Stubborn as a Mule

Endlessly evaluating the population at large, it’s impossible to predict exactly when or if a trend with actually come to bear, but that sure doesn’t stop us from trying. One of the most recent assessments that hit my radar was which drinks would be big this summer.

Preferences appear to be split across the country, showing a rise in appreciation for the aperol spritz and negroni in along the west coast, while easterners are more likely to quaff hard seltzer or froze to beat the heat. However, Moscow mules were indisputably on the decline across the board, having peaked in popularity long ago. Those copper mugs are so 2018.

Naturally, that’s exactly what I find myself gravitating towards.

Rather than claiming I was on board before it was cool, I’m proud to proclaim that I’m all in after it was cool. Much less pretentious, just a bit slow, I’ve discovered the charm of bracing ginger and lime over ice, spiked with the clean, crisp bite of vodka. It’s hard to go wrong with such a classic combination, which begs the question, just who is turning up their noses to proclaim it as passe? Besides, you’ve already got the cups knocking around in the back of your cabinet… What else are you going to do with them?

Meeting Russia by way of Japan, my eastern inspiration swaps vodka for sake, lime for bold, astringent yuzu juice, and adds a touch of matcha for an earthy foil. Paired with bracing ginger beer for both a sweet and spicy bite, this new blend could very well become a trend-setter after all.

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Wholly Macaroni

I couldn’t shake the question out of my head. It ran loops around my brain, echoing off the walls of my skull. Surely, there were more important matters to consider, but no. All I could think about was cheese. Mac and cheese, to be precise. It suddenly struck me that many years had passed since I revisited my previous gold standard for Stove Top-Style Macaroni and Cheese, and wondered if it would still hold up to scrutiny.

Considering the great strides that dairy-free foods have made since then, the bar had been raised to lofty heights I could have never imagined back in the day, toiling over the stove with little more than memories of the blue box to light my path. Yes, indeed, it was still good stuff… But it could certainly be better.

A few tiny tweaks make a world of difference. It’s all about incorporating the subtle umami nuances and sharp bite that a good aged cheddar might impart, but nothing earth-shaking that would come as a wild departure from the norm. Just a bit more finesse, some higher-quality ingredients, and a better understanding of the alchemical changes that flavors undergo with varying temperature and time.

Toeing the line between healthy and indulgent, the new and improved sauce introduces a handful of red lentils for body and viscosity, with the side benefit of adding extra protein and fiber into the mix. At the same time, a fearless dose of vegan butter creates that inimitable velvety texture also known as kokumi, enhancing and amplifying flavors, much like salt. Nutritional yeast is essential, of course, but joining it in savory harmony is a dash of miso, lending a greater depth of umami flavor in every cheesy, creamy bite.

Yes, it’s a bit more involved than tearing open a packet of dried dairy-derived mystery powder, but there’s no going back once you taste the difference.

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Sip and Slurp Through Summer

Chill out. Strawberries might sound like an unconventional addition to the classic red tomato gazpacho, but they’re nothing to lose your cool over.

Given a surplus of the highly perishable rubies and an oppressive heatwave to contend with, my tastes quickly skewed toward the fast, easy, and refreshing side. Gazpacho must always be on hand for days like this; it was a natural, perhaps inevitable combination.

Balancing sweetness with savory undertones, the subtle bite of vinegar, and fresh verdant pop of basil, it’s a delicious study in contrasts. Don’t let the fruity feature scare you off! It’s not a vegetable-forward smoothie, but you may still want to drink it straight from the blender.

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Noodles for All

Between the hundreds of healthy eating regimes, food intolerance and allergies, and moral dietary restriction, to say nothing of basic taste preferences, the number of landmines one might hit just trying to get the whole family to the table can make everyday meal planning a war zone. When it comes down to it, though, there are just two types of eaters out there: Noodle lovers and noodle lusters. There really is a place where everyone can eat in peace, allowing everyone to fully embrace their cravings, healthy or more hedonistic. Taking great pains to become more inclusive than ever, Noodles & Company has launched a new initiative to offer dishes with flavors and options for every diet, preference, pickiness, and lifestyle.

Figuring out just what is or isn’t vegan is a top concern, especially when some dishes might be just one easy modification away from perfection. Penne rosa sounds inextricably bound by dairy, but believe it or not, can easily come without cream or cheese for a satisfying Italian feast. I wouldn’t have even thought to ask had it not been for the handy new personalized nutrition calculator which lists not only potential allergens, calories, and ingredients, but suggests swaps to better suit your specific needs. Unlike the harsh rules imposed by some unwelcoming, militant chefs, customization is genuinely encouraged here!

Best of all, the encouragement to tailor your meal to taste allows for infinite creativity. Everything is made fresh, to order, so it’s not a problem to mix and match, add and subtract to your heart’s content.

Need something without gluten? Try the pipette, which bear such a satisfying, al-dente bite that I had trouble believing they were made of rice and corn, rather than traditional wheat.

Want something a bit lighter? Go for the zoodles (ie, zucchini noodles), which pair brilliantly with the spicy peanut sauce, if I do say so myself.

Craving all the veggies? Load ’em up, adding a rainbow of produce to the already verdant whole wheat spaghetti fresca, sans cheese.

Need a bigger protein punch? Try the spicy Korean noodles with tofu instead of beef, and avail yourself heartily to extra sriracha on the condiment bar.

I’ve passed by Noodles & Company many times before without giving it a second thought, which strikes me as a terrible oversight now. These aren’t your average bowlfuls of bland, mushy food court pastas. The Japanese pan noodles are the OG plant-based option, standing the test of time as part of the menu since day one. Had I just ventured in and tried those chewy, beautifully charred strands of udon, twisting around tangles of broccoli florets and shredded carrots years ago, this superlative experience would have come as no surprise. It’s a good thing the Noodles & Company empire is continuing to expand, with many more locations in the works.

Whether your food preferences are dictated by a strict diet or a picky palate, there’s a place for everyone at this table.

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

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!

 

 

 

Bar None

May I introduce you to your new sweet obsession?

Every baker dreams of instantly whipping up sure-fire hits every time they turn on the oven, and eaters, no matter how adventurous, always crave certain comforting staples. While the internet hardly needs another plain old blondie recipe, it DOES need this one. It’s the one I always turn to for potlucks, for presents, and for random sweet tooth satisfaction, year in and year out. Something with enough staying power to see that many repeat performances in my kitchen deserves greater attention.

Super chewy, surprisingly buttery, and singing with sweet vanilla essence, they’re simply the best rendition of the classic bar cookie that everyone should have in their repertoire. There’s nothing crazy going on here; no complicated preparation, drawn out chilling or baking times, crazy ingredients, or any other shenanigans. Just tender slabs of caramelized brown sugar sweetness, filled with rich chocolate morsels, ready to be devoured in under an hour.

The only element that may give you pause is the cassava flour, but it’s not so scary as it may sound. It’s made from the yucca root, like tapioca starch, but comes from the entire tuber, thus affording it more fiber and nutrition than the later. If you can’t find it, don’t want to hunt it down, or don’t care about making your treats gluten-free, make it even easier by swapping in good old fashioned all-purpose flour.

In closing, I must apologize for making this introduction. If you had any attachments to particular blondie recipes previously, I’m afraid this fresh suitor will prove irresistible, leading to quite the sordid affair. I’m not sorry, however, for the joy it will create once you surrender to such an inevitability.

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