I don’t do well with doing without. Any recipe or menu description that starts off with what it doesn’t contain is usually something I don’t want to eat. I try to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, limiting the number of animal products I consume and leaning in the direction of fruits and vegetables. But I always make sure there’s room for wine and chocolate in there, too. Life is too short for anything less than delicious!
That’s why I appreciate people like Lauren Toyota. On her YouTube channel and Hot for Food blog, she creates “comfort classics,” vegan dishes that are indulgent, filling and adaptable. Naturally, that’s the terrain in her newest cookbook, “Hot for Food All Day,” a collection full of indulgent riffs on favorites like nachos, mac and cheese and donut holes. (It also helpfully offers “level up” suggestions for stretching leftovers into brand new dishes.)
When I spoke with Toyota recently, I was also grateful to have a conversation that was as warm and friendly as her food. Vegans and meat eaters don’t always find comfortable common ground, and Toyota’s reach across the aisle approach makes her dishes accessible to vegans, the vegan-curious and omnivores alike.
“I do understand that the main audience I’m trying to grab is an audience that’s maybe just starting to embrace this a little bit,” she says, “so I think ‘Hot for Food’ is a good entry point for a lot of people so that it feels like they aren’t going to be sacrificing anything. A lot of the time when you talk about a plant-based diet or a vegan diet, everyone likes to focus on what we’re taking away and not what we’re actually adding to our plate: the variety, the flavor, all the new ingredients. I want people to be able to eat that stuff all day long and feel like it is approachable and can be accomplished in the home kitchen all day, every day.”
And Toyota busts the absurd myth that plant-based means somehow dining exclusively on kale leaves.
“If anyone knows me, they might think I live on French fries or tots. I’m a big fan of convenience foods and junk food at the grocery store. My whole philosophy is as long as it’s vegan, I’m eating it. I don’t have any restrictions, so that freedom and having those options did make it easy for me to transition into a diet like this,” she says. “I always just try to tell people, ‘Yes, you can go to Trader Joe’s.’ I follow a lot of accounts online, too, that are big box vegan, which showcase products in the grocery stores of vegan-friendly things. It’s called ‘accidentally vegan’ — things that are not necessarily labeled vegan, but they don’t have any of the ingredients that we need to worry about.”
Things like Oreos. So perfect. So delicious. So casually, just happens to be, accidentally, vegan.
“I love Oreos,” says Toyota. “They are the classic vegan junk food that everyone freaks out about when they realize, ‘Oh, my God! I can still eat this if I go plant-based?!'”
If you’re a certified cookie monster like me, you can, in fact, eat a lot of your favorite cookies, from Nutter Butters to Vienna Fingers, while steering clear of eggs and dairy. And while straight out of the box is a classic for a reason, sometimes you want to mix things up just a little, and spread some love around.
Cookie butter is a brilliant way to do this, because it takes cookies and asks the important questions. Like, what if we put this on bread? And, how can I get Oreos and pretzels in my mouth at the same time? On her site, Toyota makes her cookie butter with her homemade gingerbread cookies sweetened with maple syrup. You may find commercial cookies sweet enough as is, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can add some to your own butter. It only takes about a minute to whip up, and once you make it, you’ll find yourself slathering it on pretty much everything.
Recipe: Accidentally Vegan Cookie Butter
Inspired by Lauren Toyota’s Hot for Food
Yield: About 1 cup
- 1 cup (8 ounces) of your favorite accidentally vegan cookies*
- 2 to 4 Tbps of warm tap water
- 2 to 4 Tbps of room temperature coconut oil or neutral vegetable oil
- A healthy pinch of flaky salt (optional)
- Vegan spinkles (optional)
*Oreos, Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookies, Nutter Butters, Girl Scout Thin Mints, Barnum Animal Crackers, etc.
- In a food processor or blender, crush your cookies into fine crumbs. (If you have neither, you can put your cookies in a ziplock bag and crumble them with a rolling pin, then stir your ingredients in a bowl.)
- With your machine going, dribble in your water, starting with 2 just tablespoons, to just soften your crumbs. Creme-filled cookies won’t need much water; drier cookies will need more. Scrape down the sides of your machine.
- Add in your oil. Again, start with a small amount, and add slowly. You don’t want your butter to get sludgy; when it’s smooth and spreadable, spoon into a small container.
- Add sprinkles and/or a little flaky sea salt, if you like.
Pro-tip: Cookie butter goes well with everything you’d spread your Nutella or Speculoos spread on. You can’t beat a cookie dipped in cookie butter combo!
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