Trendy, Healthy + Cheap AF: Oat Milk

Alternative ‘milks’ have been dominating the dairy aisles for the past few years and are not stopping anytime soon. It is clear consumers are looking for ways to reduce their intake of animal-based dairy and integrate it into their daily routine - from milk, yogurt and ice cream. In fact, non-dairy dairy products now represent 13% of the global dairy market, compared to only 5% 3 years ago!

Obviously, almond milk has held the floor as the leader in the alternative milk space but in the past two years has had to fight for their spot on the shelf with the introduction of various nut milks, vegetable milks of course the new rising star… oat milk. (Personally, I love them all for various purposes but today we are exploring oat milk and how you can get it cheap AF. )

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Oat milk’s popularity seems to be powered by its likeness to dairy milk. It is creamier than nut based alternatives and has a more mild flavor profile, which makes it an easy transition for those trying alternative milks for the first time! In the next 6 months, you are going to start noticing oat milk and oat products pretty much everywhere. It is already in coffee shops and restaurants and that space will expand as the product will quickly move into ice cream, yogurts and more.

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Sooo what is oat milk? What are the benefits? How can you make it?

Oat milk is simply rolled oats blended with water and strained (same processes as a nut milk!). The creamy consistency comes from the oats themselves as they break down in the water. For example, when making hot oatmeal in the morning, adding water to dry oats takes only minutes for them to become thick and creamy… same thing happens when making oat milk! Since oats are easily broken down with water, oat milks tend to be higher in healthy carbohydrates, fiber (slightly), protein, and Vitamin B12. Oat milk is higher in calories than some nut milks available however that is a reflection of the quality of the milk. Some nut milks that promise 30 or less calories do not in fact have a high quantity of almonds present in the mix. Instead they rely on water, fillers and emulsifiers to create a delicious product for less calories. While, oat milks primarily contain oats!

That being said not all oat milks are created equal. In order to create a product that appeals to the masses alternative milk companies rely on emulsifiers, fillers, sweeteners and flavorings to boost their shelf appeal and oat milk is no different. So start reading ingredient labels, get familiar with the fillers you do not want to be consuming and look for brands with the least amount of ingredients. In addition to emulsifiers, many companies are adding fiber to their oat milks to increase their fiber quantities per serving (not harmful! But some dietary fibers can cause bloating and digestive problems. So be aware and test what works for your body!)

Now that I’ve scared you about fillers… I have good news. Oat milk is EXTREMELY easy to make at home and CHEAP AF. Oat milks on the market now can run you $4-$6 for a liter! Although I love the stuff in lattes and smoothies a price tag like that makes it a little difficult to swallow when other alternative options hover around $2-3 a liter.

So lets break down how easy it is to make….

Oat Milk

makes about 20 oz

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup Rolled Oats

  • 4 cups water (add more if a thinner milk is desired)

  • Flavorings are optional but I like: 1/2 tsp salt , vanilla, dates, cacao, hemp seeds, cinnamon, coconut flakes.

Instructions

  1. Soak oats for 10-20 minutes in water.

  2. Drain and rinse, add oats to a blender.

  3. Add in water (and flavors) and blend until smooth.

  4. Strain using a nut milk bag or cheese cloth. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

  5. That is it! Store your milk in the fridge for up to 5 days and pour it over everything.

  • Most importantly do not get nervous if your milk separates while in the fridge! Because we didn’t use any emulsifiers you will need to shake your milk before using!

Our oat milk costs us : $0.50 for 20 oz of milk! That is about a $3 savings for all natural oat milk.

  • 1 cup rolled oats $0.50

  • Water $0


If making oat and nut milks is something you are loving and looking for a more mess free method (aka no straining) I highly suggest the Almond Cow. It is a simple machine no bigger than an electric kettle that easily and quickly prepares alternative milks without the added hassle of straining. I just purchased one myself and I truly don’t think I will purchased prepared milk alternatives again.

Margarita Pizza (vegan, gf, veggie packed + cheap AF)

Ready for a simple pizza that will change your weeknight dinner game?

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I love pizza. All pizza. I actually worked as a pizza chef for two years in NYC and trust me you can only stand in front of a 600 degree oven for 12 hours a day if you really, truly LOVE something. But staying to a vegan or gluten free diet can leave you subject to mediocre pizza. There are some places out there changing the game like : Double Zero and Screamer’s Pizza but you can’t always travel for a good slice.

I was looking for an option that uses ingredients everyone has access to, super easy and can be executed cheap AF (of course). As I try to put my cauliflower sauce on just about anything, I thought I would try it on pizza! So off to the land of alternative prepared pizza crusts…Trader Joe’s.

I wanted to build a pizza that was full of bold flavors, color and a solid texture to replicate any great pizza. I went with the Broccoli and Kale frozen pizza crust (for a pop of color) for the base and keeping it classic with tomatoes, garlic, basil to pair with the cauliflower cream sauce.

As long as you can move past eliminating stretchy cheese and a puffed traditional crust - this recipe delivers on flavor and texture with the bonus of being filled with nutrients!

Without further delay check out the ingredients below and run to the grocery!

Margarita Pizza

Pizza Ingredients

Serves 2

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  • Gluten-Free Pizza Crust (Here is what I used)

  • 1 cup cauliflower cream sauce (recipe below)

  • 2 vine ripened tomatoes

  • 1/2 head garlic, minced

  • 1/2 bunch basil

  • 1 Tbsp thyme (optional)

  • Olive Oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. Make the cream sauce and set aside!

  2. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch rounds (do not go thinner or else they will burn in the oven) and mince 4-5 cloves of garlic.

  3. Lay the tomato slices in a single layer on an oiled sheet tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Sprinkle half of the minced garlic over top (and tablespoon of thyme if using). Place in the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes until the tomatoes start to caramelize around the edges.

  4. Prepare the pizza crust according to the manufacturing ingredients. If using the Trader Joe’s crust I suggest following the instructions for the ‘crunchier’ crust to ensure it could withstand the toppings.

  5. Once crust is prepared, spread the cauliflower sauce over the top in an even layer. Sprinkle with minced garlic and arrange roasted tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and place back in the oven for 10 minutes until heated through.

  6. Remove, cut and top with fresh, torn basil.

  7. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower, steamed

  • 1/2 cup cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least 20 minutes

  • 1/2 yellow onion

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk

  • 1 1/2 tbsp tamari

  • 1/2 tbsp miso

  • 2- 3 tbsp lemon juice (to taste)

  • 1 tsp ground mustard seed

  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast

Instructions

  1. Cut cauliflower down into smaller pieces. Place large sauce pan with 2 inches of water. Cover, bring to a boil and allow to steam until fork tender.

  2. Meanwhile, dice onion and garlic. Saute with olive oil until onions are translucent.

  3. Add mustard seed, nutmeg, nutritional yeast and miso. Stir and cook until spices are fragrant.

  4. Add in non-dairy milk and tamari over low heat. Allow to come to a simmer and remove from heat.

  5. In a blender or food processor, combine steamed cauliflower, soaked cashews and onion mixture. Blend until smooth, season with salt and lemon juice.








Trendy, Healthy + Cheap AF : Cauliflower

Keto, Paleo, Gluten- Free, Grain-Free, Vegan… no matter how you market it cauliflower has become the “IT ingredient” in the health world. Its versatility for sweet / savory meals and ability to transform into just about anything has landed this cruciferous veggie on the top of everyones grocery list. You could say it the chameleon of all things healthy.

Transformation is not this veggies’ only superpower:

  1. Improves natural detoxification, it contains antioxidants and sulfur-containing nutrients that improve detoxifying enzymes.

  2. Contains choline, the B vitamin responsible for brain function that may help prevent memory loss and protect your brain form toxins!

  3. Improves gut health by protecting the intestinal lining from bacteria overgrowth due to it’s production of sulforaphane.

  4. Sulforaphane has also been found to improve blood pressure and kidney function.

  5. Cauliflower is high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and Folate.

From pizza to buffalo wings, cauliflower has infiltrated the most famous food groups. But before you go and grab the pre-made options I thought it was important to address some cheap AF recipes that pack a punch.

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Cauliflower Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower

  • Olive Oil

  • Salt

  • Food Processor (you can also use a cheese grater or blender)

Instructions

  1. Cut cauliflower down into smaller pieces. Place in food processor and pulse until broken down into rice-sized pieces.

  2. In a saute pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil add riced cauliflower and salt. Saute until cauliflower is cooked through.

  3. Leave it simple or add in additional herbs, spices to elevate your rice to the next level. I love adding curry powder, coconut milk and chickpeas for a 5 minute curry fix.

Ready to break it down?! Making your own cauliflower rice yields 18oz of cauliflower rice and only costs $2.69.

Store bought will run you $2.10 for 10oz of cauliflower rice. So on the ounce you are saving $0.06 which gives you a little more rice for your buck.


Cauliflower Bagels

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Now these bagels are far from the New York style classics but a great alternative and tasty in their own right. Not to mention 1 mini bagel is only 30 calories and 2g of protein!

Ingredients

Yields 10 mini bagels

  • 3 cups cauliflower rice, about 1/2 head

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 3 Tbsp brown rice flour

  • 2 Tbsp coconut Flour

  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel Seasoning (or mix poppy seed, sesame seed, minced garlic, onion powder)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Cut cauliflower down into smaller pieces. Place in food processor and pulse until broken down into rice- sized pieces.

  3. Measure 3 cups of cauliflower rice and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add in flours, baking soda and salt. Stir to combine.

  4. In a small bowl crack and beat eggs. Add to cauliflower mixture, mix until well incorporated.

  5. On a parchment lined sheet tray or mini doughnut pan, scoop about 3 tbsp cauliflower mix on to cooking surface. If making free formed bagels, form the cauliflower mix into a ball then make an indent in the center pulling it out slightly to make a classic bagel hole.

  6. Sprinkle the bagels with the Everything Seasoning, lightly pat into the bagel to ensure that it sticks.

  7. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes until the bagels are golden brown around the edges.

  8. Allow to cool, top with your favorite bagel toppings like cream cheese, lox or avocado!

Our bagels without toppings costs us : $2.74 for 10 bagels which only $0.27 per mini bagel!!!!

  • 1/2 head Cauliflower $1.34

  • Eggs $0.60

  • Brown Rice Flour $0.15

  • Coconut Flour $0.30

  • Everything Seasoning $0.50 ($7.69 for the whole bottle)

Adapted from Clean & Delicious 


Cauliflower Oatmeal

I am not going to sugar coat it, this does not taste like oatmeal BUT if you are looking for a lower calories, grain-free, low carb alternative in the mornings this is a great option. The cauliflower is able to take on whatever flavors you put into it so load it up with your favorite protein powder and toppings to make it extra delicious. Trust me, I was skeptical before I tried it but I was pleasantly surprised in the end.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup cauliflower rice, about 1/4 head

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used vanilla almond milk, but coconut milk would give it a luxurious texture)

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1 tsp coconut oil

  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (depending on preference)

  • 1 scoop protein powder (optional, I used a vanilla protein powder for extra flavor)

  • Toppings : coconut flakes, fruit, nut butter, hemp seeds… get creative!

Instructions

  1. Cut cauliflower down into smaller pieces. Place in food processor and pulse until broken down into rice-sized pieces.

  2. In a small sauce pan heat coconut oil and add cauliflower rice. Saute for 1- 2 minutes to soften.

  3. Add in non-dairy milk of choice. On medium heat let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, until the raw flavor of the cauliflower is cooked out. (If you have larger pieces of cauliflower rice this may take a few more minutes.)

  4. Add in desired flavorings, maple syrup, cinnamon, protein powder and chia seeds. Stir to combine.

  5. Allow to cook on low for 1 more minute. Mixture should be thick resembling grits or polenta.

  6. Pour into a bowl and add all of the toppings!

This cauliflower oatmeal base will run you $1.37!

  • 1/4 head cauliflower $0.67

  • 1 cup Almond milk $0.45

  • 1 tbsp Chia seeds $0.20

  • 1 tsp Cinnamon $0.05

  • The key to this breakfast is toppings… and who doesn’t like toppings?! The ‘oatmeal’ base is only 60 calories (w/ chia seeds) which in my opinion means you can go a little crazy with the goods ;)


Cauliflower Alfredo

Velvety, rich and luxurious Alfredo sauce lightened up without losing all of the creamy goodness. I am telling you… this is a real guilt-free swap. This sauce is also a great vegan béchamel base for any dish like lasagna, spinach dip or white pizza.

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Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 head of cauliflower, steamed

  • 1/2 cup cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least 20 minutes

  • 1/2 yellow onion

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk

  • 1 1/2 tbsp tamari

  • 1/2 tbsp miso

  • 2- 3 tbsp lemon juice (to taste)

  • 1 tsp ground mustard seed

  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast

  • Roasted Vegetables ( Trying to bring in spring vibes, I roasted scallions, asparagus and peas to top my pasta )

  • Gluten-free Pasta ( I went with Banza Shells )

Instructions

  1. Cut cauliflower down into smaller pieces. Place large sauce pan with 2 inches of water. Cover, bring to a boil and allow to steam until fork tender.

  2. Meanwhile, dice onion and garlic. Saute with olive oil until onions are translucent.

  3. Add mustard seed, nutmeg, nutritional yeast and miso. Stir and cook until spices are fragrant.

  4. Add in non-dairy milk and tamari over low heat. Allow to come to a simmer and remove from heat.

  5. In a blender or food processor, combine steamed cauliflower, soaked cashews and onion mixture. Blend until smooth, season with salt and lemon juice.

  6. Boil the pasta, and roast veggies of your choice.

  7. In a saute pan add pasta, veggies and sauce, toss to coat and serve it up!

Your new favorite vegan sauce will only cost you $6.75 which is only $1.68 per serving!

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  • 1 head cauliflower $2.67

  • 1/2 cup cashews $0.99

  • 1/2 yellow onion $0.40

  • 3 cloves garlic $0.30

  • 1 tbsp olive oil $0.15

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk $0.22

  • 1 1/2 tbsp tamari $0.22

  • 1/2 tbsp miso $0.40

  • 2- 3 tbsp lemon juice (to taste) $0.60

  • 1 tsp ground mustard seed $0.10

  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg $0.10

  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast $0.60

Adapted from Oh She Glows


Although I am a fan of the homemade staples, I have to be honest … there are some companies out there who are making great options when it comes to the prepared goods. But I must warn you, if you follow particular dietary restriction please READ THE INGREDIENTS, many cauliflower products contain dairy, eggs or lard as a binding agent so keep an eye out if these are things you try to avoid.

  • Cauliflower Gnocchi - I am sure there is no shock here but if you haven’t tried Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi it is cheap, simple to make and always delicious. You could even throw my Cauliflower Alfredo on top ;)

  • Cauliflower Pizza Crust - Cauliflower lends itself to be a great pizza crust. It is sturdy enough to hold up to toppings without sacrificing flavor. When you need a quick fix reach for this option by CauliPower.

  • Cauliflower Rice - Versatility is king when it comes to cauliflower rice, due to its mild flavor it pairs well with just about everything. I like to use it as a base for robust flavors like curry or tabbouleh. Kitchen & Love is creating delicious cauliflower ready-to-eat bowls with unique flavor combinations that are great on the go.


Ancho Average Chili

Next up on the chili challenge is decoding a classic Texas Chili.

We all know everything is bigger in Texas… but did you know how seriously they take their chili? Chili is Texas’ State Dish, also known as the Bowl of Red, gained its popularity out of necessity for all of the Cowboys looking for a hearty, warm dish after a day of labor. In order to keep tradition alive, the regulations on what can be called a Texas Red Chili is a strict rule book.

Regulations:

  1. Diced beef.

  2. Beef stock.

  3. Chili paste for the base.

  4. Thickened with Masa (corn flour).

  5. No tomatoes, no beans, no vegetables.

Well clearly turning this dish vegan, violates some MAJOR qualifications. But what fun are rules if you can’t break them?!

In this vegan version I changed it up a little.

1.     Diced beef. —> Tempeh and mushroom mix.

2.     Beef stock. —> Brown stock.

3.     Chili paste for the base.

4.     Thickened with Masa (corn flour).

5.     No tomatoes, no beans, no vegetables. —> Well, honestly this rule needed to change anyway.   

I will admit this chili does not have the coat-your-mouth fattiness of a traditional Texas Chili, but the flavor and texture profiles are spot on. With a mix of spicy and lightly smoked chilies the base of the chili has a great depth of flavor with a heat that slowly rises to the surface. The sauce is thickened just enough to coat the diced tempeh, soaking up the flavors of the chili for that slow cooked meaty feel.

Check it out for yourself. (And if you’re really into breaking the rules, spoon it over quinoa or cauliflower rice)

Vegan Texas Chili

Yield 6-8 servings  

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  • Dried chile: 3 Ancho chile, 2 Monita chile, 4 guajillo chile

  • Fresh chile: 2-3 fresno chile (depending on desired spice), 1 jalapeno

  • 3 cloves of garlic

  • 6 oz tomato paste

  • ¼ cup water

  • 1 yellow onion, small diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, small diced

  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • 2 8 oz packages of Tempeh, ½ inch dice

  • ¼ cup tamari

  • 1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)

  • 6 portobella mushroom caps, 1 inch dice

  • 3 tbsp Masa flour or corn flour

  • 4-5 cups of Brown Stock (recipe below)

  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

 

1.     Dice the tempeh into ½ inch pieces. Transfer to a plastic bag and add tamari, ½ tsp cumin and honey. Shake to combine and set aside to marinade for at least 1 hour.

2.     To start the chili paste, toss fresh fresnos and jalapeno in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until just roasted and starting to pop.

3.     In a medium bowl, place dried chiles and cover with hot water. Allow to sit for 25-30 minutes until softened.

 

4.     While the chiles are soaking, in a large soup pot heat 3 tbsp olive oil. Add diced onion and pepper, saute until onions are translucent. Add 1 tsp cumin and paprika, allowing to toast for 1 minute. Remove and set aside.

5.     In the same pot, add tbsp olive oil and sear diced portobella mushrooms, season with salt. Cook until tender and lightly browned, approx. 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

6.     Next, sear the marinated tempeh. Place an even layer of the tempeh down to ensure that each piece can brown. This may take two or three rounds.

7.     Remove the tempeh and add to the cooked mushrooms.

 

8.     Back to the paste, remove the stems and seeds of the softened and roasted chiles.

9.     In a medium bowl (or blender if using), add cleaned chiles, ¼ cup water, garlic and tomato paste.

10.  Using an immersion blender, blend the chile mix until it is a smooth paste. Set aside.

 

11.  In the same soup pot over medium heat, whisk together 1 cup of brown stock and 3 tbsp of masa. Allow the mix to come to a shallow boil. The sauce will appear thickened and should coat the back of a spoon.

12.  Add the cooked onion mix, chile paste, mushrooms, tempeh and white vinegar. Cover with 4 cups of brown stock, until the ingredients are just covered. Add up to 1 cup more of stock if needed.

13.  Stir to combine, bring to a boil. Reduce the chili to a simmer and allow to cook for at least 1 hour. The longer the chili is allowed to simmer the better the flavor.

14.  To serve it up, garnish with scallion, avocado, parsley or (dairy free) sour cream.

 

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Brown Stock

Yields 8 cups

  • 2 yellow onions, rough chop

  • 1 carrot, rough chop

  • 1 parsnip, rough chop

  • 1 cup dried shitake mushroom

  • 4 cloves garlic, whole

  • 1 bay leaf

  • ½ bunch parsley

  • ¾ walnuts, toasted

  • ¾ cup French lentils, uncooked

  • 2 tbsp miso  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.     Rough chop vegetables, toss in olive oil, salt and miso paste.

2.     Transfer to a sheet tray and roast for 45-60 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and starting to caramelize.

3.     In a large soup pot, add roasted vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. Cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a bowl, cover and let simmer for at least 2 hours.

4.     Once the stock liquid is a dark brown color, remove from heat.

5.     Strain the liquid and throw out solids. Store in fridge for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 4 months.





This Bread is Bananas

Banana bread. It doesn’t need much of an introduction… this classic quick bread recipe has been on American breakfast tables since the 1930’s.

Beyond its special place in American History, banana bread will always hold a place in my heart as it is the first thing my mom taught me to bake. Using a recipe passed down by her mother, I was in awe that browned bananas could turn into a finger-licking worthy batter. Every weekend we would take our old bananas and bake the passed down recipe, topping it with our favorite… cream cheese.

Due to my love for the original, it has taken me a while to health-ify this classic bread. But it was time. This easy Vegan and Gluten-free version even had my mom convinced it was just as good as the original.

Check out the recipe below, let me know what you think!

BANANA BREAD

Yields 1 loaf

 Wet

  • 3 Tbs chia seeds

  • 6 Tbs water

  • 3 Ripe Bananas (optional: additional ½ banana for garnish)

  • 1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, melted

  • ½ Cup Almond Milk

  • 2 Tsp Vanilla

  • 1 Tbs Agave

  • ¼ cup Coconut Sugar

Dry

  • ½ Cup Almond Flour

  • ½ Cup Coconut Flour

  • 1 Cup Gluten Free Mix

  • 1 tsp Baking Soda

  • ½ tsp Baking Powder

  • ½ tsp Salt

  • 2 Tbs Hemp Seed

  • 1 ½ tsp Cinnamon

  • ½ tsp Ginger


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.     In a large bowl, combine chia seeds and water. Let sit for at least 5 minutes until chia seeds have started to thicken and form a gel.

2.     Once chia seeds have gelled, mash the bananas into the mixture. Mix in the rest of the wet ingredients until well combined.

3.     In a separate bowl sift together all of the dry ingredients.

4.     Gradually fold dry ingredients into the wet mixture, until well combined.

5.     Prepare loaf pan with nonstick spray and add batter.

6.     Garnish loaf with chopped nuts or a banana sliced lengthwise sprinkled with coconut sugar.

7.     Bake for 25- 30 min. Until the center is cooked through.

8. Allow to cool before slicing. Enjoy it as is, or with dairy-free cream cheese or butter.



Chili Out

Hello fall! Although I will always miss those heated days, it is time to sit down, cozy on up with your favorite blanket and dive into some warming meals.  

No no, we are not discussing pumpkin spiced foods today, we are looking into something more chil-i.

A friend of my recently decided to start eating a plant based diet. While enjoying the way he feels and exploring new foods that he would have avoided in his carnivore days, he doesn’t feel vegans have mastered the art of chili. From his experience the vegan community has nailed many interpreted dishes. Veggie burgers are layered with texture, flavor and a fattiness that is present in beef patties. Vegan pastry and cakes are now just as indulgent as their buttered-up counterparts. Even vegan barbecue has made strides in locking in the slow-cooked and smoked flavor.  

But vegan chili has remained bland and uninspired. Sticking to the basics of veg and beans, vegan chili has become no more than a vegetable soup. Nothing of the hearty, stick-to-your-bones, fuel that chili was initially intended to do.

After this discussion, my friend challenged me to the ultimate chili cook off… to create 4 flavor packed, indulgent and mouth-watering chilies that even a cowboy would approve of.

Challenge accepted.

As I began to wrap my brain around the task I realized I actually haven’t made many chilis (meat or vegetarian) and certainly not one beyond canned beans and diced squash swimming in canned tomatoes. So I went to the drawing board to research what makes a great chili and the traditional variations of chili in the United States. Don’t worry, I will just summarize what I found…

TOP 5 CHILI REQUIREMENTS:

1. Rich dynamic flavor. A chili needs to incorporate sweet, bitter, spicy flavors rounded out with a fresh element.

2. Your traditional “beefy flavor,” which for vegan purposes we are going to attribute to umami.

3. Luscious beans, that add a creamy element to the chili without breaking apart.

4. Traditionally, a deep red sauce.

5. The chilies. No use for “chili powder” here. Unique, homemade blends of dried and roasted chilies are needed to achieve the perfect chili base that adds heat and depth of flavor.

5 TRADITIONAL CHILIS:

1. Chili Verde – a base of fresh peppers and tomatillos paired with white beans and shredded chicken or pork.

2. Texas Chili – deep red sauce with hearty pieces of red meat. NO beans and vegetables are best unseen.

3. Rocky Mountain Chili- deep red sauce with notes of chocolate and coffee, packed with meat and beans.

4. Cincinnati Chili- ground beef in a tomato based sauce, mixed with beans atop a bed of spaghetti. Always found loaded up with diced onion, cheddar cheese, sour cream and oyster crackers.

5. Vegetarian Chili- red tomato based sauce, various mixture of beans and large diced vegetables.

To boil it down, I am on a mission to recreate 4 traditional chilis into delicious vegan versions that can stand on their own. Every Monday for the month of October we are going to “chili out” as I post photos and recipes for the 4 variations.

First up, we have a Chili Verde with Jackfruit and White Beans. This classily lighter chili, packs a punch of fresh chilies paired with hearty pieces of jackfruit and beans to achieve a meaty mouth feel.

Let me know what you think!

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Chili Verde

Jackfruit + Cannellini Bean Chili

Yields 10 - 12 servings

4 poblano peppers

2- 3 jalapenos, depending on heat levels

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10 tomatillos

4 cloves of garlic

3 cups white onion, about 1 ½ onions small diced

3 cups celery, ½ head of celery small diced

1 ½ cups carrots, 4 carrots small diced

1 green pepper, medium diced

2 cans Green Jackfruit

2 cans cannellini beans

1 tbsp ground cumin

½ tsp dried oregano

Tbsp yellow miso

Salt

7 cups of Vegetable Stock (recipe below) 

Optional garnish:

Unsweetened coconut yogurt

Lime wedge

Toasted pumpkin seeds

Avocado

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  1. Toss poblano peppers, garlic, tomatillos and jalapenos with olive oil and salt. Depending on your desired heat level, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before roasting. Place vegetables on sheet trays and roast for 20-25 minutes until soft and slightly charred.  

  2. While the peppers and tomatillos are roasting, small dice onions, celery and carrots. In a large soup pot, heat 3 tbsp olive oil. Add diced vegetables and a heavy pinch of salt. Allow vegetables to sweat until translucent and tender, about 10-15 minutes.

  3. Add diced green pepper, ground cumin, oregano and miso allowing it to cook for another 5 minutes until cumin is fragrant. * If using store bought stock use 2 tbsp miso. Reduce heat to avoid burning.

  4. Remove peppers and tomatillos from the oven.  Remove stem and seeds from poblano peppers and jalapenos (if you have not already done so). Blend ingredients together, in a bowl using an immersion blender or blender.

  5. Add the tomatillo paste to the sautéed vegetables and 6 ½ cups of stock, stirring to incorporate. Keep heat low as you prepare the jackfruit and beans.  

  6. De- can and rinse jackfruit. Pull the jackfruit apart into ½ inch pieces, it should resemble pulled chicken. Toss in olive oil, salt, 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp chili powder. Transfer to a sheet tray and roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. The jackfruit should have some browned edges and should feel dry.

  7.  De-can and rinse off the cannellini beans and toss into the chili base. Add all of the roasted jackfruit to the base. Bring mixture up to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Season to taste.

  8. Allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes, and serve. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, coconut yogurt, lime and avocado.

  9. This chili can be made ahead and stored up to 4-5 days in the fridge, or portioned and frozen for up to 4 months.

  

Vegetable stock

Adapted from Bon Appetit’s Vegan Umami Broth 

4 tbsp yellow miso

2 yellow onions, peeled and rough chopped

½ head celery, rough chopped

4 carrots, rough chopped

2 cups dried shitake mushrooms

½ bunch parsley

1/2 head of garlic

3 tbsp Olive oil

¼ cup tamari

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. In a small bowl whisk olive oil and miso together to be a thick paste. Add a splash of water to thin so that it is thick but pliable.

  2. Combine all prepped vegetables in a bowl tossing with the miso paste to coat. Transfer to a sheet tray and laying everything evenly in one layer, you may need two trays.

  3. Allow to roast at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Stirring occasionally to avoid burning. You want your vegetables to be browned, tender and fragrant.  

  4. In a large soup pot, place all of the roasted vegetables. Add in a ½ bunch of parsley and a ¼ cup tamari. Cover with 8-10 cups of water.

  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered. Allow broth to simmer for 1 hour.

  6. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or pot. Discard vegetable solids. Store liquid for 3-4 days in the fridge or freeze for 3-4 months.

Natural Products Expo West 2018

This past month I was lucky enough to visit the Natural Products Expo in California, aka my heaven on earth. For those of you who do not know, the Natural Products Expo is the largest annual trade show (both on the east and west coast) in the natural, organic and health product industry. The exhibitor list has a wide range of companies, offering natural, organic or alternative diet supportive products in the food, beverage, supplement and beauty industry. 

For the past four years I have gone to the Natural Expo to explore the upcoming trends and new product launches from both new and familiar brands. After walking, and snacking, down the aisles of the expo I have consolidated my findings in a small trend report. The report highlights the major flavor, ingredient and allergy trends that will impact consumers in 2018. Take a look at the slideshow below to explore the trends thats that will be hitting your shelves this year.


 

Decoding Sunchokes

It is time to change up your go-to potato side dish and welcome this nutrient dense tuber to your plate. Decadent, earthy and nutty sunchokes will elevate your taste buds while providing necessary micronutrients that you may be missing.

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Sunchokes are a tuber, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, from the sunflower family. It is made up of fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins. Sunchokes contain high amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber, including inulin. Inulin is a soluble fiber that doubles as a prebiotic, improving overall gut health, immune function and regulating cholesterol.

These delicious tubers contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin E acting as free-radical fighting antioxidants. The B Vitamins Thiamine and Niacin are also found in sunchokes. Thaimine aids the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach improving protein digestion, while niacin improves the appearance and health for your eyes, hair and skin.  

In addition to a high vitamin content, sunchokes contain electrolytes and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, iron and copper. Sunchokes provide 9% of your daily value (DV) of potassium, which improves blood pressure by reversing the effects of sodium. As well as, copper (11% DV) and iron (28% DV) which promotes red blood cell formation improving oxygen distribution throughout the body.

Not only are sunchokes nutrient superstars they are versatile in the kitchen. Whether you roast, steam, mash or enjoy raw this unique tuber is sure to impress.

Try out this easy Roasted Sunchoke and Macadamia Nut Gremolata, with the help of Mauna Loa’s Roasted Macadamia Nuts. The buttery, decadent flavor from the nuts are a perfect pairing for this veggie dish.


Roasted Sunchokes with Macadamia Nut Gremolata

Serves 4

 

Gremolata

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  • ½ cup Mauna Loa Roasted Chopped Macadamia Nuts
  • 2 lemons, zested and chopped
  • 2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Vegetables

  • 1 lb sun chokes
  • 1/8 tsp ground thyme
  • Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut sun chokes into 1 to 1 ½ inch pieces. In a medium bowl, toss with olive oil, ground thyme and salt.
  3. Place on a lined sheet tray and roast in the oven for 30- 40 minutes. Until tender and slightly caramelized.
  4. While the sun chokes are roasting, in a medium bowl combine the chopped macadamia nuts, parsley, zest and garlic in a bowl. Stream in olive oil and finish with salt to taste. Set aside.
  5. Once sun chokes are cooked, place in a serving dish or plate and top with the gremolata. 

Recreating the Classics with Pipcorn

You know the saying, “The original is always better,” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well Pipcorn heard those cliché sayings and tossed them out the window. They have taken something we all know and love, popcorn, and recreated it to provide us with a unique snacking experience.

In the spirit of Pipcorn, I decided to overhaul a few classics myself. So what am I talking about?! Think Peanut Butter and Jelly… the perfect combination of sweet, salty goodness that oozes from the crust as you take a bite. It’s one of those quick and easy combinations that you know will get you through your lunch break and feeling like a kid on the playground. Although this classic for both grown-ups and kids alike isn’t going out of style anytime soon, I thought we could turn it up a notch. My PB+J Popcorn highlights the creamy peanut butter taste with bursts of fruit from dried berries. Its simple, easy and oh so addicting.   

Sweet tooth, ✔️.

Now, let’s move into something more savory. You know the two ingredients sandwich that you ate as a kid, after playing in the snow with a steamy bowl of tomato soup? Nothing says a you’re loved, like a crispy, buttery, cheesy, gooey grilled cheese sandwich. With the gourmet grilled cheeseries out there stepping up their game on the classic, I thought, why not?! Truffle Pipcorn was the inspiration I needed for my Truffled Grilled Cheese… combined with caramelized onions and melted provolone this grilled cheese will be your ticket to the clean plate club.

I know, I know I’m messing with the greats but its time to hone your inner kid and break the rules just a little. Go ahead, test them out and let me know what you think!


PB+J Popcorn

Ingredients

Directions

  1. In a large bowl combine Sea Salt Pipcorn and dried berries
  2. In a small sauce pan combine sugar and agave. Over medium heat bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Quickly add peanut butter and stir until fully combined.
  4. Pour over the popcorn mix and toss until fully covered. (Careful its hot! Use tongs and spoons to mix it up.)
  5. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet to cool
  6. Warning these may not last more than 2 minutes ;)

recipe adapted from The Kitchen


Truffled Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 pieces of your favorite sprouted wheat bread
  • 2 pieces Daiya provolone or cheese of your choice
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Truffle Pipcorn
  • 1 tbs coconut oil or butter of your choice

Directions

  1. Heat a sauce pan, add oil and sliced onions over medium heat.
  2. Cook slowly until golden brown and caramelized, set aside.
  3. On one half of bread place one piece of provolone, top with caramelized onions and Pipcorn
  4. Top with second slice of cheese and bread.
  5. Smear a butter on the top piece of bread. Place on heated skillet, cook for 1 minute until golden brown and flip.
  6. Cook until cheese is just melted and serve immediately. 

Chickpea is the New Black

Classic, transformable and the perfect choice for any occasion, chickpeas are the little black dress of the legumes. Just as New Yorkers have deemed black the fashion staple that slims your figure, while providing just enough edge to be worn day and night. Chickpeas have mastered the same sex appeal. Now don’t get ahead of yourselves, I am not saying lets all go rogue and cover ourselves in chickpeas BUT I think it is about time we fully appreciated the versatility of the protein and fiber packed bean. 

A chickpea is so much more than a substance to be blended into a creamy, delicious hummus. The chickpea has a unique consistency that makes it the perfect ingredient to roast, fry, mash, bake and even turn into meringue! 

The Skinny

Like all beans and legumes chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are packed with protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates are the perfect addition to your diet. In fact only 1 cup of chickpeas provides half of your daily recommended fiber and 15 grams of cholesterol- free plant based protein. 

The boost of protein and fiber will have your GI tract groovin’. The fiber found in chickpeas is primarily insoluble fiber, which means it is not broken down during digestion helping your gut move the excess waste more easily and quickly. The remaining soluble fiber found in chickpeas is broken down by the bacteria in the colon to be digested into extra energy stores for the surrounding cells, improving colon health and decreasing the risk of colon cancer.

The high concentration of fiber and protein in chickpeas guarantees that you’ll be satisfied and nourished for whatever you day has in store.

Dress it Down

Chickpeas don’t require any accessories to make it delicious. you can simply eat them straight out of the can or boil them at home with an assortment of your favorite aromatics to reach full flavor potential. Simply toss them into a salad, side dish or alone. I am loving this Buddha Bowl by Minimalist Baker, its the perfect way to pump up your protein routine. 

Looking for a little more crunch? Toss your the chicks with a touch of oil and your favorite spices and roast them at 350 degrees until light golden brown and start munching. 

 

 

Dress it Up

Just like a good hair day, sometimes you need to cook up a little something special to add some va va voom to your plate. And chickpeas can do just the trick. Transform your beans into veggie burgers packed with your favorite spices and vegetables, bake them into falafel or a delicious creamy chickpea salad. Test out a few of my favorites like chickpea gyros, smashed chickpea salad and falafel!

 

The Show Stopper

So we have covered the obvious ways to add chickpeas to your daily routine without losing their identity. But we all have those days when we need to pull out the LBD that will slay like Beyonce. Luckily the chickpea holds the power to make Sasha Fierce weak at the knees.

Aquafaba is the newest vegan trend that is revolutionizing vegan baking. Aquafaba, refers to the soaking liquid from the chickpeas, either homemade or canned. The starches and proteins left in the liquid after soaking provide enough structure that it can be WHIPPED like egg whites! The whipped aquafaba is perfect for meringue, macarons, cakes or even mayonnaise! I have to admit I was a skeptic. Thinking, “even if this does work, it is going to taste like beans.”  But boy was I wrong! When I tested the classic meringue they came out light, fluffy and delicious. I did notice aquafaba is slightly more temperamental to work with than egg whites, but an awesome dairy free substitution. Check out these berry pavlovas!

But the transformation does not stop there, chickpeas can be ground into a delicious gluten free flour that can be added to quick breads, cookies, cakes, pancakes, waffles, you name it! The flour has a sturdy texture and nutty flavor that adds body to gluten free baking. However, using 100% chickpea flour can make your sweets taste chalky, so make sure to cut the chickpea flour with another flour such as rice or oat flour. For a savory twist check out these Farinatas or go classic with this Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. 

Don’t take my word for it. Take the #FreshChallenge and explore the versatility of chickpeas without losing your unique sense of style. Share your recipes photos and thoughts on social @TheFreshSlice. 

Mint- Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Busy schedules, late night cravings and chocoholic-ism has lead to stuffing my face with foods that make me feel sluggish and... well gross the past few weeks. 

Working in a profession kitchen leads to awkward hours, late nights and little time to make sure you are eating full nutritious meals every day. Instead you are left mindlessly munching on this or that throughout the night, never sitting down to enjoy what you are eating and most likely missing key nutrients. I quickly felt myself getting exhausted, grumpy and sick. 

In my searches on ways to supplement the vital nutrients I have been missing, I stumbled upon HUM Nutrition. From the bright packaging to wholesome, natural and vegan ingredients I decided to give it a try. I started with the basics like probiotics, vitamin D and B12 plus fun combinations for hair + nail health and a weight-loss booster and you could say I am more than satisfied. Since starting my HUM regimen I have started to get control of my crazy schedule and fuel my body. 

My newest HUM obsession is their new Raw Beauty superfood powder. Its an all in one boost of superfoods like spirulina, ginger, chlorella, wheat grass, flax, goji berry, matcha (and SO much more) all wrapped together with the delicious flavors of mint-chocolate. The powder is delicious to add to smoothies, 'nice' cream or just shaken with almond milk. BUT I decided to give into my sweet and indulgent side and turn it into a luscious vegan chocolate sauce. The sauce is perfect for dipping, pouring or spooning ;) 

MINT- CHOCOLATE FUDGE SAUCE

yield : 1/2 cup sauce

1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk 

6 dates, pitted 

2 tsp chia seeds

1 tsp vanilla extract 

2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp HUM Nutrition Raw Beauty powder

  1. In a blender, combine almond milk, chia seeds and dates until smooth. 
  2. Strain mixture into a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently until thickened (about 5- 10 minutes). 
  3. Whisk in cocoa powder, HUM Nutrition Raw Beauty and vanilla until well incorporated. 
  4. Remove from heat and dip, pour or smear. 

The Fresh Challenge : Hemp

For this month's Fresh Challenge sit back, grab a spot on the couch and pack a bowl... of HEMP seeds! 

Hemp is a all around plant- based power house of nutrients that can be added to smoothies, salads, baked goods and well... just about anything! 

Protein Hit - Hemp hearts contain 10 grams of protein per 3 tablespoon serving. The protein found in hemp is a complete protein and easily digestible! 

Fiber Fire - Add more fire to your belly. These little seeds are full of fiber to aid your gut health and digestion. The standard diet is lacking in this nutrient as we chips in snacks instead of fruits and vegetables, but hemp can help swing the pendulum in a better direction. 

Omega-3 Good-Good - Protect your heart and improve your brain function with a daily dose of Omega- 3 fatty acids. Adding omega- 3's to your day helps reduce inflammation, reduce your risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. 

The best part about this challenge? Hemp is easy to find anywhere these days from raw hemp hearts to milks you can take the challenge out of this Fresh Challenge. Just in case you need more direction when the munchies kick in, here are a few of my blazin picks. 

 

 

 

The Fresh Challenge : Spirulina

Keep away from the wrath of the leprechauns and go green this month with spirulina. Spirulina is a powerful blue-green algae that will boost your daily nutrient intake, detoxify skin, improve energy and aid digestive health. With 2000% more beta carotene than carrots, 4000% more iron than spinach and 280% more antioxidant strength than berries, spirulina is the ultimate addition to your diet. This super- algae is an easy addition to smoothies, desserts, snacks or even salad dressings. 

 

Protein Boost

Spirulina is a nutrient dense algae composed of 60% protein, B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium and manganese. However, what sets spirulina apart from other plant based proteins is that it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids our bodies require to digest and utilize for optimal cellular function. In fact, 1 tbsp of spirulina powder contains 4g of protein with only 20 calories and 2g of carbohydrates. 

Anti- aging

This algae is more than just a protein powerhouse, it has also been found to have substantial anti-aging properties due to its high percentage of beta carotene, antioxidants and phycocyanin. Phycocyanin is the active ingredient in spirulina that is responsible for its bright blue- green color. Phycocyanin is a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant that fights free radicals in the body while reducing the production of inflammatory molecules. Move over carrots… beta carotene levels in spirulina are 10 times more concentrated than those found in carrots, making spirulina a one-stop-shop for anti-aging from the inside out. 

Gut Health

There are countless detoxifiers and digestive aids hitting the market these days but few target the micro biome of your gut to remove toxins quickly and effectively. Well, spirulina does just that, the blue-green algae stimulates the growth and function of beneficial flora while suppressing bad bacteria in your digestive tract. This promotes proper digestion and the removal of toxins and heavy metals in your bloods stream. The stimulation of beneficial gut flora also improves digestive conditions such as constipation, candida and leaky gut syndrome. 

Energy

Lastly, spirulina’s antioxidant, protein and vitamin rich properties make it a compact energy booster. Some studies have shown that regular consumption of spirulina may improve endurance and reduce muscle fatigue among athletes. 

How to use

Raw spirulina can be found in tablet or powder form by companies such as go raw and Sunfood.  Due to the algae's strong earthy flavor is best when paired with sweets fruits such as bananas, mango, pineapple, dates or berries in smoothies or juices. If dessert is what your craving, add a spoonful of spirulina powder to raw chocolate brownies, truffles or chia pudding for a depth of flavor and boost of nutrition. Don’t have a sweet tooth, no worries. Spoon some into your oatmeal in the morning with a sprinkle of sea salt and handful of nuts, toss it with your popcorn or add it to salad dressings. 

For the purest out there, you can dissolve a tablet or spoonful of powder into a glass of water and drink it straight! But keep a glad of water handy because the dark blue-green color will temporarily stain those pearly whites if not washed down. 

Spirulina is gaining popularity among the health food scene and can be found a various prepared snacks and drinks. Check out Go Raw Sweet Spirulina Bar, GT's Multi-Green Kombucha, Roobar's Spirulina + Chia Protein Bar or Vosges Matcha + Spirulina Dark Chocolate

5 Fail-proof Tips for Holiday Menu Planning

‘Tis the season… to host a huge party, drop a pie on the floor and overcook your entree. It happens every year, as you pass the Christmas light-lined avenues or step foot into a department store high off fragrance gift-set fumes you start to get the holiday bug. And you have the BEST idea… “I’ll host a holiday party for all my friends!” Once the invites are out and anticipation running high, it hits you. You’ve never hosted a party and your five course menu with specialty cocktails and assortment of desserts requires an army of elves to pull off.

Don’t worry, these 5 fail-proof menu planning tips will bring the joy back into your holiday party planning.

1. Keep it simple. Even the simplest recipes can be show stoppers. Don’t wait for the holidays to make the most complicated and involved recipe that you know will impress your guests. Making a recipe with multiple components for the first time is stressful enough, throw in 3 courses and a room full of people and it spells disaster. Instead, choose recipes that you are comfortable with (or at least have made once or twice before), to ensure smooth execution. If you’re worried your go-to recipes won’t impress, dress it up your garnishes. Use edible garnishes such as pomegranate seeds or herbs to brighten a soup or salad, infused oil to drizzle over entrees or gold dust to sprinkle over desserts.

 

2. Limit the spread. With inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram, Food Network or Food52 it is easy to find 20 recipes that you know your guests will just LOVE. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Choose 5 recipes with color, flavor and texture variations that will satisfy your guests’ taste buds without the fuss.

For example:

Appetizer: Polenta squares w/ sundried tomato tapenade  {yellow, red, creamy, soft, salty, nutty} 

Salad: Kale vegan caesar salad topped w/ baked chickpeas and cherry tomatoes {green, brown, red, crunchy, umami}

Entree: Lentil loaf, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts {brown, orange, green, meaty, salty, crispy, warm}

Dessert: Classic apple pie  {golden brown, flakey, warm, sweet, spiced}

3. Preparation is key. Don’t be caught in the kitchen as guests are arriving, you need to have fun too! Read through the recipes you've selected days beforehand and see what you can prep ahead of time. Most recipes can be broken down and prepared in advance that way all you have to do is toss it together and throw it in the oven hours before the party. (What to make ahead of time: pie crusts, croutons, salad dressings, vegetable prep, dips and spreads.)

4. Leave it to the professionals. When you are the host you need to highlight your strengths. Which means doing what you do well and letting someone else take care of the rest. Appetizers and dessert are the easiest courses to seek outside assistance. If you know you won’t have time to make an appetizer grab an amazing hummus with crudite and pita chips, or put together a rustic cheese platter. Never been able to make the perfect pie? Don’t chance it, order a pie from your favorite bakery. In the end, delicious food is delicious food your guests won’t know the difference.  

5. Make yourself a drink. Take a deep breath, you’ve planned a simple and delicious menu that is all prepared and warming in the oven. All you have have left is plating with the perfect garnishes. So go ahead, get those creative juices flowing and treat yourself with a cocktail. You’ll have your guests wondering how you pulled off an amazing dinner party without breaking a sweat.

Bonus: Brush it offOkay, so you followed all the tips, stuck to simple recipes that you could make ahead of time BUT they still didn’t turn out picture perfect. Brush it off, in the end it’s just food. Worst case scenario your family and friends put their Instagram accounts on hiatus for the night and chow down on delicious lentil loaf “crumbles” or pumpkin “pudding” in a pie tart shell. Laugh it off, dig in and make memories!

 

Culinary School : Month One

Exhausted, sore, perpetually full and loving every minute. I officially have one month of culinary school under my belt. I am learning more than I ever expected, from knife skills, the importance of quality ingredients, proper cooking techniques and new flavor profiles. 

Just like the first day of high school or college, your first day at a new job, culinary school is no different. I laid out my outfit the night before, slept a total of 20 minutes and attempted to Google search the class roster. To say the least the nerves were kicking in. The first day was “syllabus day,” understanding the lay of the land in an attempt to prepare us for the whirlwind experience ahead. 

Once the jitters faded away, uniforms on and knife set in hand, shit got real. Every day we were flooded with information, starting with the basics of identifying different foods and how to work with them, to basic knife skills and proper food handling. In the beginning, all 14 of us were silent as we awkwardly found our way around the kitchen, shy to season with salt or deviate from the recipes we were given. But as the weeks progressed we warmed up to each other, our environment and the idea that our feet will always be sore and our stomachs full. (I mean how are you supposed to know if you are cooking something correctly if you don’t try everyone’s attempt at the perfect vegan burger? Or chocolate soufflé?!).  To say the least, the past month has been thrilling, inspirational and better than anything I could have expected. 

Why Culinary School?

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Before I break into the nitty gritty, it is important to understand the driving force that led me to culinary school and The Natural Gourmet Institute. Food has been a source of energy, inspiration and love throughout my life. I grew up in a large Mid-western family whose idea of holiday traditions and celebrations was nothing shy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I quickly learned my way around the kitchen by watching and spending time with my mom and aunts and learned how to handle a grill by watching my dad. These family and food-filled gatherings were a place of laughter, love and happiness. Understanding at a young age that food brought people together, inspired me.

My desire to test my creativity in the kitchen escalated as I entered high school. It all began when I decided to bake cupcakes, cakes and cookies to surprise my friends on their birthdays but very quickly grew into something more. I found myself straying away from cookbooks and coming up with my own recipes – ones I would sneak into the kitchen late at night to test out – instead of sitting in my room studying.

By the end of my senior year, I was torn between applying to college or pastry school. After countless hours of research and debates – internally and with my family, I decided to put my passion on the back burner and head to San Diego for college. While in school, I further defined and redefined my passion for cooking, baking and the food industry. I sought out internship opportunities at small to medium sized companies within the industry. Over the course of my college career, I interned for DairyChem, Chuao Chocolatier, Beach Bum Foods, Yelp!, a food-marketing agency Sterling Rice Group, and The Patachou Foundation. Each experience was amazing and taught me more about food, health and food culture than I knew possible.

Beyond my internships, my relationship with food continued to change as I struggled with my weight and began experiencing digestive health problems. I started researching nutrition and alternative cooking methods in order to improve my health. I tried everything from juice cleanses to gluten free, vegan and raw diets. All of which would make me feel great for a few days, until the weekend came and I’d binge on cocktails and late night grub with my friends. After beating myself up week in and week out, disappointed with my semi-conscious decisions and the way it made me feel, I decided to make a lifestyle change that would enhance my life. I came to peace with the idea that health is a balancing act of eating to fuel your body and your soul. For me, that means following a primarily vegan diet full of vitamins, proteins and healthy fats, while maintaining an open mind to alternative diets, new foods and various ways to think about nutrition. As a result, I have cleared my mind, loosened my waistline and amplified my drive to step into the food industry.

Before I knew it college graduation was around the corner… missing the kitchen and hungry to learn more about the foundation of the culinary world I decided to apply to a culinary school. However, I needed a school that shared my passion and outlook on food as a source of nutrition and healing. The Natural Gourmet Institute is a primarily plant based school (in NYC), focused on teaching the fundamentals of culinary technique, nutrition and sustainability to enrich the culinary landscape and change the way we think about food.

I created The Fresh Slice as a way to share my experiences, knowledge and recipes with others. So follow along on Instagram at @TheFreshSlice and check back here for even more insight and inspiration. But most importantly, I’d love to hear from you – so feel free to ask me questions and share your experiences in the comments below or on my Contact page, but most of all bon appetite!