5 Caffeine-Free, Alcohol-Free Hot Drinks to Keep You Cozy

It’s here: the end of daylight savings time. Goodbye, drives home from work in the slanting golden rays of a sublime autumnal sunset; hello, evenings where the transition from work to home happens under cover of darkness.

For those who rouse themselves early, the changeover at least provides a little more light in the mornings. But for dedicated sleepers like me who see few dawns and can find the snooze button without opening an eye, the benefit goes unnoticed.

And so, on these darker evenings, I find myself turning to all things comfy and cozy and hygge, to sweatpants and hot mugs of something steaming: a bracing cup of English breakfast tea, served black and unsweetened, bitter and tannic on the tongue. Carafes of coffee made strong and shared, poured out still steaming. Hot buttered rum so rich your belly aches, decadent hot chocolate thick as liquid fudge… the list goes on.

But what to sip late at night when the merest milliliter of caffeine would spell disaster for my sleep schedule? What to enjoy when a sensitive tum rejects anything a bit boozy?

The question came to me last weekend when I wanted something un-caffeinated to sip but wasn’t satisfied with the standard mug of green or chamomile tea. Oh, I thought. I should write a blog post about that. So, here we are: Five ways to satisfy your craving for something hot without resorting to caffeine or alcohol.

Hot Molasses Mug

1. Hot Molasses Mug

Filling and iron-rich and shockingly satisfying, with an almost salty note that you can temper with a little extra sweetener, should the mood strike. (Maple syrup or agave would work fine.) Personalize yours with spices that speak to your soul; ginger is an obvious choice, but go wild and see what works!

Feeling boozy? Try this spiked maple-molasses mug for a little extra kick.

2. Golden Milk

While I’m sure many of you are familiar with this turmeric-infused hot beverage, the uninitiated may (rightfully!) wonder why anyone would want to drink something flavored primarily of a golden root more frequently used in curries and other savory delights. The most common answer peddled by many food bloggers will almost certain include the following phrases: superfood! anti-inflammatory! health benefits!

Well, dear reader, I am not that food blogger. As my go-to source for Real Science states, “…the scientific evidence for turmeric is insufficient to incorporate it into medical practice. As with so many supplements, the hype has gone way beyond the actual evidence. There are some promising hints that it may be useful, but there are plenty of promising hints that lots of other things “may” be useful too.”

So, instead, drink golden milk for the simple reason that it tastes good. This recipe from Minimalist Baker is a great one to start with, though you can just as easily make it up as you go, flavoring your golden elixir to meet your personal preferences.

3. Spiced Apple Cider

No recipe for this one because it doesn’t need it! Simply heat your favorite apple cider (I like a high-quality, fresh-pressed one from the farmers market) with a few spices and enjoy. If you’re short on time, nuke it in the microwave and then add a cinnamon stick for flavor and festivity. If you’ve got a few extra minutes, heat it on the stove in a small pot with mulling spices (I like cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, and ginger, but you can go wild.) Strain and enjoy!

Feeling boozy? Add a shot of your favorite bourbon or whiskey!

Hot pumpkin molasses mug

4. Hot Pumpkin-Molasses Mug

Another take on my molasses mug, this one incorporates pumpkin for an even more seasonally appropriate hot drink! Swap the cinnamon and nutmeg for your favorite pumpkin pie spice mix to make it even easier (and even more delicious).

5. Hot Pumpkin Mug

Dubious about sipping on a molasses-infused beverage? Go simple with Kathy’s hot pumpkin mug. This bright orange hot bevvy is the perfect choice for you hardcore pumpkin lovers, and the cheerful, sunny color is sure to brighten up those dark winter nights.

Bonus!

Though I haven’t tried it myself, this caffeine-free hot carob milk could hit the spot when you want something along the lines of hot chocolate but don’t fancy the idea of a sleepless night.

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I hope this list helps you find a caffeine-free, booze-free beverage to warm your hands (and heart?!) as winter descends. For added fun and deliciousness, top your drink of choice with any of the many (!) vegan whipped creams that now crowd supermarket shelves. (Well, you may want to avoid whipped cream if your drink of choice is hot cider.) And let me know which other hot caffeine-free, alcohol-free beverages I’ve missed!

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Five caffeine-free, alcohol-free hot vegan drinks to keep you cozy // govegga.com

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The Two Leaf-Free Easy Vegan Salads I’m Loving this Summer

I say this every year, but: I can’t get enough summer produce. Warm tomatoes right off the vine, crisp green beans with a satisfying snap, juicy peaches and nectarines and berries… whether it comes from my local farmers market or my own backyard, summer produce is a treat to be savored.

Cherry tomatoes from the garden in a blue basket

Our farmers market is tiny. But among the three produce vendors, the two bakery stalls (including one with vegan cookies!), the brewer, the vintner, and the coffee roaster, it gets the job done. (We won’t mention the butcher’s stall. I try not to look at it.) The first two summers after we moved into our house, I had a sweet Saturday morning routine of getting up and walking to the market. It’s less than a mile away, so even during the hottest and most humid of summer days, it was manageable. Sometimes I’d treat myself to a cookie and an iced coffee (back when Brewing Good exhibited at the market). This summer, the routine has changed a bit — I visit a hospice patient every Saturday morning, so I just stop by the market on my drive home — but the joy I get in wandering the stalls and watching the offerings change with the season hasn’t diminished.

Nor, of course, has my sheer pleasure in devouring fresh produce. It’s been a hot, hot summer, so Steven and I have enjoyed a fair few stove- and oven-free meals. Simple salads were a staple side dish earlier in the season, but now that lettuce isn’t as readily available from our market vendors, we’ve switched to some lettuce-free summer salads that still make use of all that juicy produce. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed.

Panzanella

Bread in salad: A genius pairing, or the most genius pairing? Plenty of cultures have their own take on transforming stale bread into soup or salad, and I’m here for it! I’ve been making my own bread since I got a sourdough starter from a friend in the spring, and occasionally my loaves get a bit dry before we have time to finish them. (Clearly we’re doing something wrong.) Enter panzanella! We’ve enjoyed a few spins on the dish, but my favorite actually didn’t include regular bread at all.

Falafel Fattoush from Real Food, Really FastInstead, it used… pita bread! This is the Falafel Fattoush (p. 99)  from Real Food, Really Fast, an ingenious cookbook by Hannah Kaminsky of BitterSweet Blog. She’s put together a collection of creative and satisfying dishes you can prepare in 10 minutes or less, with lots of tricks and hacks to allow for these speedy suppers. I keep intending to use Real Food Really Fast as my cookbook of the month, but we’ve been cooking from lots of sources this summer and I haven’t used it exclusively enough to feature. But everything I’ve made from the book has been spot-on, even if it’s taken me more more than 10 minutes to prepare some of them! (I’m not usually in a major rush, so I don’t mind taking my time.)

Hannah describes the Falafel Fattoush as an “herbaceous Middle Eastern panzanella,” but whatever you call it, it’s delightful. Featuring toasted pita shreds, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and herbs along with lemon juice and lots of spices, the dish is an unquestionable winner. It’s surprisingly filling, too — I had to finish Steven’s portion!

No copy of Real Food, Really Fast on your cookbook shelf? No worries. Here are a few other panzanella recipes that have caught my eye this summer. (Although I really do recommend Real Food, Really Fast — I’ve loved everything I’ve made from it!)

  • This Fattoush Lebanese Salad from Kalyn’s Kitchen looks like a decent alternative to Hannah’s recipe, although this one does require lettuce.
  • I looove the idea of including fancy olives in a panzanella, so this recipe looks delightful!
  • Sweet summer corn and juicy summer peaches are two of my favorite farmers market finds, but I have yet to eat them together. Enter this recipe, which makes that combination possible!
Tajín-Spiced Simple Veggie Salads

Do you ever buy a cucumber (or pick one from your garden) and then think, What is even the point of cucumbers, besides putting them in dainty teatime sandwiches? Yes, me too. You can’t really cook with them, so they must be eaten raw. (My old roommate and I once tried braising a cucumber. I do not recommend it.) Yet all too frequently I find myself with a slowly softening cucumber in the produce drawer, its increasingly pockmarked skin an indictment of my rash purchase.

WELL. Imagine my delight when this article from Food52 showed up in my feed, touting the deliciousness of a simple cucumber salad with a “magic spice blend.” And imagine my further delight when I read that the magic spice blend is “not unlike cucumbers with Tajín” and recalled that, just a few months prior, a coworker had returned from a trip to Mexico with small bottles of Tajín and handed them out to us, and that I — sadly ignorant of the magic that is Tajín (and also unable to open the plastic cap) — had stowed the bottle in my spice drawer for future use. So, inspired by the article (and newly able to open the Tajín), I made a super-simple cucumber salad that was, quite literally, just sliced cucumbers and Tajín.

AND IT WAS AMAZING.

If you, too, have spent your life devoid of the magic that is Tajín, let me enlighten you. Per the Tajín website, it is a “unique seasoning made with … mild chili peppers, lime, and sea salt.” (You can find a DIY recipe here.) I’m in love with it. It’s the perfect addition to pretty much any vegetable, from simple sliced cucumbers to sweet roasted corn on the cob.

But I digress. My point is to say that chopped veggies + Tajín have become my new favorite leaf-free summer salad. Inspired by this kachumber recipe from Vegan Richa, I used all the veggies plus Tajín and had myself an absolutely delicious spicy summer salad. I cannot recommend this combination highly enough! If you want to incorporate more raw veggies in your summer suppers, adding Tajín is the way to go.

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So… what are your favorite lettuce-free summer salads?

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The Best Places for Vegan Brunch in D.C. and Maryland | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Twenty-Eight

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Brunch: the under-appreciated get-together meal.

‘Round these parts, brunch is most definitely not an under-appreciated meal! It’s a weekend tradition for many, and whenever I have friends or family visiting, Steven and I nearly always take them for brunch. We’re lucky to have a few top-notch vegan brunch choices in Maryland and D.C., so I figured I’d share them with you today. (If you’re looking for a whopping big post of DIY vegan brunch recipes and inspiration, I direct you here.) Now, on to the list! Here are my recommendations for the best vegan brunch in Maryland.

Great Sage

I never ever regret going to Clarksville-based Great Sage for brunch. Although I’m occasionally disappointed by their main dinner dishes, which can sometimes lack creativity, their brunch selection is consistently solid. They always have a perfect mix of savory and sweet options, so all your dining companions should be able to find something that appeals. Plus, they have boozy breakfast drinks — including a massive vegan Bloody Mary! I’ve enjoyed quite a few Great Sage brunches in my day, such as the crabcake sandwich, their amazing pierogi quesadillas, and their yummy breakfast sandwich (featuring a tofu egg, sausage, and cheese). You’d also do well to get one of their signature cinnamon buns to go — they are massive and delicious.

 

Glory Doughnuts

I’ve sung the praises of this Frederick-based establishment a fair few times over the past few months, and for good reason. Not only are their doughnuts top-notch, but they have a fabulous and creative selection of all-day brunch eats! Think PBR-infused Belgian waffles, big ol’ plates of huevos rancheros, and decadent apple pie stuffed French toast. Their coffee is also exceptional; it’s from a local woman-owned, fair-trade roaster and is just really, really tasty. Get here early to make sure there are doughnuts available, and stake your spot early — tables fill up fast!

Smoke and Barrel

Tofu scramble and Smoke & Barrel in D.C.

For a vegan brunch in D.C. proper, Smoke and Barrel in Adams Morgan is an excellent choice. Yes, it’s a BBQ and bourbon joint. But if you can get past all that BBQ, you’ll be rewarded with some surprisingly creative vegan brunch options, like a a house-made sweet potato and oat burger and a massive chili-cheese tofu scramble (featuring Daiya). They even have vegan wings! I ordered the tofu scramble last Galentine’s Day when I was out with my ladies and did not regret it. It comes with a massive pile of tofu scramble; a smoky, spicy chili; thick slabs of Texas toast; and crumbly delicious home fries. And although we ordered a mimosa pitcher on that day, Smoke and Barrel also has brunch cocktails! The Happy Trails (bourbon, peach liqueur, orange bitters, soda water) sounds particularly nice.

Fare Well

Owned and operated by Doron Petersan — the same brilliant gal who started Sticky Fingers bakery — Fare Well is an old-fashioned (yet all-vegan) diner with plenty of brunch and breakfast options. Truth be told, I’ve never actually been here for brunch — just for small snacks (including the croissant pictured above), but I really need to rectify that mistake. Just look at that menu: French toast casserole, featuring challah French toast?! Seitan and waffles?!? Cookie dough pancakes?!?!? Give me a break! I have no doubt everything is excellent, and I need to get here stat.

Sticky Fingers

No list of vegan spots in D.C. would be complete without Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats, Petersan’s original vegan joint. It’s really more of a bakery than a full restaurant, but you can still enjoy brunch at this small cafe. The weekend brunch menu is small but features a few options similar to those at Fare Well — challah French toast, for example. You can also get biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito, and a few other options. I’ve been to Sticky Fingers plenty of times and have never been disappointed.

Other options

The buffet-style vegan Sunday brunch at Equinox is a bit of a legend around here, but somehow I’ve never been. It’s $35 a head — excluding drinks, which will set you back ~$11 each. That’s a bit steep for me; I have a small stomach and buffets don’t play to my eating style (I prefer smaller but frequent meals, spread out throughout the day). Still, I know I should try it — with options like a chickpea cassoulet, stuffed whole-grain French toast, and a tofu scramble station, I’m sure it would be a great experience.

NuVegan Café in College Park is one of our favorite spots for comfort food: I can never pass up their mac ’n’ cheese, their fried chicken “dummies,” or their garlicky kale salad. They also have brunch, though I’ve never tried it. But the options are vast and varied, with everything from oatmeal to pancakes to omelettes, and I’m willing to bet it’s all quite tasty.

Local chain Founding Farmers is an oft-hailed farm-to-table establishment with vegan-friendly main dishes (including the Impossible Burger). They allegedly have vegan options as part of their set-price brunch buffet, but their online menu is unclear. That’s a shame — and a missed opportunity. I’m not about to pay upwards of $30 when there’s a chance I’ll only have fruit and toast for breakfast.


This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I haven’t even touched Baltimore! I’m sure there are plenty of other spots in D.C. with vegan options, but I live far enough from the city that a trip in for brunch is rare. I’ll update this list if I try any great new places, though.

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The best vegan brunch spots in Maryland and D.C. // govegga.com

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Cookbook Review: Made in India has plenty to offer vegans

One of my favorite library-related pastimes is browsing the cookbook section. In the past, I limited myself to checking out vegan cookbooks only —- but then I realized that I was doing myself a disservice. Now I’m happy to grab any cookbook that appeals to me, and Meera Sodha’s Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen appeals on many levels.

First, it’s beautiful. The cloth-covered hard-bound cover bursts with color, including a sweet elephant illustration. Inside the book, the photos themselves are lovely and generous. Second, it was the runner-up in this year’s Food52 Piglet cookbook tournament, a wholly enjoyable competition wherein food writers, cookbook authors, and others review two cookbooks and select a winner, with that book advancing to the next round. Given how highly Made in India placed (and the words of enthusiasm bestowed upon it by its reviewers), I knew it merited at least a check-out from the library.

made in india -- cookbook review

Made in India stands out in my stack of library books.

What I found when I cracked open this book is an homage to home cooking, Indian-style. Sodha manages to make dishes you might’ve only ever eaten in restaurants seem utterly doable at home. I’ve renewed this book three times (the limit, alas), and I don’t want to give it back. It’s going on my Christmas list for sure.

Yes, there are recipes for meat in here. But there are also veg-friendly recipes a-plenty, and the techniques Sodha shares can easily be applied to meat-free cooking. I do have a few vegan Indian food cookbooks already, but I think this one outshines them. I loved everything I made from this book.

What I cooked

  • Badshah kitchari (p. 159). If you’re looking for a way to dress up your rice, this might just be the answer. Tender basmati and a few tablespoons of whatever dried lentils you have on hand meet cinnamon, garlic, onion, and a handful of other spices, and the result is a nuanced rice dish that just about stands on its own as a main.
  • Bateta nu shaak (p.63). A testament to the transformative power of spices on relatively humble ingredients, this Gujarati potato and tomato curry is dead simple and tastes like much more than the sum of its parts.
  • Chana dal with golden garlic tarka (p. 162). “I think I could eat dal for every meal,” said Steven, as we sat down to a bowl of this gorgeously golden dal for a late Sunday lunch. As if this dal isn’t luscious enough on its own, Sodha’s garlic tarka adds another dimension of flavor to bring this seemingly simple dish over the top. (Check out the photo below.)
  • Green beans with mustard seeds and ginger (p. 181). I didn’t think this recipe would work. But when Sodha asks you to mix tomato paste into your green beans, just do it. Yes, it will look a little strange and you won’t be sure if it’s supposed to clump up like that. But the end result is a super-tasty spin on green beans and a great way to make them a much more filling side dish.
  • Hot flaky paratha (p. 198). Truth be told, I’ve always been a little intimidated by Indian breads. But I decided to try making parathas because there’s no rise time and they seemed pretty straightforward. A soft dough is rolled out, dotted with canola oil and flour, folded, sprinkled with more oil and flour, folded again, then finally rolled into a long, irregular triangle before being cooked briefly on a hot skillet. The result is a rich, flaky bread you’ll want to use to scoop up all your curries. It took me a few tries to get the skillet heat and cooking time right, but once I did, these came together beautifully.
  • Jyoti’s peanut soup (p. 169). If you’re thinking, “Hmm, isn’t peanut soup typically an African recipe?” then you’re right on the money. This recipe comes from a woman who was raised in Uganda, before Idi Amin banished that country’s Asians. Instead of using pre-made peanut butter, you’ll need to roughly grind roasted peanuts yourself, resulting in a thick, creamy, yet textured soup.

What I loved, beyond the food itself

  • Sodha’s voice. It’s friendly and welcoming, yet confident; it’s personal, yet not self-centered. She’s sharing her family recipes from a place of love and respect without straying into sappy sentiment, and it works so well.
  • Her method for perfect basmati rice. Although I’ve never been one to bemoan rice cookery, my technique was not exactly failproof. Sodha introduced me to a no-fail method for basmati rice that I’ll use for years to come.
  • The design. I already mentioned the beautiful cover, but the rest of the book is also infused with this colorful, charming aesthetic. From the bold illustrations that introduce each chapter to the just-styled-enough photos, this book pleases the eye in every way.

What I didn’t quite love

  • The index. It’s not comprehensive. Sodha includes multiple recipes for eggplant, but check E in the index and “eggplant” isn’t even listed. Personally, I like to use an index to find inspiration when I have a particular ingredient on hand, but that’s not possible with this book.
    Ed. note: The indexer of this book reached out to me, and it sounds like there was something ‘lost in translation,’ as it were. The index published in the U.S. version of the book is the same version originally published in the U.K. version—meaning I should have looked for “aubergine” instead of “eggplant.” Typically books are re-indexed for a new country of publication, but it sounds like it didn’t happen in this case. So if you’re in the U.S., be sure to search using U.K.-friendly terms!
  • The directions, on occasion. Some recipes could’ve used a little clarification. For example, I’d never made parathas before I attempted Sodha’s recipe and technique. And while I found it mostly easy to follow with solid results, the last paragraph included this line: “Check for any uncooked [dark] spots of dough, then take off the heat…” Okay, but what do I do if I find those dark spots? Cook the whole thing for longer, or maybe press down on the dark spot so it gets more targeted heat? Some expert advice would’ve been much appreciated. I had a similar issue with the green beans — I wasn’t sure what to do when I added the tomato paste; it didn’t blend into the beans easily and seemed a little out of place (though, as previously mentioned, it tasted great). More direct instruction would not have gone amiss.

To sum up, I loved this book. It’s a joy to read through slowly and a joy to cook from, a perfect marriage for a cookbook. Made in India is a book that I would happily find space for in my home.

If you’ve used this book, let me know what you think!

Note: This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies to help cover hosting costs.

Chewy Vegan Coconut Cookies

Let’s not talk about the fact that Labor Day weekend has come and gone, okay? Instead, let’s talk about chewy, melt-in-your-mouth rich vegan coconut cookies. The kind of cookies you could bring to a gathering of even the staunchest omnivores and feel good about. The kind of cookies that you just want to keep on eating and eating and eating, even when your stomach groans in protest.

I’ve made these cookies three times in the past few weeks, twice to share at events, and they haven’t let me down. I’ve basically veganized this recipe, toned down the fat and sugar just a bit, and tweaked a few other things to my taste. I highly recommend using shredded (not flaked!) coconut — it seems to melt into the cookies, providing them with coconutty goodness, without those noticeable flaky bits that might distract from your eating pleasure. (I buy it at Wegmans, but Amazon also carries shredded coconut from Bob’s Red Mill.) Adding the coconut early on helps it soften up and become infused with the creamed sugar and butter. The result is a true delight.

chewy vegan coconut cookies

Almost as good as the final product? The fact that this recipe is so, so easy — you can make it in a single bowl, plus a small one for mixing up your flax egg. I use my KitchenAid stand mixer, but a hand mixer or even good old-fashioned elbow grease will do the trick.

If you’re feeling decadent, I bet these would be amazing drizzled with chocolate… but I’ve been too impatient to try that!

Chewy Coconut Cookies
Makes ~18 cookies

  • 6 T Earth Balance buttery sticks, softened
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 flax egg (1 T ground flax mixed with 3 T warm water)
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350˚F and have two cookie sheets ready to go. (You can line them with parchment paper if you’d like; it’s not necessary, but if your sheets are finicky, feel free to try it.)

First, make the flax egg by whisking the ground flax with the water until combined. Set aside.

In your stand mixer (or using a hand mixer or your own brute strength), cream together the Earth Balance, sugars, and vanilla until well combined; it should take two to three minutes. Pour in the flax egg and mix for another 15 seconds or so.  Add the shredded coconut and mix on low until it’s folded in to the creamed butter and sugar.

With the stand mixer (if using) off, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then mix on low until all ingredients are incorporated. It should take just a minute.

Scoop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough onto your cookie sheet, leaving about 2″ between each cookie. Press down slightly. Bake for 10 minutes, and let cool for another 5 before removing from the cookie sheet.

Enjoy!

chewy vegan coconut cookies

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Review, Interview, and Giveaway: A Better Batch

Picture this: You’re sitting in a conference room after a daily hour-long meeting ends, catching up on a few emails and chatting with a couple coworkers. In walks another coworker, Sarah.

“Hey, do you guys want a brownie?” Sarah asks.

Something to note about Sarah: She and her husband Hanes run a vegan baking company.

With that in mind, is your answer going to be anything but a resounding YES? I think not.

You proceed to try the fudgiest, chewiest brownie you’ve had in ages. You tell Sarah how amazing it is.

“Oh, yeah? This was Hanes’ first attempt at a brownie!” she says. “Thanks so much for the feedback! We’re hoping to add it to the line soon.”

Jaw. Drop.

~~~

One of the little perks of my job is getting to meet people like Sarah and Hanes, entrepreneurs who offer quality cruelty-free products to the world. Their company, A Better Batch, sells ready-to-bake vegan cookie dough in three delectable flavors, and they occasionally have fully baked products for sale at events like vegfests. If you’re a VegNews reader, you might’ve seen A Better Batch reviewed in the “Cookie Dough Taste Test” in the April 2016 issue! (Read on for a chance to try them yourself!)

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

Although A Better Batch is based in Maryland, their cookies are available to anyone in the United States thanks to their unique business model. ABB sends you frozen cookie dough that you can bake in your own kitchen. By shipping the dough quickly and packaging it with dry ice, Hanes and Sarah make sure that it will arrive still frozen and ready to bake.

Right now, ABB offers three flavors: mocha oatmeal, lemon poppy seed, and classic chocolate chip. I can say with no reservations that their Lemon Poppy Seed cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. Bursting with bright lemon flavor, they’re absolutely fabulous. Hanes and Sarah have managed to distill this flavor combination into a perfectly chewy, moist cookie that’s not to be missed. Mocha oatmeal is probably my second favorite — it’s another beautiful cookie, bursting with chocolatey goodness. Chocolate chip comes last, but not because of any defect — it’s a darn good classic cookie that anyone would enjoy.

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

But good-tasting cookies aren’t all that ABB offers. What sets A Better Batch apart from its competition is Hanes’ and Sarah’s dedication to providing the best possible products for people, the animals, and the environment. Here’s how:

  • Hanes and Sarah carefully source their ingredients, using fair-trade and organic options whenever possible. And by virtue of being vegan, these cookies are free of cholesterol.
  • Everything is vegan — no animals harmed here!
  • The cookies are shipped in biodegradable packaging instead of styrofoam containers, which we all know are horrible for the planet. And the individual wrappers are recyclable.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying ABB’s cookies a few times, but I wanted to know a little more about their business. So I reached out to Hanes, and he graciously answered all my questions and sent me a box of cookies to sample. Read on for his thoughts!

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

 

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Kelly: Let me start by saying how much I LOVE your lemon poppy seed cookies — they’re the best! Right now, you only have them and two other flavors available (chocolate chip and mocha oatmeal). I like that you have a few flavors that you do really, really well, but are you planning to expand your products in the future?  
Hanes: I’m glad to hear you love the Lemon Poppy Seed cookies! Yes, we do have plans to add more flavors and possibly different products such as brownies in the future. In fact, we just re-released a Peanut Butter cookie that we featured back in August for a limited time; it was a crowd favorite, so we brought it back!

K: Why vegan cookies? How did you get started?
H: My passion for baking started when I was growing up. I loved helping my Mom in the kitchen, and this carried over into adulthood. On the weekends I would get in the kitchen and make biscuits, cakes, cookies, pancakes etc. from scratch. I enjoyed it and found it to be a great creative outlet for me. About 9 years ago, my wife stumbled upon some information online about factory farms and how we treat animals in the current agricultural system. It was pretty shocking and we were completely ignorant to it before that. She started reading more about the subject and sharing a lot of the practices and statistics with me. Over the following few years we both continued to decrease our consumption of animal products and eventually went vegan.

This created a new challenge for me: how do I continue to bake and enjoy a lot of the comfort foods that I love making so much without animal products like butter and eggs? I got in the kitchen and got to work. I tried lots and lots of different recipes and found that I love vegan baking! I find that the vegan baked goods taste even better than the traditional counterparts, and they’re certainly better for animals, the environment, and even our health. I received rave reviews for my vegan cookies. They were being requested anytime we would go to friends’ houses or events. A couple of years ago, I started A Better Batch to make them available to people seeking amazing plant-based desserts everywhere.

K: What makes your batches better, i.e., what distinguishes your cookies from similar brands? 
H: At A Better Batch, we work hard to make sure that our cookies are the best vegan cookies on the market — not only in flavor but also in all aspects of our decision making. We are constantly seeking the best ingredients, which to us means using organic, GMO-free, and socially responsible products. For example, the coffee we use in our Mocha Oatmeal flavor is made by Brewing Good Coffee Company which is organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, and UTZ certified (a sustainable farming certification that covers farming practices, environmental impact, and social and living conditions). Also, their company donates a portion of proceeds to animal charities each month — how great is that! We refuse to use palm oil because of the devastating impact its production has on orangutan habitat. Our sugar, vanilla, and salt are all fair trade. Our boxes are made of 100% recycled material, and we don’t use Styrofoam in our shipping boxes; instead, we use an eco-friendly, biodegradable insulation. We take the taste of our cookies seriously, and we also take caring for the environment and animals seriously.

K: What’s the process like for developing new products? How long does it take?
H: It usually starts with me wanting a particular flavor and then I try and think about how that would look. Then I get in the kitchen and try to make it happen, which really is the fun part, as I get to eat lots and lots of test cookies. Sometimes it’s a very quick process, as with my Peanut Butter cookies (it was the very first attempt that I ended up going with!). Other times, it takes much longer. I’m currently working on a refrigerated cookie dough that you could either just eat with a spoon or bake; it has taken over 3 dozen attempts so far.

K: If you could select any flavor cookie to magically have developed and ready for production, what would it be? 
H: Salted Caramel! This is a cookie I have worked on before and plan to return to. It has proven tricky. I would like a nice soft sugar cookie that has little bites of gooey caramel with a slight sprinkling of sea salt on top to bring it all home. I’m a huge huge caramel fan!

K: I noticed that all your packaging is eco-friendly — how is that tied to your business as a whole? Does that ethic inform everything you do?
H: We want to be the best vegan goodie, not only in flavor and quality, but also in all the little decisions in between such as the packaging.  It’s important for us to make our products the very best way we can and that includes taking our impact on the environment into consideration.

K: Are you a full-time cookie baker, or do you have a(nother) day job?
H: I work during the week as an accountant. A Better Batch is my passion project, which is what I work on in the evenings and on the weekend. It does create a busy schedule sometimes, but the cookie business doesn’t really feel like work!

~~~

I really appreciate how much thought Hanes put into his answers — and I’m dreaming of the day those salted caramel cookies become a reality! (Not to mention those brownies I tried a few months ago.)

Happily, A Better Batch generously offered to share the vegan goodness with one reader. Just visit the ABB website and let me know in a comment which flavor you want to try! One lucky winner will receive a box of all three flavors (worth about $58 including shipping). Sorry, my international friends — U.S. readers only this time! I’ll randomly select a winner at 5:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

If you don’t win but want to try these yummy cookies anyway, just sign up for the ABB newsletter to receive 15% off your first order. You can also check out ABB on Facebook and Twitter.

~~~

*Disclaimer: After tasting their cookies on a few occasions throughout the past year, I reached out to A Better Batch and asked if they’d like to be profiled here. Although they did provide me with some cookies to taste for this post, all opinions are 100% my own. I enjoy supporting local, vegan-owned businesses and will never promote a company I don’t believe in just for the sake of some free samples.

All photos in this post courtesy Rebekah Collinsworth.

How to Make Lentil Soup Without a Recipe

lentil soup template

As the DC area grimly prepares for its first blizzard of the season (and, really, our first significant snowfall of the season!), I’m positively gleeful about the impending weather. It weirds me out that we’ve made it halfway through January without snow, and I’m ready to get snowed in. I’ve got good books, good coffee, and good soup to see me through.

Call me plain, but I love a solid lentil soup. I don’t know the last time I’ve used a recipe to make one, though; I usually see what I’ve got in the fridge and the pantry and go from there. And my blizzard batch is no exception. It’s chock-full of add-ins: carrots, celery, potatoes, kale, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and more. I thought it might be fun to share a modular, customizable template for making lentil soup for those times when you don’t want to follow a recipe but do want a little guidance.

Following this template is pretty simple. I’ve divided the ingredients into different sections and indicated how many items from each section you should choose. You can, of course, add more or less depending on what’s in your pantry — this is just a guide. But by sticking to ingredients from each section, you should end up with a hearty, filling soup with diverse textures and flavors. Note that the white wine is highly recommended but not essential. The same goes for most ingredients. Your soup won’t be ruined if you don’t have celery, and the measurements are just suggestions. Be flexible, play with the template, and enjoy.

lentil_soup_template

One-Pot Lentil Soup (a Template)
Serves 4-6

The basics (use all)

  • 1 T olive oil (you can use more if you prefer, or even just water-sauté the mirepoix if you want to avoid added oil)
  • Mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, and celery — the amounts don’t really matter, but aim for about 1/2 cup of each)
  • 3-5 cloves minced garlic
  • Low-sodium vegetable broth (3-4 cups, depending on how soup-y vs. stew-y you want it to be)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried green or brown lentils
  •  1/3 cup dry white wine

The veggies (choose 2-3)

  • 1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium golden potatoes, diced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1-2 cups canned diced tomatoes (use the juice, too)
  • 2 cups kale, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups baby spinach

The additional protein (choose 1)

  • 1/2 cup Beyond Meat chicken, shredded gently
  • 1/2 cup soy curls
  • 1/2 cup vegan beef chunks, chopped if too large
  • 2 vegan sausages, sliced into rounds and cut in half (sautéed ahead of time, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • Additional 1/2 cup lentils

The spices (choose 1 blend or make your own)

  • Basic blend
    • 1 T nutritional yeast
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp paprika (smoked or sweet)
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • “Beef stew” blend
    • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp allspice
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Curry blend
    • 1 T curry powder
    • 1 tsp garam masala
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • Salt and pepper to taste

To start, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium. When it begins to shimmer, add the mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) and garlic. Heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing burns, until the onion is translucent.

Add your spice blend and give everything a good stir, then add the veggies to the pot UNLESS you’re using kale, spinach, or another green. Hold those till later. Add the lentils (including the additional half cup, if using) and the quinoa, if using. Stir everything again and then add your broth. The broth should cover all your ingredients with about an extra inch of liquid.

Bring everything to a boil, give it a good stir, and then turn it down to low. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Around the 30 minute mark, add your protein (unless you’re using quinoa or additional lentils) and greens, if using. Add more broth or water, if necessary. Give everything a good stir and cook for another 15 minutes.

After 15 more minutes, check the soup to see if the lentils and potatoes (if using) are soft. At this point, you can also taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. You could also add more liquid if you want it soupier. Simmer for longer if necessary.

When all ingredients are cooked to your taste, add the white wine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and then serve.

~~~

What kind of meals do you like to create off the cuff? Would a template for something else be helpful?

Kabocha Squash Pizza Sauce

VeganMoFo 2015 banner

Day 22: Make a dish using all seasonal produce.

What a perfect prompt for this autumnal day! I had a big ol’ kabocha squash sitting on my counter, and all day long I mused about how to use it. Simple roasted slices? This beautiful soy-braised preparation? A gingery soup?

And then, on the give-and-take bookshelf at work, I found a copy of Mark Sutton’s Heart Healthy Pizza cookbook up for grabs, and pizza sounded mighty appealing. I’ve seen butternut squash-based cheezy pizza toppings, so why not kabocha?! I decided to make a thick sauce to top a pizza, and it exceeded all my expectations. This sauce is creamy, complex, and perfectly flavored with roasted garlic. And it’s a unique, unexpected way to use kabocha squash!

kabocha

You can prepare the sauce ahead of time, but I did everything in one night. It’s a little time-consuming, but there’s downtime for each component that lets you prep the next component. I included my workflow in the steps below.

Kabocha Squash Pizza Sauce

  • One kabocha squash
  • One head garlic
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 T nutritional yeast
  • 1 T yellow or white miso
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • A few grinds black pepper

Toppings

  • Basil
  • Caramelized onions

One recipe of your favorite pizza dough

Preheat your oven to 400˚ and pour a little water into a rimmed baking tin. Leaving the rind on, roughly slice the kabocha squash into sixths; don’t worry about how even they are. Place the slices rind-down into the baking dish, drizzle with a little olive oil, and place in the oven. Next, prepare the garlic for roasting. Add the foil packet to the oven and bake both the squash and the garlic for about 45 minutes, or until the squash is fork-tender.

In the meantime, prepare the pizza dough, following your recipe’s instructions. Let it rise while the squash and garlic are in the oven. If you’re topping your pizza with caramelized onions, start caramelizing them now.

When the squash is ready, remove it (and the garlic) from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes while you roll out the pizza dough. Give the dough a brief second rise (after rolling it out) while you prepare the sauce. (If using onions, they should be done by now — just turn off the heat and leave them on the stove until ready to use.)

Preheat the oven to 450˚.

To make the sauce, carefully scoop the squash out of the rinds and add it to a food processor. Squeeze the garlic out of the papery skins into the processor. Be careful here too; it’ll be hot. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and process until it’s very smooth and creamy.

Spread the sauce as thick as you’d like on the dough. (Save any extra to use with pasta!) Top with caramelized onions and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with basil, and let cool for about 3 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Note: This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies. I’m not looking to make a fortune, just to cover hosting costs. :)

Spaghetti Squash and Peanut Sauce

VeganMoFo 2015 banner

Day 16: What’s your favorite late summer food?

Forget April — September is the cruelest month. My beloved and most favorite season is coming to an end, and I have to soak up every last bit of sun before the cold sets in. Sigh.

At least there’s late-summer and early-fall produce to comfort me… like squash! Although some smaller squash are at their prime in the height of summer, most larger and more cold-resistant squash peak in the early fall. I think my favorite transition-season squash is the oh-so-fun spaghetti squash. Although I typically serve it with a traditional tomato-based marinara, Steven recently tried it with an unlikely alternative topping: a spicy peanut sauce.

Spaghetti Squash with Peanut Sauce

This is our go-to super-simple peanut sauce. It pairs perfectly with rice noodles, soba noodles… pretty much any noodle! So I shouldn’t have been surprised that it complements spaghetti squash nicely. I simply roasted my squash for about an hour, used a fork to separate the strands, and poured on a big ol’ dollop of sauce. Mmm. Next time you’re looking for a new way to use spaghetti squash, give this a go!

Simple Peanut Sauce
Serves 2-3

  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter, smooth or chunky
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 T soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp sambal oelek
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (optional — use only if serving with regular noodles; squash is sweet enough!)

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients until the sauce is emulsified. That’s it!

What’s your favorite way to eat spaghetti squash?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through my links, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies. I’m not looking to make a fortune, just to cover hosting costs. :)

Caramelized Onion and Broccoli Quiche

VeganMoFo 2015 banner

Day 15: OMG, Barack Obama is coming over because he knows you make awesome vegan food! What are you going to make?

In my most outlandish MoFo fantasy, I bake and decorate an elaborate cake fashioned to look like the GOP elephant symbol. Barack comes over and goes to town on it, a la one of those horrible first-birthday cake smash videos, to show what he thinks of the intransigent Republican congress that’s blocked his every move.

…but that would be a very un-presidential thing to do, so I opted for something a little less partisan.

According to the internet, the president once said his favorite food is broccoli. Okay then! I have my doubts about the veracity of that statement, especially since he said it to a group of elementary school children. He couldn’t very well have admitted that his favorite food was something super-duper unhealthy, right? Regardless of the truth, I decided to incorporate broccoli in my meal. I’m also assuming that Michelle is coming, and I’d want to impress her with a healthy yet delicious vegan meal. Enter quiche!

I hadn’t made a full-sized vegan quiche since Easter 2010. Needless to say, in the past five and a half years, various vegan innovations (vegovations?) have taken egg-replication into bold new frontiers. I was excited to use aquafaba in this quiche, alongside the traditional tofu base. I’m glad I did! It was so creamy and delicious. I opted to make it crustless, because I’m not a huge fan of a traditional pastry crust. Next time, though, I might have to try this hash brown crust (!) from Avocados and Ales. I topped my quiche with grated Follow Your Heart provolone, just because I had a little bit leftover and it was starting to harden. (The provolone, by the way, is surprisingly good! FYH has really stepped up their game.) It was the perfect flavor combination.

Caramelized Onion and Broccoli Quiche

Caramelized Onion and Broccoli Quiche
Serves four

  • One medium yellow onion, sliced into half moons
  • Two small heads broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 14 oz firm tofu (not vacuum-packed), drained
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp kala namak (black salt)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup shredded vegan cheese

Add a little oil or vegan butter to a nonstick pan and heat it on medium. Add the onions and a pinch each of sugar, salt, and baking soda. Turn the heat to low and caramelize the onions, stirring them occasionally to prevent burning. They should cook for about 30 minutes. You want them mushy, but still holding their shape a bit.

Preheat the oven to 400˚ while the onions are on the stove. Prepare an 8” cake tin by oiling it liberally.

In the meantime, prepare the quiche mixture by combining the tofu, aquafaba (unwhipped), almond milk, nutritional yeast, cornstarch, soy sauce and spices in a blender or food processor. Blend for at least a minute to whip up the aquafaba.

When the onions are caramelized, move them to one side of the pan and add a splash of water (about 2-3 tablespoons) to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the broccoli, turn the heat back up to medium, and cook it for about 5 minutes, just until it softens and turns brighter green. Remove from heat and fold the onions and broccoli into the liquid quiche mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and sprinkle the vegan cheese on top, if using. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Caramelized Onion and Broccoli Quiche

I’m confident that Barack, Michelle, Steven, and I would make great dinner party partners. I think we’d steer clear of politics for a while, instead talking about veganism and how healthy, environmentally friendly, and downright delicious it can be.

So, Mr. Obama, when are you coming to dinner?!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through my links, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies to help cover hosting costs. :)