Cake It Naked

In the age-old debate between chocolate and vanilla, few can claim complete neutrality. Even if a strong preference emerges, it would be near impossible to deny the other. Who would want to imagine a life without rich chocolate lava cakes, dark chocolate fudge, or chewy brownies, or on the other hand, vanilla bean ice cream, crisp meringue cookies, or New York cheesecake. Luckily, we don’t need to pick sides in this battle. In fact, we can even have both at the same time.

Stripped down to the bare essentials, Naked Shake delivers pure plant-based protein with clean, well-rounded chocolate and vanilla flavors. Each is a treat served up as solo sips, blending instantly into a smooth, creamy treat that could give a classic milkshake a run for its money even when using plain water. That’s because MCT oil adds a certain richness that makes it far more satisfying than the average mix, giving you everything you want, and nothing you don’t.

When these two forces are combined, however, real magic starts to happen.

Endless layers of chocolate and vanilla paint this simple snacking cake in bold stripes, creating a crave-worthy contrast of flavors in every bite. Named for this pattern that looks similar to a zebra’s unique patterning, it’s more like a lazy marble cake that does all the work for you.

Stay naked and resist the urge to add icing; there’s no need for that extra sweetness that would only cover up such brilliant flavors. There’s nothing to hide when you start with quality ingredients and just don’t mess them up. GMO-free, soy-free, vegan and certified gluten-free, Naked Shake offers something that everyone can enjoy. In keeping with that spirit, my zebra cake is also gluten-free, and could be made low-sugar if you wanted to substitute erythritol or a monk fruit baking blend.

You don’t even need to rationalize slicing off a big chunk to enjoy for snack or breakfast. It’s a genuinely healthy choice; no cheating necessary! In fact, you could even bake off the batter as muffins for better portion control and portability, if you’re into those things.

Earn your stripes by shortening the divide between chocolate and vanilla. There’s room for both flavors and so much more, without making any compromises.

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Braised and Confused

It used to be a running joke that my seal of approval was more like the kiss of death to any burgeoning product or brand. I’d fall madly in love, declare it to the world, and that would be the end of it. Overnight, packages would quietly disappear from shelves, replaced by something different entirely. The object of my affection would vanish into thin air, ghosting me like all the misguided suitors on Hinge.

Thus, another beloved product bites the dust. Hodo, my favorite tofu maker the world over, recently scaled back production of this rare treat, selling in only limited markets. While certain parts of the country remain unaffected, immersed in a wealth of soy-based delights as always, I find myself without access to some of my cherished favorites.

Photo by colin price

Braised tofu, tender yet toothsome, was affected by that merciless culling. Nutty, complex, and creamy firm tofu infused with a savory and sweet Chinese five-spice blend, its subtle nuances set it apart from the pack. Plenty of renditions exist in Chinatown, as a classic staple of the cuisine, but none care so much about quality ingredients as Hodo.

Heartbroken, the only consolation is the ease of DIY replication. Though instant gratification is now off the table, they’ve generously shared the secret formula to recreate this braised beauty at home.

Once seasoned, it’s ready to eat as is, adding heft and flavor in spades to any stir fry, salad, or platter of crudités, even. Flavorful and satisfying all by itself, there are far worse snacks than a few thinly shaved slices draped delicately over crisp cucumbers or slices of toasted baguette.

Braised tofu is dead; long live braised tofu! It’s up to us home cooks to carry the torch now.

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Budget Crunching and Munching

No longer a fringe movement seen as extreme, veganism has reached mainstream acceptance, if not full understanding. Misconceptions still plague the movement, like the lingering, misplaced concern about getting enough protein, iron, or whatever the trending nutrient is of the moment. Topping the list of these persistent fallacies is that it’s expensive to eat plant-based. Taking a glance at the fancy prepared meals, processed meat alternatives, and gourmet dairy-free cheeses, it’s easy to understand the concern, but it really misses the bigger picture; no healthy, happy herbivore really eats like that.

Busting myths while boosting your bottom line, Vegan on a Budget: 125 Healthy, Wallet-Friendly, Plant-Based Recipes by Nava Atlas goes well beyond the predictable PB + J sandwiches or bland rice and beans. In fact, Ms. Atlas doesn’t just stick to plain recipes, offering indispensable advice for maximizing your grocery dollars via couponing, bulk buying, scratch-made staples, and more.

Speaking from experience, Nava knows her way around the kitchen AND supermarket. I’ve had the great fortune of working with her regularly for the better part of my career, though she got started in the cookbook industry before I could even reach the stove. Author of well over a dozen published works, prolific artist, and loving mother, her diverse passions coalesce into an invaluable resource for anyone seeking a more affordable, flavorful way to eat vegan.

Secretly thrifty, overtly delicious, everything from breakfast to dessert tastes downright luxurious. We’re talking Yellow Curry Rice Noodles better than takeout, for pennies on the dollar. By employing common pantry staples and simple fresh vegetables, this dish comes together faster than you can dial in an order; a huge savings when you consider that time is money, too.

Don’t overlook the humble sandwich, which is much more than a bread-based gut bomb in Nava’s capable hands. Portobello & Seitan Cheesesteak Sandwiches bring an authentic tasty of Philly to the table, no matter where you live. Seven simple ingredients are all it takes to make this meaty, umami meal come to life. Hearty slabs of seitan join forces with tender mushroom slices and crisp bell peppers, smothered by gooey melted cheese in a satisfying handheld package.

One of my personal favorites has been the Barbeque Tempeh Salad, lavished with creamy ranch dressing, ideally. The protein itself is so well-seasoned and flavorful though, it hardly even needs additional embellishment. I made the mistake of only preparing a half-batch when I first photographed the recipe for Ms. Atlas, which I immediately remedied with a double the next day. This is a recipe you’ll want to eat on repeat, too, which is why I’m thrilled to share it after the jump.

Before you run off to the kitchen, tempeh at hand, I have an even more tempting offer for you! To save you the already low price of this cookbook, which will pay for itself after a single meal, I’m thrilled to give away a brand new copy to one lucky reader! To enter, hit the comment section below and tell me about your favorite budget-friendly foods. What are the staples you go to again and again, that have withstood the test of time? Don’t forget to go back and register that in the giveaway widget, along with additional opportunities to win.

The whole concept of Vegan on a Budget is a solid victory across the board; your wallet, stomach, and taste buds will all be glad you cracked open a copy.

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Achieving the Impossible

Nothing is impossible anymore, now that Impossible is more prevalent than ever.

When The New York Times published an article by J. Kenji López-Alt breaking down the best ways to cook Impossible meat in full scientific detail, I bookmarked it in about a hundred places.

My friends are just as crazy as I am, and one particularly special man sent me a package of this high-end meatless ground as a present. Perhaps in this current era, true love is receiving raw vegan beef in the mail. Distribution has increased exponentially recently, through Trader Joe’s and Walmart, in addition to online sales. Never has the meatless miracle been more accessible. Mere months ago, when it was scarce in local markets, I was mining every possible resource just to get one bite of the action.

I had been saving it for something really special, not sure how to make the most of its full potential. When it suddenly became one of the few fresh proteins I had on hand thanks to early COVID-19 shortages, that was its unexpected opportunity to shine.

The recipe for vegan Turkish kebabs with sumac onions and garlic-dill mayonnaise in that same piece turned out to be perfect. I had to make some modifications, using all dried herbs instead of fresh, and forgoing the cherry tomatoes in a moment of forgetfulness. I also cooked them in my air fryer at 370 degrees for 13 minutes instead of pan-frying, for the sake of simplicity, and less splatter.

Admittedly, my experience with animal-based protein is limited at best, but these skewers were unmistakably meaty; deeply savory, rich and fatty in the way that no basic vegetable substitute could achieve. Pulled off the skewers, I could easily see these nuggets happily tangled in a nest of spaghetti, treated as finger food for [small, socially distant] parties.

Would this recipe taste as good with any of the other comparable competitors? Quite frankly, it’s Impossible to say for sure.