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.

Continue reading “Start Something Delicious”

Advertisements

Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.

Short, Sweet, and Sharp

This is not a gift guide. To call it as much would be self-congratulatory exaggeration, promising far greater shopping insights than such a short list could deliver. The truth of the matter is that every year, I dream of highlighting my favorite products, sharing them far and wide, but every year I find that proposition entirely overwhelming. A serial online shopper, I’m guilty of stuffing my virtual cart all year round, amounting to scores of marvelous new finds that go entirely unsung, despite best intentions.

Besides, I’m not about to declare how you should be spending your hard-earned money, whether it’s on gifts for loved ones or yourself. Rather, this is just a short, sweet, and sharp round up of just the latest things I’m loving, and think that you might enjoy, too.

Short: Microplane has become synonymous with the product they’ve innovated, and for good reason. They continue to produce the incontrovertibly best tools for removing zest in short, attractive, and flavorful little strips, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of their range. All graters are not created equal, and now that Microplane offers a wide variety of shredding textures through their attractive Master Series, I could never go back to my cheap dollar store stand-in. From fine to extra coarse, these sharp tools are a simple but drastic upgrade for anyone who likes to zest it up in the kitchen.

Sweet: Opening up this box on Christmas Day really would be pretty magical for recipients of any age. Custom made to your tastes, the Magic Candy Factory lets buyers pick out flavors, shapes, and glittery finishes to fabricate their very own 3D-printed gummy candies. All vegan, delicious, and beautifully rendered, this just might be the big winner of the gift giving season. After all, who could ever be disappointed by a mango-flavored, sparkling, gummy octopus?

Sharp: They say you should never give a knife as a present because it will sever your relationship with that person, but I’m not buying it. I am, however, buying this Wüsthof Epicure 9″ Double-Serrated Bread Knife, which cuts through even the toughest crusts just like… Well, you know. Those pointed teeth really dig right in and create clean slices with little effort. Leave your dull knife in the dust and consider upgrading your current arsenal with this well-balanced blade.

Now tell me, what are you currently loving, coveting, and craving? There’s always space for more on my wish list…

San Francisco Secrets

Certain attractions turn up in every guidebook: The sea lions at pier 39, the cable cars, Golden Gate Bridge, and so on, and so forth. Someone who’s never even set foot on the left coast could probably list the very same roundup of must-see sights, and for good reason. They’re unarguably iconic pieces of San Francisco that add to its unique allure, but if you only browse the list of the city’s greatest hits, you’ll miss out on richer adventures that would exceed even the most accommodating itinerary.

Even if you’ve lived here for years, it’s easy to turn up new hidden gems, tucked just around the corner from familiar streets and everyday haunts. Something as random a tiny park perched atop a sloping ridge, for example, complete with the most wicked concrete slides you’ve ever tumbled down.

The Seward Slides were clearly made with adults in mind because the velocity that sends any unwitting participant hurtling down that steep knoll might be too intense for those with a more delicate constitution. Locals recommend bringing sheets of cardboard for heightened speed, but provided you have a sturdy pair of pants to gird your loins, you definitely won’t need any assistance to enjoy a brief thrill park experience.

Situated next door to Kite Hill, it’s a beautiful, miraculously quiet oasis in the city, a scant handful of blocks away from Dolores Park. Be mindful of the neighbors as it’s at the heart of a residential area, and clear out by 5 PM when the park officially closes each day.

Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path. No matter how long you spend in the bay area, there’s always more to discover.

Bowl’d Over

Trends come and go, but good food is forever. The acai bowl is one particular dish that may have suddenly risen in popularity thanks to the superfood craze of recent years, but it has proven a worthy addition to anyone’s short list of standby recipes. Little more than a smoothie thick enough to eat with a spoon, something about that small variation in texture gives this treat real staying power. Though skeptical at first, the attraction became immediately clear after I ordered up my first bowlful of sweet, tropical fruit puree while attempting to beat the heat in Honolulu.

Beginning with a basic formula, expect to get a silky-smooth blend of frozen acai, bananas, apple juice, and ice, topped off by fresh cut fruits and granola. Honey often comes standard when ordering out, easily omitted upon request. Besides, the whole mixture is already so sweet, it’s hard to imagine that the sticky topping would really be a beneficial addition.

The real beauty of this cool, creamy, and yet simultaneously crunchy formula is that it’s infinitely adaptable. No matter what fruits, liquids, or toppings you pick, you’re only minutes away from a frozen delight, even before pulling out the blender. At a time when temperatures are only rising and the last thing you want to do is labor over a hot stove or waste a glorious day indoors, few snacks are better suited to summer fun.

Acai bowls strike me as a “choose your own adventure” sort of recipe, where there are no hard and fast rules, except to follow your intuition. Add more or less liquid until you’re happy with the texture, mix up the flavors, and go wild with the trimmings. In fact, though it may be sacrilege to some, I fully endorse omitting the acai for a considerably less pricey option.

Yield: Makes 1 – 2 Servings

Basic Acai Bowl Blueprint

Basic Acai Bowl Blueprint

Acai bowls strike me as a “choose your own adventure” sort of recipe, where there are no hard and fast rules, except to follow your intuition. Add more or less liquid until you’re happy with the texture, mix up the flavors, and go wild with the trimmings. In fact, though it may be sacrilege to some, I fully endorse omitting the acai for a considerably less pricey option.

Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

Basic Acai Bowl Blueprint

  • 1 Frozen Banana OR 2/3 Cup Frozen Diced Mango or Papaya or Pineapple OR 3/4 Cup Sliced Frozen Peaches, Apricots, or Plums
  • 2 (3.5-Ounce) Packets Frozen Acai Puree OR 1/2 Cup Frozen, Seedless Raspberry, Blackberry or Blueberry Puree (or 1 Cup Frozen Berries- If you don’t mind seeds)
  • 1/2 Cup Ice
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Cup Apple Juice or Orange Juice or Coconut Water or Non-Dairy Milk

Optional Nutrition Boosters:

  • Kale or Spinach, Ground Flaxseed, Protein Powder

Crunchy Stuff:

  • Granola, Cereal, Hemp Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Cacao Nibs, Sliced Almonds, Toasted Coconut Flakes

Fruity Stuff:

  • Sliced Bananas, Sliced Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Jam or Preserves, Goji Berries, Dried or Freeze-Dried Fruits

Sweet Stuff:

  • Chocolate Chips, Candied Nuts, Sprinkles, Mochi Bits, Chocolate-Covered Espresso Beans, Vegan Marshmallows

Instructions

As you can imagine, once you know what an acai bowl consists of, the procedure is pretty much self-explanatory. Toss all the ingredients for the bowl itself into your blender and puree until smooth, being careful not to run the machine for too long to prevent the mixture from warming up. Top with crunchy additions, fruit, and more decadent options as desired. Don’t be afraid to look beyond these basic ideas- The different blends are endless!

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

2

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 139 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 569mg Carbohydrates: 30g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 77g Protein: 5g