Taking a Dump for Dinner

The mere concept is ripe for ridicule. Built upon a shaky foundation of canned goods and prepared foods, dump-and-bake meals are the semi-homemade answer to the daily dilemma of someone who doesn’t want to, doesn’t like to, or doesn’t know how to cook. All you need is a can opener and a cooking device; I do understand the appeal. Quick, easy, pantry-friendly, and so much more SEO gold, convenience seems to win the war over good taste in this instance.

Of course, don’t get me started on the name. “Dumping” is simply never a positive verb. Evoking images of landfills, garbage, dropping or throwing away, I can’t get past the term. Mentally condensed, I read it out as “Trash Casserole” nine times out of ten, without thinking about it. Of course, don’t get me started on the connotations of “taking a dump.”

Snark aside, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s a shame the idea is maligned by basic nomenclature, but you can’t blame a child for a name given at birth. Considering the dire state of my refrigerator, it’s time I get my head of out the gutter- Or toilet, as it may be.

Relying more on unprocessed dry goods than traditional alchemic creations of modern prepared foods, my take on classic stroganoff is an effortless one-pan approach to nearly instant gratification. Soy curls, some of the greatest unsung heroes of meatless proteins, take the place of more bovine inclusions. Re-hydrating right in the cooking liquid, alongside dry pasta, there’s no fussy soaking, draining, sauteing, or separate special treatment necessary.

You don’t even need to break out the knives if you plan your pantry well. Purchase pre-sliced mushrooms, jars of minced garlic ready to go, and even frozen diced onion to keep in the true spirit of dumping doctrine. Heck, go ahead and use canned>mushrooms if need be. There’s no shame in making the most of what you’ve got, and this luscious cream sauce is so rich, it can easily conceal a multitude of sins.

Soaking in all the umami seasonings built into the broth, tender noodles provide actual substance, rather than filler for this rendition. Use whole grain options for a bit of extra fiber, or gluten-free if you’re intolerant. Remain flexible, keep an open mind, and start preheating your oven.

Comfort food shouldn’t just provide solace on the plate. If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose that it should be soothing to create, too.

I get it: Dump dinners sound like culinary defeat, the last attempt at sustenance devised by a starving cook at the end of their rope. It doesn’t have to be that way. Emboldened by fresher fare, let’s all take back the notion and take a dump for dinner, together!

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Quarantine Kitchen

Now more than ever, as the very earth seems to shift beneath our feet, we’re finding comfort and solace in simple pleasures. Drawn back into the kitchen, the heart of the home, even those who once claimed to despise the domesticity of cooking are deftly, urgently tying on their aprons. Exactly what is everyone cooking, though? What is it that speaks most to the soul in times of crisis, that nourishes physically and emotionally?

Google would like to weigh in.

Below is a list of the top ten most searched recipes on Google since quarantine conditions began around mid-March, followed by my personal suggestions for corresponding dishes found right here on little old BitterSweet.

What are you craving most?

Top 10 Recipe Searches During Coronavirus Quaratine

Stuck at home with scant entertainment and unsatisfying work, there's no better way to spend your time than a warm kitchen. Here are the most popular recipes cooks are making across the country right now, separated by physical distance but together in spirit.

[Almost] Wordless Wednesday: Bet the Ranch

Rancho Compasión provides a home to former farm animals that have been neglected, exploited, and abused. Founded by Miyoko and Michael Schinner, this sanctuary is hidden away in Nicasio, California, surrounded by redwood trees, thriving wildlife, and longstanding farming culture. These efforts are all made possible with the support of compassionate donors. It all began with just two goats, and has since blossomed to provide a place of refuge for over 70 animals, including chickens, pigs, cows, and many more.

Their overall mission is to provide shelter and care for rescued farm animals for their entire natural lifespans, while educating visitors and students to help them rethink how they view animals typically categorized as “food”. Rancho Compasión promotes and advocates for a vegan lifestyle for the animals, for our planet and for our health.

Roll with the Punches

I received free samples of California Walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Walnuts and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Bob and weave, parry and block; keep on dancing around obstacles and don’t let anything stop you. We’ve all suffered setbacks in recent weeks, to put it lightly, and even on the brightest of days, it’s easier said than done. How can one keep on going, keeping on rolling, in the face of such daunting odds?

There’s no easy answer, certainly no snappy, one-size-fits-all solution, but it all starts with you. That means nourishing your mind and body, which comes together quite nicely for me in the form of healthy, fun, and light meals. This one is literally how I roll.

California Walnuts, rich in plant-based omega-3, are a solid staple for versatile snacks both sweet and savory. Blended with umami miso and savory herbs, they turn into a stunningly creamy, unbelievably cheesy take on dairy-free ricotta. Spread lavishly across tender planks of grilled zucchini and twisted into tidy pinwheels, I’d be willing to call it the new power lunch.

Complementing the Italian-leaning seasoning, simple marinara sauce is a velvety tomato blanket to cradle these bundles, although it could just as easily be served alongside as a dip, turning each pinwheel into two-bite canapes for a crowd. One day, hopefully soon, those garden parties will blossom with friends, family, and good food once again.

Just keep on rolling, friends.

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Nybll and Nosh

Food delivery is not only the way of the future, it’s the way of survival, now. Critical on both sides of that equation, consumers and producers alike thrash about in uncharted waters as the tides continue to turn. Safer than risking exposure from shopping and schlepping, getting food direct to doorsteps could save us amidst quarantine constraints. If only it was all so simple, though. Grocery stores are overwhelmed by demand, local chefs can barely keep the lights on, and third party couriers are throttled by ineffective apps. No one was prepared for this abrupt sea change.

Some, however, are nimble enough to raise the sails and correct course at the first sign of trouble. In this case, they’re actually Nybll.

Previously serving corporate clients for in-office catering, “business as usual” was anything but, when work from home orders shut down previously thriving hubs. Quickly shifting gears to reach workers where they live, the focus on individual distribution opened up accessibility to all hungry, home-bound clients.

Spearheaded by Chef Kristen Thibeault, previously head of Kombu Kitchen in San Francisco, considered one of the pioneers of the modern plant-based food movement. Blending world cuisines with ayurvedic, paleo, and macrobiotic tenets, over 150 locally sourced menus reflect a passion for flavor fidelity with nutritionally dense ingredients.

Every bundle of 5, 10, or 20 weekly meals come fully loaded with a vegan option for every entree. Add-ons like soups, salads, and even fresh produce and pantry boxes make this an invaluable resource for one-stop grocery shopping. Prepared dishes arrive individually packed so you can just heat and eat. Easily outshining any comparable complete frozen dinner, it’s the closest the average person will likely come to having their own personal chef.

Larger portions, extra proteins, and side dishes can be added to accommodate all appetites. Soup and salad can help round out any menu, or join forces for a light yet satisfying meal by themselves. This week, Mixed Greens + Beet Salad made it easy to get my greens in, especially when drizzled with a ranch-style dressing flecked with fresh dill. Soulful Tomato Bisque, luxuriously rich and thick, was a shining example of what all dairy-free cream soups should aspire to. Basil, white wine, garlic, and onion meld seamlessly in this downright buttery blend.

Skillfully etched with the flawless char of hot steel, the Lemon Herb Grilled Tofu dazzles with pungent garlic butter saturating its porous surface. Ample portions of Confetti Quinoa + Garlic Sauteed Kale support the starring protein with surprising depth.

It’s tough picking favorites, but the gentle sweetness of the Candied Tempeh, paired with tender Herbed Brown Rice with Garbanzo Beans + Roasted Carrots easily elevated this meal to the top rank. Understated, simple flavors blossom with the gentle touch of a professional, bolstered by the vibrancy of fresh high-quality ingredients.

Injecting a bold touch of intrigue into the mix, the Vegan Meatballs + Roasted Sweet Potatoes defies easy explanation. Coated in a creamy, saffron-spiked sauce, hearty meatless rounds tumble among bites of fennel and skin-on chunks of everyone’s favorite orange tuber. Paired with Grilled Zucchini + Harissa Cauliflower, it’s a spicy, invigorating combination unlike anything else you might be able to order for takeout.

Evoking happy memories of summer picnics, Loaded Vegan Pasta Salad really hit the spot on these unseasonably warm days. Sun-kissed tomatoes drape themselves seductively around penne pasta, broccoli florets, and strips of red bell pepper. For someone craving a taste of the great outdoors, this really nails the experience in a safe, sanitary package to enjoy at home.

It takes a lot for me to get excited about a kale salad, but the Caribbean Superfood Salad + Jerk Mushrooms does just that. Zesty orange dressing brightens the crisp leaves, interspersed with coconut flakes and shredded carrot. A smashed plantain patty adds substance with style, while the slightly spicy, sweet, and smoky cremini are the crowning jewels on this tropical regalia.

Nybll currently serves Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. If your zip code falls within that range, do yourself the kindness of placing an order. Skip the usual takeout fare, give yourself a break from cooking duties, and enjoy the peace of mind knowing that shortages won’t deplete your pantry. Now THAT is true comfort food.