Treat Yourself Well

Highly skeptical, but equally ravenous, I tore into the tiny package with abandon. Crunchy cookies never get as much love as the giant, soft and chewy sort popularized by American bakeries; a bias that I too am guilty of possessing. That said, despite being dubious of the format, there seemed to be a lot of potential locked away in these single-serve packages of Zemas Madhouse Wholegrain Cookies.

Placing an emphasis on wholesome ingredients and nutritionally sound snacks, these are not just empty sugar bombs to throw down when cravings strike. Rather, they’re designed to satiate and energize, and all in good taste, of course. Sorry to spoil the surprise; each variety wildly exceeded all expectations on that front.

Sweet Potato Spice impresses with a flavor profile that actually tastes like yam, as promised! Tossed in not just for color, but genuine flavor, it’s subtly spiced bite pock marked with equally crisp pepitas for an added nutty undertone. Oatmeal Cranberry follows up with a strong encore of millet, quinoa, and amaranth as well as the aforementioned featured grain. Comforting, cozy, and easy to eat, the addition of chewy cranberries adds nice textural contrast, softening the cookies overall and bringing to mind the warmth of a bowl of hot oatmeal.

Chocolate Chip starts with a creamy vanilla base, but that rich chocolate flavor sure does carry! A snack that could transcend all boundaries, this timeless treat would be an easy hit with any crowd. This tastes like childhood but with wisdom beyond its years. Double Chocolate Chip follows up that stellar performance with a slightly softer bite with a pure cocoa base that provides less contrast than the previous option, but supports the chips with a more serious, slightly bitter edge. The overall impact is surprisingly sophisticated for such an unassuming little package.

Did I mention that all of these mini cookies, for all their benefits, are also certified gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, top 8 allergen-free, and kosher? That’s quite a mouthful of dietary designations, which is perhaps fitting for these bold little snacks. Despite my initial misgivings about crunchy cookies, these diminutive treats from Zemas break the mold, offering something that defies the category as beneficial to both the body and soul.

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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…

Keep Calm and Shop On

The array of online retailers available for 24-hour, worldwide, no holds barred means all of your shopping whims can become downright dizzying after just a few cursory searches. Such a wealth of options should be a boon to the average consumer, seeking the best deals and widest selection, but the incessant promotions seem to pull in all directions at once. Overwhelmed rather than empowered, I find myself simply closing my browser and walking away more often than not, too frazzled to make a purchase for even the simplest of needs.

Seeking to filter out the extra noise, I’ve found true solace in the less celebrated, smaller virtual retailers, offering only items that meet a higher standard for quality. That means only vegan products can make the cut, to say nothing of the longevity, versatility, and visual appeal of the items themselves. She Is Worth It is a rising star in this field. If you haven’t yet surfed over to this shining outpost of cruelty-free goods, get ready to watch your wish list grow.

Offering products that are kind to the animals and your wallet, She Is Worth It features just three focused categories of top notch products: Cosmetics, bags, and sunglasses. For the indecisive or merely undecided, this selection makes shopping for a loved one with discerning tastes easier than ever, since you can’t go wrong with any of the options.

Don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re there! As my travels demand a wider variety of bags, I’ve indulged myself in some more stylish carry ons, which is why I was irresistibly drawn to the gorgeous quilted faux-leather backpack above. A rotating selection of items means that this particular option is no longer available, but even more dazzling purses, clutches, and handbags have been added to take its place.

As a special holiday treat to readers, She Is Worth It and I have joined forces to offer a mini shopping spree to one lucky patron. The winner can select either one beauty product or pair of sunglasses, just for giving this new online retailer a shot. Please visit the GIVEAWAY FORM HERE to log your entry, and don’t forget to start shopping now! The holidays aren’t too far away, after all…

Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.

Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream: The Inside Scoop

Ben & Jerry's Non-Dairy Ice Cream - an on-site tour, tasting and honest review of the first four dairy-free flavors!

After decades of craving, years of lobbying, and hundreds of hungry voices calling for action, Ben & Jerry’s has taken the unprecedented initiative to offer a 100% non-dairy frozen dessert. And to say that this brand new line of almond milk creations has sweet teeth celebrating across the country would be the understatement of the year.

Ben & Jerry’s has earned their loyal following through tireless innovation, fearless flavor combinations, and a genuinely inspiring mission statement. Not content to merely spread the sweetness, the brand is arguably more about giving back to back to the community and trying to make a difference in bigger picture issues. In fact, a big reason for the interest in non-dairy options is to reduce the overall carbon footprint for the mammoth company.

But creating something to smile about for dedicated vegans, those suffering from lactose intolerance, and many dairy-free consumers was the greatest goal, of course, as the demands had been coming in fast and furious. Proving that there are real people at the helm, listening to suggestions (or hungry belly-aching, as it may have been), these four new flavors will be available in most mainstream markets by the beginning of spring.

All of the Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream flavors are built upon a foundation of their own finely-tuned blend of almond milk, pea protein, and coconut milk. The right ratios proved elusive, going through 70 to 90 different trials until the base hit all the right creamy, luxurious, and positively decadent notes. I had the chance to sample each flavor, firsthand at the Ben & Jerry’s facility. Flawlessly smooth and luscious, their hard work paid off in full for an impeccable texture that exudes a premium impression at first lick.

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The Taste Testing of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream

After the above taste-testing, I also trialed a pint of each at home, just to firm up my initial thoughts. Here was my take on each vegan flavor of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream:

P.B. & Cookies – This flavor starts with vanilla ice cream and stuffs every square scoopable inch with giant chunks of classic sandwich cookies and thick ribbons of what I can only describe as pure peanut fudge. Pieces of crunchy roasted peanuts complete the overall nutty picture, and for peanut butter lovers, this is one little pint of pure, sweet heaven. Easily my favorite of the quartet, every bite sang of bold, sugary peanut flavor, with all the crunchy, chewy, gooey mix-ins one could ever ask for. At some points, I wondered if each spoonful was filled with more cookies than ice cream- and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Coffee Caramel Fudge – Sure to appease both caffeine addicts and fair-weather fans of the cup of mud, this flavor offers the frozen dessert equivalent of a dressed up latte with all the syrups and sauces a buzzed barista could throw in. Warm and toasty coffee notes intermingle beautifully with the subtle edginess of burnt sugar in the soft caramel swirl. Strong enough to make the roasted beans clear rock stars in this arrangement but still quite demure as far as a coffee concoction can go, those who prefer a milkier cuppa will be thrilled by the balance.

Chunky Monkey – Unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing in this turbulent sea of frozen almond milk. Things begin to go south a little upon cracking open this container. One of Ben & Jerry’s best known inventions, a time honored and beloved combination of banana ice cream, chocolate fudge pieces, and walnuts, the original has been around since the very beginning. Although it’s been many years since my last experience with the pioneering pint, I can’t say I recall it being quite so intensely and unapologetically sweet. The banana notes proved elusive, hidden behind the cotton candy-like base. Impeccably fresh, crisp walnuts and rich chocolate bombshells brought me back for more, but it’s not the instant winner I had imagined from this ice cream titan.

Chocolate Fudge Brownie – Layered with more brownie pieces than seems physically possible for a single scoop of ice cream, those generous squares are the absolute saving grace of the whole assembly. Made by Greyston Bakery and soon to be offered by the brand exclusively in Whole Foods Markets, those fudge bar cookies are more than worth seeking out solo. But sad to say, I wouldn’t have known that the base itself was meant to be chocolate if I had tasted it blind. Even Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben and Jerry’s, readily admits, “The chocolate one is too chalky for me. It’s a hard product to make”. True enough, the taste is reminiscent of a cocoa protein shake at best. Thankfully, those abundant brownie pieces do reinforce the decadent dessert angle; despite catering to a market of alternative eaters, these treats were never intended to be health food, after all.

All in all, there’s a lot here to love, and it’s part of a bigger evolution. Pending the success of this new non-dairy direction, the potential for additional plant-based offerings is looking bright. The goal is for Ben & Jerry’s to reduce carbon emissions by a whopping 80% by the year 2050, despite continuing to grow the business and put even greater demands on their factories. The only way to accomplish that is by making dairy-free desserts a bigger piece of the puzzle.

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This post was made possible by Go Dairy Free and Ben & Jerry’s, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Lox of Love

Old Man Winter sure doesn’t fight fair, unafraid to hit below the belt and then kick you when you’re down. Dirty tricks are just half of the relentless assault, adding in mind games that could soften anyone’s resolve to the consistency of over-boiled ramen noodles. Surely, one would think that by the last day of March, spring would have been able to fend off this attack, but the snow currently accumulating on top of the delicate, freshly sprouted crocuses would say otherwise. The month is going out like a lion, indeed.

Beaten and bruised, I officially accept defeat. Winter can continue its reign of terror as long as it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about spring. Let’s forget about the weather, planning instead for the garden parties and spring celebrations that are sure to come. Demanding lighter fare, fresher flavors, and easy offerings to share with any number of hungry guests, the classic brunch spread is where my thoughts wander first. Bagels, cream cheese, and lox are the anchor of this idyllic vision, a taste preference that could arguably have been genetically inherited from both of my Jewish parents. Despite the great advances in vegan food technology, fish have remained largely out of reach, residing only in fantasies… and sometimes a kelp-infused tofu patty that tastes of little more than soybeans and sadness.

Until now.

Sophie’s Kitchen, innovators of numerous frozen fishless delights, has the answer to every pescatarian’s dilemma. As soon as I caught wind of this unrivaled smoked salmon offering, I scoured the stores, only to turn up nothing for months on end. It still eludes me in the open marketplace, but I was lucky enough to score a few packages through my mother’s co-op. Despite being so pricy and difficult to find, the positives far outweigh the negatives, beginning with the high fiber content and soy-free ingredients.

What really matters though is the taste, and let me assure you that it doesn’t fall short. Incredibly, unbelievably, it could truly pass for fish, at least by my inexperienced palate. Woodsy, smoky overtones define these thin sheets, with subtle oceanic notes adding in a touch of realism. Lovely striations embellish the peachy rectangles, presenting beautifully to even the most discerning artistic eye. I’d like to believe that it could almost fool one into believing it came from a new breed of square fish. Satisfyingly rich, with a realistic oily sheen, this salmon substitute has the same bouncy, slippery texture as Sophie’s Kichen’s other konjac creations; not quite authentic, but more than passable, especially when eaten in other recipes or loaded onto a toasted bagel with the works.

Though I would have happily scarfed down my entire cache of smoky, savory slices in the aforementioned bagel assembly, such a rare treasure demanded further experimentation. Harkening back to the classic fish spreads of yore, a creamy base proves to be the perfect foil for these alternative smoky, salty strips as well. Load up a platter with chips and cut vegetables, and I promise that it will be the first thing to go, no matter how discerning the crowd. Beyond the party setting, it’s truly stellar in sandwiches, running circles around the tired old tuna salad.

On the other hand, this dip is a versatile ally, capable of dressing up with great aplomb should the situation demand. Pipe that salmon spread into neatly carved cucumber cups and top with vegan caviar, and no one will be able to contain their awe. Trust me: If you need a recipe to impress, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Yield: Makes About 1 1/2 Cups

Fish-Free Smoked Salmon Dip

Fish-Free Smoked Salmon Dip

Fit to smear on the very best bagels or dip into, chip by chip, its hard to believe that this smoked salmon dip is completely vegan.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
  • 3 Tablespoons Tahini
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 4-Ounce Package Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Smoked Salmon
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Chopped Dill
  • 1 – 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Instructions

  1. Thoroughly drain the tofu before tossing it into your food processor along with the tahini, vinegar, oil, miso, and nutritional yeast. Puree until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula to ensure to all the ingredients get incorporated. Make sure that there are no chunks of tofu hiding below the blade before proceeding.
  2. Separate the smoked salmon slices and add them to the mixture, pulsing the machine to break the pieces down but not entirely blend them. You want to leave some texture here, keeping the pieces about the same size as grains of rice. Finally, introduce the fresh herbs, zest, and pepper, stirring them in by hand. The salmon slices are fairly salty as it is, so you shouldn’t need to add extra salt.
  3. Transfer the spread to an air-tight container and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Refrigerated, it should keep for up to a week.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 77Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 111mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g