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There are two chefs who taught me how to cook by virtue of publishing the books that I learned from. The first is Madhur Jaffrey (World of the East Vegetarian Cooking--an outstanding, comprehensive book of recipes, methods, ingredients and their substitutions for beginners with a knack for flavors and the will to give it a try). The next is Eric Tucker, Head Chef of Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco (best restaurant I've ever had the pleasure of dining in) and author of two Millennium books including The Artful Vegan.
I have both of Eric Tucker's books (Artful, and The Millennium Cookbook), and I reference them both frequently, whether I want to put on a pull-out-all-the-stops fabulous dinner party or just want a little inspiration for interesting flavor combinations for tonight's dinner.
Complicated? Doesn't have to be:
First thing you'll want to know about these books is that other reviewers are right that these are not meant for whipping up quick meals at the end of a long day. That said, I have on countless occasions pulled out Eric's books for inspiration for a quick something-or-other to do with, say, butternut squash. Say I've baked a butternut squash ahead of time and have it sitting in the fridge waiting for me to do something with it at the end of one of these hard days. A quick flip to the index of Artful for "squash, butternut" sends me to pp. 130-131, where I see the interesting combination of garlic, lemons, tahini, onion, tomato, and mint (plus some other things that I don't feel like putting in). I decide to combine those ingreds with some nice wild mushrooms I have in the fridge, a little minced serrano chile, and a smidge of raw sugar melted and poured over the squash, and I come up with a darned yummy and easy meal.
The thing to remember is that cookbooks are suggestions, nothing more. They are launching pads. With The Artful Vegan, what you've got is a series of very interesting flavor combinations that should make you feel like a kid in the world's biggest sandbox--play Play PLAY with the flavors, play with the textures, use the bits that sound good to you, combine them with other bits that pique your curiosity, and learn from it. Some of your "experiments" might well suck--that's OK. A bunch of them will be exquisite. Artful gives you a very comprehensive bunch of ideas that take you--well, it definitely took me--to places I would not have thought to go on my own. Now I do think it, and this is why I say Eric Tucker is one of the chefs who taught me to cook by writing this excellent book.
Well, unless you want it to be complicated:
Using the recipes not as suggestions but as verbatim instructions will also have you singing with glee. This is where you should set aside a day of preparation ahead of time and then another day to do the cooking and assembling and serving. Really--plan for a Sunday eve meal that you start on Saturday morning (preferably with a visit to the local farmers' market). This is why I (and other reviewers) say the recipes are time-consuming. But if you love the subtle arts of cookery and fancy yourself brave enough to try new techniques and flavor/texture combinations, you are going to love this book, and you are going to have more fun in the kitchen and be more impressed with what you can make than ever before.
Ingredients and equipment:
It also helps immensely to live in a great place like the San Francisco Bay Area where access to all things gastronomic are readily available. Between the wide variety of our farmers' markets, international groceries, organic health food stores, and the great outdoors, any outstanding ingredients list is pretty well covered in the Bay Area. If you live in an area where there's not as much selection, you'll need to be creative about substitution ingredients. Fortunately, Eric's books are good about telling you what other (perhaps less "exotic") ingredients would work well, what pieces you could leave out of the recipe and still have something stellar, and so forth.
You don't need a lot of specialized kitchen equipment to make these recipes. One assumes a blender and/or food processor and a basic set of quality knives and cookware. But you don't need all those stupid tchotchkes that have one use only, are impossible to clean and care for, and cost you a month's salary. Exquisite cooking is not defined by the fussiness of one's gadgets. (In my experience, reliance on fussy gadgetry is inversely related to cooking skill).
Oh, those gorgeous photos!:
One last thing: not every recipe in this book has a photo of the finished dish, but many do. The photos are works of art in and of themselves--the book is a visual feast as well as a collection of ideas for your own gustatory feast. Plus, with instructions that can seem at first to be very complicated, it's helpful to look at the photo and say "Oh, that's what he means by that!"
To sum up:
1) The other reviewers are right that these recipes can be very time-consuming and complicated. Sometimes you want that--satisfies the inner chef-artiste in all of us;
2) The recipes are easily adaptable to be a lot less time-consuming and complicated, and Eric Tucker provides a lot of guidance on how to adapt the recipes;
3) You don't need to be an expert with a bunch of ridiculously complicated kitchen equipment to make the food in this book. You just need a bit of an experimental attitude, good solid basic kitchen equipment, and the willingness to have fun with new flavors, textures, ingredients, and ideas;
4) This shouldn't, however, be your first cookbook. You will likely enjoy the book most if you already have some experience fiddling around in the kitchen and are familiar with the basic terminology ("blanching" almonds, for example. Not too complicated--and there's a Basics section, a Techniques section, and a Glossary section in the back to help you with this stuff);
5) The Artful Vegan, along w/ Eric's earlier The Millennium Cookbook, took my cooking to a new level. It's doable, it's absolutely worth doing, and it's a heck of a lot of fun!