Top Notch

Dogs; man (and woman)’s best friend. Our constant companions, protectors, and lovable fluff balls. My fur baby is so much more than a mere pet, as I’m sure most dog mamas and daddies would agree, which is why you’ll always find at least one recipe intended for our four-legged friends in all of my cookbooks. Even when I’m tired of cooking for myself, I’ll never get bored of sharing that passion with my little boy, Luka. He’s the kindest critic I know, wolfing down even the craziest creations with gusto. No matter that he would just as soon eat snails off the sidewalk- it’s still a complement I’m happy to take at face value.

Recently, I was lucky enough to join forces with Wild Earth, makers of innovative plant-based dog food and treats, to introduce a few toppers wot whip up for your own canine gourmands.

What’s a topper, and why do you want one? Think of it as a dog’s answer to ketchup with French fries. Sure, the fries are great by themselves, hot and crispy with a light touch of salt, but they would be even better with a velvety pool of ketchup to dip them in. Beyond the immediate gratification of a delicious dinner, though, you’re introducing a rich array of whole food nutrients in every bite. It’s a treat, it’s a condiment, and it’s a multivitamin supplement, all in one!

First up: Fur Baby Furikake! On the Japanese dinner table, furikake is an essential seasoning even more important than mere salt and pepper. Plain white rice becomes a crave-worthy meal with just a sprinkle, and that not even the beginning of its full-flavored potential. Toasted seaweed meets golden sesame seeds and a diverse palate of spices, depending on the blend for this savory staple. Deeply umami, lightly crunchy, and endlessly customizable to suit individual tastes, furikake deserves a place in every pantry.

If your pup is kind enough to share, there’s a universal appeal to this savory sprinkle. When my own good boy isn’t looking, I’ll admit to using this over freshly popped popcorn, warm sticky rice, and even baked tofu.

Puppy Peanut Sauce may very well become a new staple in your pantry, too. Creamy, sweet, salty, savory and sometimes even spicy, peanut sauce is the Swiss army knife of dressings. Every culture has their own distinctive approach, but it always comes down to a small handful of pantry staples. This recipe for Puppy Peanut sauce combines smooth, creamy peanut butter with a well-balanced combination of spices, a bit of sweetness, and just a touch of acid for an infinitely adaptable formula. Even though this might sound like a recipe for us humans, we’re not the only ones that find this indispensable condiment irresistible.

For those with opposable thumbs, you’ll want to keep a firm grasp on this bottle of liquid gold because it sparkles on everything from salads to stir fries, spring rolls to satay, and beyond. Add a touch of heat with sriracha to appease human palates, along with a splash of soy sauce to round things out. Alternately, take it in the opposite direction with a dab of maple syrup, and you’ll have a dynamite dessert sauce for lavishing on top of ice cream, or dipping into with cut fruit.

Sit, stay, get your Good Boy Gravy! What’s the secret sauce that makes homely biscuits remarkable meals and covers a multitude of sins should you burn the roast on Thanksgiving Day? Gravy, that simple, savory sauce, has got your back. By definition, the word itself also means “something additional or unexpected that is pleasing or valuable,” which is an equally appropriate description for this classic pan sauce.

Speed through this recipe by simply blending a can of cooked, drained lentils with the remaining ingredients if you don’t have time to start from scratch. To be worthy of the dinner table, consider adding 2 tablespoons of soy sauce for a bit of an umami boost, and don’t be afraid to dabble with seasonings. Rubbed sage is a distinctive taste that immediately tastes like a fall feast with just a pinch, and a touch of smoked paprika does wonders to warm the overall flavors. Though this batch yields a generous amount for one pup, I have a feeling your good boy (or girl) won’t be the only one tempted to partake.

Fill up your fur baby’s bowl with some serious good eats. Get 20% off your first purchase of Wild Earth food or treats by clicking through my link, and don’t forget to check out those topper recipes on the Wild Earth Dog Blog for a special treat!

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Popit! for Soba All Summer

Come July, the heat is on. Bare feet scorch on sizzling pavement and even shady trees provide little relief. The only thing that appeals for lunch is either cool, cold, or straight-up frozen. There’s no place for a hot entree on this picnic table.

Luckily, Popit! is here to help! Since both their plastic and glass containers are ideal for advanced prep, you can pull a meal, ready to eat, right out of the fridge. That means you only need to suffer the brief heat of the kitchen once to reap the rewards all week long.

When I saw the small Popit! bread box, also billed as a “lettuce container,” I must admit, I didn’t think about using it as storage for a fresh loaf or salad fixings. One thing came to mind immediately: Zaru soba.

Chilled buckwheat noodles served with a light, brothy dipping sauce is the quintessential summer dish of Japan. Served on a special tray with elevated slats, the mat at the bottom allows excess water to run off, keeping the noodles from getting soggy. With that in mind, I couldn’t see these unique rectangular boxes in any other way. It was simply too perfect to do anything but build a warm weather bento box around that eastern inspiration.

Mentsuyu, the deeply savory dip that accompanies those chewy soba strands, traditionally contains bonito dashi, or fish stock, but is easily veganized by naturally umami dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu seaweed instead. Packed away in a small Popit! snack container, it fits flush right inside the main box. There’s no risk of leakage with those airtight lids locked tightly into place. Perfect for travel and eating alfresco, it also helps prevent messy drips by keeping everything close together.

Lightly blanched spinach is served on the side for a healthy serving of dark leafy greens, enhanced by the nutty flavor of toasted sesame. Tender pods of salted edamame provide all the plant protein you could want in a fun finger food. All together, it becomes a well-balanced, refreshing, and highly versatile meal that will help you keep your cool.

Grab your chopsticks and chill out. Don’t forget to slurp for maximum enjoyment!

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More ‘Taters, Less Haters

Potato salad, as a basic concept, brings to mind visions of buttery golden cubes of potatoes, drenched in a heavy white blanket of mayonnaise, with a few token flecks of celery and onion strewn about like stray confetti.

Turning that concept on its head, Chinese potato salad isn’t even cooked, let alone heavily dressed. Raw potatoes, shredded into fine floss, crisp as taut guitar strings, are lacquered with a simple, acidic, and often spicy vinaigrette.

The finest example of this rare specimen I found was in Honolulu, at Angelo Pietro where it’s their signature salad. It’s been a long time since I was lucky enough to visit the islands, and sadly, it will likely be a while before I can return. For now, recreating those cherished flavor memories is the next best thing to making that 2,397 mile journey.

Turns out the full recipe (all 5 ingredients of it) was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin 20 years ago! The secret is that the potato is cut with the sharp, peppery bite of daikon radish, and a touch of lettuce for a refreshing crunch. Even if you can’t pick up the official, branded dressing, that too is effortlessly replicated in your own home kitchen. For a lighter, brighter, refreshing take on potato salad, this is one you’ve got to try.

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Frequent Fryer

It’s the culinary equivalent of the Tickle Me Elmo craze that swept children into a nationwide temper tantrum in the final late days of the 1990’s. All the cool kids have one, or are getting one, because no other toy can compare. This particular modern marvel is considerably more functional, more respectable, but one could argue, no less frivolous than the furry robotic puppet. I’m talking, of course, about the air fryer.

Leading holiday sales for retailers of small appliances all across the map, these wildly popular contraptions are in no danger of selling out, unlike the door buster deals of yesteryear that would inspire fist fights in minimal parking lots. There’s a different model for every day of the year, and well beyond. Demand hasn’t waned but supply has exploded with such a surplus that prices have fallen to irresistible rates, even without a Black Friday discount. Paralyzed by an overabundance of choices, where does the tentative, newbie fryer begin?

First, we need to talk about what an air fryer really is. Purportedly an alternative to deep frying, without any mandatory fat, hyperactive home shopping network hosts would like to shout from the rooftops that it’s a miracle device guaranteed to change your life. Imagine: all the mozzarella sticks, tater tots, and corn dogs you can eat! Welcome back to childhood and Merry Christmas to all! …If only it really worked like that.

It would be more accurate to describe the device as a super-heated countertop oven. Convection heating circulates air at scorching temperatures and breakneck speed, allowing food to cook faster than in a conventional built-in appliance. It works more efficiently because it’s also smaller, although that brings us to our first drawback: The size can be a limiting factor if you want to cook for more than two or three. Larger models are now available, but you will never be able to fit as much food into one as a full-sized kitchen appliance as a simple matter of physics.

The “frying” effect is most successful with prepared, frozen snacks, which have already been at least partially cooked with a fairly generous amount of fat. French fries are the clearest example of this phenomenon, especially since they’re hands-down the most popular order for this short cook to tackle. Crinkle-cut, curly, waffle, skinny, or home style wedges all come out golden brown and impeccably crisp, fluffy on the inside, glistening with the sheen of success- And oil. If you tried the same set-it-and-forget-it approach with raw potatoes sticks, it would a sad, starchy story, with a real limp ending. Set your expectations accurately and understand how to harness the unique abilities of the machine, however, and this toy starts to regain some of the initial shine.

If you’re still craving a healthier alternative to cool satisfying meals from scratch, there’s hope for this crazy contraption yet! I relying on mine primarily as a toaster alternative, since I don’t have space on my counter for both. Set to low temperatures, it can also function quite efficiently as a dehydrator, to preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or make some tasty snacks with minimal effort. Best of all, and especially critical as we enter the sweltering summer months, it keeps the kitchen cool, as opposed to the full-sized oven that radiates heat like a genuine furnace. As a general guideline for converting existing recipes, reduce the temperature by 25 – 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the baking time by 25%. It will take a bit of trial and error if starting from scratch, but plenty of resources and general guidelines are already out there to make the process painless. You can also find handy charts for best practices regarding specific produce picks.

For your initial voyage on the SS Air Fryer, it will be much smoother sailing if you let the experts pilot the ship. Start with recipes specifically designed for complexities and eccentricities of the machine to turn out hits right from the beginning. My favorite cookbooks are The Vegan Air Fryer by JL Fields, Vegan Cooking in Your Air Fryer by Kathy Hester, and The Essential Vegan Air Fryer Cookbook by Tess Challis, in no particular order. These three highly respected authors also have many other tips and tricks folded into the mix, so you’ll be well educated on the capabilities of your shiny new gadget by the time you read them cover to cover.

Okay, so what about the air fryer itself? Of all the colors, shapes, and sizes, how could you possibly choose the perfect model? I can’t claim to have tried them all, but over the course of two years, I have gone through three different unique types: The Philips GoWISE 3.7-Quart, the Power Air Fryer XL 5.3 Quart, and the Power Air Fryer XL Pro 6 Quart. Which did I ultimately chose to keep?

Presenting, the winner of this round, the Power Air Fryer Pro (previously named the “Oven Elite” at the time of purchase)! Shaped like a miniature, traditional oven with moveable racks, it’s simply more versatile and easier to use than models that only provide a solid basket receptacle. This one provides that too, along with a rotisserie spit, rotating metal skewer attachment, and wire mesh basket. Furthermore, it’s a bit more spacious than the aforementioned options, and the separate racks allow you to cook multiple foods at once. Breaking down all the finer points to consider:

Pros:

  • Much more space! Wire racks allow you to separately cook different foods at the same time.
  • Rotating mesh basket means no more stopping and shaking food halfway through the cooking process to ensure more even browning.
  • Works brilliantly as a dehydrator; minimum temperature of 90 degrees.
  • Excellent and seamless toaster oven replacement. Creates a consistently golden crust on bread, bagels, and beyond. There’s even a dedicated pizza button for reheating leftovers.
  • Removable and non-stick drip tray makes for easy cleanup afterwards.

Cons:

  • Not exactly plug-and-play. Had a hell of a time figuring out how to install the skewers, and still couldn’t stop them from falling out eventually, regardless of the configuration.
  • The window is nice, but it would be more helpful if the light inside the unit stayed on after you closed the door. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if you can’t see when the food is done?
  • Maximum temperature of 400 degrees. I’d wager that’s enough for 90% of all cooking needs, and most foods could just be cooked for a little bit longer to compensate, but it can be limiting for more precise, high-heat preparations.

Ready to embark on your exciting journey towards extra crispy, perfectly tender, and simply easier homemade meals? With expectations appropriately set and temperatures properly dialed in, the much lauded air fryer is a handy little helper that can make it happen. Naturally, all those years of testing and tasting have built up a considerable backlog of my own recipes to share, so stay tuned for much more!

Nuevo Gazpacho

Chill out. Watermelon might sound like an unconventional base for the classically tomato-red gazpacho, but it’s nothing to lose your cool over. Given a surplus of the highly perishable fruit and an oppressive heatwave to contend with, this sweet and savory mashup was inevitable.

As preferences quickly skew toward the fast, easy, and refreshing dishes, I can think of no better recipe to fit the bill. Gazpacho, no matter the color nor contents, must always be on hand for days like this, waiting in a properly chilled pitcher for instant access.

Balancing fruit and vegetables in elegant sufficiency, with a subtle bite of vinegar and fresh, verdant pop of basil, it’s an invigorating study in contrasts.

Don’t let the juicy inclusion scare you off. I promise, it’s not a vegetable-forward smoothie… Although it’s so good that you’ll still want to drink it straight from the blender.

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Baklava for Breakfast

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

My dad is a tough one to spoil. He never asks for anything, rarely complains, and never seems to want anything beyond his means. Gracefully, graciously, he’ll accept gifts when the occasion mandates such an exchange, but he genuinely means it when he says, “you shouldn’t have.” For a man who deserves so much, he sure is impossible to shop for.

The best presents come from the heart, of course, and that’s synonymous with the kitchen, as far as I’m concerned. My dad would never turn down any of my crazy creations, no matter his preferences or appetite, but for Father’s Day, I wanted to make something he would genuinely enjoy.

Further complicating matters, grocery shopping just isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the carefree days of popping into the nearest store to pick up a few things. If it can’t be ordered online, it pretty much can’t be on the menu. Thank goodness for iHerb, supplying both the basics and more specialized superfoods and delicacies.

It’s one-stop shopping for all things vegan and beyond. Unlike other online marketplaces, iHerb clearly labels and categorizes all of their goods by dietary needs, so you can search specifically for items that are plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, and so much more, separately or all together if needed! Considering that there are literally thousands of vegan products to choose from, that eliminates the typical search frustration of scrolling through blurry pictures of labels, giving you exactly what you need. Orders are shipped to over 150 countries straight from climate-controlled distribution centers, ensuring the quality of their products. You’ll never receive expired goods, in sharp contrast to the gamble you sometimes take when purchasing from massive, multichannel online retailers. If there are ever any concerns, you can email or chat online with a real person 24 hours a day 7 days a week, speaking 10 different languages, too!

In case you forgot about Father’s Day until the last minute, don’t panic. You can get next-day, no-contact delivery without sweating over shortages or strange substitutions. iHerb even has the accoutrements covered; buy yourself some extra time by brewing up a quick beverage to slowly sip, savoring the company of The World’s Best Dad while breakfast is cooking. For me, that means instant iced coffee using Mount Hagen for a quick fix, and Twinings Cold Brewed Peach Iced Tea for him.

Recalling lazy weekends and leisurely mornings, the ultimate breakfast treat was a plateful of fluffy waffles, lavished with enough maple syrup to make a sapling weep. Only Real, Organic, Grade A Maple Syrup would make the cut here, because that quality makes a difference you can taste. Sticky and satisfied, we’d roll away from the table ready to take on the day.

Folding those memories into an even more decadent treat, such a celebration calls for something even more special. Flaky pastry meets the resounding crunch of crisp Eden Foods Pistachios and Bergin Fruit and Nut Company Almonds in my dad’s favorite dessert, baklava, now fit for “the most important meal of the day.” Sandwiched between two slabs of puff pastry, the nutty mixture is perfumed with aromatic Simply Organic Celyon Cinnamon and enriched with  Nutiva Butter-Flavored Coconut Oil, a thousand gossamer-thin layers rising to the occasion not in the oven, but in the waffle iron.

These delicate, shatteringly crisp sheets are designed to hold onto golden, honeyed syrup, infused with floral essence of Heritage Rosewater and subtly acidic edge of True Lemon Crystals. Each pocket unleashes a river of the sweet stuff, sure to appease even the most extreme nectarous cravings.

While you could serve baklava waffles for dessert instead, why not indulge a little bit? If your dad is even half as supportive, patient, loving, and good natured as mine, surely, he deserves it.

To you and yours, from me and mine, Happy Father’s Day!

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