Simply Perfect Weeknight Dinner: Vegan Tacos!

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In many ways, tacos embody the concept of Simply Perfect.  They are cheap, extremely easy to prepare and assemble, a great vehicle for leftovers, and endlessly customizable.

In short, a taco dinner makes a perfect weeknight dinner!

The only *musts* are a filling and some shells.  After that, you can get creative with the rest of the fillings!  Vegan cheese shreds (if that’s your thing), fresh tomato, salsa, lettuce, guacamole or diced avocado…you name it.

Shells
Because I almost always set up a “taco bar” when we have parties, I am a frequent purchaser of those taco kits you can buy in the supermarket.  This means that H and I usually have leftover taco shells (both hard and soft) and seasoning packets in our kitchen.

If you are not a taco kit hoarder like me, though, you can buy individual boxes of taco shells at the store (I used these beautiful non-GMO Garden of Eatin’ shells in the tacos pictured below), or you can just use soft corn tortillas (I like the ones from Trader Joe’s).

Filling
I have two favorite go-to fillings, both of which are extremely easy and delicious.

The first one uses Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef crumbles (in either the original “Beefy” or the “Feisty” flavor…both work great in this).  To make this filling, I lightly saute some finely chopped red onion and red bell pepper.  Once they are softened, I add the frozen crumbles and cook everything together until warmed through.  Lastly, I stir in about 1/3 of a packet of taco seasoning.
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If you do not have pre-made taco seasoning, you can easily make your own by combining some salt, chili powder, cumin, and oregano (and anything else that tastes yummy to you!).  Have fun with it!

The second filling uses ultra-cheap and readily available black beans. I simply rinse a can of beans, then add it to a pan with a couple of spoonfuls of tomato sauce and some taco seasoning, and cook it until warm.
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I LOVE these taco beans and the leftovers never last long.

Once your filling is ready, you can stuff tacos and eat them neatly as shown above, or you can break up the shells and serve yourself a big ol’ taco mess like I did here:
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It isn’t pretty but man did it taste good.

Either way, they’re super-fun to eat!

DIY Frozen Banana Pops

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H and I recently caught up on the fourth season of Arrested Development on Netflix, and ever since then I have been thinking about how easy it would be to make some Bluth Bananas right in my own home.

Then, as fate would have it, I stumbled onto this Simply Perfect recipe from MoFo blogger Vegan Eats and Treats for Frozen Banana Pops with a nod to the Make 12 Banana Pops product of yore.

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Mine didn’t turn out as smooth and pretty as hers, but they sure were tasty! I made some with chopped up roasted peanuts and some without. H and I both preferred the ones with nuts, but I will warn you that it’s a little hard to get them to stick since the warm chocolate seizes up so quickly on the frozen banana.

This is a super-simple dessert that feels decadent but is actually kinda good for you. Hell, I wouldn’t even feel that bad about having it for breakfast. Definitely give it a try!

Easy Homemade Frozen Fruit Bars

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Hi there! Hope everyone had a great weekend!

With just over a week left of Vegan MoFo, I’m not sure whether I’ll actually meet the 20-post goal–it’d require me to post every day from here on out!–but I’m certainly going to try, as I have a lot more Simply Perfect goodness to share before the month’s end.

Today I want to tell you about a super-simple dessert (or snack, or even breakfast) that’s a cinch to prepare and is actually good for you!  Instead of spending lots of money on commercial frozen treats (many of them with questionable additives), try stocking your freezer with Homemade Frozen Fruit Bars.

Basically, you make a smoothie and freeze it.  SO EASY, and the flavor combinations are endless, making it a great way to use up produce that is nearing the end of its shelf life.  Less waste = more money in your pocket.

For these, I blended a cup of Trader Joe’s Orange-Peach-Mango juice that we had left over from a party with some fresh peaches and frozen strawberries (probably about 3/4 cup of each), then I stirred in little chunks of fresh strawberries that needed to be used up for good measure.
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Water works fine in place of juice, and is actually what I would have used if I hadn’t just happened to have juice to use up.

I poured the mixture into these popsicle molds that I bought for like a buck at Target a few years ago and froze them overnight (and there was some leftover which I gladly ate with a spoon–yum!).
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If you don’t have a mold like this you could use a standard ice cube tray instead and make mini fruit bars.  Simply pour in the mixture, let it freeze for an hour, then insert toothpicks or mini-popsicle sticks and continue to freeze overnight.

For my next batch, I’m thinking of blending orange juice with strawberries and then mixing in some chocolate chips…mmm…

More yummy frozen fruit bars: Creamsicle Frozen Yogurt Pops (from last year’s Vegan MoFo!)

Simple Soup-Making & Roasted Garlic and White Bean Soup with Kale (in a Bread Bowl!)

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I lurrve me some soup. I could eat soup every day of the year, no matter the season. And I’ll tell you, making a tasty soup at home is incredibly simple.

There are approximately 69084023948 amazing vegan soup recipes available on the web, and even more in cookbooks. I’ll admit though that sometimes I’m too lazy to follow a recipe for soup or to shop for ingredients. This is where it comes in handy to know a few basics for throwing together a delectable liquid dinner from whatever you happen to have lying around.

Almost all vegetables (except for maybe like, iceberg lettuce) can go into a soup. So if you find yourself with a surplus of carrots, corn, tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, potatoes, squash–really anything!–a soup is an easy, tasty, and cost-effective way to use it up.

Every soup follows the same basic formula: saute some onion and garlic (in either water or olive oil, depending on your preference), then add broth and beans/veggies/grains/potatoes and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until everything is tender. At this point you can puree, or just eat it as is. If using grains or leafy green veggies in a pureed soup, you’ll want to puree first and add these ingredients last.

It’s really that simple!

Here it is broken down for you mathematical types:
Pureed or “creamy” soup = ([sauteed onion + garlic] + broth + beans and/or potatoes) + blender  <–adding other veggies is optional but encouraged!
Brothy soup: = (sauteed onion + garlic) + broth + vegetables and/or grains

Broth can be actual storebought or homemade broth, or it can be water + bouillon, or it can be just plain water (though if you’re going with plain water, be prepared to add some serious seasonings to avoid blandness).  You can also sub in part of the broth in a recipe for another liquid like soy milk or canned coconut milk for extra richness.

Here is an example of the formula in action: Roasted Garlic and White Bean Soup with Kale that I threw together last night from stuff I had in the house.
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This recipe is probably quite similar to the White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup from Vegan With a Vengeance as well as the Roasted Garlic White Bean & Kale Soup from the Domestic Vegan blog (which sadly no longer exists). I’ve made both recipes dozens of times and it’s extremely likely that they sub-consciously informed my soup-making, so I just want to make sure I give credit where credit is due.

Ingredients
2 bulbs roasted garlic (see note)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cups broth
3 cups (1 large can) white beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups chopped kale
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional add-ins: nutritional yeast, 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, other spices and seasonings (see note)

Directions
Follow the formula! The only difference here is that you don’t have to saute your garlic because it’s already roasted. So:

1) Saute the onion until softened.
2) Add broth and beans. Bring to a boil then back down to simmer for about 10 minutes.
3) Puree the soup (or lightly blend to keep some texture, if you like it a bit chunkier).
4) Add kale and stir until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste. It’s ready to serve!

Note on roasting garlic: Simply stick 2 bulbs of garlic in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes and forget about them while you do other stuff. Let them cool a bit (about 10 minutes is usually enough time) and then squeeze or peel to remove the roasted cloves.

Note on seasonings: Isa uses sage and a bay leaf in her white bean soup, and Domestic Vegan used rosemary, crushed fennel seeds, and a bay leaf in hers. All of these flavors are amazing and I encourage you to use them if you have them (1 tsp each if using dried; 1 tbsp if fresh…add them with the broth and beans in step 2 so the flavors have time to infuse the soup). Just make sure you remove the bay leaf before blending!
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Oh, and about those bread bowls

I buy the smallest-sized boules I can find (Trader Joe’s usually has them but I found these at my local Stop & Shop yesterday) and use Chloe Coscarelli’s method to prepare them–cut off the top and scoop out the inside, then brush the inside with olive oil (to keep soup from leaking out), and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Use the extra bread for dipping (like you needed me to tell you that!).

More simple soup recipes:
Easiest Lentil Soup
Sunshine Soup (a brothy soup that I also pureed because I’m a rebel like that)

I’m also submitting this soup to this week’s Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck!

Flavored Water is So Simple

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I know lots of folks find plain water boring.  Unfortunately, chronic dehydration is a huge problem in the U.S., and an aversion to water certainly won’t help alleviate this problem.

I actually do enjoy plain water, but I also like to shake things up every now and then by adding a little pop of fresh flavor to plain H2O.  At those times, I could pay out my nose for Hint water, OR I could just make my own concoctions at home with the greatest of ease!

Obviously there’s the standard lemon or lime slices.  But you can do even better!

All you need to do is simply add fruit and/or fresh herbs to any glass or bottle of water.  I find that the flavor comes through pretty quickly, but if you want to really infuse the water, let it steep in the refrigerator for a few minutes to overnight.

My absolute favorite combination is Strawberry-Mint Water.
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To make this, I add frozen strawberry slices and fresh mint leaves to a pitcher, pour in filtered water, and let it sit for an hour or so.  The flavor is sweet yet subtle, and you’ve gotta love that pink hue!  Hint: for stronger mint flavor, roll/lightly crush the leaves between your fingers before adding to the water.

After all the water is drained from the pitcher, you will be left with soggy strawberries and mint.
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Not terribly appetizing, but you don’t have to waste them–throw them into a smoothie!

Another fantastic and ultra-refreshing combination is cucumber and mint (or just plain cucumber). The leftovers from this are also great in a smoothie.

For citrus fruits (like grapefruit), I like to use the peels. They contain tons of flavorful oils but are obviously inedible on their own, so this gives you the flavor without wasting the fruit. (See? I’m all about the conservation here!)

H has gotten really on board with flavored water lately, and loves to put peeled clementine slices in his water.  A bonus with a juicy fruit like this is that it doesn’t get soggy and gross so you can eat the fruit after you’ve finished the water.

Here’s hoping you’ll never be dehydrated again :)

Banana Mocha Milkshake Smoothie

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Okay I’m going to backtrack a little bit today into Simply Perfect breakfasts because I just HAVE to share my newest concoction with you all…the Banana Mocha Milkshake Smoothie.
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As you already know, smoothies are always a simply perfect breakfast because they require little more effort than placing things in a jar and hitting a button. That’s my kind of breakfast!

This weekend I baby H wanted something a little decadent, which is how this wondrous beast was born.  It’s sweet, thick, and creamy like a milkshake, but much healthier!

Ingredients
1/2 cup brewed coffee (I used cold decaf)
1/2 cup chocolate non-dairy milk OR 1/2 cup non-dairy milk + 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 frozen bananas
1 tbsp peanut butter (optional but so worth it)
More non-dairy milk to thin, if necessary

Directions
1) Blend until smooth. It comes out pretty thick so if you want, add a couple extra splashes of non-dairy milk to thin it.
2) If there are other people around and you’re concerned about looking like a weirdo, try to limit the amount of times you say “mmm” out loud while drinking.
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Drink up and enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts Chips: A Simply Perfect Snack

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You guys, I’m obsessed. I found this recipe for Brussels Sprouts Chips by Maria Marlowe and had to wonder how in the hell I had never tried this before.

I now find myself cutting my sprouts a little more roughly than I ever did in the past, just so I can have more leaves fall off and make more of these incredible, crispy, salty snackables.
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Make some this weekend!