I am the worst type of person when it comes to being patient or having the ability to wait for things. For example, I love reading but
usually always read the end before reading the beginning. Every manner of spoiler (whether it’s for a t.v. show, movie, book — even when I was pregnant! Did I wait to see what we were having?! Not a chance.) is just an invitation for me to not wait. To lose my never-ending battle to practice patience. So when I tested recipes for Laura in the fall of 2015
I knew I had a problem because I was going to have to wait until her book was published to continue to enjoy her recipes that I already had a head start on loving. Her cookbook, The First Mess, is true to her blog — full of delicious, seasonally-inspired recipes and accompanied by the most lush photography around.
I first became familiar with The First Mess years ago when I stumbled across her recipe for OMG-Vegan Butternut Queso. So alluring. What could be better than “cheezy” goodness on tortilla chips?? Funny thing though, when I made up a batch of her Butternut Queso, instead of eating it on chips I was inspired by the possibilities the queso presented: it became the basis for all the other comfort dishes I longed for — namely mac-n-cheese and a creamy-cheezy butternut squash lasagna. When my daughter started eating solid foods this Butternut Queso-cum-mac and cheese soon became a fav of hers (and mine too! I could add a little extra nutrition into something that wasn’t traditionally nutrient-dense. I also loved the idea of starting her with her own healthful and nourishing comfort foods that will — hopefully — follow her into adulthood). Whether it’s Queso or even Wagonwheels (recipe on her blog) Laura is a true master when it comes taking the most humble of ingredients to re-imagine junky foods as healthy alternatives or taking classic foods and recipes and giving each a tasty, vegan edge (another example, pictured below, is her Eggplant Bacon). Part of her success relies on her incredible palate. How else can you explain how she can capture the true flavour and texture of any given dish? Her plant based alternatives offer satisfying, simple alternatives that are just plain mouthwatering.
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m all about trying new cooking methods or techniques and foods. Part of what draws me into the kitchen is the ability to become more confident and self-reliant. When I learned how to make tomato sauce from scratch it was the most wonderful experience (you can read about it here). Which is why I was really excited when I got to test Vegetable, Chickpeas, & Dumpling Stew for her cookbook. I had never eaten or made dumplings before and I was intrigued by the fact that a person could drop batter onto cooking stew and you’d end up with fluffy, light dumplings. A hearty meal — perfect winter fare for those cold, gloomy evenings. But this is how Laura operates — she inspires people to venture outside their comfort zone with the ingredients and techniques she uses. (Checking back at my tester notes I can see that this was what I made for Thanksgiving 2015, although having made it several times since, it tasted mighty magical that first time. Laura translated her quiet elegance into a recipe that scored in both presentation and flavour).
Some of what The First Mess Cookbook strives for is to really inspire people to get into the kitchen to cook and enjoy seasonal produce. Having grown up in an agri-culture (she speaks about her beginnings at her family farm in the intro to her book), Laura offers recipes that look to seasonally engage people at mealtimes with wholesome, truly delicious meals that are worth making. Take the recipes for Dumplings I mentioned earlier or even her Cozy Lentil Soup (photo below) — both recipes have seen my family and I through a couple winter seasons and I was happy that they made it into the book. She has wonderful sections regarding stocking your plant based pantry and what kitchen equipment/tools you might need. I didn’t need to make any special trips to the grocery store but if you’re new to vegan cooking you may need to add pantry items here or there. Even costlier ingredients (PINE NUTS!) are used purposefully and sparingly. If you ever look at an ingredient she uses and wonder “Is it worth it?” I wholeheartedly say “Yes!” There are times when she offers alternative/substitution ingredients in the header of her recipes. Laura is the last person who would want anyone to waste time or money. In case I’m sounding a little on the intense-side, all of her recipes are simple to make and as you can see have the most beautiful results.
Speaking of the recipes themselves, part of what I’ve observed through Laura’s Instagram is how she draws upon her culinary training when preparing for meals (see here, here, and here) — she sets up her mise en place so that cooking become efficient and organized, which is something I’ve adopted myself. By chopping, measuring, slicing (etc) ahead of time I’ve found I’ve really upped my kitchen game. Sometimes it can be a bit finicky but I know that if I prep before I start to cook, my dishes turn out much better and I spend way less time in the kitchen (ever start cooking and prepping at the same time? It definitely causes me to make more errors and become more stressed — always cook with the end product in mind).
Laura also has used her training to develop really, really, incredibly delectable meals. When I made her Crispy Salt and Vinegar Potatoes w/ Lemon Garlic “Aioli” we were knocked over by how much the potatoes tasted exactly like salt and vinegar! Remarkable! I mean, let’s face it, how many times have you tried a recipe only to be underwhelmed by the lack of flavour or the recipe’s failure to deliver? What all of the recipes in TFM cookbook are is flavourful. If you’re curious to see what I’ve been making from the cookbook check out my custom Instagram hashtag #firstmesse or my new Facebook page (post here) — there you’ll find pics of all of the goodness I’ve been cooking up (so far I’ve made over 25 recipes and haven’t found a rotten one in the bunch! I’m also eyeing up the Coconut Cream Tart for Pi/3.14 Day next Tuesday — March 14th). A bonus of cooking any of Laura’s recipes is that anything made with a sauce usually has the accompanying word “extra” because for Laura sauce is boss. I really appreciate this because you can either a) totally add that extra to your plate or b) save it for later and add it to something else. You can never go wrong having a good supply of a quality sauce or condiment!
How is it possible for someone to be so humble, chill, elegant and sophisticated all at the same time? I’m not sure but I feel this every time I read her blog, look at her IG or cook one of her recipes. It’s difficult to pinpoint really. Some of her dishes are playful — take these Hippie Bonbons. Really just energy balls full of dried fruit and nuts, her particular way of naming recipes really evoke a certain kind of imagery. There is a simple naturalism to her approach that permeates the cookbook but in no way are any of the recipes simplistic. Just perfect recipes for every meal and mood.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Laura Wright and Penguin Random House for providing me with free copies of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.