Take It Easy

In a world rampant with tough choices and difficult situations, just getting a decent meal on the table shouldn’t take a herculean effort. Take it easy, and take a page from Laura Theodore‘s Vegan-Ease. This veteran cookbook author knows her way around the kitchen, boasting a solid arsenal of crowd-pleasing recipes. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of cooking from her archives on multiple occasions, and am confident there’s not a single failure nor even slight disappointment in the bunch. While so many people promise quick, easy, healthy dishes, few actually deliver like Laura can.

Already an essential resource, Vegan-Ease has been re-released in a first edition softcover just a few weeks ago. If you somehow neglected to stock your bookshelf with the original, prepare to immerse yourself in chapter after chapter of Laura’s creative, inspiring, yet completely practical culinary concepts. More than mere recipes, you get a full-featured guide for how to put a meal plan into action, along with shopping lists, nutritional information, and helpful advice every step of the way. Naturally, it’s great for new vegans or uneasy cooks, but there isn’t a soul out there who couldn’t benefit from simpler, more satisfying meals. Each recipe is ranked by “ease factor” so you know what you’re getting into before even pulling out a knife.

Though there are over 130 recipes spanning from breakfast to dinner and everything in between, I’m naturally drawn to the back of the book first, starting with dessert as my entree. Fool-proof, crowd-pleasing, and devilishly decadent, one of my favorites out of a plethora of winners is the understated and underrated Peanut Butter-Chocolate Mousse. Greater than the sum of its parts, scant, simple ingredients come together in some magical alchemy to create a sweet treat that defies expectations. Willpower be damned, each luscious spoonful seems to disappear in the blink of an eye. Effortless to prepare at a moment’s notice, the real danger is that it’s almost too easy to make. There’s no reason why you can’t always have a little bowlful of indulgence whenever the craving strikes.

Continue reading “Take It Easy”

Fit for a King

The ancient Romans may have conquered the world over two thousand years ago, but Italians still reign supreme when it comes to culinary prowess. No cuisine is more ubiquitous nor beloved, influencing modern culture near and far to this day. That said, given the overwhelming abundance of options already out there, does the world really need yet another Italian restaurant?

The King’s Feet, brand new on the scene in downtown Berkeley, would like to think so. Despite the wealth of preexisting options, there are surprisingly few establishments offering high-end vegan Italian food at any price. The King’s Feet takes aim at a more savvy, well-traveled, and voracious demographic, unsatisfied by the average red sauce joint that only offers doughy pizza crusts and plain pasta. That’s why the menu is a refreshing change of pace, even if appears familiar at first glance.

They’re not noodling around with their gut-busting pasta dishes, stacking up lofty layers of roasted summer squash, marinara, and dairy-free ricotta in their lasagna. The cheese is really the best part, so soft and savory, impossibly creamy, which is why the spinach-stuffed manicotti really shine. Those tender pasta tubes, cooked to an ideal al dente consistency, could rival anything made by your Nonna.

That said, I do believe that their biggest claim to fame will be the pizza. Super chewy, lightly blistered crusts with a range of seasonal vegetables and homemade meatless proteins and cheeses combine in the perfect proportion, demonstrating attention to detail that most places lack. Quite frankly, if you don’t order the maitake “clam” pie, you’re doing it wrong. Intensely garlicky, richly oiled, absurdly umami, the overall experience is almost too much. Treading the fine line between decadent and greasy, well-seasoned and salty, it manages to land on the side of satisfaction that makes you eat yourself to ruin. Granted, the overall effect strikes me more as a white sauce mushroom pizza than anything with seafood, but that’s probably a positive thing for people less enthralled with eating sea critters.

Speaking of which, the “calamari” made of fried mushrooms is not to be missed. Crispy, juicy, more addictive than fried chicken, it comes with a spicy aioli that is equally good for dipping pizza crusts in at the end of the meal, as you mull over the empty boxes. Ask for an extra portion; you won’t be the first.

Brought to you by the same masterminds from The Butcher’s Son, it’s no surprised that the cooks at The King’s Feet throw down the same gut-busting, no-holds-barred approach to nostalgic comfort food, dietary restrictions be dammed.

*Reviewed while sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thus all food was ordered to go.

Frequent Fryer

It’s the culinary equivalent of the Tickle Me Elmo craze that swept children into a nationwide temper tantrum in the final late days of the 1990’s. All the cool kids have one, or are getting one, because no other toy can compare. This particular modern marvel is considerably more functional, more respectable, but one could argue, no less frivolous than the furry robotic puppet. I’m talking, of course, about the air fryer.

Leading holiday sales for retailers of small appliances all across the map, these wildly popular contraptions are in no danger of selling out, unlike the door buster deals of yesteryear that would inspire fist fights in minimal parking lots. There’s a different model for every day of the year, and well beyond. Demand hasn’t waned but supply has exploded with such a surplus that prices have fallen to irresistible rates, even without a Black Friday discount. Paralyzed by an overabundance of choices, where does the tentative, newbie fryer begin?

First, we need to talk about what an air fryer really is. Purportedly an alternative to deep frying, without any mandatory fat, hyperactive home shopping network hosts would like to shout from the rooftops that it’s a miracle device guaranteed to change your life. Imagine: all the mozzarella sticks, tater tots, and corn dogs you can eat! Welcome back to childhood and Merry Christmas to all! …If only it really worked like that.

It would be more accurate to describe the device as a super-heated countertop oven. Convection heating circulates air at scorching temperatures and breakneck speed, allowing food to cook faster than in a conventional built-in appliance. It works more efficiently because it’s also smaller, although that brings us to our first drawback: The size can be a limiting factor if you want to cook for more than two or three. Larger models are now available, but you will never be able to fit as much food into one as a full-sized kitchen appliance as a simple matter of physics.

The “frying” effect is most successful with prepared, frozen snacks, which have already been at least partially cooked with a fairly generous amount of fat. French fries are the clearest example of this phenomenon, especially since they’re hands-down the most popular order for this short cook to tackle. Crinkle-cut, curly, waffle, skinny, or home style wedges all come out golden brown and impeccably crisp, fluffy on the inside, glistening with the sheen of success- And oil. If you tried the same set-it-and-forget-it approach with raw potatoes sticks, it would a sad, starchy story, with a real limp ending. Set your expectations accurately and understand how to harness the unique abilities of the machine, however, and this toy starts to regain some of the initial shine.

If you’re still craving a healthier alternative to cool satisfying meals from scratch, there’s hope for this crazy contraption yet! I relying on mine primarily as a toaster alternative, since I don’t have space on my counter for both. Set to low temperatures, it can also function quite efficiently as a dehydrator, to preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or make some tasty snacks with minimal effort. Best of all, and especially critical as we enter the sweltering summer months, it keeps the kitchen cool, as opposed to the full-sized oven that radiates heat like a genuine furnace. As a general guideline for converting existing recipes, reduce the temperature by 25 – 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the baking time by 25%. It will take a bit of trial and error if starting from scratch, but plenty of resources and general guidelines are already out there to make the process painless. You can also find handy charts for best practices regarding specific produce picks.

For your initial voyage on the SS Air Fryer, it will be much smoother sailing if you let the experts pilot the ship. Start with recipes specifically designed for complexities and eccentricities of the machine to turn out hits right from the beginning. My favorite cookbooks are The Vegan Air Fryer by JL Fields, Vegan Cooking in Your Air Fryer by Kathy Hester, and The Essential Vegan Air Fryer Cookbook by Tess Challis, in no particular order. These three highly respected authors also have many other tips and tricks folded into the mix, so you’ll be well educated on the capabilities of your shiny new gadget by the time you read them cover to cover.

Okay, so what about the air fryer itself? Of all the colors, shapes, and sizes, how could you possibly choose the perfect model? I can’t claim to have tried them all, but over the course of two years, I have gone through three different unique types: The Philips GoWISE 3.7-Quart, the Power Air Fryer XL 5.3 Quart, and the Power Air Fryer XL Pro 6 Quart. Which did I ultimately chose to keep?

Presenting, the winner of this round, the Power Air Fryer Pro (previously named the “Oven Elite” at the time of purchase)! Shaped like a miniature, traditional oven with moveable racks, it’s simply more versatile and easier to use than models that only provide a solid basket receptacle. This one provides that too, along with a rotisserie spit, rotating metal skewer attachment, and wire mesh basket. Furthermore, it’s a bit more spacious than the aforementioned options, and the separate racks allow you to cook multiple foods at once. Breaking down all the finer points to consider:

Pros:

  • Much more space! Wire racks allow you to separately cook different foods at the same time.
  • Rotating mesh basket means no more stopping and shaking food halfway through the cooking process to ensure more even browning.
  • Works brilliantly as a dehydrator; minimum temperature of 90 degrees.
  • Excellent and seamless toaster oven replacement. Creates a consistently golden crust on bread, bagels, and beyond. There’s even a dedicated pizza button for reheating leftovers.
  • Removable and non-stick drip tray makes for easy cleanup afterwards.

Cons:

  • Not exactly plug-and-play. Had a hell of a time figuring out how to install the skewers, and still couldn’t stop them from falling out eventually, regardless of the configuration.
  • The window is nice, but it would be more helpful if the light inside the unit stayed on after you closed the door. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if you can’t see when the food is done?
  • Maximum temperature of 400 degrees. I’d wager that’s enough for 90% of all cooking needs, and most foods could just be cooked for a little bit longer to compensate, but it can be limiting for more precise, high-heat preparations.

Ready to embark on your exciting journey towards extra crispy, perfectly tender, and simply easier homemade meals? With expectations appropriately set and temperatures properly dialed in, the much lauded air fryer is a handy little helper that can make it happen. Naturally, all those years of testing and tasting have built up a considerable backlog of my own recipes to share, so stay tuned for much more!

Join the Club

In the vast, diverse, daunting world of wine, where does one begin? Easy to appreciate but difficult to discern, simply finding the best bottles is a full-time job. That’s why the best restaurants hire skilled sommeliers, after all! If you’re overwhelmed by the abundance of options, going well beyond the basic choice of red or white, you’re not alone. In fact, you could literally join the club.

WineAccess, my go-to resource for the best bottles shipped from every major wine-growing region in the world, straight to your door, now offers quarterly shipments that promise hand-selected labels that include small-lot gems, impossible-to-obtain rarities, and unbeatable values. These aren’t just top shelf picks; they’re treasures you won’t find on any shelf.

Each shipment comes with six bottles, with exclusive videos highlighting each wine and the story behind it. You’ll get to know the growers, understand their inspiration, and literally taste the fruits of their labor. This connection creates an even greater appreciation for the craft. For anyone who’s ever relished the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes and see how it’s made, this is the next best thing to visiting the vineyards in person.

Specific themes unite each bundle of bottles, covering many different regions and styles to help deepen an understanding of the wonderful, wild world of wine. My sample box was focused on “Wine Making Techniques,” and how they impact the final style of the wines. Grape variety and quality are obvious factors, but post-harvest intricacies such as maceration, fermentation, extraction, and aging have an influence on the resulting flavors.

For example, the 2016 De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault Itata Valley Chile is notable for its boldly unfiltered approach. De-stemmed but uncrushed grapes are allowed to macerate naturally, without any added yeasts or sulfur. The wine hibernates all winter, undisturbed, to be bottled in the spring, clean and simple. It should come as no surprise that the taste is rich and full-bodied, deeply fruity with notes of dark berries and a hint of savory herbs. That robust character makes a lot of sense, and is even more rewarding to recognize, when you know how it came to be.

On the lighter side of the spectrum, the 2018 Adegas Galegas D. Pedro Soutomaior Albarino Rias Baixas retains the bright, crisp, freshness of the grapes by storing them in stainless steel barrels, rather than oak. Vivid flaxen hues light up the glass, bearing the essence of green apple, citrus zest, and a cool sea breeze.

On top of that extraordinary curated experience, when you join, you’ll get 10% off all purchases at WineAccess.com. In stark contrast to most exclusive clubs, everyone is welcome here. There’s no secret password, no initiation rites, nor silly handshakes. All you need is a thirst for adventure and a love of wine. Once reserved for only the fanciest folk, these worldly wines have never been more accessible. So go ahead, join the club!

Awesome Sauce

This is not an industrial experiment in food science, jealously guarded mystery ingredients bubbling right below the surface, but there is an extraordinary story in the mix.

Hudson Green, named for the fertile Hudson Valley region, is truly a homegrown operation. Founded by chef Marie Rama and her son, Will Reiter, two Italian classics take shape from some unexpected sources. The heart and soul that goes into every bottle is every bit as important as the vegetables and herbs.

After a lifetime in the food industry, Marie draws from experience as a pastry chef, a cookbook author, and a spokesperson for national food companies, to bring the boldest, truest flavors to the table, but there’s more to it than that. After her husband nearly suffered a heart attack, the whole family was forced to reevaluate their plates. Plant-based, nutrient-rich, and flavorful, the invention of a Meatless Bolognese that could rival that of any loving Nonna’s was nothing short of a personal revelation. Recognizing the unmet need for rich flavors without compromise, all it took was a carefully calibrated formula of caramelized onions, cauliflower, mushrooms, and walnuts to satisfy the craving for comestible comfort.

From that resounding success, a vegan version of luscious Velvet Vodka sauce was a natural sequel hit. Coconut milk, rather than butter or cream, creates that silky, sumptuous texture, with a measured dose of nutritional yeast for irresistible umami taste.

With every bottle, chef Rama reasserts her commitment to making plant-based sauces without adding sugar, chemicals, or preservatives. She explains: “We use only real food, and we source the finest ingredients, regardless of price. Those deliberate choices make us a premium sauce. We don’t compare or compete with common, watery marinaras. There are plenty of those!”

You’d know from the first bite that this is no mere red sauce with a pretty label. Long-simmered tomatoes, concentrated down to their pure sweet, savory essence are just the start. Easily rivaling anything on the menu at a high-end trattoria or osteria, it’s a recipe that even your grandmother would approve of. Just twirl your fork around another undulating tangle of noodles, nod your head, and savor the moment.

Locally produced, universally beloved. You can get your fix nationwide through Amazon.com, too.

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

Splendiferous

Many great stories begin with soup. Soup can soothe the soul, fortify the infirm, nourish the hungry, and uplift the cast down. It can be just about anything ladled into a bowl and eaten with a spoon; hot or cold, thick or thin, based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, noodles, or just straight cheese.

Splendid Spoon also begins, and ends, with soup. Founded on the healing principle of the bottomless bowl, it’s a plant‑based meal program that delivers ready-to‑eat brews, blends, and even bowls. Smoothies and grain bowls have joined the menu, but as the name would imply, soup is the main event here.

The menu rotates weekly, drawing seasonal inspiration to appeal to contemporary cravings. Warming chilis, congees, and stews through fall and winter, and lighter, cooler broths and blends become available in spring and summer. Many recipes appear in founder and CEO Nicole Centeno‘s book, Soup Cleanse Cookbook. For those of limited energy, patience, or ingredients, the full service affair is a godsend.

Kabocha Congee is the kind of a bowl you can curl up with, swaddled in your softest blanket and fuzzy slippers, to feel like all is right with the world. Brilliant sweetness that come as a surprise, all courtesy of the natural sugars inherent in both the squash and coconut milk. Creamy, deeply soothing, rich yet not heavy, it’s a remarkable study in balance. Subtle hints of cinnamon perfume the bowl, marrying beautifully with notes of pepper and a touch of nutmeg. Even better than the average rice stew, toothsome pumpkin seeds are scattered throughout, lending a hearty bite that fully satisfies all the senses.

Not to get hyperbolic, but the Green Split Pea Soup is nothing short of a revelation. Rather than the murky morass of over-boiled legumes, there are full, whole peas in here! Like oversized caviar, they burst in juicy bites, lending an air of luxury to this once humble stew. Easily the best rendition of the concept I’ve encountered to date, it’s fantastic enjoyed cold on a hot summer’s day, too.

Take your taste buds globe trotting with a stop in Italy and France for a bowlful of Garden Minestrone and Butternut Squash Ratatouille. Leaning into a tomato base with savory herb seasoning, the minestrone focuses in on zucchini and white beans, whereas the ratatouille, true to the name, is all about that orange autumn gourd. Happily, neither one taste out of season, appealing to the senses all year round.

Billed as one of the “light” brews, Fennel Consommé presents a zesty citrus-infused broth with softly simmered pieces of licorice-y fennel. An excellent appetizer or palate cleanser between courses, it sings of sunny spring days. You can practically taste the morning dew still clinging to those leafy fronds.

New to the lineup, the Mint Chip Smoothie is everything you want and need out of a creamy summertime treat. Part decadent dessert, part wholesome meal replacement, each verdant sip is loaded with fresh greens and cool peppermint flavor. Trust me, I’m very serious about my mint chocolate chip milkshakes, so it’s really saying something to rank this one so highly on the hit list.

The spice is right in the Carrot Ginger Chia Smoothie. Think “liquid carrot cake” and you wouldn’t be too far off. Bright ginger blends with the tropical notes of mango and banana to recreate a more fruit-forward rendition of the old-fashioned staple. Stay in the bakery department for a moment to drink deeply from the Pumpkin Spice Smoothie while you’re at it. Enriched with almond butter and defined by a heavy dose of cinnamon, each bottle contains all the taste of America’s favorite crusted wonder, without the stodgy pastry.

For a souped up menu or smooth moves to power you through the day, you can do no better than the convenience and comfort of Splendid Spoon. With nationwide delivery and free shipping, there’s never a bad time to drink it all in. Use the code “SAVE25NOW” to get $25 off your next order.