Say Cheese!

Names, dates, phone numbers: my memory fails me on these specifics nine times out of ten, embarrassing me to no end when I’m introduced to the same person for the seventh time. The one birthday I will always remember, of all things, is for someone I’ve never even met. Amy, the inspiration for Amy’s Kitchen, shares my same birth year, making it even more astonishing to recognize over 30 years of vegetarian and vegan meals made available to the masses, all from such humble beginnings. Those frozen samosa wraps, tamale pies (RIP), and vegetable barley soups saved my life back in high school, before I could even operate a toaster without causing a conflagration.

Where so many brands have failed and folded, Amy’s Kitchen has grown in leaps and bounds, expanding their dairy-free options exponentially while still maintaining high quality standards, and an endless hunger for both adventurous flavors and down-home comfort foods. Breaking into 2020 with a boom, Amy’s Kitchen has just unleashed a new line of ooey, gooey, cheezy vegan entrées, including two pasta dishes and two Mexican-inspired options. They’re all going into regular rotation here as emergency dinners at Casa BitterSweet, but if I had to play favorites, my money would be on the Vegan Broccoli & Cheeze Bake.

I’m rather picky about my pasta, to put it lightly, and I was stunned to realize a few bites in, going back to read the label, that these noodles were gluten-free, too. Tender, chewy, springy, the texture surpasses that of most average frozen wheat options, too. There’s no sacrifice nor compromise for accommodating such a range of dietary restriction; nothing makes it into the bowl but delicious, creamy instant gratification.⁣

You really can’t improve on perfection, by definition, but you can match it on the same level in an equally compelling, yet wholly unique way. That’s where these fool-proof party starts come in.

Baked, not fried, to golden brown and crispy brilliance, this is the halfway homemade food hack that could very well become the stuff of legends. Better than mozzarella sticks, they won’t start to congeal and lose their luster the moment they hit the table. The breading ensures easy prep, no culinary skills required. Banishing greasy fingers by adding no extra oil means you could be saving your sofas- and stomachs- from unnecessary anguish later, too.

Tender spiral noodles and organic broccoli, bathed in luscious, creamy vegan cheese sauce burst forth from their crisp breaded shells, a rush of comfort and savory satisfaction in every bite. This is one unforgettable finger food that will serve you well for many happy years, too.

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Seeds of Revolution

Ben & Jerry’s is making headlines so fast, you could get whiplash trying to keep up with these two men. No sooner than I hit “publish” on what I thought would be the ice cream review of the of the year, or at least of the season, did a brand new press release come flying through my inbox. Thrown in there as if it was a second thought, a little note to just slip under the door while no one was home, turned out to be a bombshell.

Beyond announcing another flavor, this was a brand new base entirely, never before seen in commercial ice cream production.

Sunflower butter.

No nuts, no dairy, pure indulgence.

If you were a fan of the original almond milk line from Ben & Jerry’s, you’re going to be disappointed… Because you’ll be deeply displeased that the entire range of flavors can’t be upgraded to this new base instead.

Almonds have enjoyed mainstream success for their established identity as wholesome, fairly neutral carriers of good fats and creamy textures. Sunflower seeds are the underdogs, with all those positive qualities, but none of the recognition. Masterfully blended with decadent flavors and extravagant mix-ins, I personally would have never guessed the seedy underbelly supporting it all. Not a hint of nuttiness, no matter how carefully I tasted, came though above the intended indulgences.

Coming this summer, keep an eye out for these three sensations that will rock your local freezer aisle and scoop shops:

“Milk” & Cookies (vanilla with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate sandwich cookies, and chocolate cookie swirls):

Delightful doughy bites swimming in a frozen pool of non-dairy milk, slowly returning to a more liquid state, coating each morsel in a luscious cloak of thickened cream. Huge chunks of sandwich cookies jut out of every other spoonful, as if they hadn’t even been chopped before being loaded into the pint. The end effect is neither vanilla nor chocolate, but somehow, all the best components of the two all at once.

Crème Brûlée Cookie (burnt caramel with brown sugar cookies and salted caramel swirls):

Dirty blonde with a dark, mysterious edge, this complex little vixen is my new obsession. Though it sounds like a straight shot of sugar in a waffle cup, it manages an impressive level of balance with subtly bitter, lightly salted caramel, toasted and nutty, perfectly complimenting the seeded base. The interplay between gooey swirl and soft, fudgy molasses-flecked cookies makes every bite exciting, right down to the bottom of the carton.

Mint Chocolate Cookie (mint with chocolate sandwich cookies):

Fresh, bright, sweet peppermint cradles a fine mist of crumbled wafer cookies, interspersed by enormous cookie boulders. Treading the fine line between rich and refreshing, the overall experience is solidly one of indulgence.

These seeded pints are being added to the current dairy-free offerings, making 17 flavors in all for the truly lactose intolerant to raise a spoon to.

Pearls of Wisdom

Some dishes just have no right to be so good. They’re too simple, too ordinary, too easy to yield such spectacular results. No matter how uninspired the ingredients look on paper, a jolt of bold flavor belies such humble components. It’s the kind of dish that makes you wonder what magic has conspired in the kitchen, or perhaps, some secret MSG is spiking the punch.

Such is the case for the curried couscous salad at Mendocino Farms. The creamy, golden yellow pasta pearls don’t even look vegan at a glance, but lo! Clear labels reassure eaters that it’s vegan mayonnaise carrying the torch.

Decadent to a degree that would make the average side salad blush, a large part of me wants to hate it on principle. One should never add sugar to a savory dish, and at such a lethal dose! Mayonnaise should be used sparingly at best, a breezy whisper across a slice of bread, barely detectable by the human eye. Then, to go ahead an add even more oil on top of that fatty spread sounds purely excessive, unnecessary, uncalled for, hedonistic in the worst kind of way…!

But, falling prey to the offer of a free sample, I cast all common sense to the wind, letting go of those ingrained notions of decency just long enough to get hooked. I can’t get enough, and I don’t quite know why.

Perhaps the appeal is exactly for all those reasons. It’s because it flies in the face of preconceived boundaries of health and balance, that somehow, it manages to simply WORK.

I can’t claim to understand the compelling appeal of the curried couscous salad, but I can’t deny it, either.

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Easy Brie-zy Entertaining

What’s that I hear, off in the distance? Could it be the sound of winter boots storming down the driveway? The staccato knock of knuckles against the front door? The unmistakable chime of the doorbell, ringing out as clear as day: YOUR GUESTS HAVE ARRIVED!?

Ah yes, it sounds like the holidays are here again! Trickling in slowly, gathering in greater numbers with every passing minute, the kitchen swells with sounds of merriment, laughter and banter ricocheting off the walls. Cue the music, crank the oven, and break out the appetizers; it’s time to dazzle with more than sparkling tinsel lining the hallways.

Play your cards right, and one spectacular starter will set the whole party in motion. The pros know that it’s only possible by keeping it simple, prepping ahead, and using the best ingredients. That’s why I’m dropping this show-stopping wheel of homemade vegan brie, supple and soft, crowned with the bold combination of tart raspberries and balsamic vinegar. If that doesn’t kick off the festivities with applause, at least, perhaps you’ve invited the wrong audience.

Buttery, creamy, melting at room temperature, this brie isn’t a dead-ringer for its dairy counterpoint, but it doesn’t need to imitate exactly when it can exceed that experience. Reaching into my pantry for an easy accompaniment, bottles of Alessi White Balsamic Raspberry Blush Vinegar and Alessi Raspberry Infused White Balsamic Reduction inspired this unconventional, yet compelling combination. Melding that tangy, fresh flavor with sweet whole berries in a lightly simmered compote created a heady aroma that no one could resist.

I can count on Alessi ingredients to raise the bar on everyday staples, no matter the recipe or occasion. Family owned and operated for 72 years, these essentials have stood the test of time. They’ve been stocking grocery store shelves across the country for as long as I can remember, that’s for sure. Going straight to the source reaps the greatest rewards, though, since orders over $20 ship free and no where else can you find such a wide section of authentic Italian specialties. As if that wasn’t enough, if you shop directly through Alessi.com and enter the code HANNAHK at checkout, you’ll get 15% off your order! This code is good for 1 use per customer, until December 31.

Both the cheese and chutney can be made up to a full week in advance, so there’s no need to stress on the big day. Just take off the chill as conversations warm and spirits flow. The savory wedges will melt in your mouth, and any extraneous worries will melt away. Now that’s what makes a happy holiday.

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Start Something Delicious

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

The hardest part of any new endeavor, big or small, is just knowing where to start. That much is true for figuring out the opening sentence of a new blog post, building a cabinet from Ikea, or embarking on a different dietary path. Many people find the concept of veganism daunting simply because they don’t know where to begin. Seen as one complex tangle of ethics and guidelines, it’s nearly impossible to pick out one thread from that ball of yarn, let alone unsnarl it from that knotted mess. Setting yourself up for success means starting small. Personally, that brings me to the pantry, where all good meals take shape.

Having a solid supply of essential ingredients makes everything else possible, and I’m not just talking about the meals that are directly impacted by such delicious influence. Being properly fueled is the key to thriving, not just surviving, to power smarter decisions, more positive perspectives, and greater adventures at large. Food is where everything really begins, so my Ultimate Vegan Starter Kit focuses in on the staples that make up the foundation of my plant-based arsenal.

Starting strong also means knowing where to shop, which is why I always turn to iHerb. It’s one-stop shopping for all things vegan, compiled for easy reference in their new Vegan Specialty Store. Unlike other online grocers, iHerb takes the time to label and categorize all of their goods by dietary needs, so you can search specifically for items that are plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, separately or all together if needed! Considering the fact that there are over 6,800 vegan products to chose from, that eliminates the typical search frustration of scrolling through blurry pictures of print labels, and gets right to the good stuff. 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, no less! From this one-stop shopping experience, I have a few essential recommendations for building your plant-based pantry with ease, and always in good taste.

Stocking a kitchen can sound like a daunting task, but it really isn’t too difficult to gather the essential ingredients that will serve you well through countless meals.

First, I always make sure to have legumes and pulses on hand. That means plenty of canned chickpeas and black beans for ease and convenience, and quick-cooking Arrowhead Mills red lentils. Everything from soul-satisfying soups to rich gravies are no more than 15 minutes away since lentils need no soaking to become meltingly tender. Tofu is like the Swiss army knife of vegan cuisine, effortlessly absorbing any sauce it’s dressed with to make an entirely new dish every time. For my money, Mori-Nu is one of the best candidates to keep around, since it’s completely shelf-stable until opened, and blends the most smoothly for completely silken desserts or smoothies.

Nuts and seeds of all varieties are welcome, although particular emphasis is placed on buttery yet neutral raw cashews, such as those from Bergin Fruit and Nut Company since they can be used to make everything from cheese to mousse. Smooth almond butter is another indispensable staple, and my favorite is Barney Butter since it has no added sugar or salt, making it perfect for any application sweet or savory. Although coconuts are technically fruits, I place them in the same category for the sake of cupboard organization. You could go crazy with all the different types of dried coconut options out there, but my go-to is the Edward & Sons, Let’s Do Organic, 100% Organic Unsweetened Coconut Flakes for their thick cut strips and fresh flavor.

When it comes to seasonings, my spice rack is about a mile long, but there are definitely some bottles that see a lot more use than others. Onion powder, such as that produced by Frontier was a bit of a sleeper hit at the beginning, since I hadn’t anticipated the uniquely savory essence it could contribute even in dishes that aren’t overtly onion-y. Plus, it’s fantastic in recipes that aren’t cooked, since it doesn’t have the sharp, harsh bite of a raw fresh onion. Salt is found in at least a dozen different formats across my stockpile, from coarse to fine, plain to seasoned, and each one has its own special purpose. Gustus Vitae smoked salt is the one I break out for extra fancy foods, since it delivers such a bold, earthy punch, no matter what. It’s a good substitute for liquid smoke as well, in case that’s a trickier item to hunt down. Staying on the salty side, tamari and soy sauce are both the traditional top dogs for instant umami gratification, but there should also be space on the shelf for Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. The differences are faint, but important. It has a lighter flavor that isn’t as overbearing on more delicate dishes, in my humble opinion. The spray bottle format is also quite convenient for spritzing on freshly popped popcorn or a steaming hot baked potato. In a related vein, white miso paste makes all sorts of savories sing, with far more nuance than plain old sodium. Eden Soy makes a variety of organic miso options, but you can also find chickpea miso in case soy is a concern.

Vegan catnip, AKA nutritional yeast, is perhaps the single most important yet misunderstood ingredient when transitioning away from dairy. In small doses, it contributes a subtly buttery taste, and can develop into a full cheesy extravaganza when added with gusto. It can be bought in bulk, but quality varies greatly. To those who think they don’t like it, I would implore you to examine the source before turning up your nose. I’ve used KAL since my earliest days of veganism almost two decades ago, and wouldn’t consider anything else at this point. It has substantial flakes and while some brands can smell like funky gym socks, this one is pure umami bliss.

A house is not a home without pasta, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be plain old white wheat noodles. I love instantly injecting a quick meal with some extra nutrition by using legume-based pasta, such as Seapoint Farms edamame fettuccine. It, along with chickpea, lentil, or black bean noodles have the added benefit of being gluten-free, but I love them for the extra dose of protein they contribute, to say nothing of the distinctive textures and tastes. All you really need to do is toss the colorful strands with some melted buttery coconut oil for some simple, satisfying comfort food.

So, how do all these seemingly discordant components come together to make a delicious meatless meal? I’m glad you asked! There are certain homemade staples I always have on hand as well, essential components that help make a feel more complete, ready and waiting to dispense at will.

Everything is better with bacon, right? As long as it’s meatless bacon, I would have to agree! That impossibly savory, smoky flavor is shockingly easy to replicate on a wide range of plant-based platforms, utilizing everything from eggplant to mushrooms and even banana peels. Reaching into my pantry for the most accessible option, crispy coconut chips form the foundation of my favorite cured pork facsimile.

Invariably, when confronted with the choice of going vegan or staying stuck, the most common refrain from anyone considering the plunge is that they would miss cheese too much. Granted, this was a real concern a decade ago, when I ate my fair share of naked pizzas and waxy grilled cheese sandwiches, there are superlative alternatives now on the market for every type of funky, gooey, or sharp craving any dairy addict may crave. In a pinch, you can even whip up an incredibly authentic Parmesan doppelganger from little more than ground nuts in a pinch of salt! This is one of those recipes that sounds way too good to be true, until you try it.

Egg replacers have long gotten the lion’s share of attention for their essential role in baking, but only recently has the spotlight turned to their place on the table as a stand-alone protein. My goal for this substitute isn’t to make airy sponge cakes or dense, custard-based ice creams, but scramble up a better breakfast entrée. Now you can make your own liquid egg mix, made to JUST pour and go, if you catch my drift…

The grand finale for all this delicious meal prep culminates in the easiest, creamiest, richest vegan carbonara you’ve ever twirled around a fork. Stunningly high in protein and fiber, devoid of even a single drop of dairy, beyond the pull of pork, and without ever breaking an egg, this is the ultimate vegan dinner, made from the ultimate vegan starter kit. After one bite of such a comforting, instantly gratifying dinner, you’ll wonder what was ever stopping you from making the plunge.

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Great Shakes

Dessert emergencies are real. Even worse than a bad case of being hangry, they’re often very specific, exceedingly urgent cravings that cannot be assuaged by just any sort of sustenance. 9 times out of 10, I find myself desperately yearning for a milkshake. In those situations when merely “quick” fixes simply aren’t fast enough, allow me to introduce a genuinely instant answer.

No ice cream, no non-dairy milk, no waiting. Homemade milkshake mix has luscious coconut milk powder blended right in for rich, creamy satisfaction as soon as it hits water. Just add ice for a refreshingly frosty sensation. Flavors can be as wild or mild as your thirst dictates. My four favorites skew towards classic nostalgia, with contemporary superfood upgrades.

Vanilla – The warm, lightly floral essence of vanilla shines through, but with a buttery, tropical, and creamy mouthfeel from the underlying coconut.

Mint Chip – This is a pure, natural version of a classic flavor. The mint is cool and refreshing with wonderful crunchy bites from the cacao nibs. The brilliant green hue comes from the spirulina, which lends just a hint of grassiness to the flavor.

Malted Mocha – You might just want to substitute your morning cuppa Joe with this creamy caffeinated blend. It has a mellow roasted flavor with subtle oaky notes and a “biscuit-y” vibe.

Super Berry – The bright citrusy flavors of punchy acai and goji fruit lend a delicious tang to the light sweetness.

Get the details, short and sweet, on GoDairyFree.org.