Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Newly Vegetarian Survival Guide and Lentil “Beef” Recipe


The Newly Vegetarian Survival Guide and Lentil “Beef” Recipe

A few years ago I did something kind of crazy, especially for a self-described foodie and food blogger--I stopped eating land animals. Do y’all remember the Great Straw Debacle of 2017? When everyone stopped using plastic straws? I researched it a bit, and discovered individuals using straws didn’t make a huge impact on the environment, as our plastic problem is a bit more intense than that. So, what could a single person do to reduce their carbon footprint?

The answer is simple--just reduce the amount of meat you eat

I didn’t even mean to stop eating meat entirely. It started with Meatless Monday. Easy enough to accomplish, simply don’t eat meat once a week. And something cool started to happen: I got excited about cooking again. Suddenly I was looking forward to Monday all week.

A plate of steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans totally plant-based
Yes, this is all 100% animal free!

Meatless Monday soon became Meatless Weekdays, and eventually I just didn’t have an appetite for meat at all anymore. I still will have the occasional fish, and when I travel I give myself some room to try the local cuisine, but overall I don’t keep meat in my house and I opt for meat free options when at a restaurant. Is this a slow trek to being fully vegan? Maybe! But it'll be quite slow if that's the case.

Don't worry, I don't press this on anyone nor do I think it's the ideal diet for everyone. But, if you want to make some positive environmental impact, I encourage you to check it out!

However, sometimes you just need a burger. What is the best meat-free burger that actually tastes meaty? Over the past few years I’ve collected my favorite meat-free alternatives and wanted to share them with anyone who wants to help the environment (and our furry friends!) but feel like they “just can’t” give up something tasty. These truly are the best meatless alternatives for new vegetarians!

Vegetarian Tacos
Fully vegetarian tacos from Rascal's in Santa Barbara

Read on for my New Vegetarian Survival Guide and the best meat free alternatives! I’ve even included a recipe for my homemade meat-free alternative.

Please note: this is NOT SPONSORED, just simply a roundup of my favorite meatless meats!

Beef & Burgers - Impossible Burger

I don’t know how to describe the first experience with Impossible. It’s a bit weird, a bit scary, and definitely delicious. I know it’s the most common plant based burger out there right now, but trust me when I say it’s truly the best if you’re looking for a real meaty tasting burger. It even BLEEDS. And it’s not just burgers, you can use it any place you would ground beef. I’ve even made a killer meatloaf that fooled my carnivore friends. Plus, it’s gone down significantly in price since its debut. Definitely top of the list to try!

Hot Dogs - Field Roast Ballpark

Hot dogs were always my favorite cookout treat. Tofu dogs… not so much. Somehow that salty, squelchy, mystery meat-y flavor profile that hot dogs have just seemed to not be able to be replicated by plants. While Field Roast’s Ballparks aren’t perfect, they certainly scratch the itch in a way other plant based meat tubes can’t. It’s my favorite replacement so far, especially charred to the dickens on a grill.

Chicken Patty/Tenders/Nuggets - Gardein Ultimate

I know that Gardein is the entry level fake meat, but trust me when I say that you will never know you’re eating plant protein and not pink sludge (gross...) when you bite into a juicy, crispy piece of Gardein Ultimate. I keep one of each in my freezer and have made copycat chicken sandwiches with spicy mayo that do the trick when I’m craving my favorite fast food fix (Popeye’s, it’s Popeyes). I know that chicken nuggets/patties are pretty easy to do sufficiently in plant based protein, but somehow Gardein hits it out of the park with this particular line.

Hooray Foods - Bacon

This is the hardest animal product to replicate, and I’ve had my heart broken multiple times by lesser plant bacon. But in came Hooray foods and saved the day. I always liked my bacon only slightly crispy, with a bit more chew, and fake bacons always just tasted like pure carbon. Hooray Foods uses tapioca starch to get that same texture and doesn’t go overboard with the liquid smoke. It’s only found at Whole Foods (and more recently Imperfect Produce), but you better believe I make a monthly trek to pick up a package of it to get my BLT cravings on.

And now, onto the recipe! When I don’t want to use an overly processed, store-bought plant-based ground beef, I pull out some lentils and make this Lentil Ground Beef Alternative instead. It’s protein rich and packed with flavor. You won’t even miss the moo, I promise!

Lentil Ground Beef Alternative

  • 1 cup cooked lentils (pro-tip: cook them in a savory veggie stock!)
  • 1 cup mushrooms, diced small
  • ¼ cup diced mushrooms
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp butter (omit if vegan) + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp liquid smoke

In a saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, and saute until the onion is translucent. 

Pour in the red wine and let reduce a bit, then add the rest of the ingredients.

Use the back of a spoon to crush the lentils a bit, mixing well into the rest of the ingredients.

Remove from heat and use anywhere you’d use ground beef--I like using it in a shepherd’s pie, or adding taco seasoning for tacos!

If you want to use it in place of a burger: add the mix to a bowl and add either breadcrumbs (about ⅓ cup) or cooked quinoa (½ cup) with an egg or egg replacement. Mix until a dough-like texture forms. Form into patties and refrigerate until ready to use. 

First ever totally meatless Thanksgiving!

Friends, what do you think? Have you tried going meatless? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Life Updates & My New Home


 Hi, Friends. Dang, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

2020 was a year that seemed like a decade. You would think all the time inside would give me ample time to develop recipes… right?

Well, to put it simply, my photographer quit both the gig and our marriage. Naturally, this led to me not having much energy for anything, and my lack of photography skills kept me from really documenting the few things I managed to eat. And a breakup wasn't even the worst thing to happen to me in 2020! A host of deaths, drama, health issues, and more piled on me. I was in a depression hole, digging itself deeper into the rocky Texas ground.

...Until I decided the best way to catapult myself out of my depression would be to totally shake up my life and create a situation where I could focus on nothing but the adventure at hand.

So, I packed up my life and moved to the place that has always called to me from across the country--California. It’s me, two cats, and my amazing dog, and so far I’ve just been adjusting to this totally new existence in Santa Barbara.

Guess what, guys: this place has incredible food and even better wine. It might be a bit harder to find the foodie hotspots than Austin, but with the backdrop of the California coastline on one side and the gorgeous mountains on the other, you can definitely find something tasty.

I’ve decided it’s time to revive this blog. It may be mostly pictures taken with my iPhone, but at least it’ll be alive again. At this time, it’ll probably be heavier on the restaurant reviews, but knowing me a recipe or two will probably find its way into the mix.

Oh, side note: I haven’t eaten a land animal since 2019! So this blog will be shifting a bit of focus to include vegetarian (and sometimes pescatarian) content. 

If you’d like more regular content, please follow my Instagram and Facebook.

See y’all real soon, and thanks for continuing to read!


Friday, November 13, 2020

Loaded Potato Waffle Bites



These waffle things are all over Pinterest. I know.

But they were too good NOT to try myself. And the pictures came out decent, so on the off chance someone hasn't tried these yet and needs some MORE convincing, here. Let me try to convince you.

Tiny, crispy potato waffles, with melted cheese, sour cream, bacon, and chives. Delicious. The perfect party app.

Then I got cocky--If I could do this with regular potatoes, IMAGINE what sweet potatoes would be like! I started fantasizing about the paleo-friendly treats I would soon create.

...Sweet potatoes = messy waffle iron, and burnt mush. Oh well. Can't win them all.

Loaded Potato Waffle Bites

  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes (or 1-2 cooked, mashed potatoes with added milk, butter, and salt and pepper)
  • 2 tsp smashed garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 handful cheese
  • 2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 3 tbs sour cream

-Preheat oven to 350, and warm up your waffle iron to high.

-In a small dish, mis together the mashed potatoes, garlic, and egg until well combined.

-Drop by the over-flowing spoonful (ideally, a couple tablespoons) into the waffle iron.

-Cook on high until browned on both sides.

-Place on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with cheese and bacon. Bake for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melty.

-Top with sour cream and chives, serve.

Note: While I was inspired by a Pinterest post I cannot find at the moment, I threw together this recipe from my own brain. Any resemblance to another recipe is totally accidental.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Halloween Candy and Wine Pairing - Testing Viral Wine Activity


I don't want to say it's tragic that Halloween falls on a Saturday the one year that we all cannot take advantage of the holiday, since the reason WHY it's a lame Halloween has resulted in so many more tragedies than missing out on a party, but it definitely is bumming me out.

So, what to do when you're stuck inside on Halloween?

Drink, of course.

And don't just drink, make use of all that Halloween candy hanging around and do a fancy wine pairing!

I did this last year and it was pretty fun. I was super surprised at how the (cheap) candy and (cheap) wine enhanced each other's flavors and made it all feel super fancy.

Despite my current budget of not buying wine over $15, this was still a pretty expensive endeavor. If you have the wine and candy on hand, it's a fun activity, but otherwise it's probably not worth the cost. 

As a reminder, here is how you taste wine:
See - Look at the wine, notice the color and transparency.
Swirl - This is how you see the texture and density of the wine. Watch how the liquid sticks to and flows down the glass (this is called the legs).
Smell - After swirling, stick your nose into the glass. Breathe in deeply. Smell is 75% of taste, so you're actually getting a bit of flavor in with the fragrance. Make note of what you smell. Fruits? Leather? Smoke? This will give you a sense of what flavors you'll be looking for when you taste.
Sip - Take a sip! Let it sit on your mouth a bit. Then...
Savor - Open your mouth and breathe in a bit, letting the air make bubbles in the wine. This opens up the flavors a bit more and makes them easier to detect.
(Spit) - Optional step but, why would you do this...?

To pair wine with food: Take a bite of the food, hold a bit of it in your mouth, and take a sip of wine. Notice the flavors that are expanded or muted with the wine. Swallow.

Here were my takeaways:

Whoppers - Pinot Noir: Started off amazingly! I loved how the chocolate was enhanced by the wine, and then once you hit the malted middle you had a whole new flavor experience! Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wines, and while Whoppers are not my favorite candy, it certainly made them taste better. Win!

Skittles - Sauvignon Blanc: And the second was kind of a dud. The Sauvignon Blanc wasn't very sweet, and the Skittles tasted too sugary and intense as a result. I feel like the rule is to not have wine that is sweeter than your dessert (rendering this whole experiment pointless if that's a hard and fast rule?) and it certainly was in play here.

Snickers - Shiraz: I prefer Milky Way, but the Shiraz enhanced the peanut flavor in the Snickers to an insane level. They tasted roasty, toasty, and perfectly paired with the smooth Shiraz. Again, a higher quality chocolate would have helped, but it still worked!

Sour Patch Kids - Pinot Grigio: My surprise favorite! The bold colors in SPKs would trick nobody but the tiniest child into thinking they're real fruit flavors, but as soon as the Pinot hit my tongue I was tasting crazy intense flavors. The red tasted like fresh raspberry! The yellow was a tart lemon! Literally every flavor was amplified and made better. I was so surprised, and this candy was the one that went quickest.

Candy Corn - Chardonnay: I was dreading this one. I hate Chardonnay. I am meh about candy corn. In my opinion, neither did the other any favors. I understand why the pairing exists, as Chard is a buttery wine and candy corn is a somewhat buttery candy. But the waxy coating of the candy corn kept the wine from really hitting my palate, and made the bitterness of the wine even worse. Not a fan.

Raisinets - Merlot: This one worked! Not as well as the Whoppers, but enough to appreciate. The chocolate had a similar affect, and the tart raisin complimented the wine well. A higher quality chocolate would be even better, but it was still enjoyable.

Have you tried pairing wine with Halloween candy? 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Coffee Cake Donuts with Espresso Drizzle


Though my can't-skip-it morning coffee is a recent development of my working life, I can't remember a time when I didn't love coffee. I can recall making my parents breakfast in bed, and mixing coffee crystals into tap water that was as hot I could get it and pouring a heavily sugared version for myself probably at age 6 or so.

Little did 6-year-old Ashley know that there was a bigger, better world of coffee waiting. Lately I've been somewhat of a coffee snob, though I still enjoy a good instant from time to time! And what better pairing for a high quality brew than a coffee cake donut?

I made these gorgeous Coffee Cake Donuts. They really are the perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of joe. I've always wondered--why doesn't coffee cake contain actual coffee? I felt the need to rectify this by drizzling them with espresso glaze.

I daresay it's perfetto itself ;)

Coffee Cake Donuts with Espresso Glaze
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

Crumble Topping
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
Espresso Glaze
  • 1/4 cup brewed espresso
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a donut baking pan and set aside*

-Sift together all dry cake ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients. Be sure the butter is melted but not piping hot, and add to wet ingredients SLOWLY so as not to cook the egg.

-Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, whisking to get rid of clumps. Pour batter evenly in donut wells.

-In a separate bowl, mix together the crumble topping ingredients. The topping should stick together lightly, making large crumbs. If mixture is too wet, alternatively add more sugar and flour until desired consistency is reached.

-Sprinkle topping generously over donut wells. The cakes will rise and separate, so more is better for a full coating.

-Bake for about 20 minutes, until cake is spongy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature.

-Mix together the glaze until it is about the consistency of glue. It should be thick, but fall off the spoon. Drizzle over cooled donuts and let the glaze set.

-Serve with your favorite Lavazza coffee!

*Alternatively, you can use a muffin tin, this will make about 8 cakes.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Battle of the Breads - "Easy" Sourdough vs "Simple Crusty Bread"


Y'all, I am the basic bitch of Quarantine. If there is a stuck-inside-foodie-trend, I am ON IT. So far I've made that fancy coffee, endless cookies and breads, and even HOMEMADE BUTTER!

I'm feeling pretty accomplished.

But we all know the most popular trend going right now is SOURDOUGH BREAD. Why is sourdough so popular? Well, if you've been to the grocery store lately you may have noticed that yeast is one of those coveted, hard-to-find items. Sourdough requires no yeast, you literally grow your own in a jar!

I've never been much of a baker, so my go-to easy bread has always been this recipe, which I actually re-posted from my old blog since I thought people could benefit from a no-fail bread.

Two popular recipes I've seen floating around have been this Simple Crusty Bread from the New York Times, and the ONLY "Easy" Sourdough recipe I've EVER found called Easy Sourdough Artisan Bread from An Oregon Cottage. My first time attempting sourdough was that recipe and it was PERFECT. Both of these recipes are great, so I thought I'd compare the two, so y'all know what you're getting into!

Simple Crusty Bread

Is it truly easy?: Yes! It's a bit time consuming, but most of that time is simply waiting for the dough to rise. Everything comes together rather quickly and requires NO kneading. Simply mix the ingredients, let rise, shape, and bake! It even gives you the option to save some dough in the fridge for a future recipe.

Ingredients and equipment: Requires yeast, which is hard to come by right now, but other than a bowl, spoon, and oven, you truly don't need much else!

Crust: Wonderful! A bit floury, but that's probably moreso my fault than the recipe's. It crackled and cracked perfectly.

Crumb: A soft interior with a light crumb. I was really impressed with how it came out!

Taste: This is the one place it didn't thrill me. It tasted like NOTHING. I mean, bread is supposed to just be a vehicle for other things, but it really had no flavor at all.

Tips: While the recipe says to use a pizza stone, I used the Dutch oven method and it came out wonderfully--heat the Dutch oven (covered) in your oven for 20-40 minutes, then place the dough inside and bake, covered, for the first 20 minutes. Take the cover off for the remainder of the bake.

Easy Sourdough Artisan Bread
(I use this recipe for the starter)

Is it truly easy?: A bit more hands-on than the no-knead, but if you use a dough hook you really don't need to knead it at all. It takes more rising time, and during the rise you need to fold in the corners of the dough and turn it over. But it is pretty simple!

Ingredients and Equipment: No yeast! You will need a starter, but using the link above you should be able to grow one in a week or so. Takes some planning ahead but it's worth it! You'll also need a Dutch oven, or a covered baking dish, to bake this bread.

Crust: Softer than the no-knead but the moisture in the Dutch oven probably contributed. Still tasty!

Crumb: Denser than I would like, but not too bad. Still some good holes and fermentation.
Taste: SO GOOD! The slight sour taste that is typical of a sourdough really stands out. This is a bread I could really just eat plain with butter. It's also a bit more sturdy, so would work great for sandwiches.

OVERALL: I liked the crust on the "Easy Crusty Bread" better, but the FLAVOR of the sourdough just can't be beat.

What bread recipes have you baked while in quarantine? What should I try next?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

EASY No-Knead Bread! - Crusty, Light, Delicious Bread

Can you tell from this blog that I am NOT a baker? It might be hard to recognize, but my best recipes tend to be dinner recipes, or drinks. Because that's what I can do pretty well on a regular basis. Honestly, baking scares me.

Why? Because baking = chemistry. And guess what necessary high school class Ashley ended up not taking? Yep. Chem. Here's the short story: I went to a TINY school in New England. This meant we didn't have very many "fun" classes. When I decided I wanted to go to Art school, I decided I needed to take an extra year of art to build my portfolio. Unfortunately, the only art class was opposite chem. I was told I totally could take chem senior year... until senior year happened and chem was opposite gym. That's right, chem was not a graduation requirement, but gym class was.

Luckily, my college didn't require I take chem. Even more luckily, one of my best friends, John, was a baking fanatic and was able to teach me the basics. For a while John and I met weekly for Foodie Friends Night where he'd make the baking portion of the meal--everything from bread to cakes to cookies--and I'd make the rest. One day I got a call from John at 4am with a serious plan to open our own bakery/restaurant. If we both weren't drowning in student debt, I may have joined.

Our baking nights are one of the things I miss most about New England. John's bread skills are way more advanced than this super easy recipe, but it does the trick.

With a little planning ahead I can whip this up for dinner. The slices are narrow, so they make excellent dinner bread slathered with butter, or great cafe sandwiches.

If I can make this, so can you!

Easy, No-Knead Crusty Bread
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 package)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • Herbs or mix-ins (I like using roasted garlic!)
  • cornmeal for dusting stone

-In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment (or just a bowl + spoon + elbow grease) combine water, yeast, and salt and stir until combined. Wait about 10 minutes, until mixture has begun to froth. This is how you'll know the yeast is "proofed" and ready to go!

-Add the flour and gently stir until incorporated. Add in any herbs or mix-ins you'd like. Mix on low speed until dough is smooth and elastic.

-Place a clean dishtowel or plastic wrap over the bowl and set in a warm spot for 2 hours. I like to set the oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off and put the bowl in there.

-Pre-heat oven to 450 F. Place your bread cooking pan of choice (pizza stone is preferred, but I do fine with a silicone baking mat on a cookie sheet.  

-Add 2 cups of water in an oven-safe dish and position in the bottom rack of the oven. The steam from the water will help ensure a crispy, crusty crust!

-Gently form dough into a ball (or any other shape you desire!) and brush with the egg if you'd like a shiny crust. Make two or three shallow slices on top of the bread.

-Sprinkle your baking sheet with corn meal and set the dough ball on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.