Monday, May 23, 2016

Beany Bacon Bits by Cool Foods ~ a Review

Bean-Based Bacon Bits
avo-bacon-toast in the making

Have you seen these new Hickory Style Veggie Bacon Bits from Cool Foods? They are made of dried pinto beans and bacony seasonings!  I love bacon bits, so when they offered to send me some for review, I was quite enthusiastic. Well, I plowed straight through both baggies they sent me, and have already ordered a few more baggies to keep my pantry stocked. So... I guess you could infer that I really liked them! ha ha.

bacon bits on avocado toast

Recipe: one good piece of toast, lots of yummy avocado, squeeze of fresh lime juice, spoonful of bacon bits = happy times are here at last.

I really love the ingredients list on these bacon bits: "Pinto Beans, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Enzymes." So simple! I'm not a super snoot about "pure food" and stuff like that, but I am mindful of the times when I eat more-processed or less-processed foods. I really appreciate that these bacon bits deliver all the joy a bacon bit can deliver, but are also quite straightforward and even virtuous. Also, 4 teaspoons of bacon bits are just 27 calories, which is great.

Plus, they are perfectly crunchy. The package says that the beans are "air-dried," which must be how they get such a great crunchiness out of the beans. The flavor is smoky and delicious, and is more complex than just a bunch of liquid smoke. There is the tiniest bit of bean flavor, but not at all in a bad way. It adds to the overall flavor experience. They are also sugar-free, soy-free, and gluten-free

nom nom nom

Truth be told, I ate most most of these straight out of the bag whenever I wanted a little nibble. But once I discovered how good they were on avocado toast, then I really went nuts and ran out super quickly.

bacony bits on kale salad

These veggie bacon bits are also really great on salads - their smokiness and crunchiness both add a lot! I made a few kale salads with tomato and avocado and then liberally sprinkled on the bacon bits. Such a great combo!! Basically a super easy BLT-inspired salad. I think they'd probably make a pretty good BLT actually. Maybe I'll try that next, if I can stop myself from eating my latest installment all straight out of the bag.

On their website, these 3oz baggies are $3.99 each, which I think is a pretty good deal. I can definitely tell you that I liked these a lot because I was super sad when I ran out of the bags they sent me, and I've already bought 3 more for myself. It's one thing to rave about something that you recieved for review, but it's a whole 'nother thing to go running to Google to replace it when you run out. Ha ha.

Let me know if you try them, and tell me what you think!

i really love drawing animated beans.
they're just so funny

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Dinner Party with New Friends!

a new friend! 

Recently Mr VE&T made a new tennis friend. He's a pretty good tennis player, and there aren't bajillions of people who can play at that level with him. Someone gave him the name of a new player at the club, and she turned out to be a great player who he really enjoys hitting with. One day after practice, while chatting, he found out that she is also a vegan! So of course I got all excited and invited her and her family over -- even though I'd never met any of them! Well, to be fair, Mr VE&T thought she was pretty great and he was pretty sure we'd get along. 

It was so fun to welcome them into our home! It was a really lovely evening together with her and her husband and their two awesome kids. The kids were so cute - immediately running around the house, meeting all the pets, playing in the backyard, throwing the ball for the doggies, climbing in and out the doggie door over and over and over! ha ha. 

I always enjoy cooking for other people, but I especially love cooking for fellow vegans. When you're a vegan, people don't cook for you very often. Plus, it's just fun to make a special effort and know that it will really be appreciated. So, I had fun thinking of what to make for our new friend. But I also knew that she had two little kids, so I was conscious of trying to make kid-friendly choices in my menu planning. Nothing too unfamiliar or spicy or challenging. For example, I briefly considered pine nut cookies, but decided to go with chocolate chip. ha ha. 

vegan cheese platter

For appetizers, I had some sugar snap peas and a platter of little bread toasties and two vegan cheeses: Punk Rawk Original and the Kite Hill Ripened Cheese. I already know how much I love Punk Rawk cheeses (hint: A LOT), but I hadn't tried this cheese from Kite Hill before. The Punk Rawk cheese has a nice strong taste and is soft and spreadable, almost the texture of a thick cream cheese. The Kite Hill cheese really had a proper "rind" and creamy center like some dairy-based cheeses, but the flavor was much more mild. Between the four of us grown-ups, we had 3 who preferred the PR cheese and one who preferred the KH cheese. How cool is it that we have so many choices these days?? So cool.

salad with super good dressing

Our friends brought two nice bottles of wine and a huge, tasty salad. The dressing they made was really, really delicious - super flavorful but not heavy or overpowering. Over dinner, we were discussing cooking methods - and whereas I am a fairly devout recipe follower, our new pals are devout recipe free-stylers! So I can't tell you what recipe he used to make this dressing because I think he made it up! ha ha. I loved those big green olives in the salad. I usually buy black olives, but these were so delicious and plump and beautiful. 

we are unsophisticated people who don't even own wine glasses, so on the rare occasions that we do drink wine, we drink it out of juice glasses instead. Ha ha. be warned! 

It turns out that they really know a lot about wine (whereas I know next to nothing). They brought along two nice white wines that were really tasty. We had one with dinner, and then we had the Prosecco (fizzy white wine) with dessert. It was fun to have some nice wine with our meal! 

I was pretty sure I would like this soup because KZCakes liked it and she and I always seem to agree on foodie things. Except that she likes matcha and I just can't go there. 

We decided to be fancy and have each course one at a time, instead of putting everything on the table all at once. That was fun! So after our appetizers and salad, next up was the soup. I've heard good things about the Cauliflower Soup with Pesto and Pasta Shells from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen, so I thought I'd give that a go. Plus it seemed like it would be pretty kid-friendly: the cauliflower is hidden by pureeing it into the broth, the soup is full of little pasta shells, and it's got pesto! One of my special tricks is to make a previously untested recipe when company comes over. I love to live dangerously! 

I tweaked the recipe a little bit - I roasted half of the called-for cauliflower before hand, and I also used white miso and tamari instead of plain salt -- all for a little extra umami power blast! Happily, I really liked this soup and will definitely make it again. What did our guests think? 2 grown ups and 1 kiddo loved it too (he ate his whole bowl of soup!), but one littlest kiddo didn't even want to give it a try! ha ha. No hard feelings though. I know how important it is to keep putting food on the table even if they don't try it this time around. Someday! 

Sauces 'n Love Vegan Pesto

For the pesto in my soup, I used some of this *amazing* vegan pesto from a company called Sauces 'n Love. They actually sent it to me for a review quite a while ago and I've had it saved in my freezer for safe keeping. It is such delicious pesto - and by far the freshest and tastiest store-bought pesto I've ever had. It's super packed with basil and pine nut flavor, just the right amount of saltiness (it's pretty salty, but I like pesto that way), and super high quality olive oil. It looks like they don't have an official website, but this site has some good info about them and their products. They seem to make many sauces that are vegan (and many that aren't). Based on how much I enjoyed this pesto, I would definitely be jazzed to try more of their sauces in the future. 

the main course!!

For the main course, I made a big batch of the Italian Stuffed Peppers with Fennel from Vegan Casseroles. This was a great dish to make for company because I could do all the work ahead of time and then just pop 'em in the oven at the right time. Unlike my daring escapade of making a totally-new-to-me soup recipe for company, I had made this recipe several times before. I really love these peppers - the filling is made with rice and TVP and then loads of great spices and seasonings (including crushed fennel seeds!). For the pasta sauce on top, I used half homemade sauce that I had canned up last summer and half Victoria's Vegan Vodka sauce (I love that stuff!). Happily, we had tons of these left over (there were 4 more in another smaller baking dish) - so I gave some to my parents, we had some for dinner again the next night, and I had lunch for a few days too. I love that - make the most of a dinner party with leftovers!! 

rowing my pepper boat across the high seas

yummy dessert!

I was thinking of all sorts of fancy-pants desserts I could make, but I wasn't sure how that would go over with kiddos. I mean, sometimes it's okay to go out of your comfort zone for dinner, but dessert is kinda all about the comfort zone, if you know what I mean. So, I went with chocolate chip cookies and strawberries! For the cookies, I used Jess's recipe for The Ultimate Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies from her blog Cupcakes and Kale. I had this recipe bookmarked and was happy to finally give it a go. Holy bonkers!!! These cookies came out so great. I think they are now my favorite chocolate chip cookies ever. Definitely my new go-to. They were so easy and delicious. I even used my homemade vegan butter (recipe from Miyoko's book Homemade Vegan Pantry). I also left the salt flakes off my cookies since I wanted them to be kid-friendly! 

dessert buddies dancing out their joy together

And of course, they were indeed very kid-friendly! The littlest kiddo wasn't interested in her soup or stuffed pepper, but was very interested in the cookies and berries! ha ha. After dessert our new pals told us that they've actually totally cut back on sugar since their little one is a picky eater and has been pretty much waiting all day just to eat dessert. Ooops, I was part of the problem! Next time they come over, I'll make a fun dessert that's also naturally sweetened. Fortunately there are lots of great blogs and cookbooks with recipes like that! 

It was a really fun night. I really love meeting new people and making new friends. I look forward to getting to know them better and continuing our friendships together! 

ps! Congratulations to Anne Callery for winning my Baconish giveaway! I used the random number generator, which picked comment #27. This is pretty fun, because many moons ago, Anne and I worked together! It's fun when the random number generator picks someone who I know in real life. Congrats, Anne, I hope you like the book! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Baconish - Cookbook Review & Giveaway!

special breakfast was usually french toast or crepes
non-vegan bacon has been censored

When I was a little girl, my mom used to make us bacon sometimes. I always liked the smell of it, but actually I didn't really like to eat it that much. But indeed I did eat it, and do you know why? Because my brother loved bacon and I refused to allow him the joy of also eating my portion. Ha ha. I went vegetarian at age 14, so I guess he got the last laugh. 

All of this is to say that bacon isn't something I've been missing all my life. So discovering vegan varieties of bacon has been a lot of fun for me. I'm free from any burden of needing vegan bacon to resemble the "real thing" and I'm also free to enjoy vegan bacon in all of its own smoky glory. 

Baconish is a new vegan cookbook from Leinana Two Moons - who blogs over at Vegan Good Things. It is dedicated entirely to vegan bacon recipes! 

Carrot Bacon 

The whole first chapter of the book is comprised of vegan recipes for bacon, and there are 10 different varieties: carrot bacon, eggplant bacon, chickpea bacon, tempeh bacon, tofu bacon, mushroom bacon, and on and on! I tried two of the bacons for this review (carrot and seitan) and I am eager to try more -- next up I am hoping to try the tempeh and coconut bacons. 

The Carrot Bacon was soooo snackalicious. I made a big batch, and Leinana suggests keeping an eye on it in the oven because it might burn at the end. Indeed, I was busy doing other things in the kitchen, and lost about 2/3 of my batch due to burnage. Ooops! Next time I'll keep an eagle eye on it -- especially since now I know how yummy it is. I made this carrot bacon to go with the White Bean and Bacon Soup (below) - but Mr. VE&T had such a hard time controlling ourselves. We just wanted to eat it all off the cooking sheet. It's lightly sweet and smoky, and a little chewy. My pal Kittee also made the carrot bacon and she finished hers in the dehydrator which seems like a rad idea, if only I had a dehydrator. 

White Bean and Bacon Soup

After the first chapter full of various vegan bacon recipes, the rest of the chapters in the book are filled with recipes that incorporate the bacons. There are chapters on Breakfast, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Sides, Main Dishes, and even Sweets and Such. There are some pretty tempting-looking desserts that incorporate vegan bacon!  

This White Bean & Bacon Soup was the first dinner I made from Baconish. It calls for Seitan Bacon in the soup (you can see the chunks in the soup) and for Carrot Bacon as a garnish on top. We both really loved this soup. It was hearty and chock full of delicious spices, two cans worth of white beans,  and just the right amount of smokiness. I'll definitely make this soup again - it's especially perfect for cold nights when you need a real warmer-upper!

warm soup on a cold night
complete with snuggly pets, cozy socks, and the sofa

Seitan Bacon

Whoa. This biz is tasty! I made a batch of the Seitan Bacon for the White Bean Soup. But the soup only used up about 5 slices of bacon, so I used the rest for all sorts of yummy eats. It has actually been quite a while since I made any home made seitan. I wonder why? I really like seitan, and making this recipe reminded me that it's fun and easy to make at home. I hadn't ever tried seitan bacon before, and I really liked this recipe. Smoky and peppery (look at all that pepper on the outside!), and very nicely seasoned. I still have a little bit left in the freezer for some future enjoyment.

Seitan Bacon BLT

Well there's one thing that you just gotta do when you have a bunch of extra seitan bacon staring at you -- make a BLT, of course! I had some nice whole grain bread, lots of perfect avocado, lettuce and tomatoes, and some pan-fried slices of seitan bacon. It was so delicious! We've been having such volatile spring time weather this year - one day it will be so cold and wintry that you want something like that white bean soup, and then just a couple days later, it's hot and sunny and you're sitting out in the backyard enjoying your first BLT of the season. Ahhh. I like it all, so I'm happy either way.

blt on a hot day!
complete with glass of water and inquisitive kitty

Tofu Quiche with Broccoli, Seitan Bacon, and Chao Cheese

I also used some of the seitan bacon in a delicious tofu quiche - I used Somer's recipe and added in sundried tomatoes, seitan bacon, lots of chopped up broccoli florets, and a few slices of chao cheese. It was so rich and delicious! After I made this, I realized that Baconish actually has two quiche recipes of its own: Quiche Lorraine and Bacon-Spinach Quiche. I pretty much love tofu quiche, so I am eager to try these recipes soon! 

The More-to-Love Elvis Sandwich

The More-to-Love Elvis Sandwich was so fun! I've never really had anything like this before! It calls for peanut butter, bacon, banana slices, and an optional drizzle of sweetener. Such a delicious combination of flavors! I made mine into an open-faced sandwich for a fun breakfast treat, but in the book the recipe calls for two slices of bread, and then to cook it like you would cook a grilled cheese. I loved my open-faced creation, but I also love the idea of cooking it on the griddle (or in my beloved panino press!!) for extra toasty perfection.

Cauliflower Bacon Gratin 

This Cauliflower Bacon Gratin was a big hit! So good. It was warming and filling with lovely savory flavors. The cauliflower wasn't overcooked, so it still had just the right "al dente" crunch, which was perfect with the rich, creamy sauce and the crispy crumb topping. I wanted to make the gratin a little lighter, so when I made it I reduced the cashews in the sauce from 1 cup to 1/2 cup, and I reduced the bacon slices from 8 to 6. Even with those adaptations, the dish was super delicious and satisfying! 

Baconish is a fun and creative book, and we really enjoyed the meals we've made from it so far. There's still SO MUCH more for me to explore. This book is loaded with color photos, it's well-laid-out (you never need to turn the page to continue making a recipe), and the instructions are clear and easy to follow. Those are all traits that I really appreciate in a cookbook! 

Several of the recipes are a bit on the indulgent scale for my tastes - but obviously a vegan bacon book is going to have a lot of Southern flair and some really rich recipes. Even the recipes that I'm not likely to make gave me some good inspiration for lighter variations that I could make myself. And obviously, I still found plenty of amazing recipes to try, and many more to bookmark. I am super impressed with the creativity of this book - both in the variety of vegan bacon ideas, and with all the many ideas for what to do with vegan bacon. I got so many new ideas from this book!

Some of the recipes I have bookmarked to try include:
Butternut Squash Carbonara with Bacon and Sage
Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn
Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Bacon-Stuffed French Toast
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Shallots
Apple, Bacon, and Cheddar Grilled Cheese
....and more! 

Happily, you don't just have to read about this new book! The publishers of Baconish (Vegan Heritage Press) are letting me offer a giveaway to one lucky reader in the USofA. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite vegan bacon experience... or really just any comment will do! 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Yumz in my Tumz

What follows is a long post of various delicious weeknight creations! I love doing thematic posts, or product reviews, but sometimes I make a great dinner and it seems silly to just post one picture of a great dinner and that's all. So, lately I keep a little draft blog post going where I can load up any share-worthy culinary experiences... and then I just wait until the post gains some critical mass. Viola, here we are! 

roasted goodness with grains and fresh microgreens and creamy dressing

I love this Orange-Miso Dressing Power Bowl from the Oh She Glows Cookbook, but I hadn't made it for a while. It's orange season again on our orange trees, so I thought of this recipe... and we both loved it as much as ever. Just looking at this picture makes me want to make it again. I really love that Orange-Miso Dressing on its own too. It makes a great dip for raw veggies or dressing to pour over steamed veggies. Sadly for me, Butternut Squash season is winding down, but I have a couple left on my counter so maybe I'll make this one more time.

Roasted Butternut rounds are so delicious, and also they are special to me because they were one of my grandmother's favorite foods. They always remind me of her and make me feel a little closer to her. I like that feeling.

romantic heart salad! 

We usually have a Giant Salad at least two nights a week. Sometimes we have kale salad, and sometimes we have a green salad. They're both great, but also always the same. I made this salad a little fun and special by using my set of heart-shaped cookie cutters. All the non-heart-shaped greens and veggies were hidden under the cute veggies, ha ha.

nom nom nom nom-a-long-a-ding-dong

Speaking of special salads, sometimes we mix it up. This was the Caesar Salad from the new Oh She Glows app (it's also here on her website). Sakes alive, this was good - greens, cashew parm, chickpea croutons... such a delicious combination of flavors and textures. The greens are a mix of kale and romaine lettuce which was something I don't do often. For whatever reason - probably just my own limited salad imagination - I usually either have kale salad or lettuce salad. We both loved this salad.

my regular weeknight cooking scenario
sometimes on weekdays, i cook dinner in the middle of the day, since I often am teaching at night. Then I can come home from teaching and have dinner all ready to go. I love that. 

leftovers combined into a satisfying lunch. I've noticed lately how a good sauce can really tie things together and make it feel like I've eaten a proper meal. Whereas if I just had some steamed greens and some baked tofus separately, it wouldn't be as emotionally satisfying. You know what I mean? 

This was a simple lunch thrown together with odds and ends from the fridge, but it was also a great combo together: steamed curly kale, grilled herb tofu, and some Afghani Cilantro sauce that I had made. I know that not every one appreciates cilantro, but I do. In fact, I think it might be my favorite fresh herb of all. I prefer cilantro pesto to basil pesto, believe it or not. I think my two favorite uses for loads of cilantro are Georgian Cilantro Sauce (which I also made recently) and Afghani Cilantro Sauce. Such strong and delicious flavors!

Deceptively fancy Weeknight Dinner

This glorious spread looks so beautiful and fancy, but actually this was a super quick and easy dinner to throw together. I wasn't in the mood to cook something from a cookbook... so I made a batch of hummus and based dinner around that. The hummus was topped with olive oil, nigella seeds, and some zaatar. Next I cooked up some broccolini and red onions on the stove top, warmed some lavash from the freezer, and chopped up a bunch of fresh herbs and veggies. I think we ate pretty much all of this between the two of us. Ha ha. It felt super fancy and couldn't have taken more than 30 minutes to throw together. I love that!

summer time is on its way!

Now that we're getting more and more sunny days, it's also time to bust out the grill. One of Mr. VE&T's favorite dinners of all is simple grilled veggies. I marinated a bunch of veggies and tofus and then threw it all on the grill. Grilling takes a little bit of time and monitoring, because some areas of our grill cook veggies more quickly than others... but it's super easy and overall it's still pretty quick. Plus, this dinner doesn't take a lot of mental energy, which I appreciate -- and double plus, Mr. VE&T gets all super excited and raves about it the whole time, which is certainly rewarding for me! 

In general, I must say, I feel super lucky that Mr. VE&T loves my cooking so much. He is such an enthusiast and always shows great appreciation when he likes what I've made. It makes it so much more fun to cook for him. Every once in a while it happens that I make a dud, or just that he doesn't care for what I've made. But even on those occasions, he thanks me for being adventurous and always trying new things (and then he goes to the kitchen and gets something else to eat, ha ha!). Mr. VE&T isn't a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but he also happily enjoys vegan food and loves trying all the new things I make. I appreciate it so much!