My Week With Isa: A Review on Isa Does It

I had the great pleasure of going to see Isa speak here in Denver at the Tattered Cover Bookstore. Tattered Cover is great about bringing in the best cookbook authors. This is the same place, different location, that I got to meet Rip. She stopped in our town as part of her Isa Does It book tour and signing. I wouldn’t have even known of her arrival if it weren’t for Beet Box Bakery mentioning it on Facebook a few days before. (Thanks and I surely hope she got a chance to grab a treat from you during her visit.)

There was only one problem, I didn’t have one of her cookbooks for her to sign. I decided to tweet to her and ask which of her books has the most soy-free recipes so that I know which book I would get more use out of. She quickly responded with her newest addition to the shelves, Isa Does It. My husband and I got their early, with Twila in tow, so that I could buy the book and get a good seat. Fat chance of that happening. They already ran out of chairs by the time we got there! I chose a seat in back and patiently waited. Soon she made her appearance wading through the crowd like a humble rock star towards the front.

Isa on the move passing out cookies. The only picture I caught of her. Sad, I know.

Isa on the move passing out cookies. The only picture I caught of her. Sad, I know.

After settling in she began passing out Rosemary Chocolate Chip cookies to her devoted fans. Unfortunately, she passed over me denying my taste buds the rare opportunity of such an interesting mix of flavors. She did say however that for anyone who didn’t get a cookie she would come to every single one of our houses and bake them for us. I am holding her to that promise even though she has not contacted me with a date yet. I believe I’m being stood up. The recipe is in the book so I suppose I can make them myself.

The poor woman who introduced Isa, obviously did not know anything about her, felt obligated to say “I might have to try going vegan since everyone is making it sound so tasty.” Isa started out by reading the Introduction of her book, sharing charming stories and personal tid bits along the way. She then welcomed questions from the audience. She made the whole thing feel like a big group of friends having a chat. During the Q&A I found out some interesting things; such as, beans can not be consumed during Passover. The best piece of information I learned was of Isa’s plan to open a restaurant where she lives in Omaha. This is great news since my husband’s grandmother lives in Lincoln. It wouldn’t be a far trip over to Omaha to try out what will easily be on The Top 10 Best Vegan Restaurants list. She did not reveal the name, saying she would have to change it if she told us but keep an eye out for the grand opening some time next spring!

After the talk it was time to stand around and wait in a very very very long line to get Isa’s John Hancock. I was fully prepared to wait. However, it was getting late and Twila woke from her nap and was hungry. Since I still have not gotten comfortable with nursing in public I made the decision to leave without as much as a thank you for being you. You have no idea how completely bummed I am that I didn’t get a picture with her or at the very least a signature for the collection I’ve started. Hopefully I will get another chance in the future.

_DSC2037The weekend after going to see Isa it was time to make the menu and the shopping list for the upcoming week. I couldn’t resist picking something out of my shiny new cookbook. After looking through it and noting all the must-try-this-now recipes it quickly turned into My Week With Isa. I thought it would make for a perfect review. We did go over our grocery budget for the week by about 50% but that’s also because we needed diapers. I wasn’t about to make any sacrifices on the menu so we made do. I tried to pick something out of each chapter to get a nice variety throughout the week. Not a bad line up if you ask me.

Tuesday: Seitan & Wild Mushroom Stew (Stews, Chilis & Curries, p. 146)

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Look at how beautifully rustic and wholesome this stew is. For the seitan we used Field Roast’s Italian sausages which were perfect for the recipe and for me since they are soy-free. In the notes section of this recipe she offers detailed gluten-free substitutions. In the comment section Isa expresses, “I wanted deep, complex flavors, a thick and silky base, chunky carrots and potatoes cooked just right.” She accomplished her goal. I always turn to fresh mushrooms. After making this I might start using dried mushrooms more often. I loved the chewy texture they added. This stew is perfectly paired with a good movie curled up on the couch on a cold winter’s night.

Wednesday: Chimichurri-Pumpkin Bowl (Bowls & a Few Plates, p. 207)

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This recipe was a wild card for me. I never would have thoughts of pairing any of these things together. Especially in such a simple manner. It calls for few ingredients, most of which we always keep on hand. I made a huge batch of fresh black beans in the slow cooker that I used for this recipe. I highly recommend doing the same if you don’t already. It’s super easy and will save you money. I got six and a half cans for the price of 2 expensive organic cans or 4 cheap cans. My store didn’t have any sugar pumpkins so I used a Kabocha squash. I’ve never tried Kabocha squash but I’ve heard good things. It’s more savory than sweet, unlike other squash. The other sub I had to make was the noodles. I really wanted soba noodles but all the ones at my store had egg whites in them. I’m glad I looked at the ingredients because I never would have guessed that. Despite those subs it all came together quite nicely and was surprisingly comforting.

Thursday: Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans & Greens (Soups, p. 49)

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You might be surprised to find out what gives this soup its creamy base. Sorry, I’m not going to give it away. My only complaint about this soup is not about the taste or texture but about the color. I was so disappointed I couldn’t get the beautiful bright green like the example shown in the book. I blame the vegetable stock I use for that, Kitchen Basics. It’s pretty dark but I love it so I wouldn’t think about using another one just for the sake of color. I shouldn’t have to say it but this soup is amazing and has layers of flavor to enjoy.

Friday: Kale Salad with Butternut Squash & Lentils (Salads, p. 77)

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I have to show off this beautiful bunch of kale.

I have to show off this beautiful bunch of kale.

Normally we would never have a salad for dinner in this house. The only time I get to eat a salad is if we go out to eat or I make one for lunch when my husband is at work. Why you ask? Because of a ridiculous food allergy my husband has. He can’t eat raw vegetables without his throat getting all itchy. Some vegetables affect him more than others. He made an exception for this salad since he fancies kale. Lucky me! The recipe calls for brown lentils. I’ve only seen red and green lentils. I thought I got lucky when I saw yellow lentils in the bulk foods section so I got them. It turns out those yellow lentils were actually yellow split peas. They worked just the same. Although, nutritionally speaking they are not the same. This salad may take some time to prepare but it is so easy and offers plenty of flavor thanks to the dressing. If you don’t feel like spending the time on it Isa generously offers a quicker option.

Saturday morning: Puffy Pillow Pancakes (Breakfast, Brunch & Bakes for the Morning, p. 253)

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These were a lovely little bonus. I asked my husband if he could please make breakfast Saturday morning (we ran out of granola) so he decided to make these golden disks of deliciousness for me. Since I only ate them and didn’t make them all I can say is yuuuuuuummy! They really are puffy and pillowy. Fresh berries would have been a perfect addition.

Saturday evening: Bistro Beet Burgers (Handheld, p. 82)

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I think my beet was a little large. It's okay, I have plans for the rest of that...

I think my beet was a little large. It’s okay, I have plans for the rest of that…

OMG! That sums it up. Let’s move on. Just kidding! I have made a lot of veggie burgers and this one is by far the best. I was dreading this recipe all week because of the beets. They are so messy to work with. Well, get over it. These burgers are worth it! Isa said in the comments, “… beets give the burgers an intense (and vaguely disturbing) meat-like appearance, but they also add a lot of flavor, earthy and slightly sweet.” Yes it is disturbing how “meaty” they look. The reason I love these burgers so much is the texture. They are dense (in a good way). Most veggie burgers I have made are mushy, falling apart, or chewy. None of which make for a good burger. The beets paired with the other ingredients kept these burgers together. My only problem was the cooking part. Isa is very adamant about the cooking method. I tried to follow it closely but I think I had the heat a little too high. They cooked a little quicker than they should have. I had to take them off early so they wouldn’t completely burn. Unfortunately, we don’t have a vent in our kitchen. On a cold night I had to open the windows and turn on the fan to let the smoke out. I can’t say this enough all the trouble was well worth it! I never want to make another veggie burger ever again.

Sunday: Roasted & Toasted Things with Wild Rice (Sunday Night Suppers, p. 228)

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It was only right to pick something from this chapter to make on Sunday. My lovely wonderful husband gave me the night off of cooking to take this recipe on. What drew me to this recipe when I chose it was the rustic simplicity. I wasn’t feeling well that night and I must admit this dinner made a difference. It’s like a healing soup without the broth. Wild rice is a rare treat for me that I absolutely love. I decided to sub the tomatoes for red bell peppers. No reason in particular. I’m sure the roasted tomatoes would have been great but I was in the mood for peppers. I did finish up this recipe. My only complaint are the thyme sprigs. Those little buggers are hard to pick out after they’ve been roasted. One of them snuck their way into hubby’s bowl. Better his than mine! I know, I’m mean. Overall, phenomenal dish.

There you have it. My week with Isa was pretty amazing. About the book itself it is a bargain for the $30 I paid. I usually don’t pay attention to notes but hers are extremely helpful so don’t look over them. I also love her comments about each of the recipes. It’s like she is in your kitchen chatting with you. Revealing her inspirations and her charmingly quirky personality. Her instructions are very easily laid out making the recipes a breeze. The serving sizes are actually correct (unheard of in other cookbooks). Maybe she is just as hungry as we are or her recipes are just that satisfying. The most important aspect to note is that she was right in telling me Isa Does It has many soy-free recipes. If they aren’t soy-free most of them are easy to make soy-free. Especially since I just learned of this amazing thing called coconut aminos!!!

Bottom line: I highly recommend adding this book to your shelf. BUY IT NOW!

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