but I ignored them and multiplied it by 1.5 instead. I should have listened to them, and not just so I wouldn’t have to do fraction math. I also omitted walnuts, because I hate nuts in sweets, so that resulted in a small batch of batter as well.
(This is only semi-related, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to recommend these Williams Sonoma nesting measuring cups. We got them as a wedding gift, and they’re truly one of the most helpful, practical things in my kitchen. They have cups/spoons for the conventional and the slightly less conventional measurements, the less conventional being things like 2 tsps, 1 1/2 cups, etc. They also have lines inside the cups, as shown in the photo with the chocolate chips, so you can use fewer cups for the same recipe. Do yourself a favor and invest in the full set!)
I was a little worried when I took them out of the oven, because I hoped they would be thicker. Again, this was my fault- not the recipe’s. The brownies did turn out to be a little on the thin side, but the fudgy taste was exactly what I hoped for. Ingredients-wise, I used Equal Exchange organic baking cocoa and these SunSpire vegan chocolate chips (both were purchased at Whole Foods). DO NOT, under any condition, buy carob chips. Yes, they’re usually vegan. No, they don’t taste anything like the sweet, decadent chocolate chips you’re used to. I made this mistake once, and I definitely learned my lesson.
I made this pan of brownies six days ago, and I’ve eaten at least one a day since then. Okay, at least two a day. Okay, so sometimes I just grab a fork and go at it without even cutting individual brownies out of it. My husband doesn’t really like sweets, so I do whatever I want!
Apologies, I forgot to actually cut them into squares for a photo. But I promise you, the brownies looked like brownies.
Recipe #5: My Big Fat Greek Potato Salad
You gotta love a “salad” whose main ingredients are basically potatoes and mayonnaise. The book is called Vegan Comfort Classics, after all- if you were expecting some low fat quinoa and celery concoction, you’ve come to the wrong place. This salad calls for basically everything I love, but that I never thought to mix together!
First of all, the creamy cucumber dressing is delightful. My only piece of advice for those of you making the dressing would be to tell you to double the recipe. Especially if you’re like me and like to drench your salads in sauce!
The marinated tofu was also exceptionally flavorful. I was a little skeptical about it at first; I guess I was nervous about a dish relying so heavily on it, given that I’ve never really prepared tofu this way before. Well, my fears were obliterated as soon as I snuck a taste after about an hour of marinating. I honestly think one of the best signs of a high quality recipe is how many bites you sneak while making it. This recipe definitely passed that test, as I was dipping my fork in for a bite of tofu to dip in the creamy cucumber dressing at least once every half hour during the 4 hours it marinated.
I forgot to buy pepperoncinis, oops. This was mostly a bummer for my husband, because he hates olives (I KNOW. WE’RE WORKING THROUGH IT…) so he was already lacking one ingredient. I added avocado slices to his, but I would recommend sticking with the full original recipe if possible.
For the potatoes, I only have one recommendation/observation. The roasted potatoes were amazing the night I made them, but roasted potatoes never taste as good the next day. If, like me, you’re making the full recipe (6-8 servings) and you’re counting on leftovers, you might want to consider boiling them like you would for more traditional potato salads. I’ll try that next time and get back to you.
I absolutely loved this recipe. I ate two bowls for dinner, and four bowls- yes FOUR BOWLS– throughout the next day. No regrets.
Recipe #6: Real Wonton Soup
So here’s the thing. I didn’t like this one, but I’ve figured out why. Apparently I just don’t like wonton soup. My husband absolutely hates it- he was super bummed when he found out I was making it. Alas, I had promised my Instagram readers (after all, I let them vote on which recipe I should make next!), and author Lauren Toyota had told me it was her favorite recipe in the book!
I thought about lying to you and downplaying my dislike, but what good am I without my journalistic integrity? I think I’m just not a fan of this style of broth, and maybe you will be. The wontons themselves were really impressive- especially given that I’ve never made them before! I actually just now decided to eat some leftovers without broth; I boiled the wontons per the original instructions, and dipped them in a quick sauce my hubby made (soy sauce, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and Maggi seasoning) and we both devoured them!
I’m really curious to hear what some of you wonton soup connoisseurs think- I have a feeling you’ll love this recipe! For those of you wanting to attempt it, the main problem you’ll probably run into is finding vegan wonton wrappers. Most of the wonton wrappers found at stores like Whole Foods contain eggs. I found the vegan ones (Twin Dragon brand) at Safeway, which is one of our local mainstream grocery stores. I’m told you can also find them in most Asian grocery stores, so if you have one nearby, that’s a good place to search!
In conclusion, despite my soup letdown, I still feel strongly that Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes To Feed Your Face is the best cookbook in my arsenal. I’m the type of home cook who almost always treats recipes like suggestions rather than instructions, but I didn’t even need to improvise with these ones. Lauren Toyota of Hot For Food is the master, the guru, and the Canadian vegan goddess we all need in our lives. Whether you’re a seasoned, experienced vegan chef looking for fresh new ideas, a newbie vegan starting to crave your favorite comfort foods, or just a plant eating human who appreciates delicious food, you’ll find ample options within these magical pages.
If you’ve already purchased and been using these recipes, I’d love to know which ones are your favorites! Feel free to let me know in the comments!