Thrill of the Grill

Labor Day is right around the corner, signifying the dwindling days of summer while offering one last chance to celebrate. That means it’s time to gather up all your friends, neighbors, and coworkers, throw down an ice bucket packed with refreshing beverages, and uncloak that glorious grill in the heat of the midday sun. It’s your last best chance to fire that baby up, so make it count!

I’m probably the last person to ask about expert grilling practices, but I’d like to think that my novice status is actually my greatest asset here. I’m not about to pull some crazy, unreasonable, daredevil tricks when the metal grates get hot and the smoke starts blowing. While I can’t weigh in on the timeless debate of gas vs. charcoal, steering clear of debates over specific fuels or equipment, it shouldn’t be so complicated just to start a fire and get cooking outdoors. No matter what that means to you, even if the party gets rained out and you use a simple grill pan over the stove instead, it’s still important to start searing and making a mark!

Speaking of which, there are a few key principles to remember for emblazoning perfect stripes every time:

1. Start with a VERY hot grill. Give it at least 15 minutes, if not 25, to preheat before lubing up. If the food is par-cooked or semi-cooked (like meatless hotdogs or burgers, fruits or softer veggies,) aim for about 400 degrees.

2. Grease well to prevent sticking but do NOT use an aerosol non-stick spray over a hot grill! Trust me, you don’t want to light your backyard up like a torch here. Opt for an oil with a high smoke point, like rice bran oil, avocado oil, or peanut oil.

3. Don’t walk away, but don’t fuss with your feast either. Once you throw something on the hot grates, leave them there! Don’t start pushing them around, flipping again and again, repositioning them closer or farther apart. To leave a dark, solid mark, you need to allow full, uninterrupted contact. Yes, the food does still need to be turned over to even cooking, but just once, and only after a solid 5 minutes at minimum.

4. Use tongs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chased around ears of corn with a flat spatula because I was too stubborn to go back inside to get the right utensils. Seriously, save yourself the frustration, potential burns, and charred food. Just use the right tools for the job.

5. Go ahead and grill EVERYTHING! Once you’ve made the effort of dragging that beast out of storage, cleaning it up, and bringing it back to life, keep it busy from noon to night. Grill your tofu pups and corn on the cob, of course, but don’t stop there. Grill the buns! Grill the avocados! Grill pineapples and watermelon for a palate cleanser! Keep the party going and grill s’mores for dessert! Heck, if you’ve still got fire to burn and time to spare, grill any leftover veggies in the fridge to start meal prep for the coming week. After all, Labor Day is but a short respite from the daily grind… It’s right back to work tomorrow, ready or not.

Do you have any simple grilling secrets to share? I’m all ears, and not just with yellow kernels of corn. There’s a wide world of charbroiled delights to discover; I’m just getting started.

Many thanks to LightLife for simply providing meatless dogs to inspire this post. All content remains my own original creations, free of bias, and dedicated to an honest appreciation of cruelty-free food.

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Primed and Polished

Right alongside clothing concerns, from ethical production to actual components, cosmetics are often one of the last things that one considers when choosing a vegan lifestyle. In our food-obsessed culture, the focus is almost entirely on diet, while the remainder of our vast purchasing habits go largely unquestioned. It’s confusing, too, discerning the difference between cruelty-free certifications and pledges to avoid animal testing.

Then there’s the considerations towards personal health. Just finding something off the shelf that’s non-toxic is surprisingly difficult, with many mainstream labels boasting genuinely harmful chemicals like dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. When brands say that they’re five-free, it’s these bad apples that don’t make the cut. Now, many are taking it a step further to go “seven-free,” excluding triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) and xylene. That’s before we even start talking about shades and shimmers.

Based in Australia, Sienna Byron Bay has made the decision an easy one. Completely sustainable, vegan, and genuinely beneficial for your nails with breathable, water permeable polishes, each dazzling hue offers smart beauty in a bottle. Considering the disturbing number of landmines one must avoid when making an informed purchase, I was delighted to learn of this new brand, jumping at the opportunity to adorn my own fingertips.

That said, after years of grabbing hot pans out of the oven and washing dishes with scalding water, my hands are not very pretty to look at. To do these gorgeous lacquers proper justice AND enjoy them for longer than the average lifespan of a manicure, I decided to get a bit crafty.

Turning just a few drops of Sundance and Grace into genuine paints, plain white bowls became marbleized masterpieces in minutes. The idea is not a new one, but timelessly brilliant for any fellow photographers looking to jazz up their prop closet, or crafty kids who want to give personalized gifts this holiday season (because it’s never too early to start planning!)

Just fill a large bucket with enough water to submerge your dishes and drizzle your polishes of choice randomly over the top. The colors will float! Dip carefully, in one slow plunge, covering the surface smoothly. Let dry, but if you’re not happy with the results, just hit it with some nail polish remover and try again. Add more polish to the water if needed. Use with care, avoiding both the dishwasher and microwave to preserve the pattern.

Greater awareness of issues with cosmetics is building, which is very exciting to see, even as a fair-weather beauty enthusiast. Do you have any hot tips on brands to seek out, or surprising labels to avoid? It’s time to clean the shelves; no matter how you use lacquer, no one wants an evil genie to come out of those bottles.

Beets Me

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

Blood red, murky liquid filled the glass, dark and menacing, yet impossibly, inexplicably appealing. Touted as an everyday superfood, hidden in plain sight on the supermarket shelves yet locked away just beyond reach, beet juice is both laughably commonplace and frustratingly difficult to get a hold of all at once. Brimming with nutrients shown to improve stamina, improve blood flow, and help lower blood pressure, vitamins and minerals are all locked away within the tough, fibrous exterior of these hard root vegetables. Drinking straight beet juice cuts out the middleman to make this rich source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, and antioxidants, far more accessible for instant absorption. Call it the new energy drink; no caffeine need apply.

What of the flavor, you ask? Some people can’t get past that deep, earthy taste, but all I get is subtle, natural sweetness. It helps that I’ve taken to mixing up Nature’s Way Beet Root Powder lately, which is far easier than fumbling with a messy juicer and consistently palatable. Mixing up instantly with plain water, you couldn’t find a better source of instant vegetative goodness.

Idly browsing the pages of iHerb as I’m apt to do, powdered beets stood out as a specialty item that should really be a mainstream staple. I’ve never encountered this powerful new ingredient before, which makes it particularly fortunate that iHerb is fully stocked, carrying this and over 400 Nature’s Way products that can be shipped to over 160 countries, and representatives that offer support in 10 languages.

For those of you still balking at the idea of chugging a tall glass of beet juice, no matter how mild, fear not. I have three different ideas here for refreshing, revitalizing drinks you will genuinely enjoy.

Popularized by Starbucks but improved by real ingredients, the famous pink drink blushes a bit more boldly with an infusion of not only Wilderness Poets Freeze Dried Dragon Fruit Powder for flavor, but our hero, the beet mixed in for backup support. Stash Mango Passionfruit Tea brews up a tropical base for both the colorful swirl and rich cream contrast, thanks to Earth Circle Organics Coconut Cream Powder, creating a far more flavorful blend than anything coming plain out of a can.

Pink Ombre Drink

2 Cups Brewed and Chilled Mango Passionfruit Tea
Liquid Stevia, to Taste
1/4 Cup Coconut Milk Powder
1 Teaspoon Beet Root Powder
1 Tablespoon Freeze-Dried Pitaya Powder
Ice, To Serve

Add a few drops of stevia to the brewed tea according to taste and divide it into two parts. To the first, whisk in the coconut milk powder. To the second, whisk in the beet root powder and pitaya powder.

To serve, fill one or two glasses with ice. Pour a layer of the coconut mixture in first, and then gently pour an equal amount of the pitaya mixture on top, allowing the two to slowly swirl together. Enjoy immediately.

Makes 1 – 2 Servings

Printable Recipe

For a quick sip on a hot summer’s day, nothing can beat a zesty glass of fresh lemonade. Nothing, except for lemonade infused with the vitality of beets and fruitiness of blueberries. Mingling together in a harmonious purple blend, this is an easy way to introduce the pickiest of eaters and drinkers to the idea of liquefied root vegetables. Dynamic Health Laboratories Pure Blueberry Juice Concentrate is so powerful that just a tiny drop add volumes of fresh berry essence in an instant. Since whipping up this drink, I’ve used it as an utterly luscious glaze over baked tempeh and rich finishing drizzle over many salads, too.

Purple Lemonade

4 Cup Ice Cold Water
1/2 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Blueberry Juice Concentrate
1 Tablespoon Beet Root Powder
Liquid Stevia, to Taste
Fresh Blueberries and Ice, to Serve (Optional)

Simply mix together the water, lemon juice, blueberry juice concentrate, and beet powder in a large pitcher. Sweeten to taste with stevia, adding just a few drops at a time. Serve over ice with a few fresh blueberries on top, if desired.

Makes 3 – 5 Servings

Printable Recipe

Finally, because this is the 21st century and we CAN have our cake and drink it, too, red velvet gets a nutritious boost from these beets, plus a powerful punch of Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior Blend Protein. Thick and creamy, it’s good enough to call dessert, but healthy enough to throw down for breakfast.

Red Velvet Protein Shake

1 Cup Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1 Scoop Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior Blend Protein
1/2 Cup Vanilla Vegan Yogurt, Plus More for Garnish (Optional)
1 Tablespoon Natural Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Beet Root Powder
5 – 6 Ice Cubes

Toss everything into your blender and puree on high speed, crushing the ice into a completely smooth mixture. Pause to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed to make sure the powder is full incorporated. Pour into a tall glass and top with an extra swirl of vanilla yogurt, if desired.

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe

Beet powder is poised for culinary and nutritional domination as more people discover the benefits this humble root has to offer. Though still somewhat of a rarity, iHerb has you covered with this and thousands of other specialty goods to give your beverages an extra boost.

Plus, all customers get 5% off their order, but new customers get an additional $5 off their order of $40 or more by clicking here!

Yo, Soy

Though still a rare delicacy outside of most Asian cultures, yuba has slowly developed a foothold here in North America thanks largely to one shining example produced right in my backyard. Hodo, better known for their contributions to Chipotle’s popular tofu sofritas and now their ready-to-eat line of seasoned savories still pushes eaters to expand their culinary boundaries. Yuba, the gossamer-thin skin that forms on top of soymilk as it’s heated is very closely related to tofu, but bears a few distinct differences. Tofu-making takes soymilk and immediately mixes it with either calcium chloride, calcium sulfate, or magnesium sulfate to curdle, whereas yuba requires no coagulant whatsoever. Fragile, quick to spoil, it’s a treat that few have an opportunity to experience fresh. Most options are sold dried, to be rehydrated on demand, which obviously loses a good deal of flavor and texture in the process.

This isn’t the first I’ve shared about Hodo nor extolled the virtues of Yuba, but it’s a delicious declaration that bears repetition. There’s no need to be redundant, however, since Hodo has begun sharing the softer side of yuba that only a privileged few have ever had access to before. In the stages just prior to coagulating into consolidated, solidified sheets, there are actually a number of stages that the soybean slurry goes through, each one uniquely delectable in its own right. I was lucky enough to experience these earliest phases right when production was just barely getting underway, photographing some of the first batches for easy reference to the uninitiated.

If you should be so as lucky to get your hands on an ingredient of such superlative quality, the best (and most difficult) thing to do is not mess it up. Little is needed to enjoy the naturally rich, luscious character of young yuba. The very earliest harvest, Kumiage, is the style I savored the most, being completely unique from anything currently on the market, or available in restaurants, for that matter. Given a pinch of black salt, you would swear you were eating the creamiest scrambled eggs on the planet, yet no shells will be broken for this plant-based luxury. My favorite approach was to simply scoop out a tender mound into a bowl, drizzle with light soy sauce, and finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and scallions. Nothing more, nothing less. Working in concert to bring out the nutty, umami notes of the whole bean, it’s unlike any other tofu experience to which I can compare.

Deeply savory yet just as versatile as the familiar beige bricks we’re all familiar with, I was delighted to try my hand at a sweet Philippine snack otherwise well out of reach: Taho. Made of soft soybean curds and lavished with tender tapioca pearls soaked in a sugary syrup, it’s a classic street food perfectly suited for the brutal heat of summer. Glittering in the sunlight, cherry- and mango-flavored popping boba sparkle atop this unconventional take on the concept, yet it’s truly the yuba beneath that shines.

These softer stages of soy supremacy can be purchased by the general public only online, not in stores, but it’s worth going all in for a big batch and sharing the riches with friends.

Make Room for Mushrooms

Cornbread has near universal appeal, although the particulars can be quite controversial. I’ve clumsily fumbled my way through this timeless debate before, the perpetual feud between the sweet and the savory, typically erring more on the sweet side of the fence. Given my penchant for pastry, this should surprise exactly no one, especially considering the fact that it took me over 10 years of recipe development to finally launch a cookbook of full meals, not just desserts, upon the world. Now, older and at least a little bit wiser, I realize there’s room on the table for both sorts of a-maize-ing dishes.

Not just savory but full on umami and sparkling with warm spices, this new approach may just hold the key to cornbread harmony, or at least win over a few more fellow sweet-toothed bakers like myself. A bold departure from my typical approach, I found inspiration from the Mexican flavors in BLENDABELLA, a ready to eat seasoned mushroom mix. Tempting as it was to just open up a jar, insert a fork, and call it a day, those tender portabella pieces combined with tomatoes, peppers, and plenty of piquant chili powder were a perfect addition to this humble side.

Tender, fresh corn kernels would be another welcome inclusion, but honestly, there’s no need to get all dressed up and fancy for soulful home cooking like this. Each bite resounds with a comforting warmth, amplified by the natural, earthy richness of everyone’s favorite fungus.

Here’s hoping that critics will be equally compelled by this divergent take on cornbread, since I’m entering the recipe into the Summer Blogger Recipe Challenge! For more information and inspiration, check it out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. BLENDABELLA Mushroom Blends are available for purchase online. (Please note that the Rustic Tuscan variety contains dairy, but both the Zesty Mexican and Coconut Thai Blends are 100% vegan.)

Where do your loyalties lie in the great cornbread debate? Sweet or savory? Simple or spicy? Or… given this new path to explore, downright umami?

Umami Mexi-Cornbread

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Zesty Mexican BLENDABELLA
1 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet or round baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, paprika, and salt. Stir in the BLENDABELLA and toss to coat thoroughly with flour. This will help prevent all those luscious mushroom pieces from simply sinking to the bottom.

Separately, whisk the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil to combine before adding these wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Mix with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together smoothly, although a few errant lumps are just fine to leave be.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top and lightly tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown on top and edges just begin to pull away from sides. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy warm or at room temperature for the most savory satisfaction.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe