Let’s Taco ‘Bout It

Imagine taking a bite into a crisp, juicy apple at the peak of the season, as sweet and fragrant as it can possibly get. Downright decadent, the experience goes well beyond simple sustenance. However, after that single bite, you toss the rest of the apple straight into the trash. Who could be so wasteful, so thoughtless, so downright heartless? Though the typical experience is less dramatic, perfectly good food is squandered like this every single day.

Despite best intentions, we often ignore leftovers and forget about perishables until they’ve withered in the vegetable bin, barely even fit to compost. Adding insult to injury, perfectly good ingredients are too frequently tossed for a lack of understanding. Dried shiitake mushrooms are a common victim of this crime, accused of having inedible stalks that must simply be removed and discarded. It’s high time we debunked this myth and restored the stem to a place of honor on our plates.

Make no mistake, shiitake mushroom stems are much more fibrous and tough compared to their tender, meaty caps, but they are entirely edible and packed with all the same rich umami flavor. As always, quality counts, so you can expect the best results from Sugimoto shiitakes, selectively grown for their incomparable culinary potential. In fact, the chewy quality that many write off as their downfall can actually be an asset in the right recipe.

When crafting a dish with only the caps, don’t think for a minute that the detached stems are dumped in the garbage. Since they’re small, I tend to keep a baggie of them in the freezer, filling it slowly until I’ve collected enough to cook with. That way, they won’t spoil before I have a good quantity to work with. Even if the dish isn’t focused on shiitake mushrooms, they add incredible depth to all sorts of soups, stews, curries, vegetable patés, stuffings, and beyond. Anywhere that a melange of vegetables can be added, finely minced shiitake stems are your new secret ingredient for even more savory, satisfying results.

Finely chopped, the hearty, toothsome texture enhances plant-based proteins with an extra meaty mouthfeel and incredibly rich, beefy taste. Easily surpassing more processed alternatives in both flavor and nutrition, it’s a wonder that such misinformation about this vital ingredient persists. Clearly, the people perpetuating the defamatory rumors about shiitake stems have never tried cooking them into hot, spicy taco filling. One bite of this quick fix meal would win over any cynics.

Bolstered by minced tempeh, this instant entree simmers with nuanced seasonings, easily adjusted to personal preferences. With a smoky, subtly charred edge from the kiss of a cast iron skillet, no one would ever miss the meat here. Especially when piled high on soft corn tortillas with a barrage of fresh salsa, herbs, and buttery avocado, it’s unthinkable that the key ingredient might have otherwise been destined for the landfill.

Don’t wait until taco Tuesday to whip up a batch. Beyond classic taco fodder, this meatless marvel makes an excellent pizza topper, superlative spaghetti sauce addition, and brilliant breakfast side. Waste not, want not, especially when it comes to prime Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms.

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Not Your Average Joe

Of all the foods that Americans try to claim as their own, the Sloppy Joe may be one of the few that an actually trace their roots back to the good old U.S. of A. First referenced in the 1930’s and attributed to a cook only credited as “Joe,” it has humble beginnings befitting of original description of “loose meat sandwiches.” Doesn’t that just sound finger-licking good?

Many similar dishes exist abroad, owing largely to the simplicity of the concept, but few would recognize the childhood staple outside of these United States. However, the idea is still as foreign to me as tikka masala. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate its unique nuances, but can’t quite put my finger on what makes the best renditions so great. I must have been at least 20 years old before I ever assembled my own meatless melange. My mom never made it for our family meals, and I didn’t know enough to ask.

Lacking that essential reference point, it would be some bold claim to say that my illegitimate version is the best… But feels entirely fitting for this modern recipe revival.

That’s because instead of using the predictable, one-note tomato sauce base, I’ve pumped up the flavor volume with The Beet Goes On sauce from Bold Palate Foods. With a natural, subtle sweetness, deeply earthy savory notes, and bright spices, it’s a dynamite starter for any daring dining adventure. Simmered into an equally hearty and heart-healthy base of tender lentils and chopped cauliflower, there’s no contest when comparing nutritional stats.

Though you could very happily slap this thick stew on a bun and call it a dinner, I love the snappy, tangy bite of dill pickles on top. Conventional garnishes might call for a slice of day-glow orange American cheese, but I prefer to go bold, pouring No Cows on This Ranch dressing all over instead. It’s hard to beat that creamy, cooling, herbaceous contrast.

Tired of toting such big buns? Alternate serving suggestions run the gamut from spaghetti to baked potatoes, french fries, or even tacos. No need to stick to the beaten path when brighter, bolder, and smarter options are out there.

Be bold, and enjoy with reckless abandon.

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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!