When Annie and Dan Shannon began their project to cook vegan versions of recipes from a classic cookbook, they were inspired by the movie Julie and Julia -- but in an unconventional way.
Watching the movie, the Shannons were struck by a scene where blogger Julie Powell works up the nerve to prepare a live lobster while cooking her way through Julia Child's classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
"You can tell she's really conflicted about it," said Annie Shannon, co-author (with her husband Dan) of Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family. As it's presented in the film, viewers are supposed to be happy for Powell when she overcomes her fear and drops the lobster in the pot, but as longtime vegans the Shannons saw it instead as overcoming her conscience.
The couple's take on the film inspired the Shannons to show that classic cooking can be compassionate, first on their blog Meet the Shannons and now through their cookbook, released last month. For the book the Shannons adapted recipes from The Betty Crocker Cookbook to be both vegan and convenient, keeping in mind the Betty Crocker ethos of making good cooking accessible.
"Betty Crocker has this impeccable reputation for taking everyday items and turning them into incredible things," Shannon explained. "That's what we wanted to do with vegan products."
Once seen as a diet followed only by hippies and hipsters, veganism is becoming more popular with families, including those with young children. Some people embrace Meatless Mondays and others go all the way with a plant-based diet, for reasons to do with either their health or their conscience. Ellen DeGeneres promotes veganism to a mainstream, mom-heavy audience through her daytime talk show. Actress Alicia Silverstone blogs about raising her son vegan, and is working on a book about vegan pregnancy. And cookbooks like Peas and Thank You and Vegan Family Meals offer meat-free recipes catering to both adults and kids.
One of the challenges the Shannons came up against in working on Betty Goes Vegan is they sometimes had never tried the non-vegan version of a recipe, which meant doing a lot of research into the taste and texture they were aiming to recreate. For example, they learned coq au vin is made with rooster, which has a tougher texture than chicken, and they kept that in mind when developing their vegan version.
Since the book's release, the Shannons have heard from readers who tell them they achieved their mission of making vegan cooking both enjoyable and accessible. "We get a lot of e-mails from people who tell us that this book has made them think that this is something they can do all the time," Annie Shannon said.
Salted Caramel Apple Whoopie Pies
(Makes 1 dozen pies)
Ingredients: Spiced Apple Cookies
1/4 cup margarine, softened
1 cup brown sugar
11/4 cups applesauce
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable shortening1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
Salted Caramel Frosting
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed pink Himalayan salt
1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
1 cup powdered sugar (you may want to add more if you want a thicker frosting)
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, crushed
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Spray your whoopie pie pan with a light coating of baking spray. In a large bowl, blend the margarine, brown sugar, applesauce, vanilla, and shortening with a handheld electric mixer until smooth. In another large bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger until blended. Add the margarine mixture to the flour mixture and blend with an electric mixer until smooth. Watch out for any clumps of margarine. Add the baking soda and blend on medium speed for a little more than 1 minute.