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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

Plant-Based Meals that Deliver

Meal delivery services have proliferated faster than amorous rabbits in recent years, expanding from an obscure, niche business model to one as common as the standard grocery store. There’s something for everyone, they promise with bright, inviting graphics, splashed across the screen with tempting photos of various dishes. If you like to cook, you can get bundles of ingredients with recipes. If your expertise in the kitchen ends at the microwave, you can have finished dishes ready to heat and eat land on your doorstep with just the click of a button. For those feeding a family, still more options abound for bulk meal prep. Don’t even get me started on all the specialized diets, from paleo to gluten-free, sometimes available all on the same platform. How does one begin to pick apart the best choices, given such a superabundance of promising meals- And seemingly endless deals?

While most enterprises now offer at least a handful of plant-based entrees, as is the trend, only a select few boast a fully vegan menu across the board. Veestro is one that can claim that distinction, inspired by the need for organic, healthy, and above all else, tasty food that fits into a fast-paced lifestyle. For their part, the stated goal is provide more plants for anyone hungry for a healthier alternative to takeout, appealing to the omnivores among us as well.

Sign up for a meal plan to save on the bundle or cherry-pick just a few dishes a la carte to supplement your standard rotation. Deliveries arrive frozen, conveniently packaged for further storage in your freezer or immediate thawing and consuming.

Here’s where I must sheepishly admit that I first tried Veestro many months ago, but as a testament to fervent following, these proven crowd-pleases are still delighting eaters all the same today. Such is the case for this Three Layer Scramble, which stacks up with a base of quinoa, smothered by a soft tofu scramble with black beans and topped by shredded dairy-free cheese. Reminiscent of enchilada filling without the heat of chilies, the ranchero-style sauce definitely erred more on the mild side, but that’s nothing a dash of sriracha can’t fix. Emphasizing the whole grains with a generous portion, it’s a very filling morning meal that would be just as enjoyable at lunch or dinnertime, too.

Perhaps the Breakfast Burrito was designed to be a more handheld, grab-and-go option, but the piquant sauce on the side is what truly makes this dish. Pour it on with abandon to make it a “wet” burrito, with a fork, knife, and plate required. Light and bright, it revives the slightly parched interior and adds volumes of flavor. Though labeled as hot sauce, it’s really more like a smooth, blended salsa. Wrapped up in the grilled tortilla, you’ll be pleased to find tender, toothsome, black beans, tofu, and potatoes. Served separately, lightly seasoned hash browns seem a bit redundant given this combination, but certainly aren’t unwelcome here. Who could say no to a supple, buttery potato, though?

If an urgent call should go out for some homey, uncomplicated comfort food, the Shepherdless Pie has got your number. Creamy potatoes with quinoa make up the bulk of this dish, slathered with a savory mushroom gravy that leads with the distinctive cheesy taste of nutritional yeast. Though slightly grainy after a harsh freeze and thaw, that textural shortcoming is easily forgiven when mixed into the main meal. Very much reminiscent of a pot pie without pastry, this easy entree presents familiar and uncomplicated flavors for widespread appeal.

There are no downright failures on this menu, but admittedly, some small disappointments. Thai Chicken Stew combines a thick, rich tomato base with incredibly meaty chicken strips, complete with a boldly charred, grilled essence, but I struggled to find any sort of Asian influence. Not a hint of curry, lemongrass, or coconut could be found. Although it looks like fried rice on the side, don’t be fooled; it’s just plain brown rice with peas and carrots. If simply re-titled without a reference to more exotic cuisine, it would be worthy of a reorder, but promises more on paper than it delivers in person.

Also available as a full “detox” plan, juices can be added a la cart, with a classic green juice predictably leading the pack as a top seller. Apple juice as a stand-alone beverage lost its appeal around kindergarten, so admittedly, I was not particularly enthusiastic to find the diminutive plastic bottle of Johnny Appleseed Juice in my sampler box. Clearly not just plain apple, as the dark green hue would make obvious at a glance, the initial smell is of grassy celery. Thankfully, it plays more of a supporting role in the overall flavor, which was definitely vegetal, but mellow and mostly sweet. More than mere veggies, this blend boasts a decent amount of protein thanks to the addition of sacha inchi, giving it much more more than just straight sugar for a quick energy boost.

As much as I love cooking, one of the greatest luxuries in life is allowing others to take the reins, and simply be fed. Knowing that those meals are of reliably high quality, healthy, and ready when you need them makes Veestro a strong contender for anyone who wants a night off from kitchen duty. Best of all, since they ship frozen, you can stock up and save them for times of need.

Have you tried any other prepared meal services? There are new plant-based providers sprouting out everyday, or so it seems, and I’m curious to try them all!