Thursday, December 31, 2015

Stuff I Ate in December!

I've been trying to wrap up my vegan product reviews over the last couple weeks, so I've neglected to do any random "stuff I ate" photo dumps. Beginning January 4th, I'll be embarking on the 28-day Abundance Diet from Somer McCowan's cookbook. So with my reviews caught up, it's time for a photo dump. Here's everything I've eaten in December that I haven't already shown you in another blog post.

Inspired by the so-not-vegan Turducken (I think that's a duck stuffed into a turkey or something), my friend Cassi of Pink Diva Cupcakery created vegan Piecaken to sell in her shop. This was a mini cherry pie stuffed inside a chocolate cupcake. YES! She used a vegan whipped topping since the pie-cake was a little on the heavy side.

She's started a new women's-only event at Pink Diva called Cupcakes, Cocktails, & Cursing. It's basically a bitch sesh with cupcakes and wine. I went to the first event, and she had these Mini Champagne Cupcakes.

Speaking of weird things Cassi is recreating at Pink Diva, she's also veganized the Phorito — a Vietnamese-style burrito with hoisin tofu, noodles, & mint.

Other meals I've eaten at Pink Diva lately have included the Veggie Pasta, which is loaded with tempeh, kale, carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms.

And BBQ Tofu plate with Vegan Mac & Cheese and Avocado-Kale Salad. She uses an awesome mustard-based BBQ sauce for the fried tofu, and it's just the bee's knees.

I also got this yummy brunch plate for lunch one day. She only serves brunch on Saturdays, but I made a special request and got it on a Thursday. Pancakes, Vegan Sausage, & Hash Browns.

While we're on the topic of vegan restaurant meals, here are some I had at my home away from home Imagine Vegan Cafe. This Vegan Steak Quesadilla is one of my favorite meals on the menu! It's loaded with Gardein beefless tips, vegan cheese, and sauteed peppers and onions.

I'm trying to eat as much fried food as possible before my cleanse, and this Fried Eggplant Parm dish from Imagine hit the spot. Slices of fried eggplant are topped with marinara and a house-made vegan white cheese sauce. Served with the BEST GARLIC BREAD EVER (because they basically soak it in Earth Balance).

I wish you could see inside this Breakfast Burrito from Imagine cause it was stuffed with goodness — tofu scram, vegan sausage, vegan cheese, salsa, and guac for topping. I had two hash brown patties on the side because two hash browns are better than one.

This is a crappy photo of the Reuben from Imagine, but trust me — it was delicious. Thinly sliced vegan salami with lots of kraut and homemade Thousand Island dressing. I had mac & cheese on the side.

Speaking of mac & cheese, I recently spruced up some So Delicious boxed Pizza Mac by adding Match Meat Italian Sausage. Tasted like pizza and mac & cheese at the same time. MAGIC!

Mmmmm ... these So Delicious Peppermint Star ice cream bars are so creamy and pepperminty. Tastes like the holidays!!

On Tuesday, we had our monthly Vegan Drinks meetup at Pyro's Fire Fresh Pizza, a build-your-own pizza place with vegan options. They use Follow Your Heart vegan cheese and place it on the pizza in cubes. It's different, but I like it! Reminds me of those margarita pizzas with the blobs of mozzarella. My pie had a base of BBQ sauce, and I added vegan cheese, roasted mushrooms, roasted broccoli, caramelized onions, black olives, banana peppers, roasted bell peppers, and roasted garlic.

I've shown this sandwich on the blog a number of times, but I had one again, so here's another. It's the Bianca Banh Mi (yes, named after yours truly!) from Midtown Crossing Grill. It's a tofu banh mi with hummus, and it's DELICIOUS!!! Definitely proud to have my name on it. Had a salad with wasabi vinaigrette on the side.

Looking at these pics, I'm thinking I definitely need a cleanse! Ha! But I swear December wasn't all pizza and sandwiches and cupcakes. I did have this super-healthy Mung Bean Pasta with Butternut Squash, Pom Seeds, Sage Pesto from the Raw Girls vegan food truck!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

SuperSeedz Pumpkin Seeds!

I'm kind of a snack hoarder. Okay, not "kind of." I am total snack hoarder. My co-workers know that I keep a giant stash of nuts, seeds, crackers, and chocolate in my desk, and sometimes when they've forgotten their lunches, a few have been known to stop by asking for a little something to tide them over. We have a snack machine in the breakroom, but I tend to keep healthy snacks around, so some folks come to me before hitting up the chips and other junky snacks in the machine.

Every morning, around 11 a.m., I have a little snack at my desk. Usually a handful of nuts or seeds is enough to tide me over until noon, when I can break into whatever lunch I've packed. Pumpkin seeds, which are great sources of protein, iron, and zinc, are a personal fave. And I think I've found a new go-to snack in SuperSeedz Gourmet Pumpkin Seeds. They sent one a bag of every one of their flavors to review!

There's Sea Salt, Curious Curry, and Tomato Italiano.

And Really Naked, Somewhat Spicy, and Super Spicy.

And Coco Joe, Cinnamon & Sugar, and Maple Sugar & Sea Salt.

Whew! That's a lot of pumpkin seeds! But I've done the "tough" research of sampling every one, and I'm here to tell you my thoughts. Overall, I'm really impressed with the very distinct individual flavors of SuperSeedz. The spiced and sweet ones — excluding Really Naked and Sea Salt — are coated with lots of herbs and spices or sugars, so the flavor really shines. And all of these dry-roasted seeds are flavored with all-natural ingredients I can recognize and pronounce. No artificial flavors or preservatives. The Really Naked and Sea Salt varieties may not have as much spicy oomph, but they're delicious in their own right and allow the natural flavor of the seed to shine.

Here's a rundown of each flavor:

Sea Salt — Just the right amount of salt. These remind me of roasted sunflower seeds, and they're perfect for snacking before a meeting when you don't want garlic breath. Paul actually preferred these over all the flavors, and he ate a bunch in the car on the way to my parents' house for Thanksgiving.

Curious Curry — Seasoned with madras curry powder and non-gmo soy sauce, these are my fave of the bunch. I love anything with curry, and I could eat these all day long. 

Tomato Italiano — Tastes like pizza! These are loaded with fresh Italian herbs, tomato, and garlic. I appreciate that the herbs are fine-ground, so they don't get stuck in your teeth. You will have garlic breath though! But who cares?

Really Naked — Pure pumpkin seed flavor. I was afraid these would be too bland for me since I'm a salt-a-holic, but they're actually perfect. I prefer these sprinkled over a salad. You wouldn't want to use the super-flavored ones on a salad, but these are made for that.

Somewhat Spicy — We love spice in our house! Paul grows hot peppers, and we put sriracha on everything. These get a slight amount of heat from cayenne pepper, so they're just a tad spicy. I'd label these as mild. They also get great flavor from garlic, onion, black pepper, paprika, and herbs.

Super Spicy — Now these are spicy! They're seasoned with habanero pepper, and if you eat just one or two seeds, they don't seem too spicy. But when you eat a full serving — 1/4th cup — the heat builds. I love it, but I do have to blow my nose a few times while eating these. Definitely my second fave of the bunch. 

Coco Joe — I'm always prefer savory snacks over sweet ones, but sometimes, you need a little chocolate. These are seasoned with cocoa, coffee, and vanilla, and there's added sweetness from organic sugar. The coffee is a nice touch. Good snack to accompany my morning cup.

Cinnamon & Sugar — These were my least fave of the bunch. They're delicious. But compared with the rest, they're just not my favorite. They're coated in cinnamon and sugar and taste a little like cinnamon toast. I think they'd be best enjoyed as an ice cream topping.

Maple Sugar & Sea Salt — Out of the three sweet ones, I loved these the most. Probably because I adore the combo of sweetness and salt. Plus, there's a strong maple flavor that reminds me of pancakes.

These are so good that I really don't want to share! So if you work with me and you're reading this, stay out of my pumpkin seeds! :-) Jk. I may share a few.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Raw Vegan Fruit Roll-Ups

Remember Fruit Roll-Ups? Those were the best! They still make them, but I haven't seen (or tasted) one in years. I just googled the ingredients, and it looks like they're vegan. But they appear to have just as much (or more) corn syrup as they do real fruit. I probably wouldn't feel good about eating that as an adult, but when I was a kid, I'm pretty sure corn syrup was a big chunk of my diet. And I totally didn't even care.

I've seen recipes for homemade raw vegan fruit roll-ups, and while I do have a dehydrator, I've never tried making my own. But this small vegan company called Perky Fruit Bodies makes organic, raw, kosher fruit roll-ups with all-natural ingredients and superfoods, and they sent me some samples to review.

There's Strawberry Banana, Cacao Banana Coconut, and Coconut Banana. They look similar to the fruit roll-ups of my childhood but minus the artificial color.

But they taste much better than those artificially flavored fruit roll-ups! The Strawberry Banana roll-up is my fave. It's made with fresh, organic strawberries, sun-dried red banana powder, sun-dried cane juice crystals, and alkaline water. The strawberry taste is very prevalent and isn't overpowered by the banana. It's chewy and only slightly sweet. It does tend to stick to your teeth a little though. I was picking out dried fruit for a few minutes after eating a roll.

My next fave was the Cacao Banana Coconut. It's made with the same sun-dried banana powder but also organic shredded coconut and organic raw cacao powder. The chocolate taste shines through and leaves a rich flavor in your mouth long after its gone.

The Coconut Banana was great too, but after trying the Cacao Banana Coconut, it just didn't live up. Because when you can add cacao to something, you should! 

These Perky Fruit Bodies snacks have been excellent pre-run fuel over the past few weeks. They're 130 calories per roll, which is just about what I like to have before a morning run. And since they're made with pure fruit and all-natural sweetener, they break down easy in the body for workout energy. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Kite Hill Yogurt Taste Test!

Typically, when I do a review, I test the product and write a post based on my own experience with whatever I'm trying out. But Kite Hill recently contacted me asking if I'd do a comparison taste test between their vegan almond milk yogurts and other vegan yogurts on the market. It sounded like a fun idea, but I've already professed my love for Kite Hill yogurts on this blog. I didn't think I could offer an unbiased opinion since I've pretty much stated that I think Kite Hill is the best thing to happen to vegan yogurt since Whole Soy.

But I wanted to do the taste test. I just needed some unbiased opinions. So I turned to my mostly omnivorous co-workers at the Memphis Flyer (the alt-newsweekly where I'm a reporter/editor). Kite Hill shipped me a box of their yogurts, and I went to Whole Foods and picked up other vegan brands in the same flavors as the Kite Hill yogurts.

Then I set them all out on a counter at work with little scoring sheets. Each person who tried the yogurts was instructed to write their names under their favorite of each flavor (with any notes they wished to add).

Here's a yogurt testing palette!

First up, we had So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk Vanilla versus Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt Vanilla. Out of eight testers, six chose the Kite Hill over So Delicious. Comments in favor of Kite Hill included notes about its superior texture. One tester who voted for So Delicious said she preferred the coconut milk yogurt because it had less of a nutty flavor.

As for me, I love both of these! But I think Kite Hill has a more authentic yogurt texture. The So Delicious yogurt has more of a pudding-like feel. Here's an inside shot of both.

Next up was Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt Peach versus Daiya Peach Dairy & Soy Free Greek Yogurt. Six testers tried both of these, and ALL SIX voted for Kite Hill. The texture seemed to be the deciding factor here. The Daiya yogurt has a very thick texture, and even though it's supposed to be like Greek yogurt, our omnivore testers said it was too clumpy and thick for even a Greek style.

One tester voted the Kite Hill Peach as her favorite overall of all the yogurts. She said it had the best flavor and was most like dairy yogurt. She also appreciated the bits of real peach inside the yogurt. Here's an inside shot of both.

We pitted Almond Dream Strawberry Non-Dairy Yogurt against Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt Strawberry. There were seven testers for this one, and six chose the Kite Hill as the winner. The seventh tester actually said she didn't like either one, stating that the almond flavor in both was too prevalent (clearly, someone doesn't like almonds!).

All those who chose the Kite Hill Strawberry said it won by a landslide. Many were turned off by Almond Dream's chunky texture, and one tester even said Almond Dream "tasted like chemicals." For the record, the ingredient list for Almond Dream shows only natural ingredients. Another tester said Kite Hill would have won on appearance alone even if he hadn't tasted them both. Here's an inside shot, and as you can see, the Almond Dream doesn't look all that appealing.

Silk Dairy-Free Yogurt Alternative Blueberry went up against Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt Blueberry. This was a tough call for some of our testers. One chose Silk over Kite Hill, citing a better color, flavor, and texture. Another tester called it a tie, and one said she preferred the consistency of Silk, which was more like dairy yogurt, but she said it was too sweet. Three of the eight testers on this one said Kite Hill was the definite winner.

As for me, I felt like Kite Hill was better for two reasons — it wasn't as sweet and had slightly more yogurt-y tang. But both are great! Close call. Here's an inside shot.

Finally, So Delicious Greek Style Plain Cultured Coconut Milk went up against Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt Plain. Kite Hill won across the board with four testers, and one other tester said she didn't like either one. 

Some testers who tried other yogurts were too intimidated to try these plain yogurts at all because they weren't as sweet, and those who did said the Kite Hill was better because it had just a tad more sweetness than the So Delicious. But I'll tell you that if I were using these in a savory application, like a tzatziki sauce, I'd pick the So Delicious. The lack of sweetness would be appealing for that. But if I were to eat these with granola and agave for breakfast, I'd pick the Kite Hill.

Kite Hill was the winner in every taste test, but I'd say So Delicious and Silk were close calls. Personally, I really do think Kite Hill is the best yogurt on the market right now, but several other vegan yogurts are delicious too. Almond Dream definitely needs to step up its game, especially since a far superior almond milk yogurt is available now with Kite Hill.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holiday Eats!

I hope you had a lovely holiday. I definitely did! Here's a recap in pictures.

I went home to my parents' house in Arkansas on Christmas Eve. It's just a quick hour drive from Memphis, so I arrived a couple hours before dinner. First things first, we let Datsun have his presents — a chew bone and a new dog bed. That way he'd have something to play with while we were visiting. (And yes, I do allow Datsun to have non-vegan chew bones). Most of my animals stay at home when I visit my parents, but my eldest dog Datsun and eldest cat Akasha (both 13 years old) get to come with me.

Then, my mama and I went to visit with my Me-Maw (mama's mama) and exchange gifts with her. We visited with her for awhile, and when we got back home, we got started on cooking dinner.

My daddy had seen a post on my blog a few weeks back about Kathy Hester's Drunken Sweet Potato BBQ from The Easy Vegan Cookbook, and he'd said he wanted to try it. Most years, on Christmas Eve, we drive around to every Chinese joint in Jonesboro looking for one that's open late. Since it's a fairly small town, it's tough to find a place that's open. This year, I figured we should stay in and cook dinner together, and it seemed like a good time to let my dad try the vegan BBQ. So my mama and I whipped up this dinner of Drunken Sweet Potato BBQ Sandwiches with Vegan Coleslaw, Baked Beans, & French Fries.

The grated sweet potatoes are slow-cooked in a yummy homemade BBQ sauce made with hard apple cider and bourbon. Both of my omnivore parents loved it and even declared it better than pork BBQ! Mama says she's going to start making this dinner often. Vegan win!

After dinner, we all drove over to my Granny's house (daddy's mama) to exchange gifts and visit. My great-aunt Carolyn and great-uncle Doug were there with their two adorable wiener dogs! I failed to get any pictures of anyone there except for this one of my dad in his Santa hat.

When we returned to my parents' house afterward, my mama and I heated up some of her AMAZINGLY MOIST Chocolate Coca-Cola Cake with vegan ice cream. (Mama, if you're reading this, I want this cake for my birthday next year).

Later in the night, I met up with my BFF Sheridan to exchange gifts. She lives in Little Rock, but we're childhood buds, and we both grew up in Jonesboro. So she was at her in-law's house.

She got me a squirrel nutcracker, Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Love Notes daily affirmation cards, an e.l.f. eyeshadow kit, and The Taco Cleanse!

And I got her Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg, some Leahey vegan gravy packets (Sheridan LOVES gravy), Soy Curls, the Vegan Bowls cookbook, some homemade chakra soaps, and some earrings made from beer cans.

After our gift exchange, I headed back to my parents' house and went straight to bed. The sooner you get to bed, the sooner Santa can drop off all those presents, right? Most years, my parents and I exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, because I typically have to drive to Nashville on Christmas morning to visit with Paul's family. But this year, Paul had to come home early, so I didn't go to Nashville. And I was able to stretch my holiday with my parents out longer. So we agreed to open gifts on Christmas morning.

But before any unwrapping, we had a leisurely Christmas morning breakfast. My mama made Tofu Scramble, Veggie Bacon, Biscuits & Gravy, and Hash Browns

And then we got to work opening gifts! Lots and lots of gifts! Here's my mama with a Harley Davidson necklace from my dad. My parents are bikers, if you couldn't tell.

I got LOTS of great clothes from H&M (my new favorite store), a FitBit Charge HR (I've been using the FitBit One for a couple years, but this one is a step up because it measures heart rate), this adorable singing holiday squirrel, and so much more. 

After presents, my mama took the tree down. She just can't wait every year to take it down! We hadn't even cleaned up the mess from unwrapping before she had all the ornaments packed away. We snacked on Sheridan's homemade vegan zucchini bread (another gift from her) and hummus and pita chips. Then I packed up my pets and my presents for the short drive home. 

Once home, I had the house to myself for a bit. So I called around to Chinese places and found that my very favorite Chinese restaurant, New Hong Kong, was open until 11 p.m. on Christmas Day. I stopped by and picked up some New Hong Kong Special Fried Rice (with mock chicken, mock beef, and mock ham) and a Spring Roll. Who needs veggies when you can have mock meats?

I ate this in my PJs while binge-watching Lost and drinking Chimay — a fine way to end Christmas day if I do say so myself!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Addictive Wellness Chocolate

Happy holidays! Before I head off for family Christmas stuff, I wanted to share a quick blog post about some awesome chocolate that landed on my desk a few weeks ago. It's dairy-free, raw, non-gmo, fair trade, gluten-free, and sugar-free, and it's loaded with superfoods and superherbs.

Addictive Wellness sent me three samples of their raw chocolates to review. Each one is formulated to help with various aspects of our mental state. They sent me chocolates for tranquility, energy, and beauty. 

Note: I learned after researching on their website that the Beauty chocolate they sent isn't vegan because it contains pearl powder, which comes from oysters. So I didn't sample that one, but I'll give it to a non-vegan friend. But more on that later in the post!

Addictive Wellness' motto is "May All Your Addictions Be Beneficial," and I think that's a fine motto for a chocolate company. There's no reason we should look at chocolate, which in itself is a superfood, as something sinful or indulgent. Pure, raw chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, and these little chocolates have added foods and herbs for even more health benefits.

Each box contains four small chocolates. They're stevia-sweetened, and they're very pure dark chocolate. So they are slightly bitter, but if you love dark chocolate, you'll be fine with the flavor. Those who are used to overly processed, sweet chocolates might find that these take some getting used to.

The Tranquility chocolate contains ashwaganda (an herb used in Ayurvedic healing for its restorative powers), reishi mushrooms (which can enhance the immune system), and he shou wu (an herb that calms the nervous system). I tried this one night about an hour before bedtime, and it did help me relax! It didn't make me sleepy though, but it helped wind me down.

The Energy chocolate contains cordyceps mushrooms (which are said to improve athletic peformance), astragalus (an herb that protects the body against physical stress), and mucuna (a legume that supports brain health and stress management). I had some of these at work, around 2ish when the mid-afternoon slump hit. They definitely helped carry me through the rest of the afternoon. Chocolate is a natural stimulant, and the superherbs and mushrooms made it even more so.

I do wish Addictive Wellness would find a way to make their Beauty chocolate vegan. Taking pearls from oysters just isn't ethical, and for a company that puts so much emphasis on fair trade and other ethics concerns, you'd think they'd also want all of their chocolates to be vegan.

UPDATE: Addictive Wellness left a comment on this post saying they have reformulated their Beauty chocolate to be vegan! Here's what they said: 
"Thanks for your fantastic review Bianca, we're so glad you enjoyed the chocolates and we're very happy to share the news that we have a new Beauty chocolate coming out very soon replacing pearl with a plant-based herb so it will be completely vegan! We just received the new packaging last week :)"
So look for that one soon!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Happy Winter Solstice! We had a little celebration at home with the pets tonight. They opened their gifts, but I failed to get as many awesome pictures as I usually do. That's because I was lazy and using my iPhone instead of my Nikon. That may have been a strike out, but my Solstice dinner certainly wasn't!

I've been meaning to review The Great Vegan Grains Book by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes for awhile now. But I finally got around to trying a few recipes tonight. This book features more than 100 vegan recipes using whole grains, everything from common grains like brown rice and quinoa to more exotic stuff like freekah and einkorn.

Since it was Solstice, I figured a hearty, warming meal involving roasted veggies would be appropriate (even though it's 70 degrees here!). And when I was flipping through the book and saw the gorgeous photo of the Roasted Radish Freekah Bowl with Mustard Miso Sauce, I knew this would be perfect. I mean, the veggies are red and green for goddess' sake.

Broccoli and radishes are roasted and served over freekah, and then it's all topped with a tangy miso-mustard sauce. I'd never heard of roasting radishes, but oh my, it makes them so amazing. I like raw radishes okay on a salad, but I've never been totally in love with radishes. But roasting makes their spicy flavor mellow a bit, and they take on the texture of other roasted root veggies, like carrots or parsnips. Amazing. And we all know that roasting is the best thing that can happen to broccoli, right?

Freekah is an ancient Arabian grain that's got a similar texture to bulgur, but it has a naturally smoky flavor. I bought a bag at the Mediterranean market months ago, and I only used half of the bag then. The rest has been sitting neglected in my pantry. I was glad to put it to use.

On the side, I made Tacu Tacu from the book. These are Peruvian butter bean and rice patties with a spicy kick.

Aren't they gorgeous? I love the color! These are loaded with cumin and paprika, smashed butter beans, and brown rice. They're formed into patties and pan-fried in a little oil, like a fritter. I served this with lots of Yellowbird Serrano Sauce. Yum!

Both dishes I tried from The Great Vegan Grains Book were amazing. And I hope to make much more use of this book, as I clear out my massive stash of half-used bags of grain in my pantry. Other dishes on my to-make list: BBQ Bulgur Burgers, Tahini-Topped Kamut and Brussels Sprouts, Creamy Amaranth Polenta with Marinara, and Sausage Smash Potato Hash (made from vegan sausage created with freekah!).