The three of us stared up the hill from the safety of Erin’s Jeep.
“If that Sprinter van could do it, we can do it,” Other Erin said.
Less off-road-worthy vehicles lined the road, their passengers watching to see who would tackle the beast next. On the other side of the cavernous potholes sat one of the best hikes in the area.
Erin floored it and in a matter of seconds we knew: this wasn’t happening. Other Erin hopped out of the car.
“Okay, turn your wheels this way!” she shouted, motioning with her arms. My heart raced. We were dangerously close to rolling off the edge of the road.
“Don’t worry, the trees will stop a fall,” Erin assured me.
I peered over the side of the car, clutching Uncle Jesse. I am not ready to die.
By the time Other Erin said, “Okay, your front wheel is off the ground,” I wanted to cry.
“I’m sorry, I need to get out,” I blurted and quickly grabbed Uncle Jesse’s leash, fleeing for solid ground.
As I scurried down the hill to join the other onlookers, overhearing Other Erin say, “Okay, now three wheels are off the ground,” I thought back to the weekend’s adventures. It was Monday, Labor Day, and I was certain I couldn’t have crammed anymore excitement into a three-day period.
First, there was Uncle Jesse’s inaugural 10k, after which I drank a free hard cider (because this is Oregon), promptly vomited, then hiked uphill to a picture perfect lake where a new friend floated in a unicorn raft while I watched from a hammock strung between two Ponderosa pines.
Then I picked up some Pacific Crest Trail hitchhikers who needed a lift and ran into a family whose raft tipped in the Deschutes River rapids, waiting with them until help arrived, followed by an impromptu sing-a-long at a friend’s house. That was Saturday.
Speckled between those moments were more live music, planning my first backpacking trip, skinny dipping in a lake (okay, maybe that was a spectator sport for some), and hard cider – that I did manage to keep down.
A year ago, the idea of living in a place where I could hike to a new lake every day, make instant friends, and bump into neighbors on the top of a mountain (more than once), was unfathomable.
A year ago, I hadn’t even met the friends who would help convince me to move to Bend, Oregon, sight unseen.
As I watched Steve, a stranger and Patron Saint of Pothole Navigating, climb into Erin’s Jeep and expertly back us away from certain death, I knew life had many more twists and turns in store.
A short while later, the Erins and some of my other new friends toasted on the shoreline of a beautiful, almost completely private, lake. While it wasn’t the hike we’d set out to do, we couldn’t argue against our good fortune.
As the final weeks of my Masters Program commence, I’ve been slacking in other areas…like the kitchen.
The good news?
It means I have some more cheap and easy go-to vegan “recipes” to share! (For more vegan food hacks, click here and here.)
1. CREAMY PUMPKIN STUFF
1 can pureed pumpkin + 1 can full fat coconut milk + 1 onion (+ other veggies if you’re feelin’ fancy) = angels singing Justin Timberlake songs
STEP ONE: Sautee a roughly chopped onion (any kind) in a saucepan over medium high heat until the onions are translucent.
STEP TWO (OPTIONAL): Add your other favorite vegetables like broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and/or baby spinach. I even added black beans to this batch!
STEP THREE: Dump in your canned pumpkin and coconut milk. Stir and let it simmer for a few minutes (it’ll likely thicken up a bit).
STEP FOUR: Season to taste. Some of my favorites with this combo include: white pepper, curry powder, garlic salt and nutmeg.
Voila! Now you can: 1) eat as is as a creamy pumpkin soup, 2) pour it over rice, gnocchi or pasta, or, 3) make a potato bowl.
1 container of any pesto-like thing + vegan protein (veggies, tofu, tempeh, etc.) = Jason Bateman being Jason Bateman-y
This new Zhoug Sauce from Trader Joe’s (pictured above) is my everything. Basically it’s a cilantro pesto, minus the cheese, with a very respectable zing.
Slather your “pesto” (however much you please!) over your vegan protein and then roast the crap out of it (for vegetables I do up to an hour, for tofu, 30 minutes, both between 350-400F, stirring or flipping halfway). The grill works great, too!
You can eat this as is…
…or hey, maybe put it on…
3. PITA PIZZAS
1 pita + your favorite toppings = frolicking baby goats in sweaters
I have so many pictures of pita pizzas, it’s bordering on concerning. (In fact, I’ve already featured them here, but they’re so easy, fun and versatile that I felt they deserved a stand-alone mention.)
Bake directly on the oven rack for 8-10 minutes @ 350F and you’re (literally) golden.
Any kind of pita should work – when I’m feeling healthy, I use whole wheat.
Speaking of healthy, for anyone counting calories, even my vegan cheese-a-rific version comes out to less than 500 calories, so it’s a fantastic alternative to any frozen pizza (serving size = 1/3 pizza? Are they kidding?).
And there you have it! A few recipes you can whip up without breaking a sweat, and still feel like you’re fully adulting!
I’ll be honest, Chipmunks. I’m shocked that my first vegan food hack post wound up being one of my most popular ones ever. Usually I write something, my mom reads it, and I move on. That post gets new views and likes every day, even two months later. Whether you’re reading this because you love me food, love saving money/animals/the planet, or any combination of the above, I’m so glad you’re here. BECAUSE…
I HAVE SO MANY MORE (VEGAN) FOOD HACKS!
They’re so cheap. And so easy. And so yummy.
And? We’re on the heels of my 2-year veganniversary (May 17, 2016…not that I’m keeping track of the spiritual awakening that completely turned my world inside-out or anything), so what better time to celebrate a few more?
Let’s do this.
Heads-up: My recipes are very informal because I want to encourage you to experiment! Most of these are really hard to mess up, so let your vegan flag FLY. And if you do mess up? You get to blame me!
1. Orzo is a fun word
16-oz package orzo
1 jar (about 8.5 oz.) oil-packed sun dried tomatoes (chopped or julienned)
Salt (to taste)
That’s right. One 99-cent package of orzo (tiny, scrumptious, basmati rice-shaped pasta) + a jar of julienned sun dried tomatoes in olive oil (about $3.00 from Trader Joe’s) = all you need for several filling meals. Just cook the pasta according to the instructions, strain, and then dump in the jar of sun dried tomatoes, oil and all. DONE. (Okay. You’ll probably want some salt.)
Don’t live near a Trader Joe’s? Check out the food aisle at TJ Maxx/HomeGoods – you’ll often find great deals on things you can stock your pantry with like sun dried tomatoes, condiments, seasonings, nuts, coffee/tea – even almond butter!
For other cheap additions, stir in a some baby spinach (it’ll wilt just from the heat of the pasta), sautéed onions and garlic, and/or any other vegetables that tickle your fancy (asparagus? Zucchini? Cherry tomatoes?). Speaking of fancy, if you want to splurge, add some pine nuts!
You can serve this hot, cold, or room temperature, and it’s a great make-ahead meal for a picnic or party. Or, try mixing in some vegan mayo (Hellmann’s is my favorite) and turn it into a traditional cold pasta salad with celery, red onion, mustard and dill!
2. InstaPot: What Can’t She Do? (Refried Beans Recipe)
Don’t have an InstaPot? You can do this on your stovetop, just plan for a 1-2+ hour bean-cook time. (Less if you soak the beans overnight.)
16-oz. bag dried pinto beans
However many cups of water it takes to cover said beans
Your favorite seasonings, e.g., 1 bay leaf, 1-2 peeled garlic cloves, 1 onion (peeled and quartered), 1-2 spicy peppers (stems cut off), and a teaspoon each of smoked paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, etc.
1/2 c. reserved cooking liquid (see instructions)
1/4-1/2 c. your favorite oil
Rinse off your beans and dump ’em into your InstaPot (IP).
Cover with water, leaving about two inches of extra water on top of them (those suckers grow faster than my waistline after Thanksgiving).
Add whatever seasonings make you smile from the suggested list above – or come up with your own!
Set the IP on manual for 38 minutes (this is the magic pinto bean number – they will be extra soft), and make sure to turn off the IP when the timer sounds. Feel free to use those 38 minutes to catch up on my blog.
After about 10 minutes post-timer, you can manually release the pressure valve without melting your face off.
Strain the beans and any other veggies you added (garlic, onion, peppers, etc.), reserving the cooking liquid. If you used a bay leaf, discard/compost that.
Put the beans in a food processor, along with any other veggies you used, and blend.
Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water, then slowly add about 1/4 c. of oil while the food processor is on. Do all of this while everything’s still warm, and you’ll be AMAZED by the results. So light! So fluffy!
Give it a taste, and then add more of the cooking water, oil and/or seasoning as needed to light your tastebuds on fire. If it seems thin, it will firm up once it cools.
Like I said, this makes a ton, but it’ll keep all week. You can eat it cold, reheat it and serve with tortilla chips, make a layered bean dip, spread it on tortillas (#foreshadowing), or just eat it on a spoon! Heck, one time I used it as the “sauce” for a Mexican pita pizza (pictured below), adding green chiles, tomatoes, corn, cilantro and vegan cheese!
Pita Mexican pizza
3. You Get a Tortilla, You Get a Tortilla, Everybody Gets a Tortilla!!!
I buy these tortillas from the refrigerated dairy section of Stop & Shop for $1.49. Eight, succulent, giant, versatile blankets of magic for less than $1.50. The possibilities? Endless.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1 tortilla per quesadilla
Your ‘main’ filling of choice: ~1/2 c. refried beans, hummus, mashed potatoes (sweet or regular), or meat substitute
1/4-1/2 c. vegan cheese (optional)
1/4 c. sautéed veggies/greens (optional)
I’m telling you, just about anything will work in quesadillas if you have a pasty-bean-like-filling; you don’t even need cheese, although I’m in love with Trader Joe’s vegan mozzarella and Follow Your Heart.
Once you add your fillings to one half of the tortilla, fold over, and toast on a large nonstick pan (no greasing necessary) on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes on each side.
Last week I microwaved frozen vegan meatballs and mashed them up, added some vegan mozz, put them in a quesadilla, and used marinara sauce for dipping. Italian ‘dilla – BAM!
Enchiladas are more labor intensive (because of prepping the filling), but they’re GREAT for leftovers/work lunches, and I’ve got an awesome hack coming up here.
4 large tortillas
~2 cups of your grain of choice (rice, couscous, bulgur, quinoa, etc.)
~2 cups of your veggies of choice – cooked (spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc.)
~1 to 1 1/2 cups prepared vegan meat (optional), e.g., soy chorizo, “beef,” etc.
1 jar marinara sauce (anything from 10 to 24 oz. will work)
About 1 teaspoon each (or to taste): oregano, crushed red pepper, chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder
8 oz. vegan cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare your filling and distribute it evenly among the four tortillas, wrapping each into a burrito.
Place four burritos in a 9 x 13 pan.
Now for the hack! Aside from the dirt-cheap tortillas, you can buy ANY marinara sauce and just add your favorite Mexican seasonings (suggested list above) and VOILA! Enchilada sauce for about a buck.
Pour your genius sauce over your burrito babies and feel free to top with vegan cheese.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until nice and bubbly. (If you’re worried about the cheese burning, you can cover the dish with foil for the first 15 minutes.)
One time I boiled a head of cauliflower and blended the sh*t out of it and used that as a topping, too (swirled like in the photo above). Funky-smelling like cheese, healthy, delicious. Oh, cauliflower, you are the Justin Timberlake of vegetables: limitless potential.
Chickpea salad wraps
1 can (about 15 oz.) chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
~1/4 c. your favorite vegan mayo
1/8 c. finely chopped red onion
1/8 c. finely chopped celery
1 t. dijon mustard
1 T. red wine vinegar (optional)
1 T. relish (optional)
1 T. fresh or 1 t. dried dill (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Think tuna salad, but swap out a can of chickpeas for tuna! The above are really just suggestions meant to play around with – go crazy! I mash the chickpeas a bit with a fork so they’re even more “tuna”-like.
I love to make wraps out of this with those bargain tortillas, topping with lettuce, tomato, and/or sprouts. You could even skip the mayo and just use oil and vinegar though it would cause me to reevaluate our friendship.
I could go on and on about tortillas, but I’ve still got two more hacks to go! (And hey, aren’t you supposed to be working?)
4. Carrot-Ginger Soup
Feel a cold coming on? Want comfort food that won’t require wearing yoga pants for the next week? This is one of my absolute favorite soup recipes, and I just realized how cheap and easy it is. To make it vegan, simply swap out the butter and milk with plant-based options. (Earth Balance and Westsoy unsweetened soy milk are my favorites, respectively.) To make it even easier? Buy baby carrots – no peeling or chopping necessary!
5. You Say Potato, I say Potatohmygod
Ohhh, are we ever ending with a bang here, Chipmunks! I often keep a container of whole, roasted potatoes in my fridge so that Uncle Jesse (the dog) and I can enjoy them in myriad ways throughout the week. Here are just a few:
I have my friend Christine to thank for this miracle. (Remember Christine? The mastermind behind the vegan dinner party?) When she first found out I went vegan and had me over, she made this as an appetizer and blew us all away!
Tortillas (1 per quesadilla)
Your favorite potatoes, roasted or boiled (1 per quesadilla)
Vegan butter spread (e.g., Earth Balance) – about 1 T per quesadilla
Plant-based milk (optional) – about 1/8-1/4 c. per quesadilla
Salt and pepper to taste
Other optional fillings: vegan cheese, sautéed onions, peppers, spinach, jalapeño, tomato, scallions, cilantro – you can’t go wrong!
Mash up potatoes with a fork and add non-dairy butter, milk (if using), salt and pepper. I use yukon gold potatoes and leave the skins on (mmm yeah that’s right).
Add any other optional fillings, spread that sh*t on one half of a tortilla, fold over, and toast on a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. No greasing the pan necessary. It takes about a minute or two on each side – watch it closely!
Serve it with whatever you’d like: Salsa, vegan sour cream, ketchup, hot sauce, etc.
Roasted sweet potatoes with creamed spinach
Sound a little weird? Good. I like pushing you outside your comfort zone.
3-4 sweet potatoes
1 onion (any kind), roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
~12-oz. baby spinach (roughly chopped, if desired)
1/4-1/2 c. your favorite vegan “cream” (Cashew cheese? Non-dairy milk, sour cream and/or cream cheese? Tahini? They all work!)
Nutmeg, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
1-2 T. nutritional yeast (optional)
Preheat oven to 375.
Wash and prick sweet potatoes with a fork and pop ’em in the oven (usually takes about 1 hour).
While the potatoes are roasting, sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet (use whatever you prefer to sauté: plant-based butter spread, oil, water or stock).
Once the onions are translucent (5-10 mins), add the baby spinach a few handfuls at a time, letting them wilt.
Now the fun part. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of your vegan cream of choice. My favorite (and arguably easiest) is half tahini, half unsweetened soy milk. Tahini is ground-up sesame seeds, and it’s delicious. It’s also mild in flavor so you don’t have to worry that it’ll outshine your garlic and spinach. They usually sell it in a jar right by the peanut butter, typically on the top shelf. It can be a little pricy (don’t pay more than $7.00 if you can help it), but a little bit goes a long way in things like dressing, hummus, and the wacky recipe I’m giving you right now. My favorite is Whole Foods 365 brand. I’ve gone on so long about this that I kind of want to make a “The More You Know” video.
Add your seasonings, tasting as you go (a little nutmeg is usually all you need).
Dump that gloriousness on top of your roasted sweet potatoes and have at it! (Pssst. This keeps well as leftovers for a few days.)
Do you watch Counting On? It’s one of my favorite guilty pleasure shows where the parents have 867 kids, all the women wear long skirts, don’t dance, and make some really f#@$*& delicious-looking food.
One of those foods is “tater tot casserole.” That is the inspiration behind this much somewhat healthier, vegan version. Thank you, Duggar family.
4-5 your favorite potatoes, cut into 1-inch (ish) cubes – I use Yukon gold and keep the skins on
1 or 2 onions (any kind), peeled and roughly chopped
~1/4 c. oil
Salt and pepper to taste
~15 oz. can black beans
8 oz. your favorite vegan cheese -OR- 1/4 c. nutritional yeast + 1/4 c. walnuts ground together
Optional: 1/2-1 c. corn, chopped tomatoes, wilted greens and/or spicy peppers, etc.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toss potatoes and onions with oil, salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet in a single layer for about 35-45 minutes. (Check on them and give a stir about halfway through. You’ll know they’re done when the potatoes are fork-tender.)
You could seriously stop here and just eat all of it while standing in front of the oven, leaning through the doorway to catch the new Tig Notaro stand-up special on Netflix. No? Okay. Carry on.
Rinse and drain the black beans and add those to the cooked potato-onion mixture, combining into a 9 x 13 pan.
Add any other optional fillings from the list above – or your own invention!
Top with vegan cheese or walnut/nutritional yeast combo and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is your desired bubbly, golden brown-y-ness.
Don’t tell anyone you made this, because you won’t want to share.
Happy Cooking, Chipmunks! I love you as much as I love carbs.