The Importance of Planning Ahead: 6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

“Always plan your meals in advance. Never decide what to have for dinner at dinner time.” – Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

We’ve all been there – rushing home from work late, already feeling as though we’re about to starve to death…and then staring at the pantry and fridge with no idea what to make for dinner.  Nothing is prepped; we have no plan.  The growling in our stomach grows louder until it drowns out all reasonable thought, and we reach for processed convenience foods that can be made in a jiffy.  Worse yet, we order takeout!  The amount of processed ingredients, sodium, and fat in vegan convenience foods and most takeout is astronomical.  We satisfy our hunger in the moment, but don’t do any favors for our health.

The only way to beat the hungry monster is to have a plan for dinner!

It’s hard to eat healthful, life-giving plant foods when you have nothing prepared.  Unless you’re eating a raw salad, most plant dinners require some cooking time.  In this post, I’m sharing my top six tips to make dinnertime painless.

6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

1. Make a master list of recipes from your favorite cookbooks or online (make sure you save the link if it’s an online recipe).

Pick one, two, or more each week from this list to make.  This recipe list will cut out a lot of time you may spend flipping through cookbooks or trying to think up dinner ideas.    When you’ve chosen the recipes for the week, you can quickly flip to the correct page in the correct cookbook and add any ingredients you may need to your grocery list.

6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

2. Have themed dinner recipes for each day of the week!

This is especially fun if you have children.  A few examples of themes you could use are:

Slowcooker Sundays
“Meat”loaf Mondays
Taco Tuesdays
Leftover Wednesdays
Veggie Burger Thursdays
Pizza Fridays
Spaghetti Saturdays

Of course none of these themes are prescriptive.  You can make up your own themes, or switch the days around.  Stick with what works best for your family!  It will put your mind at ease to know that on Thursdays, all you have to do is whip up some veggie burgers for dinner.

6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

3. Make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping.  This is CRUCIAL.  Don’t go to the grocery store without a list.

You’ll end up wandering the aisles, buying food items that don’t go together, just because they look good.  It’s okay to buy a unique fruit, veggie, or grain to work into your week’s meals; but buying a hodge podge of foods with no plan for how to integrate them will only set you up for failure.  It may also increase your food waste at the end of the week, when unused items have spoiled and must be discarded.

6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

4. Prep meals or portions of meals in advance if you can.

If you’re putting a meal in the slow cooker, have everything chopped and ready the night before so you can dump it in before you leave for work the next morning.  If you’re making tacos, make a double batch of the taco filling and freeze half so you can easily thaw it when you’re short on time.  If you have mashed potatoes in two meals in one week, make enough for both meals at one time.

6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

5. Batch cook one pot of rice and beans at the beginning of each week and store in your refrigerator. 

This will ensure you have something that can be heated up in the microwave for a meal in a snap.  Rice and beans also make great lunches throughout the week – it’s a filling meal that won’t weigh you down in the afternoon like animal based lunches can.  If you don’t want to cook beans, keep a few cans in your pantry.  Microwaving a bowl of rice and beans takes less time than going through a drive-through or ordering food that has to be delivered.

6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

6. Keep frozen veggies stocked in your freezer.

Veggies are a great way to add bulk to leftovers and turn something into a brand new meal.  Have a little spaghetti and sauce left?  Add a pound of steamed broccoli and some vegan parmesan.  Have a veggie burger patty but no bun?  Serve it in a lettuce wrap instead with some edamame on the side.  Leftover “meat”loaf?  Sauté frozen collard or turnip greens, microwave a potato, and presto!  Dinner in a snap.

A little planning will give you a HUGE advantage.  Plan because you love your body, and what you put inside it is important.  Plan because you and your family deserve meals that promote health instead of harming it.  Plan because it will save you money!  Plan, so that you are set up for success before you take your first bite that week.  Plan so you never have to be stressed about “What’s for dinner?”

Plan and beat that hungry monster.

Southern Comfort Bowl: Mashed Potatoes, Collards, Golden Gravy

There’s something magical about meals that come in bowls.  Warm, comforting foods get arranged together in perfect harmony.  This Southern Comfort Bowl incorporates mashed potatoes, collard greens, beans, tofu, and an awesome golden gravy.  I’ve tested this recipe on several people, and it was gobbled up in minutes.  I even had to make the recipe again to photograph because all the food disappeared before I could take pictures!  Not that I’m complaining.  I’m always down for some mashed ‘taters and greens.
Southern Comfort Bowl
The recipe may seem long, but it’s easy to put together.  Most of the ingredients are spices.  The beans take the longest to cook, but they just simmer all day in a slow cooker, requiring no work on your part.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to make the Rockin’ Tomato Slowcooker Beans, then just use canned vegetarian baked beans!  These beans, while Rockin’, are not typical baked beans.  They are very tomato-y.  I think they’re a perfect compliment to the mashed potatoes and spicy collards.
Southern Comfort Bowl
Let’s talk gravy.  Okay?  Okay.  I was never a fan of traditional brown, white, or gray gravies.  I would pour as little as possible on my food.  Something about it never settled quite right with me.  Until I had THIS plant-based, no-fat, vegan awesomeness, Golden Gravy.  This gravy recipe has become my go-to sauce for potatoes, rice, and steamed veggies.  It is so simple to make, and has none of the fat or animal parts/secretions found in regular gravy.  I fed this gravy to a bunch of omnivores this week and they loved it.  Even my husband, my equal in gravy-hating, liked it.  Make the gravy.  It’s soul food.
Southern Comfort Bowl
The Cajun Collard Greens are spicy, but not too spicy.  If you like to turn up the heat, just increase the red pepper flakes called for to 1 teaspoon instead of 1/2 teaspoon.  The Honey Gold Mashed Potatoes are literally the simplest mashed potatoes I’ve ever made.  Honey Gold potatoes are tiny and sweet, with a buttery quality.  I could eat these babies plain, but once you’ve had them mashed with a little cashew milk and salt, you’ll never go back.  If you have other kinds of potatoes, they will work as well.  However, I highly recommend trying the Honey Golds first.  They’re divine.  The tofu on top in the photographs is a store-bought Chipotle Marinated Baked Tofu.  It’s oil-free, which is hard to find these days.  I used one piece per bowl.  It has a very “meaty” texture, much firmer than other tofus I’ve tried.  If you can find it, try it!  If not, any baked tofu will do.

Southern Comfort Bowl

Serving Size: Serves 4

Ingredients

    For the Rockin' Tomato Slowcooker Beans
  • 6 ounces tomato paste (one small can)
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
  • For the Honey Gold Mashed Potatoes
  • 28 ounces Honey Gold Potatoes
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cashew milk
  • Salt to taste
  • For the Cajun Collard Greens
  • 1 pound fresh shredded collard greens
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • For the Golden Gravy
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • For the Tofu
  • Store-bought chipotle marinated baked tofu (or any baked tofu - you could even bake your own if you like).

Instructions

    For the Rockin' Tomato Slowcooker Beans
  1. Whisk together the first nine ingredients. Fold in the onion and navy beans. Cook on low in your slow cooker for 6-8 hours.
  2. For the Honey Gold Mashed Potatoes
  3. Cut potatoes into quarters. Bring to a boil in a large pot of salted water. Boil until fork tender, approximately 10-15 minutes.
  4. Drain potatoes, mash with cashew milk and salt to taste.
  5. For the Cajun Collard Greens
  6. Line a large skillet with water. Add collards and onion. Cover and steam 10 minutes.
  7. Add liquid smoke, cajun seasoning and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cover and steam until tender, another 10-15 minutes. Add splashes of water if it looks dry.
  8. For the Golden Gravy
  9. Line a soup pot with a thin layer of water. Saute the onion, garlic, and mustard seeds for five minutes on high heat, until the water is absorbed.
  10. Add veggie broth, soy sauce, and nutritional yeast. Using and immersion blender, puree until smooth.
  11. Reduce heat to medium, and very slowly whisk in the flour. Whisk constantly until all lumps are dissolved. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, whisking every other minute to ensure it doesn't burn, until gravy reaches desired thickness.
  12. For the Tofu
  13. Warm tofu in a skillet (you can use the same one you cooked the collards in, if you like!)
  14. Assembly
  15. Place a generous serving of mashed potatoes in a bowl. Add collard greens, beans, and tofu, and top with gravy. Enjoy!
http://www.thisveganwhimsy.com/southern-comfort-bowl/

Southern Comfort Bowl

Vegan Test Kitchen: Cajun Red Beans and Rice from “Color Me Vegan”

There are a few people who have changed the world for animals in a huge way, and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is one of them.  She’s written seven books, the most popular of which is the The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.  There’s also a website for the 30 Day Vegan Challenge where you can learn more about her amazing work.  This simple challenge has inspired thousands of people to give being vegan a try.  Colleen also has a fantastically popular podcast called Food for Thought where she discusses food, lifestyle, and community all from a vegan perspective.  She calls herself a “joyful vegan,” and it totally shines through in her podcast and books.  She’s so thrilled to be vegan, you can’t help but get excited along with her!  She also has such compassion towards people who have not yet made the step into an animal-free life.  I so appreciate Colleen and everything she has done for animals.

Because of how much I admire Colleen, I have been anxiously waiting to dig into one of her cookbooks!  Today I am sharing my recipe test for Cajun Red Beans and Rice.  This recipe is in her cookbook Color Me Vegan.  For those of you who don’t own this cookbook already, you’re in luck!  I located this recipe online HERE.
Cajun Red Beans and Rice from "Color Me Vegan"
I eat some variation of rice and beans every week.  Sometimes I use lentils or split peas instead of beans, and other times I use quinoa or farro instead of rice.  It just depends on the week (and if anything is on sale at the grocery store!).  Rice and beans are easy to batch cook, and make filling lunches that will tide me over until I get home from work most days.  Most times, a salad simply doesn’t cut it for me at lunchtime.  I need carbs, protein, and warm food to feel fully satisfied and prepared for the rest of the work day.  I’m always looking for new ways to eat rice and beans, so when I noticed this Cajun Red Beans and Rice recipe it immediately jumped to the top of my “To Make” list.
Cajun Red Beans and Rice from "Color Me Vegan"
Cajun Red Beans and Rice from "Color Me Vegan"
I made several modifications to the initial recipe, but I don’t feel any of them changed the integrity of the dish:
-I left out the sauteing oil called for and instead just sauteed my veggies in broth.  This is an easy way to make any recipe low-fat!
-I used white rice instead of brown rice.  White rice is what I happened to have on hand, but I do recommend making it with brown rice as it is a more healthful grain.  If you use white rice, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
-The recipe calls for vegan sausage links.  I generally try to stay away from processed vegan foods like fake meats, as they are full of chemicals and high in fat.  For this recipe, I found some lovely oil-free chipotle marinated baked tofu at my grocery store.  I chopped it into small cubes and used that instead of vegan sausage.  It was delicious this way.
-The recipe calls for the meal to be cooked on the stove in a pot.  I sauteed the veggies in a pot, but then dumped everything into my rice cooker and used the white-rice setting.  It came out perfectly.  If you have a rice cooker, I highly recommend using it here.  You won’t have to watch the pot or worry about the rice sticking or burning.  This gives you down time to do more important things, like snuggle your pets.
Cajun Red Beans and Rice from "Color Me Vegan"
Cajun Red Beans and Rice from "Color Me Vegan"
I enjoyed this dish immensely.  It’s got a kick from the cajun seasoning, but isn’t overly spicy.  If you have kids, I do recommend toning the heat down a bit though.  In the future, I think I will double the amount of beans called for.  I always like to have an equal portion of rice and beans.  There are definitely less beans than rice in this dish, but the tofu provided a great “meaty” bite.  I served this dish topped with my favorite hot sauce and salsa.  It got a two-thumbs up from my omnivore husband, which I consider a definite win!  The recipe serves four, but you can safely double it in a regular sized rice cooker.  Made with white rice, no oil, and tofu instead of vegan sausage, each serving is approximately 300 calories.  Make the recipe.  Buy the book.  Listen to Colleen’s podcast.  You won’t regret anything.

Vegan Test Kitchen is a way to share my collection of vegan cookbooks with you, my wonderful readers!  This way, you can “try before you buy” on many recipes from the best vegan chefs out there.

5 Ways to Stick With Being Healthy in the New Year

Every year around this time the world goes mad with possibilities.  The excitement of a new year hangs in the air and people mumble to themselves that it’s going to be different this time.  This January first they really mean it.  No more games.  No more excuses.  This year is going to be the year.  Right?

We all know the drill.  It’s hard to keep up the buzz of excitement for very long.  The doldrums of January and the Valentine’s Day candy of February slowly pull us away from our goals, and we slide back into familiar unhealthy habits.  What we must do is be prepared.  It’s one thing to say “I’m going to get healthy!”  It’s another to have a specific plan for how to accomplish this, and a strategy to combat anything trying to derail you.  In this post, I am sharing 5 Ways to Stick With Being Healthy in the New Year.
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1. Pack your lunchbox with more food than you think you’ll eat.  It is better to take some food back home than to be stuck at work, ravenously hungry at 3 PM.  I usually plan out my meals and snacks, then add at least one extra item.  The extra food is usually between 100-200 calories.  Celery sticks aren’t going to fly here, so don’t try them.  You need actual food.

2. Look at your craving as a wave.  It will wash over you, peak, and then subside.  In the moment, a craving for unhealthy food of any kind can make you feel like you’re drowning.  You’re not going to survive if you don’t eat the chips/cookie/candy bar.  It can seem impossible to overcome, but if you view it as an ocean wave, it will help you stay strong.  It’s not going to last forever.  It make seem like you’re dying now, but in a little while it will subside.  Practice acknowledging the craving and breathing through it.

3.  H.A.L.T. before giving in to your craving.  Are you Hungry?  Angry?  Lonely?  Tired?  This is a strategy that has really helped me recently.  When I think I need an unhealthy food, I pause and go through these four letters.  If I’m hungry, an apple or some steamed broccoli will help.  If I don’t want that, it’s a craving.  If I’m angry or emotional, I need to walk away from what I’m doing and take a breather.  If I’m lonely (and I would also insert bored here), I can reach out to a friend or significant other.  There are plenty of activities to participate in that don’t involve eating.  And finally, if I’m tired, I need to go back to step 2 and remain there until I can get some rest.  Make rest a priority!  There is no time where our willpower is more compromised than when we are exhausted.

4. Keep a food journal.  Write down everything you eat and drink each day.  If you like, use an app on your phone like My Fitness Pal or something similar.  However, don’t fall into the trap of counting calories and thinking that french fries are okay because you have 500 calories left for the day.  It’s important to keep a food journal for at least a few weeks.  This way you can notice the patterns and natural rhythms in your life and plan for them.  Are you hungrier on some days than others?  Do you struggle more on the weekend than during the work week?  What unhealthy foods do you go back to again and again?  It’s crucially important to be honest.  You have to write down every single morsel that passes through your lips.  Being honest with yourself is the only way to stay on track.

5. Get an accountability partner.  A lot of people balk at this one, but it’s so helpful!  Reach out to a friend and make a commitment to that person to stay on plan.  Share your food journal with him or her, and tell them when you are struggling.  Make sure that this person isn’t going to accept excuses when you go off plan.  And remember, you have to be honest.

Hopefully these tips make this New Year’s healthy resolutions stick!  From one junk-food-aholic to another, I know how it feels.  The struggle is real.  Don’t give up!  Take it one minute at a time if you have to.  Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.
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Vegan Test Kitchen: “BBQ Baked Tofu” from I Could Never Go Vegan

It’s Christmas season, and almost the New Year, and all I’m craving is barbecue and green things.  Maybe this is because of how much rich, heavy food I’ve eaten over the last month.  Or maybe it’s just because I love veggies and barbecue sauce!  Usually I slice my tofu thin, pan fry or bake it, and serve it with barbecue sauce for dipping.  It’s my favorite way to eat tofu.  So when I saw this BBQ Baked Tofu recipe from Kristy Turner’s But I Could Never Go Vegan! I knew it was meant to be.  Kristy blogs at Keepin’ It Kind, sharing her beautiful recipes and lovely voice for the animals.  I have read her blog regularly for the past three years.
BBQ Baked Tofu But I Could Never Go Vegan
I wasn’t able to locate this recipe online, so you’ll have to buy the book.  It’s a very easy recipe, but the payoff is fantastic.  I doubled the recipe and ate the leftovers four times.  I served the BBQ Baked Tofu with some lightly steamed sweet green peas and fresh asparagus.  Barbecue and green things.  <3
BBQ Baked Tofu But I Could Never Go Vegan
BBQ Baked Tofu But I Could Never Go Vegan
This is an easy weeknight meal, taking minimal prep time.  However, it does require an hour in the oven, so if you’re hangry you may want to choose something faster.  It requires only four ingredients, all of which can be found in any well-stocked pantry.  I highly recommend this recipe.  The ease of pairing the leftovers with any number of sides throughout the rest of the week just couldn’t be beat.

Vegan Test Kitchen is a way to share my collection of vegan cookbooks with you, my wonderful readers!  This way, you can “try before you buy” on many recipes from the best vegan chefs out there.

Book Review: “Near and Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel”

Heidi Swanson is the luminous author of the blog 101 Cookbooks.  She’s been writing for years (years!) and is literally almost a goddess in the food blogging community.  I came across her blog while reading Will Write for Food, one of the best books out there about food writing.  Swanson’s site is mentioned in Will Write for Food as an example of what to do when starting a blog.  I immediately checked her website out and was amazed.  There are hundreds (probably thousands) of posts, each carefully and lovingly perfected, with gorgeous photography.  The recipes are detailed and easy to follow.  But aside from that, I just love Heidi Swanson’s voice.  You get the feeling that she’s talking to you like you’re her friend.  She teaches without being overbearing, encourages without making you feel incapable.
Near and Far

I jumped at the chance to review her new cookbook because it’s vegetarian!  And we all know how I feel about vegan and vegetarian cookbooks (hint: GOOD).  I cracked it open and barely got through the first pages before having to stop and make food.  The very first recipe – Cucumber Salad – was divine.  Swanson states in the heading of the Cucumber Salad that she hopes this recipe will set the tone for the book, and it does.  It was simple – I had every ingredient except lemongrass already in my pantry – but sophisticated.  The dressing also didn’t use any oil, which I very much appreciated, since I usually have to substitute oil.  I then only made it to the next page before making the Fennel Stew, and then the Red Lentil Hummus.  I would have never thought to make something like her Mashed Yellow Split Peas, but I’m terribly glad I did.

The book is split into two main sections, Near and Far.  Near includes recipes inspired by her life in California.  Far includes recipes from Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India.  From Harira in Morocco to Baby Artichoke Salad in France, the recipes span cultures, ingredients, and tastes.  I personally found myself staying in the “Near” section of the book more.  I’m not sure if that’s because I liked the recipes more, or if I’m just more comfortable and familiar with those ingredients.

There is no way I can top the gorgeous photography in Swanson’s book, so I’ve included a few photos from her website below so you can see the mouthwatering recipes for yourself.  As a note for vegans, many of her recipes include dairy and eggs.  Some of them are easily substituted for vegan versions or left out, but I wish a larger percentage of the total were completely vegan.  Still, the simplicity and deliciousness of the meals as a whole makes it worth it to me.

Photo Credit: 101 Cookbooks
Photo Credit: 101 Cookbooks
Photo Credit: 101 Cookbooks

Swanson’s book Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel can be found on Amazon, or where any vegetarian/vegan cookbooks are sold.

I received a courtesy copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  Reviews and opinions expressed are my own, and I will never provide a good review if I don’t believe in, or like, the product/book.

Comforting Tomato Barley Soup

It’s the last day of September, and fall has finally arrived.  In Florida, this means that the unrelenting humidity and melting heat starts to come around 9 am, instead of lingering 24 hours a day.  It means that everyone is sipping pumpkin spiced lattes and pulling out their boots, even though it’s still 80 degrees.  It means we’re excited about the possibility of cooler weather, but mostly because the holidays are coming.  I hear that in other, more northern places, the leaves are starting to color and the air is getting crisp.  Apparently it’s already snowing in Alaska!

No matter where you find yourself celebrating fall – whether it’s near a fireplace or on the beach – this Comforting Tomato Barley Soup will fit right in.  It’s gentle warmth is comforting when you’re cold, had a long day at work, or are just plain hungry.  It’s full of immune boosting garlic and tomatoes – perfect for the ever-lurking cold and flu season.
Comforting Tomato Barley Soup
Barley is one of my favorite grains.  It’s a cereal grain, a member of the grass family, and was one of the first grains to ever be cultivated.  If you grew up like I did, you’ve probably only had barley in canned soups and at restaurants.  It was never something that got cooked in my house.  A few years ago I stumbled across a bag of pearled barley at my local grocery store and decided to take a chance.  After all, if I hated it or failed at cooking it, I’d only be out $1.50.  I was delighted when I took my first bite, and I’ve worked barley into my meals as often as possible ever since.  Barley has a fair amount of protein, lots of fiber, and even a nice bit of potassium.  It’s got a wonderful texture, and will stick to your stomach for a while so you don’t end up hungry too fast.
Comforting Tomato Barley Soup
Comforting Tomato Barley Soup
This recipe is so easy.  It takes 10 minutes of prep time, then you just let that soup simmer until it’s ready while you do more important things.  Like snuggle your pet, kiss your partner, or play hide and seek with your kids.  Life is too short not to pause and enjoy every moment, even if it’s just a random Wednesday – the last day of September at the beginning of fall.

Comforting Tomato Barley Soup

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

This barley soup is perfect for fall, when the air starts hold a slight chill and here and there a dried leaf skates by on the pavement. Share with people you love. This recipe makes 4-6 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced very thin (a mandolin is helpful here)
  • 1 head garlic, minced
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked pearled barley
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Instructions

  1. Slice your onions very thin (a mandolin is helpful here). Line a large soup pot with water, and sauté the onions on high heat for 5 minutes, adding splashes of water if it gets dry. Add the minced head of garlic and saute for an additional 3 minutes.
  2. While the onions and garlic are sautéing, chop the tomatoes. Add veggie broth, tomatoes, barley, and all the spices to the pot. Bring to a boil on high heat, then immediately turn down to medium-low and cover.
  3. Simmer for 30 minutes. Then add the chickpeas, turn the heat up to medium, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  4. Serve with crusty toasted bread. Enjoy!
http://www.thisveganwhimsy.com/comforting-tomato-barley-soup/

Comforting Tomato Barley Soup

Well I’ll be your shade tree in summer, if you’ll be my fire when it’s cold.
Whatever the season, we’ll keep on breathin’, cause we’ll have each other to hold”
–“Forever Like That” – Ben Rector–

Vegan Test Kitchen: “Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne” from Isa Does It

Would you believe me if I told you that I’ve never cooked with wine before today?  It’s the truth.  This Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne has been on my list to make for two years now, but every time I read the ingredient list I would sigh and flip to another page.  Cooking with wine?  That’s just crazy talk.  That’s for fancy people with fancy kitchens, holding dinner parties and sipping Malbec with their (vegan) desert.  It couldn’t possibly be for a Monday night when you get home late, had a bad day at work, hurt yourself working out, and are basically starving to death.  Right?  Wrong!  This recipe is exactly for those days.  It’s on the table in less than 30 minutes, has a good dose of green veggies, and the wine imparts such a depth of flavor.

There’s a reason Isa Does It is my favorite vegan cookbook.  It’s packed full of recipes like this, that are ridiculously easy and still wildly sophisticated.  I’m not lying when I say that I have never made a recipe from this book that I didn’t like.  This meal was no different.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 50.  Even my omnivorous husband who usually cooks his own food loved it and stole a huge portion off my plate while I was doing dishes.  Make the Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne.  Buy Isa Does It.  It’s the best $20 I’ve ever spent on a cookbook.
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne Isa Does It
If you don’t own Isa Does It, you can find this fabulous recipe HERE at Matt Frazier’s No Meat Athlete Blog.  (By the way, his blog is an excellent resource for vegans who work out.)  Each serving is approximately 400 calories.  For a lower fat option, use half the cashews called for and replace the rest with a creamy plant milk.  Using whole wheat pasta is another great option to boost the nutritional value.  You can also use a cheap red wine.  I know this, because I did!
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne Isa Does It
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne Isa Does It
Just look at this creamy, saucy goodness.  I ate until I could barely move, and still wanted to keep eating.  And it’s completely guilt free!  The veggie powerhouse of basil, broccoli, and sun dried tomatoes make this a complete one-plate meal.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  I’m just excited I have leftovers to eat for lunch tomorrow!
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne Isa Does It Vegan Test Kitchen is a way to share my collection of vegan cookbooks with you, my wonderful readers!  This way, you can “try before you buy” on many recipes from the best vegan chefs out there.

Vegan Test Kitchen: “Chickpea Spinach Stew with Lentils and Quinoa” from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen

Chickpea Spinach Stew Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
An indian restaurant recently opened about 2 miles from where I live, and my taste buds have been begging me to visit it again and again.  I cannot get enough of indian food.  The flavors are so incredibly complex, and the meals so satisfying.  And spicy.  I love adding a kick to most dishes, but indian meals have the spice built in from the beginning.  There’s layer upon layer of heat, and the home cook can play with the levels.  Don’t want to melt your face off today?  Just leave out the chili or use a milder pepper.  Want even more spice?  Just add a bit more cumin or turmeric.  This Chickpea Spinach Stew with Lentils and Quinoa from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen is the perfect recipe to play with.

Richa Hingle, author of Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen and her wildly popular blog Vegan Richa has made indian food accessible to the home cook.  Most of her recipes are quick to prepare, but they’re still packed with all the flavors of restaurant quality food.  You don’t have to slave away over a stove for hours to have vegan indian food at home.  I bought her cookbook the minute it came out and spent several weeks just reading it.  Yes, I’m one of those people who read cookbooks like they’re novels.  Don’t judge me.  This Chickpea Spinach Stew with Lentils and Quinoa was the first recipe I tried.  I was blown away.  Not only did it get a rousing two thumbs up from my husband, I ate its leftovers twice after the initial meal and each time liked it even more!  As with all good spiced dishes, the longer it sits the more the flavors meld.
Chickpea Spinach Stew Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
Chickpea Spinach Stew Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
You guys are in luck, because Richa has shared this recipe on her blog HERE.  You don’t even have to buy the cookbook to try it out!  But I recommend you do.  The list of recipes I want to try from this book is so long – it’s basically the entire book.  So you’ll be seeing quite a few more reviews from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen here before long.

I think the secret to this dish is the red lentils.  Quinoa adds texture, the chickpeas bring a toothsome bite, and the savory aromatic broth imparts an out of this world flavor.  But the soft sweetness of the red lentils weaves a background of creamy togetherness through the entire meal.  Without the lentils, one part or another of the stew would be too strong.  With them, it’s spicy perfection.  This recipe also is full of greens, having several cups of spinach blended into the broth before cooking.  I highly recommend serving this meal with naan (there’s a recipe for homemade naan in her cookbook) or some soft, fresh pita.
Chickpea Spinach Stew Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
A sprinkling of chopped cashews right before serving adds the last crunchy touch.  Then, NOM time.
Chickpea Spinach Stew Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
Vegan Test Kitchen is a way to share my collection of vegan cookbooks with you, my wonderful readers!  This way, you can “try before you buy” on many recipes from the best vegan chefs out there.  

Book Review: “A Modern Way to Eat” by Anna Jones

A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
As vegetarian and vegan cuisine becomes more mainstream, chefs around the world are starting to take notice.  Where vegetables were relegated to side dishes and salads before, they have been swept into the limelight.  Just a few years ago, I didn’t know a single vegan.  Now, I know several vegans and quite a few more vegetarians.  As more people make begin their transitions away from the consumption of animal products, the question is continually asked: “What about the food?”  Very few persons have the sheer force of will to continue adhering to an ethical ideal that affects what they eat if the food isn’t good.  My personal journey towards veganism took quite a while because I simply didn’t know what to eat.  I could follow a recipe, but I didn’t have any vegan cookbooks.  Some people find the internet helpful, but I felt lost in the vortex of Pinterest.  How was I to know which recipes were worth trying?  Who was going to explain these new foods to me, like quinoa, farro, chia seeds, and silken tofu?  How was I, a person who lived on boxed mac n’ cheese and chicken fingers, going to know which recipes to start with?

I wish I had Anna Jones’ cookbook, A Modern Way to Eat, when I started.  It has over 200 unique recipes, and all the ones I’ve tried so far have been divine.  I grew up hating lima beans, but the Lima Bean, Almond, and Rosemary Hummus has changed my mind entirely.  The Lemony Lentil and Crispy Kale Soup is bursting with flavor, and the bright yellow color makes me smile.  It’s also packed with turmeric, which has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
Jones’ book has given me the courage to step out of my cooking comfort zone of pasta, simple salad, and steamed/roasted veggies.  Her recipes have complex layers of flavor without having long ingredient lists.  Most ingredients can be found at your local grocer, and where hard to find items appear, Jones gives alternatives.  I normally wouldn’t try a recipe like her Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet, but the picture was so inviting and the ingredient list so simple I couldn’t help myself.  Now I’ll be eating this dish regularly!  Other favorites include Laura’s Herbed Green QuinoaBrown Rice Pilar with Toasted Nuts and Seeds, and Perfect Chili (I can’t say enough good things about the chili!).

To me, the most valuable thing about this cookbook is that in addition to the recipes, Jones gives the home cook the tools she needs to start creating her own family favorites.  There are pages scattered throughout the book that tell you how to build a meal without using a recipe.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
There’s endless variations of soup, salad, and other meals that can be created simply by following her process.  Not only does this book give the home cook the ability to make restaurant quality meals by following its recipes, it allows a nervous new vegan to spread her culinary wings and try combinations of ingredients that seem “out there” but have a fantastic outcome.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
Jones also includes instructions on how to cook vegetables, grains, and a myriad of other ingredients.  For example, if you have a bunch of rainbow chard but don’t know what to do with it, simply turn to the “Vegetable Underdogs” page, and you’ll find a list of suggested pairings to make any weeknight dinner sparkle.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Overall, I was blown away by this book.  The binding is sturdy – the cookbook is hardcover and the pages are matte.  The photography is simply gorgeous (although not every recipe has a photo).  I especially adore the personalized messages written by Anna Jones at the top of each and every recipe throughout the book.  I was on the fence about trying a few of her creations, but the recipe headers convinced me to chance it every time.  I’m so happy I did.  Jones’ love for vegetarian food and expertise as a professional chef shine through on every page.

My main irritation with this book is that some of the recipes have the ingredient list on one page, a photo on the adjacent page, and the instructions on the page after.  This means that I have to keep flipping the page over to check how much of something I need before going back to the directions.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when cookbooks make me flip unnecessarily.  Several of the pages of this cookbook now have finger stains from my frantic turning of the pages.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
This book is also vegetarian, so some recipes call for cheese, and some for eggs.  Many of these can be easily substituted or left out by the knowledgeable vegan.  Some would not be so easily altered, but it is perhaps only about ten-fifteen percent of the total recipes, leaving the majority vegan already.

I think A Modern Way to Eat is well worth the price.  It’s already safely tucked in my kitchen next to my most-used cookbooks.

I received a courtesy copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  Reviews and opinions expressed are my own, and I will never provide a good review if I don’t believe in, or like, the product/book.