Monday, September 01, 2014

salad samurai by terry hope romero :: review and giveaway

press sample
disclosure :: I know Terry in real life
Fresh Fig and Tempeh Salad with Creamy Cilantro-Lime Dressing from Salad Samurai.

Salads. The ultimate vegan cliche, right?

Fact is, cliches exist for a reason. I, for one, gobble up a humongous salad for dinner on average about 3 nights a week. I don't eat my greens out of obligation or discipline: I truly enjoy hearty dinner salads and they're easy and fun to make. None of this side-salad-with-storebought-Italian-vinaigrette sadness for me, thank you very much. I know how to transform a salad into a meal by adding protein, crunchies, a killer dressing, and layers of complexity. Or so I thought...

Then I received a review copy of Terry Hope Romero's Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don't Have to Be Vegan to Love  All I can say is, Holy Guacamole. I'm an amateur. A young grasshoppa'. Terry is an old salad soul. Listen to her. Learn from her and you, too, can become a Salad Samurai.

Maple-Orange Tempeh Nibbles, my new favorite thing.
Excuse my rant, but these days, the marketplace is grossly oversaturated with cookbooks, plant-based and otherwise. [Yeah, I know, I've written a few] It's great to appreciate well-prepared, flavorful food but this foodie thing has gotten way out of balance. It seems everyone has a cookbook. But as I've learned firsthand, just because it's published, online or in print, does not necessarily mean a recipe or technique is new, innovative and/or palatable. Cookbooks have become undercurated [less quality control] and overmarketed [more about cha-ching]. Just like Instagram and Tumblr feeds tend to produce live streams of [mostly] visual noise, the blogosphere and bookstores have become a cacophony of culinary noise. There, I said it.

Back at the Ranch dressing...so easy, customiazble and groundbreaking
My current measure of an excellent cookbook or blog is when the recipes taste great, the author has a unique style, and I can actually learn something new. Check, check and check, Terri. I thought I was a salad expert but I have already learned oodles from Salad Samurai As the full, adorable title suggests, everyone loves salad – vegans, omnivores and every species in-between. And this pivotal work includes something for everyone. It's useful for both new cooks and experienced culinary curmudgeons like me. If you're a newbie, you can make the recipes exactly as Terry prescribes. Those who are already facile in the kitchen can mix and match with abandon. Tempeh Bacon Bites? That 70's Tofu? Pickled Red Grapes? Maple Orange Tempeh Nibbles? Yes, please.

Some of my favorite recipes from Terri's previous books have been salad dressings. This book is worth it just for the dressing chapter alone. My favorites so far are the Back at the Ranch Dressing, made creamy with cashews, and the Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing which is surprisingly sassy, thanks to a roasted jalapeƱo pepper [which you can skip if spicy is not your thing.]

While the salad recipes themselves are mouthwatering, well-orchestrated and full of color, I really prefer deconstructing the recipes and leaning on their building blocks – Terri's dressings, proteins, crunchies, etc.  I can tell you that Roasted Hemp Seed Parmesan, Sriracha and Smoke Pecans, and Herbed Pea Ricotta have made their way into my weekly meal rotation – and not just for use in salads. The mix-and-match nature of this cookbook rocks and will keep inspiring you to take your salads to the next level.

The nice folks at Da Capo Lifelong Books are giving away a copy of Salad Samurai to one lucky US reader. Good luck, kids. And eat your greens!

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

vegan cuts double feature :: beauty and snack box reviews

Press Samples for Review
Ambassador Link


Monthly subscription boxes are all the rage, and there seems to be a box for everyone. Birch Box [a beauty product box], Bark Box [treats and toys for cats and dogs] and Lullubee [kits for crafters] to name a few. In fact, a co-worker friend recently enticed me to sign up for StitchFix and I'm hooked [I've been looking for perfectly-fitting skinny white jeans for 3 years now, and they delivered in one fell swoop.] But I digress: what about a fun, monthly box for those of us who like to sample the cool new plant-based, ethically sourced food and beauty products?

Enter Vegan Cuts! I've been a long-time fan of Vegan Cuts – and I'm not just saying that because they sent me boxes to review. You know me – I tell it like it is, and I liked it so much that I became a subscriber myself-- and I don't get any discounts. Cutting to the chase, I heart Vegan Cuts because they curate and promote fun, new vegan products. Plus, they create demand for vegan items – cementing veganism as both a lifestyle and a profitable business direction. And why shouldn't vegans make a profit as they purvey their respective passions? I so strongly believe in this business model that I decided to take them up on their offer of becoming an ambassador. First, if monthly subscriptions are not your thing, definitely check out the Vegan Cuts Marketplace, where they offer incredible deals on the latest, greatest vegan food, fashion and beauty and personal care items.


Here's how the boxes work. For $19.95 per month, including shipping, you get a box of cool products to try. In the Beauty Box, which I subscribe to, you get 4-7 items, and in the Snack Box, you'll get 7-10 vegan goodies to try. They range from trial size to full size, but bottom line is the value usually seems to exceed above and beyond $19.95.  These boxes make fabulous gifts for that "hard to shop for" vegan [You know who you are]. Also great for kids in college, to let you know you're thinking of them.


First, let's have a look inside a typical Vegan Cuts Snack Box. Each month's theme is different. They give you a little postcard, outlining what's in the box, a bit about each company and social media links. They sometimes also include coupons. This box included a sample of Loco Natural Soda, and also included a 50 cents off a four-pack coupon. The Choo bar was my favorite and I was so sad it was only a mini. I also loved the Earnest bar, the Loco Ginger Ale, despite the fact that I'm not much of a soda drinker. Since I love salty-crunchy snacks, the Tortatos, made from corn and potatoes, were right up my alley.


I was really skeptical about the Vigilant Eats Oat-Based Superfood because it looked like THIS when you added water as directed. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the taste – nutty, slightly sweet, chewy yet crunchy.


And any breakfast cereal that contains espresso is virtuous in my eyes. But seriously, look at that ingredient list – all whole foods, and many raw ingredients,



I was excited about this Roots powder since I drink a lot of smoothies.

Pretty decent 30-calorie nutrition boost, right? I liked the taste of this, but I didn't love it.

Another product that seemed perfect for me. Since I run a lot, I need more protein than the average bear, so I'm always trying out new protein powders.

This one provides 17 grams of protein plus  a slew of vitamins and probiotics. It's soy free and is sprout based. I tossed it into a post-long-run smoothie and really enjoyed the taste and texture. Creamy!


I took the Gluten-Free Soybean Noodle Soup to the office one day. It came with its own cute little fork. The pleasantly chewy noodles swam about in a mild broth, and it made a quick, nutritious lunch. I don't usually buy instant stuff like this, so I must admit, trying it out was fun.

I was shocked when I read the label. Twenty grams of protein? Plus tons of calcium, iron and fiber. Boom!

Vegan Cuts Beauty Box
Now, let's take a look at the Vegan Cuts Beauty Box. [Again, yours will be different, since this is a review from a box I received earlier this year.]



My favorite item in this particular box was these NCLA nail wraps. I love painting my nails [I find the ritual soothing, plus it makes me sit still] so I honestly thought I'd hate these. Plus, I wasn't a fan of the colors. But once I finally applied them, I was in LOVE. I definitely want to order more. They lasted so long, too. You get 44 – enough for 4 manis. If you have small nails, like me, you may need to trim some.


Here's what they look like on. I got so many compliments when I wore this mani.


Also received a sample pot of Schmitt's Bergamot-Lime Natural Deodorant. First things first, like most people who eat a plant-based diet, I find I can easily go without deodorant. Not that I would. But I can. I just don't emit offensive odors, even after 15 mile runs! – probably because I don't eat offensive [aka, dead] food. Still, for good measure, I use Thai Crystal Deodorant daily. It lasts forever and it's easy to apply. But Schmidt's deodorant smells so fresh and good. It's like applying all-natural perfume under your pits. I smelled fresh and clean all day each time I used it. If I didn't have long nails, I'd probably buy this again. My only gripe is that it gets under my long fingernail when I scoop it out.



Sunology Face and Body sunscreen samples. Nice product. Got the job done. I'll definitely be on the lookout for the full size bottles.



Reflexology Acne Spot Treatment. I'm lucky to have had clear skin most of my life. But like everyone, I get the occasional zit, even at age 49. This little baby dries out pimples without drying out your skin. The rollerball is a nice touch.


Being a lip balm fan, I was stoked to get two lip balms in this particular box. This Peach Lip Tint comes via Fanciful Fox.

It's super moisturizing, but I'm not a fan of the smell or the nubby texture. And the packaging needs a little TLC. But that didn't stop me from using it up.

My biggest gripe was that this was supposed to be a lip "tint." I applied it vigorously to my pale forearm, and as you can see, there's no tint. They should either add more pigment or simply rename it "lip balm."

Last but not least, I was thrilled to spy a stick of my very favorite silky lip balm by Hurraw! This is a night treatment but I've just worn it during the day, and I love it.


Just to give you some perspective, I just received this Vegan Cuts Beauty Box last week and actually remembered to take a photo. My favorite item was the on-trend, bright orchid Emani full size lipstick [a $16 value]. As you can see, these boxes are more than worth the money.

Which would you rather – the food box or the beauty box? To order, visit Vegan Cuts post-haste.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

how to be vegan :: review and giveaway

Press sample for review


Want to give veganism a go but not sure where to start? First stop, How to Be Vegan: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Cruelty-Free Eating, Living, Dating, Travel, Decorating, and More penned by plant-based "it" girl and former VegNews editor Elizabeth Castoria. I was lucky enough to meet Elizabeth at the very first Vida Vegan Conference and I can tell you, she's a peach – engaging yet down to earth and genuinely committed to animal welfare.


Well-designed infographics punctuate "How to be Vegan." Layout is clean and easy to scan.

The book outlines the hows and whys of how to go vegan, using a hip tone that's easy to read and understand. The 6 chapters outline pretty much everything you ever wondered about being vegan – from what to eat, what to wear and how to clean your home and body, to traveling how-tos, dating pointers and tips on how not to be that vegan. The last chapter includes 50 basic recipes by Robin Robertson to get you started on your plant-based adventure. I made the Rice with Beans and Greens. All this useful information crammed into 217 pages? Yes, please.



The nice folks at Artisan Books have offered to give a free copy of How to Be Vegan to one lucky US winner. Good luck!

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

vanilla macadamia-cashew whipped cream

Summer means bundles of juicy berries. Inherently sweet and dairy-free, a dollop of nut-based whipped cream is the perfect complement to the tartness of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, plus it fortifies your snack with an extra hit of protein, iron, fiber and minerals. Since nut-based whipped cream is an excellent pie topper, I included a recipe, along with 10 variations, in my latest cookbook Pies and Tarts with Heart: Expert Pie-Building Techniques for 60+ Sweet and Savory Vegan Pies. It's so ridiculously easy to make and is so versatile – the recipe below happens to be another variation on the original from this cookbook. It's also awesome on ice cream and other desserts and would make a great base for overnight oatmeal. But I must confess: sometimes, I just eat a small bowl [daintily, with a demitasse spoon] for breakfast. It fills me up: a little goes a long way.


I used macadamia nuts in this version, because they are buttery and uber-decadent. Macadamia nuts are rich, but I only used 1/2 because I'm not rich: they happen to be the world's most expensive nut. To ensure success and the most flavorful topping, please only use raw nuts and pure vanilla bean scrapings or powder. Be sure to soak your nuts for a full three hours or overnight. Using a high-speed blender, like a Vitamix will yield the fluffiest, creamiest whipped topping, but this recipe also works using a regular kitchen blender. Just be sure to whip it good!

Enjoy the long weekend. Happy 4th of July!

Vanilla Macadamia-Cashew Whipped Cream


  • 1/2 cup raw macadamia nuts, soaked and drained
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
  • Up to 3/4 cup non-dairy milk [I used homemade almond milk]
  • Scrapings of 1 vanilla bean pod or about 1/2 tsp pure vanilla powder
  • 1 to 3 T maple syrup, agave nectar or a pinch or two of stevia


Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Whip everything in a blender, preferably high-speed, until perfectly smooth. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

If you prefer whipped cream even thicker, you can also whip in 1 T cornstarch, but I've been omitting it lately with great results.


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

tofurky pockets and quiches

Press Sample

Tofurky Sausage and Veggie Quiche with a shaved fennel, orange and onion salad I threw together
A few months ago, the nice folks at Tofurky sent me samples of their then-new Tofurky Pockets and Pies to review.  I guess they figured since I had just written a vegan pie cookbook I'd have a strong opinion. I'm not a frozen dinner or convenience foods aficionado. If I'm too tired to cook, I will usually just eat a salad, defrost leftovers or order in. In some ways, this fact made me the perfect reviewer to try these quick meals.


Here's what I got: BBQ "Chick'n" Pocket, Pepperoni Pizza Pocket, "Turkey" Broccoli and Cheddar Pocket, Chick'n Pot Pie and Sausage and Veggie Quiche. See specific notes below.


First up was the Pepperoni Pizza Pocket. I made it in the oven. I liked the spice combination but it was not the best crust – kind of cardboard-like. Still, I would probably eat this pocket in a pinch. Only 5 grams of fat and 290 calories for the whole pocket. Pockets come 2 in a box, so the price point is good.


Next, I sampled the Pot Pie. I baked it in the oven, but there's a microwave option. The upside was that it tasted delicious, in an all-American, carby, "I need comfort now" sort of way. It reminded me of frozen pot pie from my childhood. This is what you eat after a bad day at the office, after a break-up or in the middle of a blizzard. The crust tasted flaky, but a bit dry and processed.


The downside? The nutrition panel. With 33 grams of fat, 14 of them saturated, and 520 calories for a pie, it's a splurge for sure and not an everyday standby. I'm a scrappy girl. I tried to cut it in half and to feel satisfied only eating half. But I couldn't. You have to eat the whole floury thing. Good thing I'm not a carb counter, because this little number contains 45 grams. The long ingredient list also scared me, even though most of them are recognizable. The crust was better than the pocket crust, but it still tasted processed. 


I liked the Tofurky Turkey and Cheddar Pocket much more than the Pepperoni Pocket. It was, as you can see, very cheddary.  Like the Pepperoni, this also contained 5 grams of fat and 290 calories. Not bad. 


The BBQ Chick'n Pocket was enjoyable. Then again, I'm a sucker for BBQ sauce. It was chewy in a way I think transitioning meat eaters would enjoy. Somehow this one only contained 4 grams of fat and 290 calories. 


My favorite of the bunch was the Sausage and Veggie Quiche. I made it tonight, and decided to try the microwave option since it's so hot outside. Microwaving agrees with this quiche. The crust turned out flaky and moist, unlike the pot pie and pocket crusts. I'm convinced that the microwaving helped. The texture of quiche itself was also moist, and similar to a homemade quiche. I'm already a fan of Tofurky Italian sausages, and they are happily peppered throughout this quiche, along with sweet-hot red peppers. The only downside –520 calories and [gulp!] 28 grams of fat. I tried to eat only half, but I was still hungry so down the hatch the whole thing went.

Here's my summary:
All in all, I think they're good products, perfect when you're too tired to cook. But given their nutrition profile, consider them treats, not to be consumed daily.
The good: Vegan. Convenient. Comforting. No isolates, preservatives or artificial ingredients.  Easy to prepare after a long day. Reputable, ethical company, vehemently non-GMO. Satisfying because the protein fills you up.
The not-so-good: Ingredient list, although relatively healthy, is a bit too long for my taste. Carb heavy. Pies are very fat-heavy. No gluten-free options.

Tips: 
  • Wondering which one to try? Get the Quiche! Microwave it and eat it with a fresh salad.
  • Get a 75 cents off coupon here
  • Read the Laziest Vegans in the World review of the Pepperoni Pockets [very different than mine] here

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