Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Book Tour Stops Here: Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps and Peanut Seitan Noodles

Whether for health reasons, environmental concerns, a love of animals, or viewings of the films Food Inc. or Forks Over Knives, more and more people are changing their diets and eliminating (or at least eating less) meat and animal products. Although I am not a strict vegan or vegetarian, or anything with a label on it, I follow a plant-strong, meat, poultry and dairy free diet the majority of the time. It's for a lot of different reasons, some from the list above, but mainly because my body just feels better eating this way. Sure, there are some things I miss (bacon and cheese) and some things that I will occasionally veer off the path for (good cheese, sushi or good local fish, and the occasional baked good made with butter and eggs), but those are just occasional side trips. In addition to how it makes me feel and how it has relieved many of the issues with allergies and asthma that plagued me for so long, I really love that eating this way has re-energized my cooking, "forcing" me to be more creative, and I love the food I eat.

Now, I love to cook, I am not afraid to try new things and I am comfortable experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients which makes it a bit easier. Still, when I first started dabbling in vegetarian and vegan cooking and eating, I had to do a lot of research and a lot of trial and error to find the right ingredients and products I liked. The Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps by bestselling author Kim Barnouin, takes much of the work out of navigating your grocery or specialty food store and is a small but comprehensive guide to vegan eating and shopping.

Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps is not a cookbook, although there are ten recipes contained in it. It is a spiral-bound handy reference guide to take shopping with you rather than a book that you read cover-to-cover. It is full of tips and tricks for vegans as well as for those who may not yet be ready or even wanting to take the complete plunge into a vegan lifestyle, but who are wanting to try it out. Perhaps a weekend vegan improving their health and reducing their meat intake. (Kim has that covered in a Weekend Vegan chapter with menu ideas, snacks and a few of her favorite recipes.) There are lists of places to shop and vegan restaurants in different cities, but there are also vegan menu options at popular chain restaurants--good when your friends/family don't share your eating goals. Other handy chapters cover what to eat in airports, how to decode a label to make sure the product you are putting in your hard doesn't have any hidden animal ingredients, and tips on being a healthy vegan. The real meat (tofu?) of the book however, are the extensive "swaps" chapters, with lists or the best swaps for dairy, eggs and meats, condiments, dry goods and pantry items, frozen foods, desserts and baking, and beverages. Here Kim gives detailed advice on the best-tasting vegan products and the brands she likes and trusts because of the quality and type of ingredients. Obviously many of these are processed or at least somewhat processed products and Kim readily admits that the products are not all "squeaky clean" and some contain a few artificial or processed ingredients that she doesn't love but that "...we're human. Sometimes we need a piece of soy beef jerky or a calorie-packed salad dressing to get us through PMS or a shitty breakup. The point is to give you options." And, options do abound in this handy book. I consider myself a fairly savvy shopper and many of the items and brands in the book are ones I use and love, but the host of sticky tabs I marked the book with show that there are quite a few new products for me to find and try.

It's not a perfect book. Some of the brands and items she suggests are regional products that may be hard for the person in a remote area to find unless they ship them in. Some of the stores, restaurants and markets she names are specific only to certain areas (although I was impressed that the all-vegetarian Hawaii grocer Down to Earth is listed). If you are familiar with any of the other Skinny Bitch books (Skinny Bitch, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook, etc.) that Kim co-authored or authored, the tone is the similar "in-your-face" tart and blunt style. This can be fun and entertaining, but it can get grating after a while. The original book that started it off Skinny Bitch, was kind of a call-to-arms about the benefits of a vegan diet so strong anti-meat messages were expected. With the Book of Vegan Swaps, I have to assume that the person buying it and carting it around the grocery store is at least somewhat bought into the vegan lifestyle, so the constant litany of the evils of animal products began to annoy me. I got it, I know, let's move on...

Overall, I think this book is a good resource, especially for a new vegan or someone wanting to experiment with different, healthier ingredients or a vegan life-style. I spend time working with individuals and groups looking to improve their diets and much of that is helping them learn to plan, shop and cook so this book will be a useful tool and addition to my reference shelves.

Author Notes: Kim Barnouin holds a master of science in holistic nutrition. A former model, she is the author or coauthor of seven books and has successfully counseled models, actors, athletes, and other professionals using the Skinny Bitch method. She lives in Los Angeles.

Note: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher HarperOne through TLC Book Tours but I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts, opinions and experiences cooking from it are my own.

For my dish inspired by the book, there were ten recipes to choose from in the book itself. I really wanted to make the Cherry Jam-Filled Muffins or the Mint Chocolate Whoopee Pies, but there has been far too much baking and candy-making going on at my house lately. Instead I selected another favorite dish of mine, savory noodles with a peanut butter sauce. In Kim's version, Peanut Seitan Noodles, seitan plays a starring role. When I first started experimenting with it, seitan freaked me out. It just doesn't look that pretty in the package (although raw chicken or other raw meat are pretty unappealing to look at too), and like tofu, there is not a lot of flavor to speak of. That is actually the beauty of seitan--whatever flavor you want can be added to it and the texture is like meat. It is made from wheat gluten and has about the same amount of protein as beef and twice the protein of tofu--great info for my mom who thinks that I can't possibly be getting enough protein eating this way. It's also low fat and of course, since it isn't an animal product, there is no cholesterol.

Kim says, "This is one of my favorite dishes hands down. You can eat it hot for dinner and cold the next day for lunch. It is that versatile and flavorful. On top of that, it’s quick, healthy, and easy to make. The kids will even love it—just change up the pasta shapes for more fun and variety."

Peanut Seitan Noodles
Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps by Kim Barnouin
(Serves 6)

8 oz whole-wheat spaghetti (I used whole wheat fettucine)
1 cup snow peas
2 Tbsps sesame oil
1 cup seitan, cubed
1/2 cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup cucumbers, chopped (English or Persian)
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 scallion, thinly sliced

For the Dressing:
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsps soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar

Cook the pasta according to package directions; add the snow peas to the boiling water about 1 minute before pasta is about cooked, then drain. Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet and add the seitan; sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk until well combined and smooth. Add the noodles, snow peas, carrots, cucumbers, and peanuts to the dressing and toss until ingredients are well coated. When done, add the seitan to the noodle mixture. Top each serving with sesame seeds and scallions.

Notes/Results: Easy and very tasty, with good peanutty flavor. The only peanut butter I had in the house was a natural, freshly ground one, so my sauce wasn't as smooth as it would have been with creamy peanut butter but the flavor was all there. I like the crunch of the fresh veggies and added larger quantities to the dish including adding a half of a red pepper, julienned. The seitan crisps up in the pan and tastes great in the mix. Texturally, the cubed seitan is like pieces of pork or chicken--very satisfying. (If you are scared to try seitan, this is a great starter dish that makes it approachable.) Instead of garnishing with sesame seeds which I couldn't seem to find my package of (someone's freezer needs a serious clean out), I just sprinkled some extra peanuts on top. As Kim points out, this dish works both warm and cold but I prefer it right out of the fridge. I would make this again, maybe with something to give it a bit of spice for an extra flavor kick.

I am sending these tasty noodles over to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Helen of Fuss Free Flavors who will be rounding up a bevy of delicious pasta creations on her blog on Friday.


  1. As a vegetarian who occasionally veers off for sushi, I completely agree - after eating this way for a year now, I can say that I've never felt better!  This sounds like a great read for someone who's just getting into veg cooking. It's funny, I haven't experimented much with seitan, though I do love it. Maybe this recipe should be my "first"...

  2. I have checked her book out before.  But I haven't had time to make anything from it.  Nice review!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this one for the tour.

  4.  Thanks Heather! I enjoyed reading the book and taking part in the tour.

  5. This is a good one to try because it is quick and easy (and tastes great too!) ;-)

  6.  This is a good starter recipe for using seitan Joanne--a little chop and saute and you are there. ;-)


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