User Friendly

Meet your new best friend: The Friendly Vegan Cookbook! No, that’s not a typo, despite how ubiquitous the term “vegan-friendly” has become in common parlance. Turning the phrase around makes it an all-encompassing embrace of the concept, rather than the outlying exception. Toni Okamoto and Michelle Cehn, two of my favorite people, have teamed up to create over 100 recipes that will serve you well, quite literally, from daybreak to sundown.

For the reluctant cook, the flexitarian, or the hungry health enthusiast, this one’s for you. Carefully curated with nostalgic fare like stuffed shells, pizza, and chickenless noodle soup, these glossy pages bring a taste of comfort to life in stunning full color, and flavor. It certainly helps that Michelle herself is an accomplished photographer, capturing lustrous still life scenes vibrant enough to warrant framing.

Naturally, I’m drawn to the dessert section of any cookbook first. Sweet and simple, the Fudge on page 204 is an easy win. You’ve gotta love a decadent homemade treat that you can make in minutes with seven ingredients (or only six, not counting the salt.) Even though my pantry was ill-prepared for such spur of the moment inspiration, I had just enough to pull off this small miracle. Ideal for a quick craving, unexpected guests, or holiday gifts, it’s hard to imagine anyone turning down these slow-melting nutty, chocolaty morsels.

Turning to more hearty meal options, the Mac ‘n’ Cheese on page 63 was calling to me from the moment we met. No packaged vegan cheese need apply to make this creamy, gooey goodness. I took some liberties to simplify mine, skipping the baking dish and extra vegetables to make a stove-top style, blue box dupe. Nutritional yeast, AKA vegan catnip, and a touch of soy sauce takes this one to boldly savory new heights.

Another reason to love this collection so much is that it truly represents a wide swath of the vegan community itself. Tapping other lauded cookbook authors for contributions, Stephanie’s Deviled Potatoes on page 141 comes from none other than Stephanie Dreyer. Plant-based meal planning expert and the founder of Batch Cooking Club, this unstoppable mother of three knows a thing or two about making foolproof recipes on the fly. Presented as finger food that’s party-ready, I’d argue these tender little potato bites are also ideal everyday snacks or sides. Protein-rich cannellini beans make the filling both balanced and substantial, brightened with the bite of mustard and black pepper.

Whether you’re a friendly vegan or still just vegan-friendly, you can’t go wrong with The Friendly Vegan Cookbook. If you don’t take my word for it, try it yourself: Enter your details in the form below for a chance to win a copy of your own! Tell me in the comment section about your go-to best friend in the kitchen. Is it a certain seasoning, special equipment, or an actual human helper? There are no wrong answers, as long as you respond in the first place!

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Power Play

Anything meat can do, plants can do better.

This is the rallying cry behind Plant-Powered Protein, the latest and greatest release from the prolific, esteemed cookbook author, Nava Atlas. Today’s innovative alternative proteins prove that you don’t have to sacrifice flavor, texture, or nutrition to enjoy a fully plant-based diet. It seems as though there’s a new option appearing on the market every day; the paradox of choice can be paralyzing, whether you’ve been vegan since the era of TVP, or are just testing the waters now.

Not all proteins are created equal. Where does one start with such a diverse palate of new ingredients? Aside from picking out the best brands, what can you actually make with these mystery meats once you get them into the kitchen? Never fear, Nava is here. In Plant-Powered Protein, she’ll guide you through familiar family favorites, from nostalgic classics to bold global fare, with dishes that are kinder to the earth and animals, not to mention much better for you.

It’s both with personal bias and my honest opinion that I share this book as a top recommendation, since I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ms. Atlas regularly for over a decade now, including this fresh trove of recipes. I couldn’t be more proud to have my photos lend the visual voice to such a compelling collection. Just imagine: Having created all of the meals pictured within, finding not a single failure, and experiencing the instant gratification of such easy instruction first hand. More than a mere armchair reviewer, my endorsement comes from a truly genuine place.

Wrapped up in these glossy pages, complete with recipes for making your own alternatives and suggestions for incorporating them into simple, everyday meals, you’ll get over 125 recipes that would thrill even the consummate carnivore. Bridging the divide between the conventional comfort food and a whole food plant-based approach, there’s something in here for everyone.

How can one possibly pick a handful of favorites from over a hundred tried-and-true winners? Truth be told, I can only go by my favorite photos at this point, since the flavors are all on point, instructions are easy to understand, and standard preparations couldn’t be quicker. All you need to do is figure out what you’re in the mood for. Breakfast for dinner? It’s hard to beat those biscuits with sausage gravy, or a spicy chorizo scramble. In need of a warming stew on a cold day? Set a pot of New England clamless chowder on the stove to simmer, and ease into a big bowlful of comfort.

You’ve also got plenty of lighter options like spinach salad with apples and bacon, or a clean, crisp deconstructed sushi salad that’s also great for a grab-and-go lunch. Flavors span the globe with inspirations that range from Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Mexican, and more. For the adventurous eater, you’ve got a ticket to any delicious destination in these pages.

For special occasions, look no further than the carne asada fries, an indulgent entree that you can totally justify as a balanced meal. You’ve got your starch, plenty of vegetables, healthy fats from avocado, and of course plenty of protein. What more can you ask for? The same can be said of the classic meaty pizza, dotted with spicy meatless pepperoni that puts the conventional rendition to greasy shame. It’s natural to make comparisons, but these recipes are simply unrivaled in flavor AND nutrition.

All that said, don’t just take my word for it. Get into the kitchen and taste these creations for yourself. Everyone should be so fortunate as to enjoy such a comprehensive, compelling guide through the world of meatless options. To that end, I’m thrilled to GIVE AWAY THREE COPIES of Plant-Powered Protein. Yes, three lucky winners will be able to cook up a storm, enjoying Nava Atlas’ delicious wisdom as I have for so many years now.

To enter, leave me a comment below about your favorite meatless entree. Do you use a homemade protein, or do you have a favorite store-bought brand? There are no wrong answers as long as you keep cooking! Don’t forget to come back and fill out the entry form to log your submission, and unlock a number of additional methods to rack up extra entries.

Let’s make 2021 the year that “Where do you get your protein?” becomes a question only suitable for omnivores. Plant-powered is the way to be!

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Worshiping at the Alter of Althea

Guru. Pioneer. Celebrity. Savant. God.

Matthew Kenney is many things to his multitude of fervent followers, but one thing cannot be denied: The man knows how to cook. Well, more accurately, he knows how to treat his vegetables right, heat need not be applied. He is not just a chef, but a brand in and of himself. Commanding the table at over two dozen fine dining establishments worldwide, he’s arguably the trailblazer at the head of the raw food movement. These days, his formal education from the French Culinary Institute manifests in less rigid preparations, mandating minimal processing, rather than a complete abstinence of heat.

Three Beet Carpaccio

As a prominent figure in the plant-based movement from the days before it was cool, his name hit my radar sporadically, but my experience with his food has been limited. Only once before, over a decade ago, was I fortune enough to dine at Pure Food and Wine before its scandalous closure. Thankfully, the man is unflappable, soldiering on with new projects seemingly sprouting up everyday. Althea in Chicago offers a compact menu of re-imagined classic dishes spanning numerous global cuisines, along with Kenney’s own fusion creations. The only knock against the place is location. Completely hidden away on the 7th floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, you must navigate through racks of stiff men’s suits and deftly dodge the perfume counter to earn your meal.

Kimchi Dumplings

Stemming from the Greek name that can be applied to either a woman or a man, Althea means “wholesome,” from the verb althos, meaning ‘to heal’. Fittingly, the mission statement of the eponymous restaurant is to meld plant-based culinary art and ultimate nutrition.

Mightyvine Tomato + Zucchini Lasagna

Most raw approaches treat food only as fuel, leaching out all the joy and whimsy from the act of eating. This was one of the rare instances I can look back on the concept and it has the potential to compete with any Michelin-starred cooking.

Kelp Noodle Cacio E Pepe

Truly alive in more ways that old-school “uncookery” would imply, colors vibrate off immaculately plated dishes, flavors explode with incomparable intensity; the full essence of each vegetable is celebrated. You won’t find dehydrated planks of flaxen juicer pulp here. This menu is designed from a place of joy and abundance, from a creative food lover unleashed from traditional culinary boundaries. Defying easy explanation, this is an experience that you simply must enjoy firsthand to properly grasp. Book your table, book your tickets, get yourself out there; it’s worth traveling any distance to enjoy.

Althea
700 N Michigan Avenue
7th Floor
Chicago, IL 60611

Dynamic Duo

Can true harmony be found in a single sweet bite? That’s the theory behind Sweetduet, touted as “a luscious duo of chocolate and fruit for the mindful snacker.” Treading the fine line between decadent and dietetic, the results make no compromises on either side. While the packaging reads like health food, the taste is pure indulgence.

Dates are at the heart of this dulcet symphony, and not just when dipped in dark chocolate. Date nectar is actually the sweetener of choice, imparting notes of amber caramel, a touch of malt, and a hint of macerated fruit. Beneficial trace vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B, iron, magnesium, potassium, give it an extra boost that straight sugar can only dream of. This superfood infusion is exactly what makes it such a great choice for anyone on your gift list.

Better than your average box of chocolates, there are no duds that get left behind in this assortment. Soft, fudgy, unsulfured dried fruits offer style and substance, seamlessly blending smarts with satisfaction. Dates, mangoes, apricots, and pineapples take center stage as the curtain of cacao drops away slowly. Together, they dance for a fleeting moment of bliss, as the initial hit of intense chocolate melts, allowing the fruit to then take the lead.

The love of chocolate is nearly universal. Bridge that final gap by finding that sweet spot where the nutritious choice is also the most delicious. Sweetduet has you [and those naturally nectarous fruits] covered.

Sweetduet can be purchased online for local Los Angeles pickup or nationwide next-day shipping. Treat yourself, or your loved ones near and far, for a sweeter, healthier holiday.

Enticing Spicing

Supplements are vital for filling the gaps, ensuring a well-balanced diet, but it’s a simple fact that nutrients are best absorbed through food. “Food as medicine” is far from a fringe movement, though that doesn’t mean it should taste medicinal. If we can have cake made of cauliflower and noodles made of zucchini, why can’t we turn everyday meals into more flavorful, more powerfully nutritious dishes? Enspice is on a mission to end childhood malnutrition by putting essential vitamins and minerals back where they belong: In food.

We’re talking about naturally sourced, plant-based seasonings and spices enhanced with a boost of potent superfoods, not synthetic supplements. Things like maitake mushrooms, kelp, chlorella, kale, sunflower seeds, and more are what bolster the profile of these spicy sprinkles. One teaspoon of any of the six bold, piquant blends contains 50% of the FDA daily values.

Unlike more fragile, volatile ingredients, these spices are designed to withstand the heat of cooking or baking, so you’ll get the full benefit of those nutrients no matter how you put them to use.

Their statement about eradicating malnutrition is more than just hot air, too. The Enspice Children’s Foundation was created first to feed malnourished children around the world. Each purchase donates one meal for a child in need. You’re feeding yourself and your family well, AND making an impact on those less fortunate at the same time- As if a nourishing, flavorful home cooked meal wasn’t enough to feel good about.

Open up your spice rack to make room for the full fleet. Use them just as you would to season any of your favorite recipes. If you’re not sure where to start, aside from the obvious here are some of my favorite uses so far:

Cinnamon:

  • Snickerdoodle Cookies
  • Overnight Oatmeal
  • Cinnamon Sugar Toast

Black Pepper:

Taco Seasoning:

  • Pozole
  • Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
  • Tex-Mex Rice

Chipotle BBQ:

Cape Cod:

  • Corn on the Cob
  • Potato Salad
  • Jackfruit Crab Cakes

Seasoned Salt:

Variety is the spice of life, but spices themselves can enhance the quality of your life, too. Shake things up, and shake it on everything! What’s your favorite way to get spicy these days?

Right now, you can get 10% off Enspice seasonings & spices with the code MOMSMEET. This offer expires 12/30/20.

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

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.

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