Holidays Delayed

Feeling festive, or just faking it? If you fall into the latter camp, you’re not alone. I’ve been keeping a seat warm for you by the fire here, just waiting for until the holidays blow over. As much as I adore the merriment, the traditions, the seasonal treats, it’s hard to remain so jolly when it’s Christmas approximately six months of the year.

Beyond the standard Christmas creep, publishing deadlines mean I need to think about pecan pies and pinwheel cookies in June, at least. I’ve already had at least two Thanksgiving dinners before fireworks go out for the 4th of July. When it’s finally December, at long last, the best I can do is plaster on an ugly sweater and retreat for burgers after everyone else gets their second plates of glazed ham roast and gravy.

I love the holidays. I relish those early photo shoots and brainstorming sessions, garnishing my apartment with tinsel remnants after putting away all the other props. I just need a little palate cleanser, okay?

Before we dive head-first into the all-singing, all-dancing days of holly jolly revelry, let’s just take a breather. Clear the table of all the wrappings and bows, set aside menus for feast soon to come. Schedules are packed with events, work still needs some cursory attention, but I promise, there will be time. Right now, let’s just sit down to a bowl of soup, shall we?

It’s the kind of soup that hits the spot anytime, which makes it just so perfect for this moment. Hearty but not heavy, savory and soothing, it can lift the spirit for scrooges and saints alike. Tender, toothsome black lentils pop like caviar amidst a brothy base of simmered vegetables, tinted red with tomato and smoky paprika.

Whole almonds make an unexpected cameo, slightly softened from the heat, still bearing a resounding crunch at the core. It’s an unconventional addition I first (and only) encountered during my stint baking for a cafe, where the soup of the day was largely open to creative interpretation. I don’t know who first whipped up this idea, or if maybe it was an accident in the first place, but I happen to love the surprising combination of textures and tastes.

Don’t let the holiday season bully you into forced gaiety. One thing I’ve learned from years of crushing FOMO and endless deadlines is that if you take a moment to hit the reset button, start in on something completely different, and allow your mind to wander where it desires, ultimately, you’ll come back to the intended path stronger. Happier. Merrier. And in this case, with a full, and fully contented stomach.

Continue reading “Holidays Delayed”

Advertisements

Stuff and Nonsense

Stuffing has always perplexed me. By definition, shouldn’t it be inside of something? The dictionary uses ambiguous terms, like “material used to fill,” be it cotton batting inside a teddy bear or beans inside a burrito. Please explain to me why, then, when Thanksgiving rolls around, we lose all sense of spacial relationships and present so-called stuffing as a standalone, completely exposed side dish?

Granted, I never grew up with the stuff, so my confusion stems from inexperience. My family was never much for casseroles or any sort of hotdish to begin with, which is why our festive holiday table followed suit. Separate rolls, roasted vegetables, and plenty of gravy their own distinct dishes? Of course. Combined together? On the plate, sure, but not in the oven.

Devotees might be aghast at my unstuffed childhood, but I actually consider it advantageous in my later years, as I have no frame of reference to constrain my reckless creativity. That’s why I connected the dots between stuffing and… Cheeseburgers.

Before you click away in horror, hear me out. This is no White Castle fast food abomination, but a humble celebration of Americana. You’ve got your classic aromatics and seasonings, enriched with meatless grounds for protein, and bulked up with a bit of bread. Beefy broth soaks in to bind it all together, and a quick sprinkle of cheese on top seals the deal. Now, that doesn’t sound so crazy, does it?

The end results are a little bit Thanksgiving, a little bit backyard BBQ, and 100% comfort food. It’s a dish you could serve as a side for your grand feast, or simply make as the main feature any day of the week. If you had to go and put a dab of ketchup and a pickle on top, well… Who am I to judge?

Continue reading “Stuff and Nonsense”

Minutes to Mealtime

5… 4… 3… 2… 1… EAT!

I consider myself quite capable when it comes to whipping up last-minute meals and fast whole foods, but Nava Atlas has raised the bar to the next level. Now author of twelve cookbooks, 5-Ingredient Vegan, her latest entry to the burgeoning field, is yet another smash hit poised to take off in kitchens around the nation. Believe it or not, every single edible masterpiece is composed of just five ingredients.

Skeptics may argue that such lofty words of praise are tainted with bias, seeing that I photographed about half of the dishes in this book. Rather, I would argue that such experience leaves me in a better position to more accurately assess the recipes, since I had the pleasure of both cooking and eating all of those subject, too!

A particular standout from the long list of favorites has been the understated yet spectacular Curried Greens Smashed Potatoes.

A literal flash in the pan, it takes mere minutes to wilt massive amounts of greens into manageable portions. Tossed with boldly spiced Indian simmer sauce, the exact flavor profile is highly flexible, making it effortless to switch it up and never get bored. In fact, this is a concept that knows no cultural boundaries. Reaching into a spare pantry, I’ve been delighted by the results that even a basic marinara sauce have wrought, to say nothing of the dazzling flavors infused by a simple enchilada sauce. That’s the beauty of this cookbook; each recipe is an outline to fill with any colors you see fit. Go ahead and paint the town tomato red, if that’s the hue du jour.

I don’t just mean that in a hypothetical way, of course. I want you to really experience these taste sensations in your own home! That’s why I’m GIVING AWAY a copy of 5-Ingredient Vegan to one lucky winner, right here, right now! To enter, use the form below the recipe and let me know in the comment section: What is your current go-to meal using five ingredients or less? If you don’t have one, which of the recipes in the book sound like a fast favorite to start with?

Even when your fridge is nearly vacant and time is scant, Nava Atlas is here to save the meal. Who else could possibly pull off restaurant-quality Chickpea Masala with just five ingredients, or deceptively rich Seed and Nut Butter Truffles, ready to grab and go in a matter of minutes? With decades of experience, Nava’s welcoming voice narrates each page with compelling ease, making everyday plant-based cooking accessible, effortless, and most importantly, delicious.

Continue reading “Minutes to Mealtime”

Americas Made

When is a bean more than a mere legume? Arguably, all pulses, big and small, have their own stories to tell, but some would spin epic tales encompassing history, heritage, and a whole lot of heart, if only they could talk. The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE. Can you imagine what those tiny seeds might say? Though we still lack bean-to-human communication, the best translation you might find today would be through Fillo’s. Born of two brothers determined to share some of the beloved Latin American foods from their childhood with a broader audience, each savory selection speaks clearly and boldly through the convenience of modern packaging. Celebrating the unique character of each bean and their diverse origins across the continent, you might be surprised by what tiny pulses are capable of with just a bit of time, gentle seasoning, and love.

Placing equal value on authenticity and convenience without sacrificing either, each flavorful blend is fully shelf-stable and ready-to-serve, filled with fresh vegetables, olive oil, beans, water, and spices. Otherwise known as sofrito, this cooking method extracts bold flavor and nutrients. Clocking 10-16 grams of plant protein per pack means that they’re ideal, complete meals on the go. What sets this pouch apart from others is the fact that it’s actually built for ease and accessibility. Fully microwavable, there’s a top notch to tear and pour, and a second, lower notch that can turn the entire thing into its own bowl; nothing more than a spoon needed.

Celebrating the cultures responsible for so many of our favorite foods today, there are six different options to shake up the bean routine in an instant.

Cuban Black Beans dazzle with savory notes of cumin and bay leaf simmered into every tender, toothsome morsel. The taste immediately struck me as a perfect pairing with chips, like a chunky dip, straight out of the bag. Adding freshly diced bell pepper to harmonize with those stewed within, the harmonizing flavors yet contrast of textures was simply sensational. This brilliantly simple combination is clearly a party-starter waiting to happen.

Mexican Mayocoba Beans shine the spotlight on a lesser known legume, bathing the creamy, if not downright buttery beans in a waterfall of onions and garlic, accented by piquant ancho chile and epazote. Swaddled in soft corn tortillas, they turn any day of the week into a flavorful fiesta, not just Taco Tuesday.

Puerto Rican Pink Beans, spiked with achiote and a hint of cilantro, are unbelievably rich, satisfying comfort food cravings without using excessive oil or salt as a crutch. Adding a scoop of steaming hot yellow rice alongside was merely a ploy to soak up every last drop of that thick, velvety gravy.

Peruvian Lentils manage to maintain an ideal half-dome shape, not mushy nor unpleasantly crunchy, which is quite a feat for this fickle little legume. As a meal in frequent rotation now, a touch of zesty aji verde enlivens the umami medley stuffed into a ripe avocado. If I had one shred of patience come mealtime, this has the makings of the ultimate avocado toast, but I’d rather just skip straight to the good stuff. An extra slice of bread would just be unnecessary filler here.

Tex-Mex Pinto Beans invites a punchy smattering of jalapenos to the party alongside the warmth of chili powder. Though mild, they’ve got a zesty kick that plays beautifully with the earthy flesh of baked sweet potatoes. Loaded with an extra punch of fresh, fiery pepper confetti on top, it’s a cozy yet invigorating union that will keep you on your toes.

Panamanian Garbanzo Beans ranked as one of my personal top picks, though it’s hard to really rank favorites when all the options are winners. Adding just a touch of vegetable broth created a rich stew that tasted as if it had been on the stove, cooking for hours. These particular beans have a subtle tomato undertone carrying notes of verdant oregano, perfectly al dente, in a way I can only dream of when cooking from dried stock. I was so thoroughly inspired by these chickpeas that I couldn’t leave well enough alone. After downing two or three packages straight, I had to take them into the kitchen to play.

Traditionally tinted a blushing pink hue with steamed and sliced beets, Ensalada de Papas is the Panamanian answer to potato salad. Incredibly popular for special occasions and everyday meals alike, there’s no bad time to break out a bowlful of this creamy dish. Simply adding a pouch of Fillo’s garbanzo beans transforms it into potential entree material, while still remaining flexible enough to serve as a side. My version adds the crisp bite of water chestnuts for variety, but at it’s core, all you need are potatoes, beets, and beans. The key is to keep it simple to allow the ingredients to speak, like Fillo’s Americas Made does in the first place.

Fillo’s is available online and in many retail stores such as Whole Foods, Jewel Osco, and more, but I want to share the legume love with you directly. Generously provided by the folks at Fillo’s Americas Made, you have an opportunity to win a full set of beans! Get a taste of each unique bend with a variety pack including one pouch of each flavor. To enter, all you need to do is fill out the form below and tell me your own little legume story in the comment section: What is your favorite bean, and how do you like to prepare it?

Continue reading “Americas Made”

Ful of Fava Beans

Who talks about fava beans after the thrill of spring has long since faded from memory? The initial excitement over anything green and vital pushing through barren, frosted earth can’t hold a candle to the thrill of lush summer tomatoes growing heavy on their vines, tumbling past one another in superabundance. Preserved, fava beans remain widely available year round, unsung and largely unseen, yet essential to the Mediterranean diet for centuries. Bean-eaters of Tuscany (Mangiafagioli) were way ahead of their time, and I’m not just talking seasonally.

Food trends and superfood darlings be damned, legume love served the ancient Romans well, long before hashtags and selfies, to say the least. Spreading their influence far and wide across the western European states and beyond, some of the same dishes pop up across multiple cultures. Changed by the journey in varying degrees but always recognizable, many cultures ended up with “accidentally” vegan leanings, long before it was cool.

That’s where Vegan Mediterranean Cookbook, written by my good friend and culinary luminary Tess Challis, picks up the thread, and continues weaving it into a greater tapestry encompassing an entire plant-based lifestyle. Even for someone relatively indifferent to the dietary components of the approach like myself, the recipes are pure gold. Seasoned by all countries touched by the eponymous sea, the flavors of Italy, Greece, and Crete are strongly represented here, bearing scores of fool-proof classics that have stood the test of time. Where would any of us be, as a global society, without hummus, dolmas, and couscous, after all? It was the simple, understated recipe for Ful Medames (page 33) that caught my eye at first glance, and simply would not let go.

Typically made with long-simmered dried or canned fava beans and served hot, it’s especially prevalent in the middle east, but pops up all across the spice route, buoyed by fragrant cumin and the brightness of fresh herbs. Tess’s version skips the long smoldering boil, and in fact, cooking process altogether, opting for an effortless combination resulting in something more like a bean salad than a stew. Reading over the brilliance of that simplification, it suddenly occurred to me that I had just the thing to continue this modern evolution, this recipe renovation: Fresh fava beans.

Painstakingly shelled, peeled, and frozen in the height of spring salutations, the compact little container remained at the back of the freezer, waiting for an opportunity to shine. Transforming this hearty, hot dish into one suitable for light appetites, picnics, and lazy summer days, it proves the versatility, and timelessness, of the concept. Firm yet supple, buttery and verdant, fresh fava beans lend a punchier, more vegetative flair to the classic combination.

Vegan Mediterranean Cookbook doesn’t officially hit stores until September 24th, but I’m not one to tease, especially about something as serious as food. Lucky enough to get an early pre-release preview myself, I want to share that same gift with you, too! Enter for your chance to win a copy of your very own by entering your details in the form below. What I want to know is: What is your favorite Mediterranean (or Mediterranean-inspired) dish? Leave me a comment to secure your submission, and find many more ways to win bonus entries after that!

Everyone really is a winner though. Keep scrolling for the recipe for my adapted Fresh Fava Bean Ful. You’ll want to make this one right away, with or without the book in hand.

Continue reading “Ful of Fava Beans”

Wildly Different Frozen Food

Frozen meals have always been about convenience, first and foremost. They’re the quick fix to fill the gaps when you’re short on time, energy, or ambition, but rarely the first choice. No matter how satisfying, a cardboard tray of reheated odds and ends will rarely revive to match the appeal of any fresh food. Shortcuts typically require some sort of sacrifice, manifesting as mushy, mealy textures, bland or simply salty tastes, or in the worst cases, all of the above. That said, great strides have been made in just the past few years to offer convenience without compromise when it comes to your freezer fodder. Growing in leaps and bounds, Wildscape is a small upstart with big ambitions to do just that. Their mission, as they say, is to create a world where you don’t have to choose between the food you have time for and the food you really want to eat.

Literally thinking outside of the box, these complete entrees come packaged in reusable plastic containers. Though dubious of this fancy packaging at first, the versatility ultimately won me over. Resealable if you have leftovers, reusable for future meals, and recyclable when you’re all done, they just make more sense than traditional single-use Styrofoam trays. Layered for ideal defrosting, when was the last time a bowlful of merely nuked vegetables looked quite so enticing right out of the microwave? Even before stirring, I wanted to dive right in. Wildscape only offers two plant-based options, but they’re so well executed, they won’t leave you wishing for more.

Peri Peri Portobellos with Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans and Mango, Turmeric Barley, and Toasted Coconut:

Sweet and spicy, the sauce packs some decent heat, unfolding as you eat with a slow and gentle burn. It shouldn’t be so hot as to overwhelm the spice adverse, but offers some genuine warmth to more adventurous eaters. Very tender sweet potato, practically melts in your mouth while the firm, substantial grain demonstrates proper cooking technique; nothing suffering from mushy reheated pasta syndrome here. Considering the fact that portobellos were the headliner, though, I really wish there were more mushrooms. Only 3 or 4 pieces turned up in the whole package.

Gochujang Cauliflower with Brussels Sprouts, Chickpeas & Quinoa, Riced Cauliflower, Cashews, and Pickled Onions:

I’m calling it: This is the best frozen meal I can recall eating, and trust me, I’m no stranger to the ready-made section of the freezer aisle. Just imagine, Brussels sprouts that still have some green left to them, but are still perfectly cooked through! Cauliflower that retains its shape, and cashew pieces are still fresh and crunchy! Yes, yes, and yes, you really can have it all. Well seasoned, properly spiced, it’s bold and flavorful without being truly spicy.

These are no sad TV dinners. Unlike many “healthier” meal solutions that command premium prices, there are genuinely worth the investment. They’re every bit as fresh as homemade, without the work.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Wildscape. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!