Working for Peanuts

Grazing my way through the day, it can be hard to sit down to a proper meal. Time constraints often create an imposing barrier to reasonable meal prep, leaving me at the mercy of my pantry when hunger strikes. Granted, there are just as many instances where my only excuse is a basic, child-like craving for snack foods, conventional lunch or dinnertime fare be damned.

For anyone else affected by these same cravings, take heart in knowing that you’re not alone, and that there is a cure.

Peanut sadeko, a Nepalese appetizer that satisfies like an entree and tastes like a snack, doesn’t translate easily to a typical American eating agenda. Some call it salad, but of course there are no leafy greens and scant vegetables, so my best advice is to enjoy it with an appetite for adventure, anytime it you see fit.

Biting, lingering heat from pungent mustard oil envelops warm peanuts, mixed with a hefty dose of ginger, jalapeno, and chaat masala for a savory, spicy blend. “Sadeko,” sometimes romanized as “sandheko,” simply refers to the basic seasoning that blends these sharp, distinctive, yet somehow harmonious flavors together, infusing a wide range of recipes throughout the Himalayas. Though nontraditional, crispy roasted edamame join the party in my personal mix for a resounding cacophony of crunch in every mouthful.

Unexpected, undefinable, yet undeniably addictive, it hits all the right notes for instant gratification.

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Emergency Rations

Warranted or not, panic wrought by the coronavirus has spread to pandemic levels, faster than the illness itself. Food scarcity is a concern that most city dwellers have the luxury of ignoring, but suddenly doomsday preppers are wiping grocery shelves clear of dry beans, grains, and spices. It’s the end of days for the avid baker caught off guard. Surely it’s a temporary state of affairs, but when dire cravings strike, what’s one to do without easy access to ingredients previously taken for granted?

Lucky for you, I’m terrible at planning on a good day, so I have years of experience working with a limited pantry. Skipping past all the fancy flourishes and contemporary conveniences, you can still make superlative sweets, comparable to the most indulgent high-end baked goods.

Just plain flour, oil, sugar, and cocoa are at the heart of these treats. Embellish with nuts and chips if available, but it’s far from necessary. These basic staples hit high marks for every category; soft and tender, crisp around the edges, sweet with a touch of salt to accentuate deep chocolate flavors, they’re ready for you at the dawning of the apocalypse. The world at large may turn into a hellish land populated by zombies and shut-ins, but at least there will be dessert at the end of the day.

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Udon of a New Day

Instant noodles are the staff of life. Globally, they sustain wild swaths of the population, satisfying picky children to discerning adults, proving a quick fix for the hapless homemaker and the harried office worker alike, fitting the bill for both impoverished college students and affluent entrepreneurs. Curly bricks of ramen, dried, fried noodles, make the world go round.

There’s so much more to slurp, though, with considerably fresher appeal. Udon, thick as double-braided nylon rope, make ramen look like limp spaghetti by contrast. Dense, chewy, substantial wheat noodles, it’s hard to improve upon the classic soup base.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course.

With just a bit of quick knife work, cut cubes plunge into bubbling hot oil rather than plain water to meet a crispier fate. Compulsively munchable, savory, and salty, these noodles are more than a last-minute dinnertime staple. Serve them with drinks for a new happy hour hit, pack them up for snacking on the go, or toss them into green salad as upgraded seasoned croutons.

Up until recently the best varieties could only be found frozen, flown in from Japan. Now the edible art form is available in the refrigerated aisle, made right here in the US by Fortune Noodles. Offered with a mushroom seasoning specifically and boldly labeled as VEGAN right across the front, they come out with the perfect texture and balanced yet bold umami broth every time.

Check out more inspiration from JSL Foods via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Plus, if you join the Noodle Club, you’ll be rewarded with a high-value freebie coupon right away at Stater Bros, Safeway, Von’s, Aldi, Lucky’s, SaveMart, Food Maxx, Food 4 Less, or Raley’s.

There will always be a place in my heart, and my pantry for instant ramen, but no one noodle can do it all. Fresh udon makes greater snacking opportunities possible.

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Say Cheese!

Names, dates, phone numbers: my memory fails me on these specifics nine times out of ten, embarrassing me to no end when I’m introduced to the same person for the seventh time. The one birthday I will always remember, of all things, is for someone I’ve never even met. Amy, the inspiration for Amy’s Kitchen, shares my same birth year, making it even more astonishing to recognize over 30 years of vegetarian and vegan meals made available to the masses, all from such humble beginnings. Those frozen samosa wraps, tamale pies (RIP), and vegetable barley soups saved my life back in high school, before I could even operate a toaster without causing a conflagration.

Where so many brands have failed and folded, Amy’s Kitchen has grown in leaps and bounds, expanding their dairy-free options exponentially while still maintaining high quality standards, and an endless hunger for both adventurous flavors and down-home comfort foods. Breaking into 2020 with a boom, Amy’s Kitchen has just unleashed a new line of ooey, gooey, cheezy vegan entrées, including two pasta dishes and two Mexican-inspired options. They’re all going into regular rotation here as emergency dinners at Casa BitterSweet, but if I had to play favorites, my money would be on the Vegan Broccoli & Cheeze Bake.

I’m rather picky about my pasta, to put it lightly, and I was stunned to realize a few bites in, going back to read the label, that these noodles were gluten-free, too. Tender, chewy, springy, the texture surpasses that of most average frozen wheat options, too. There’s no sacrifice nor compromise for accommodating such a range of dietary restriction; nothing makes it into the bowl but delicious, creamy instant gratification.⁣

You really can’t improve on perfection, by definition, but you can match it on the same level in an equally compelling, yet wholly unique way. That’s where these fool-proof party starts come in.

Baked, not fried, to golden brown and crispy brilliance, this is the halfway homemade food hack that could very well become the stuff of legends. Better than mozzarella sticks, they won’t start to congeal and lose their luster the moment they hit the table. The breading ensures easy prep, no culinary skills required. Banishing greasy fingers by adding no extra oil means you could be saving your sofas- and stomachs- from unnecessary anguish later, too.

Tender spiral noodles and organic broccoli, bathed in luscious, creamy vegan cheese sauce burst forth from their crisp breaded shells, a rush of comfort and savory satisfaction in every bite. This is one unforgettable finger food that will serve you well for many happy years, too.

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Binge-Worthy

Curling up on the couch to watch big ticket movies on the small screen is quite arguably America’s favorite pastime. Theaters are hurting as ticket sales plummet and uneaten popcorn goes stale, but it’s hard to compete with the instant gratification of home viewing. “Netflix and chill” is more than a libidinous euphemism, but a genuinely innocent evening activity, as 158 million global subscribers would agree.

Well, I don’t have a couch, nor a TV, but I do have a cozy queen-sized bed and fully charged smart phone. While movie night at Chez Hannah looks a bit different than most, it’s no less glorious of an event. Of course, snacks are a mandatory, essential element, no matter how how late the featured flick drags on. Unlike concession stand limitations, having a full kitchen at my disposal allows for every craving to be satisfied, hot off the stove or fresh from the freezer.

Naturally, as I work on my seventh cookbook, this one all about ice cream, I find myself wrapped around a frosty pint more often than not. Apparently I’m not the only one with such cool inclinations, though.

Connecting the dots, Ben and Jerry’s has just unleashed an exclusive new flavor, Netflix & Chilll’d, upon the world. Showcasing a peanut butter ice cream with pretzel swirls and fudge brownies, the conventional pint has been released alongside a non-dairy, certified vegan variation!

Not gonna lie, Ben & Jerry’s gave me the full hook up.

  • Fluffy slipper socks? Check.
  • Wireless bluetooth speaker? Check.
  • Double-wide stainless steel spoons? Check.
  • Insulated pillow with built in pint holder and phone stand. Oh CHECK yeah!

It should come as no surprise this dynamic duo knows how to chill, no holds barred.

What really matters most, of course, is the scoop itself. Finely ground pretzel pieces combined with the creamy peanut butter base evoke the sensation of biting into a creamy butterfinger candy bar. Notes of malt linger with each lick, compliments of the burnished pretzel’s surface. Soft brownie chunks give way easily into the ice cream, melting like chewy squares of fudge. Nutty, crunchy, gooey, and decadent above all else, I think the critics would give it a standing ovation, even if they had to crawl out from under the covers to do so.

Full of sweet and salty twists and turns, this pint plays out like a good drama with a happy ending.

Hot Take on Hot Lunch

Living in the moment is best way to experience life, unencumbered by past regrets and future concerns, but it certainly has its pitfalls, too. Wrapped up in summertime revelry, I didn’t even realize that we’re fast approaching doomsday for every child and young adult under the age of 18: The first day of school. Creeping earlier and earlier across the calendar every year, I feel a bit blindsided to learn that local school will be back in session as early as next week. What kind of cruel joke is that, to pull children out of the sun’s golden glow, away from the beckoning beaches and parks, stuffing them into stiffing locked rooms without windows, without joy, without apologies? Hopefully the transition isn’t as harsh as memory suggests, but it’s still a hard sacrifice to make for anyone yearning to squeeze the very last drops of sweetness out of this fleeting season.

If there was anything that could inspire any enthusiasm for this kind of sacrifice, it would have to be the promise of good food. Of course, that’s pretty much the opposite of what you can expect from any institutional cafeteria menu, which is why a properly packed lunch is essential. Though the dark days of school lunches are well behind me, the memories of soggy PB + J sandwiches and stale granola bars are indelibly seared into my memory. No one should have to endure such hardship, especially if they hope to put any positive energy into their education after noon.

Ages ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was still in high school, I developed a compact little e-book entitled Lunchbox Bites, filled with all the sweet and savory morsels that got me from homeroom to sixth period. No longer available for sale, it’s been languishing among all the forgotten recipes gathering dust in my digital archive. It seems such a shame to waste this potentially helpful resource, as new generations of young vegans grow up with the same hunger for quality nutrition as I once did.

For the love of food, for the good of the community, I’m now making Lunchbox Bites completely free to download. Bringing back old favorites like Coffee Buzz Energy Bars and Root Beer Pudding, there’s plenty for students of all ages to enjoy. Even if you’re just a student of life, there’s never a bad time to enjoy a big batch of Hummus Crackers, too.

Forgive me, if you would, for the antiquated terminology and terrible photography. Consider it an heirloom, a relic of a bygone era. “Margarine” should be read as “vegan butter,” “soymilk” simply as “non-dairy milk” (any variety will do), and canola oil, while fine, would be better if replaced by a light olive oil, avocado oil, or rice bran oil. There’s still a whole lot of good to reap from these basic concepts, and I must admit, it’s somewhat charming to take in the full glory of this throwback to a simpler time.

Prepare yourself properly for a brand new school year; don’t show up hungry, and if you’re feeling particularly generous, make sure you bring enough to share with the class. Cafeteria food doesn’t hold a candle to anything homemade.