The Adventures, Disasters and Redemption of Bravo!

Let me just preface this post by saying that the review of this poor vegan cookbook was doomed from the start…

It arrived a few weeks ago. I was thrilled to receive a copy to review and left it on the counter-top and meant to give it a proper read through once I put the littles to bed. When the house was quiet, I went to retrieve it and it wasn’t there. No biggie, things often disappear in this house- only to resurface at some later point. Like clockwork, a few days later, while doing doggy doo doo duty in the yard I spied it beneath the kids playset. It was warped with water damage from the sprinklers and the edges were a bit chewed on by my dog, but otherwise it was perfectly legible and usable. I could blame my toddler or my dog, but I really think it was a conspiracy between the two of them.

I LOVE Ramses story, he was an overweight, worn out chef that was presented with an opportunity to work as Executive Chef at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California. This particular health center happens to focus on a very clean, plant-based diet. Ramses calls his food SOS Free (no sugar, oil or salt). I also figured out that the book is pretty much gluten free as well. As you can imagine, Ramses experienced his own personal transformation once he adopted the same diet he was preparing for his clientele at TrueNorth. He lost weight, gained energy and vitality.

The cookbook is formatted well, is easily searchable and has many excellent suggestions for adding flavor to food without the evil trinity mentioned above. There are plenty of color and black and white photographs too, which I find extremely helpful in a cookbook.

Unfortunately I must have been having an off day in my kitchen when I decided to do some major recipe testing. I made the Coconut Vanilla Granola (page 36,) and the fixins’ for Black Bean Tamale Pie (page 106)  which included Tamale Dough (page 34) and Black Bean Stew (page 98). At the end of the day I also made the Orange Cinnamon Rice Pudding (page 125).

So, the Coconut Vanilla Granola, was pretty good but didn’t completely knock my socks off. (I have super high expectations from calorie dense food, even if it doesn’t contain sugar or oil). It had a really long cook time (1.5 hours, due to the amount of liquid in the recipe), I also found that the amount of granola (more than 10 cups) really needed two large rimmed baking sheets that needed rotation in the oven instead of the one recommended in the recipe. It surprised me however, by being even tastier on day 2.

Oh man, where do I start with the Black Bean Tamale Pie? The beans were somewhat lackluster, but this is more likely due to my inability source epazote and kick my very real salt addiction (something discussed here on this page on the TrueNorth site, under “Adjusting to the Diet“) then a recipe flaw. I stuck to the no salt rule though and ended up adding 2 t. crushed red pepper flakes for an additional kick. The tamale dough on the other hand was a complete disaster. It was more like a runny pancake batter than a hearty tamale dough. I tried to rescue it by turning it into cornbread instead, but the cornbread baked up like a bitter-tasting brick. I don’t like to throw things away in my kitchen, but the whole shebang ended up in the garbage. A very sad event.

At 10pm I made a last-ditch effort to make something really tasty out of the cookbook. This is where the Orange Cinnamon Rice Pudding comes in. Since I didn’t want to stand around for another two hours while it cooked, I dumped everything in my crockpot, gave it a taste (absolutely delicious) and went to bed. Of course fate would have it that it was burnt to a crisp the next morning. My poor crock pot may never be the same.

Not wanting to blast a fellow plant-based diet lover, I emailed Chef Ramses Bravo and told him about the tamale dough. (the other failures were all my fault) I wanted to know if the measurements in the book were wrong. Almost immediately, he sent me back this very helpful reply.

“Hello Somer, Thank you for the interest in my book, I really appreciate it. As for the tamale dough recipe, you are correct in that the amount of broth should end up at 4.5 cups after reduction. It should not end up however like pancake batter. The blended sunflower seeds should have a paste consistency. It should not be watery at all. When we make it here at True North it is very much like regular tamale dough. We actually use the same batter to make tamales or the tamale pie. When we make it for tamale pie the end result is somewhat thick, it is not meant to be fluffy. Tamales do come out fluffy, but that’s because they go in the steamer. I’m not sure if this helps or not, I hope it does. You can always email me with any more questions you might have. By all means, review the book as you experience it.”

So, afterwards, I’m standing in my pantry trying to figure out what the heck went wrong, I’m typically fairly competent in the kitchen despite what you might think while reading this post. A light-bulb went on in my head.

Duh Somer, everything in your pantry is in glass containers and NOT labeled. You mixed up the masa harina for the finely ground corn meal.

Anyone who has worked with either flour knows that one is much more absorbent than the other. Hence the pancake batter issue.

Back to the drawing board.

I’m so grateful I gave these recipes another chance. What a difference a day can make!

Orange-Cinnamon Rice Pudding

recipe used permission of Book Publishing Company

4 C. unsweetened apple juice

1 C. short grain brown rice

Zest and juice from 1 orange

1/4 C. raisins

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1/t. alcohol-free vanilla extract

2 C. unsweetened soymilk

1/4 C. almonds, toasted and crushed

Method: The book calls for cooking this on the stove-top, which is too difficult for me while chasing a three year old. I pulled out a different non-burnt crockpot (you know you’re a Mormon when you have crockpots in four different sizes). I added all ingredients except the soymilk and vanilla. I cooked it on high for three hours, then stirred it, turned the heat to low and added the soymilk. I cooked it on low for another hour and then turned it off and added the vanilla. Chill for 8 hours or overnight before serving. This recipe was insanely good!

Tamale Dough and Method

recipe used permission of Book Publishing Company

9 C. vegetable broth (preferably homemade)

1 t. granulated garlic

1 t. granulated onion

3/4 C. sunflower seeds soaked in cold water for 3 hours (I used cashews, I was out of sunflower seeds)

4 C. masa harina (NOT corn meal people)!

2 1/2 t. baking powder

3/4 C. raw tahini (I used up all my tahini trying to make the first batch so I used raw cashew butter), which I think solved the bitterness issue of the first doomed batch.

Method: Put the broth, granulated garlic and granulated onion in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Let cool until lukewarm. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of liquid.

Drain the sunflower seeds (or cashews) saving 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Put the seeds in a food processor and process into a smooth paste, adding the soaking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.

Combine all ingredients using an electric stand mixer (I used my food processor with the dough blade), mix for five minutes or so until dough is nice and fluffy and combined.


I filled the tamales with the leftover black bean stew from the night before, but you could use vegan refried beans, lentils, or whatever floats your boat. I’m thinking about fajita veggies and pepperjack cashew cheez next time, AND THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME. Wrap them up in corn husks and steam in a steamer basket for 60 minutes. Serve with salsa. I couldn’t wait and ate mine directly out of the husks. Unbelievably delicious, without any of the dryness issues I encountered last time I tried to make tamales without refined oil!

p.s. my husband doesn’t even like tamales (Australians have a hard time appreciating real Mexican food). He worshiped these.

A special thanks to Ramses Bravo for his time and to the Book Publishing Company for giving me the opportunity to review this book. Despite my kitchen failures, (again, all my fault!) I highly recommend it and hope that it will help me break my own salt addiction! I can’t wait to try ALL the salad dressings, the Breakfast Potatoes, the Tortilla Soup, the Mango Banana Pie and more!

See even more on Chef Bravo’s Facebook page here!

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45 thoughts on “The Adventures, Disasters and Redemption of Bravo!

  1. Good recovery! I love that he replied to your email and gave some good feedback. We all have those less than stellar moments in the kitchen. I think I have more than my fair share. The rice pudding does sound good – I can see how the juice and raisins would make it sweet.

  2. Oh man… I switched to glass pantry containers last year and I have that same problem. I haven’t labeled them because I don’t always keep the same ingredients on hand and… well, excuses :)

    • I haven’t labeled mine for the exact same reason. I think we both need removable labels my dear….

      It hasn’t been a problem before now, but I can see myself mistaking maca for vital wheat gluten or some other disaster….

  3. We’re taking a break from our usual oat/rolled grain morning cereal for the week – I’ve tried chia and quinoa and now – yes, we’ve got to try the rice pudding. Sounds like breakfast food to me!

    The tamales…well, you and I have discussed those. They look gorgeous!

    Chef Bravo’s book sounds like a keeper. Love that the recipes lack S.O.S.!

  4. Thank you for being honest about your kitchen mishaps–it’s nice to know that they happen to other people, and that you persevered and triumphed! I was stomping around the kitchen a few nights ago after a failed mayo attempt. Grrr. Hate wasting ingredients/ food also! It’s too bad that I can’t have corn–those tamales look super yummy!

    • Blasted failed mayo! Argh, it’s really tough when things don’t come together. I really hate wasting food too.

      Dangit girl, I don’t even know where to take you with your grain free diet. Maybe someday your food allergies will just disappear (wouldn’t it be cool if we could just wave a magic wand?)

      • Absolutely, yes. But right now, I’m feeling great–stronger with my workouts, and my legs aren’t giving me an hamstring problems! YAY! I’m seeing some weight loss in the right places, so I’ll stick with it for some time. Just got to get creative in the kitchen, which is the best challenge for me! Thanks for all your support! :)

  5. Hi Somer

    Your review was so funny and entertaining. I love the picture of the chewed up book in the yard, you have a lot going on. Interestingly enough, I never cook with a crock pot, I have no patience for them. I’m very glad that you game my tamale dough recipe a second try and congratulations on successfully figuring out the flour mix up. I’m very glad your husband liked the tamales. Don’t be so hard on yourself about cooking difficulties, I often burn or spill things in my kitchen too. Thank you for the review.

    • Thanks Ramses! I do have a lot going on, but it’s a lot of fun!

      I love hearing that you actually burn and spill things, it’s hard to imagine my plant-based super heroes like you and Chef AJ doing anything wrong in the kitchen, but it makes me feel much more normal.

      I think crockpots must be a harried mother’s saving grace. Chuck everything in, come back in 6 hours and dinners ready. I even cook beans in mine. I can’t say that I’ve burned anything else in a crockpot though, this was a first ;)

  6. The tamales look utterly amazing! Hahaha we all have those kitchen mishaps, typically mine are from not measuring correctly – wait that was 1/4 cup of liquid not 4 cups – yeah that was one soupy apple cake :)

    • Thanks Heather, you can tell how frazzled I was when I wrote up this post, couldn’t even be bothered to take decent photographs. It’s good to hear that others, who are as amazing as you are make mistakes too!

  7. Way to persevere, Somer! I would likely have given up and went on to a different recipe. That is so cool that Ramses himself jumped in to help you.

    Tamales have always been something I’ve been a little afraid of trying to make myself, but these look FANTASTIC! I can’t wait for my copy!

    • Ramses was so great, it was really his advice that made me want to start over. Plus I really REALLY love tamales so I wanted it to work!

      They were so good Kristy, don’t be intimidated. Making Tamales is nothing like that balsalmic beet, salted caramel crunch thingy you made…. I mean it takes some time, but its not fancy work!

      I’ve all ready made a second batch! The second round I roasted and onion, garlic and tamatillos in the oven til soft, then added a bit of cilantro and enough water in the blender to make 4.5 cups and used it to replace the broth.

      Are they sending you a copy to review as well?!? AWESOME!

    • You’re welcome!

      I’ve got a few vegan recipes that ask for it, I hear it adds a nice smoky mesquite sort of flavor. you could probably find it at a Latin marketplace or whole paycheck (whole foods).

      Thanks so much for the labeling ideas! I’m going to try the sharpie method for now and check out those awesome labels on amazon too!

  8. Tamales…. and rice pudding? What are you a mind reader?! These look fantastic. Thanks for sharing. And I’m always glad to hear an accomplished cook make the same kinds of mistakes that I do. ;-)

    • Oh girl, they really were both beautiful. So glad I didn’t give up. And yes, I mess up in the kitchen, I really think everyone does, but people don’t like to fess up to it ;)

  9. I love the fact that you are so willing to put yourself out there, Somer. You make me feel like I should be a better failure. . .

    If that makes sense.

    As usual, your pics end up looking delicious, and we’re tryign to go sans-SOS also soon. We’re trying out the “Forks Over Knives Cookbook” now, and the lack of slat is taking a bit of gettign used to also. Good to know I’m not alone.

    • It’s really tricky to go salt free! Salt is what I use the most for added flavor, I’m like a junkie, but getting there!

      Love to hear how you like the new FOK cookbook! I had it on order than cancelled it because a girl can only have so many dang vegan cookbooks, but I’m starting to regret not getting it now that everyone is talking about it!

      • Can I take thta line and show it to my wife? Apparently she disagrees that a girl can only have so many vegan cookbooks, especially as she doesn’t do the cooking. . .

        Once we’ve made a few more things from it, I’ll probably do a post about it. For now, we’re practising.

  10. The tamales were AWESOME. Salivate just thinking of them. Think I could freeze those babies and have them on hand for quick meals? Hmmmmm…..
    And just may never forget baby H’s face as she took her first bite of the pudding- her eyes lit up and she smiled so big. Maybe tomorrow for an after school treat?

  11. Wow–the recipes look delicious but I can’t imagine cooking without salt. Although the recipes (especially the tamales) sound like they have other rich and flavorful ingredients, so I have to believe that one’s palate would adjust over time.

    • I think it really is about adjustment, I can imagine going salt free… in 10 years ;)

      He really is creative and figures out ways to make the food still taste good, I made his lentil stew the other day and really enjoyed it. I did salt it, but used a quarter of what I normally would and still really enjoyed the flavor. Go figure!

  12. Somer, YOU AMAZE me! Those tamales look Devine and and there’s a chance I may attempt the rice pudding! You have some mad healthy cooking skills lady!! Maybe one day I’ll get there…in the mean time I’ll awe at your meal plans! Xo

    • Oh girl! Thanks! Can’t wait to have some girl time on Wednesday.

      p.s. You’ve got mad skillz too. You make the best cookies that I’ve ever tasted!

    • Thanks Brandi!

      I guess that was my problem, I love salt so much that it originally did taste somewhat bland, but that made me realize all the more that I need to figure out other ways to add flavor other than always reaching for more salt! Dishes can be really complex and vibrant with lots of layers and very little or no sodium ;)

    • Oh Shira! Thanks, it was one of those days in the kitchen where I really just wanted to throw in the towel, but I knew it wasn’t the recipes, so I’m happy I didn’t give up either!

      Can’t wait to check out your blog and see how you’re doing post Paris adventures!

  13. i can’t decide which looks more delicious – the rice pudding or the tamales!!! :) What a great post! I think it was a conspiracy too;) And way to give it another go! It looks like they turned out great! Hope you’re having a wonderful Labor Day weekend! Hugs!

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