Vegan Pretzel Dogs

It’s National Hot Dog Day, a very important holiday in the city of Chicago. So, I’m sharing this recipe for pretzel dogs. Honestly, it’s kind of a hybrid between pretzel and bagel dogs and if you wanted to top them with Everything But the Bagel seasoning and call them Bagel Dogs no one’s going to stop you. I recommend these to be made with Upton’s Naturals Updogs, because I helped develop the recipe for those, and therefore, think they’re the best veggie dog available. (P.S. This illustration was done by Betty Turbo, and the photo is by Celine Steen!)

Vegan Pretzel Dogs (AKA Pretzel Dogs of the Dead)

Now, at first it might seem like government-issue crackers or Spam would be a more suitable Dawn of the Dead-inspired recipe, but when I think DotD, I think late-70’s mall. When I think late-70s malls I think of food courts, and I can’t pass a mall food court without gazing longingly at the pretzel dogs and wishing aloud that they were somehow vegan. Wish no more, my friends.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bagel dog, pretzel dog, vegan hot dog, veggie dog
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 &1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 4 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs margarine melted
  • 1 package Upton’s Naturals Updogs
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 1-2 Tbs margarine melted
  • Kosher or pretzel salt to finish

Instructions

  • Combine the water, sugar and 2 tsp kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and margarine and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, 4-5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil.
  • Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for 50-55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
  • Preheat your oven to 450°. Once the dough has risen, pinch off pieces and roll them into ropes. You might want to flour your hands and the surface you’re rolling on because this dough is sticky. Wrap each Updog in the dough and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. (I use a Silpat, which makes my pretzel dogs fancy and French.) Mix the cup of warm water and one tablespoon of baking soda together. Brush each wrapped dog first with this mixture and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Brush each baked dog with melted margarine and sprinkle with salt.
  • To feed invading biker gangs, you may want to double or triple this recipe.

Please note, some of these links are affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase I will earn the smallest and most hilarious amount of money imaginable.

Podcast: Live from Little Bear Sanctuary

I had the pleasure of speaking with animal rescuer and sanctuary founder Christopher Vane on his podcast Live from Little Bear Sanctuary. If you aren’t familiar, definitely click that link and read Christopher’s story! We had a really nice chat about the benefits of being an #oldvegan, what we would eat on Pig Island, and our mutual love of cupcakes and New York City. You can watch it or listen a lot of different ways, but a few easy ones are Facebook and YouTube .

You can support Christopher’s work at Little Bear Sanctuary with a donation or merch purchase here!

Friday Five: For the Dogs

It’s been quite a while since I dedicated a Friday Five post to dogs. In fact, when I wrote Gifts for Obsessed Pet Parents, Lulu was my only pet. But now we have Flapjack and the amount of things I buy for dogs has more than doubled. Lulu also recently developed some tummy troubles that her vet dubbed “dog IBS” so everything on this list that’s edible has proven to be tummy trouble-proof. But you should always be careful introducing new foods to dogs, especially older dogs.

1. Bramble Plant-Based Pet Food

The girls try Bramble

Just before we moved into our new place, the folks from Bramble reached out to see if Flapjack and Lulu would like to try their new line of plant-based, fresh dog foods. I sent over my new address, and it was the very first package to arrive to the new house. When I opened the tub of The Roost, their favorite flavor, I was shocked to see something that looked like a meal I would eat myself. Grains, fruits, veggies, beans – it even smelled good.

Lulu had just been diagnosed with “tummy trouble” for lack of a better word, so while I let Flapjack go to town on Bramble by the bowlful, I encorporated just a tablespoon at a time into Lulu’s bland diet. She tolerated it really well, and I ended up mixing her prescribed food 1/2 & 1/2 with Bramble.

There’s lots of veterinary science easily Googleable that supports a plant-based diet for dogs, and I personally know several plant-based dogs who have been thriving for years. If you have any questions about the nutritional content of Bramble, it can be found on their site – but of course always consult with your vet when switching your dog’s diet and do whatever is best for your pet’s health.

Bramble Plant-Based Pet Food will be available in the northeast this month (July) and expanding to the east coast, and into the midwest later this year. Pricing will depend on the weight of your dog, but will be comparable to other fresh pet food brands.

2. Because Animals Omega & Probiotic Sprinkles

Right after I heard from Bramble, the folks from Because Animals reached out and I was really starting to feel like a stage mom! They were offering some Noochies, their plant-based pet treats, for the girls to try but when I explained Lulu’s new digestive issues they recommended their Superfood and Probiotic Supplement. Lu’s vet had recommended a probiotic, and I figured a vegan one from a Chicago-based brand would be a pretty good place to start.

I’ve been sprinkling a tiny bit on both dogs’ food each morning (the package has recommended amounts for your dog’s weight, my tinies only need 1/4 – 1/2 tsp). This supplement is meant to support digestion, as well as a healthy coat and in the few weeks we’ve been using it I’ve noticed a marked improvement in both for both dogs. Plus, they both really love it – Lulu won’t eat her food until it’s been sprinkled.

This brand is also developing cultured meat (lab grown) for pet food use, which I think it really incredible, both for herbivores who feel conflicted feeding meat to their animal companions, and simply because raising livestock for food is incredibly taxing on the environment and cultured meat could combat that.

Because Animals Omega & Probiotic Sprinkles 4.4oz, $25

3. Barkbox Treat-free

Our downstairs neighbor at our old apartment had an older Beagle who had poor vision and was scared of squeaky toys, the poor thing. So, she started giving Lulu and Flappy the squeaky toys out of her BarkBox. (BarkBox is a treat and toy subscription box.) When we decided to move I knew I had to get my own subscription because my dogs go totally nuts for new toys. I signed up for a six month subscription, and after entering info about Lulu including her size, play style, toy preferences, etc. her first BarkBox arrived a few weeks later.

I was incredibly impressed with their customer service because after filling out the first survey with the info that Lulu had totally destroyed most of the toys she received in a day, I got a personal email back letting me know they’d send tougher toys next time, as well as a bonus package of replacement toys in the meantime. So, I had a feeling I’d get a response when I contacted them to see if I could get an all-toys box because Lulu can’t eat the treats. And I did! Although they don’t currently offer an all-toys box, they were able to change my subscription to ensure that Lulu got an extra toy in place of the variety of treats they usually send. Now my dogs recognize the box when it arrives each month and lose their tiny little minds.

BarkBox subscription prices range depending on the length of your subscription. Use my referral link to sign up, and if you have a Rakuten you can earn $9 when you subscribe.

4. Bluebird Botanicals CBD Oil for Pets

Working from home for all of 2020 was great, except for the part where it caused both my dogs to develop severe separation anxiety. When I worked in the office, they were home alone for 8-10 hours a day with no problem, but now they’re so used to be being around they freak out when I go check the mail. CBD has done wonders for my own anxiety, and Bluebird Botanicals was recommended to me by a food scientist I used to work with so that’s the brand I’ve stuck with.

I put a few drops in the girls’ food about 30 minutes before I plan on leaving the house, or on a day when I know there’s going to be a lot of noise like the 4th of July or scheduled construction. It really seems to help with anxious barking and destructive behavior without making them sleepy or otherwise weird.

Bluebird Botanicals CBD & Hemp Oil for Pets 1oz, $27.95

5. Earth Rated Dog Wipes

Both my dogs are low to the ground, so they rub all over all kinds of dirt and stinky stuff when they go outside, but it’s not good for their coats to wash them too often. These natural, compostable wipes are the perfect solution. I keep them right by the door, to wipe dirty paws and I use them a few times a week to gently wipe away “dog smell” from their coats. They both think they’re just getting extra pets so they come running when they see the package.

Earth Rated Dog Wipes 100ct, $8.99

Pizza for Everyone: Vegan Breakfast Pizza Recipe

Pizza for Everyone is ready for Chicago pick up – have you ordered yours yet? A few months back, my friend Derrick, owner of Paulie Gee’s Logan Square and the Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Wicker Park, asked if I’d be interested in contributing a vegan pizza recipe to a book being put together to raise money for loads of great local causes. I said no. End of story.

Just kidding! I said yes, and ended up contributing not one, but three recipes! Since then, the book has received a super cool design treatment by Zach Sherwood and will be available for Chicago pick up starting this week.

Here’s how it works:

Fill out the form with your name, email, pick up location preference (there are lots of choices) and which Chicago org you’ll be donating your $35 to (again, lots of choices). John will follow up to confirm your donation and then you go get your copy. That’s it!

Here’s where I f’d up:

I sent over recipes for three pizzas and a vegan pizza crust recipe… but one of the pizzas (this one, in this post) is actually meant to be on a biscuit crust. I mean, it would still be totally good on the crust in the book – but yeah, biscuit crust. So, I decided to share that recipe here too for anyone standing there with the book in their hands like, “Excuse me, where is the biscuit crust recipe?” It’s right here, settle down.

Vegan Breakfast Pizza

The only thing better than breakfast foods or pizza is breakfast food pizza. Vegan, of course, how dare you?
Course: Breakfast, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pizza, tofu sramble, vegan pizza

Ingredients

Gravy

  • 2 tbs vegan butter
  • 2 tsp soy sauce or Bragg’s Amino Acids
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup plain,unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dried
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Tofu Scramble

  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 block extra firm tofu drained & pressed
  • 1 cup thinly sliced broccoli optional
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot optional
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbs water
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Biscuit Crust

  • 1 cup plain,unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour plus more for dusting the board
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbs baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbs vegetable shortening

Instructions

Make the Gravy

  • In a large saucepan, melt vegan butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in soy sauce and flour, continue to whisk for 2 minutes – the mixture will form a paste. Add vegetable broth, milk, onion powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast and sage and whisk for a few minutes to break up the lumps. Raise the heat to medium-high until bubbles form around the edges of the gravy, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until thickened (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the Tofu Scramble

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook minced garlic for about one minute, stirring often. Break the tofu into bite-sized pieces and add it to the pan along with the broccoli and carrot. Cook for about 10 minutes, using a metal spatula to turn the mixture over and to scrape the bottom of the pan now and again. The garlic and carrots will turn into brown crispy stuff – don’t worry, that stuff is good!
  • In a small bowl or mixing cup, stir together rosemary, onion powder, turmeric, salt and water. Add this mixture, and the nutritional yeast to the tofu and cook 5 more minutes. Set aside and prepare the crust.

Make the Biscuit Crust

  • Preheat your oven to 450°.  Add apple cider vinegar to milk and set aside to curdle.
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, and use a pastry blender or two forks to cut shortening into the flour until it resembles coarse meal.
  • Add the curdled milk and mix just until combined. The mixture should be wet, so add a splash more soy milk if it appears dry.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured countertop and gently pat it out until it’s about 1/2” thick. (No rolling pins! Use your hands for a tender crumb.)
  • Fold the pressed dough into its center 4-5 times so you have a pile, and gently pat it out into a circle that’s about 1/2” thick.
  • Place the dough onto a baking sheet – if you want to make it more pizza-like, press the center down slightly more so the edges are raised like a crust.
  • Bake the biscuit crust for 5 minutes, then pull it out of the oven and top it with 1/2 the gravy and all of the tofu scramble.
  • Place the pizza back into the oven and cook until the biscuit is cooked through – about 6-8 more minutes.
  • Slice and serve with remaining warm gravy on top.

Notes

Omit the broccoli and carrots from the tofu scramble if you like yours straight up. 
For a quick(er) breakfast, prep the gravy and scramble the night before and add them to a freshly made biscuit crust in the morning. 

Friday Five: Butt Stuff

I really can’t wait to look at my Google analytics after this post is published. There will be so many bounces from people who were looking for a very specific type of content. For the rest of you, welcome to a blog post about taking care of your butt. Having a soft, smooth butt has been an obsession of mine since high school when my mom bought me my first butt product, which I will talk about on the list below. So, let’s get into it, my top 5 favorite things to care for my butt, in no particular order.

1. Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Lotion

If you aren’t familiar with BHA than you’ve probably never suffered from a condition referred to as “chicken skin,” and if that’s the case, lucky you. For the rest of us, we occasionally get hard, bumpy skin on our arms, legs, and yep… butt and the best thing for it is BHA. Also known as salicylic acid, BHA gently exfoliates built-up layers of dead skin which can cause those hard bumps. Even if you don’t get chicken skin, BHA is a nice gentle exfoliator for your whole body and and easy, nice-smelling way to apply it is this lotion. One bottle usually lasts me a few months and it’s my go-to for keeping my skin (yes, on my butt) soft and smooth.

Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA 7oz, $28 (Also available in travel size for $7)

2. Lush Buffy Body Butter

I’ve been using this product for more than 20 years, dating back to my mom buying it for me because it was called Buffy the Backside Slayer at the time. This cocoa and shea butter bar is packed with ground rice, almonds and aduki beans… but you don’t eat it, you rub it on your butt. You use it in the shower on wet skin – rub it on, rinse it off, and the moisturizers stay behind on your behind.

Buffy 3.3oz, $12.95 from Lush

3. Pacifica Acne Warrior Body Scrub

By now I have possibly painted an unfair picture of my poor butt. From the sounds of it, it’s dry, bumpy, and filled with acne. This is not the case. In fact, my butt feels like a ripe peach, which I credit to all of these things I am always rubbing and scrubbing onto it. My latest addition to this routine is a scrubby acne body wash that comes in a cute little purple tub. I use it on my back and butt in the shower to help kill acne-causing bacteria.

Pacifica Acne Warrior Body Scrub 6oz, $16 . You can save 10% off your first purchase of $36 or more with this link, plus sign up for Rakuten to earn cash back when you buy from Pacifica.

4. Til You Collapse Leggings

Surprise! It’s not a lotion or scrub… it’s pants! I really dedicated myself in 2020 to trying to move my body every day and with that came a significant investment in leggings. I tried all the usual mall brands and never found a good combination of high waist, proper length (I’m v. short), soft fabric, and colors/prints that didn’t make me feel like a professional wrestler from the 80s (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Until I bought my first pair of Til You Collapse Effortless Vortex Classic Leggings. I know that’s a lot of words, but that’s because you can shop these leggings by style, fabric, and length.

I’m obsessed with these leggings for working out and wearing out. They’re totally opaque (no one can see my leopard print undies), super soft, have just the right amount of compression, and they’re totally squat proof. They don’t roll, slide, or bunch.

Til You Collapse Leggings – Prices Vary

5. Peace Out Acne Patches

On the rare occasion that all of my fail safes against butt pimples… fail, these patches solve that problem every single time. Honestly, I use these on my face way, way more often than any other part of my body but I do like them for body acne because they keep the area clean while they hydrate and treat breakouts. Pretty much exactly what you need when a spot pops up in a place that’s hard to reach. I buy them in a 40 pack now because Tony and Teno use them too.

Peace Out Acne Patches 20 ct, $29.95

Heads up that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase I will earn store credit or a laughably small amount of cash.

Friday Five: Retail Therapy Edition

There are lots of way to administer self-care, and not all of them need to cost money. You can take a nap, spend a luxurious 10 minutes stretching, sit in the bathtub and look at TikTok for hours. But also, sometimes it’s nice to get yourself a little something if you have the means. Heck, sometimes if you don’t have the means and do it anyway it still feels nice.

So, here are five things I’ve purchased in the last 12 months that made me feel a little better about life, in no particular order.

1. Flobody Gym

Just before stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, I’d bought myself an inexpensive set of resistance bands so I could get a little work out in when I was traveling without having to see any other folks from the same trade show in the hotel gym. Then, of course, I found myself not traveling, and unable to go to my own gym. My friend Jessica recommended Flobody because it’s a full-body resistance workout set that rolls up so it can be stored just like any other yoga mat.

My purchase came with access to a 12-week program that I can watch on Vimeo, and access to more workouts is available with a monthly subscription, or you can buy individual programs. The workouts are primarily Plates and yoga-based, and come with lots of modification options, which I appreciate as someone who can’t really do a lot of jumping thanks to ankles that tend to sprain easily. I’ve done the 12-week program three times now and it hasn’t gotten old yet. Investing in myself a few minutes each day has been a lot more rewarding than I ever would have thought – and unlike going to the gym, where my focus is always on physical fitness, I’ve found my focus with these workouts to be just on getting stronger and feeling better.

The Flobody Gym is $139, and Afterpay is available so you can pay in $34.75 installments with no interest.

2. Vegan Croissants from L’Artisane Bakery

 Cruffin filled with Coconut Dulce de Leche

In February I ordered L’Artisane Bakery croissants for a friend’s birthday because I’d heard great things but never tried them. He’s pretty particular, so when I got a text about how great everything was I knew I had to order some for myself too. I ended up getting myself the same assortment I got for him and – hot damn – it was incredible.

Their baked goods ship frozen (shipping is around $10) and you can freshen them up with just a few minutes in the toaster or oven. It’s an indulgence, for sure, but perfect for a special occasion or as a gift. And you can save on shipping by going in on an order with a friend or colleague.

L’Artisane Bakery vegan croissant assortments cost $30 for a box of five, and if you’re in Miami you can visit their retail shop.

3. Cavity Colors Joggers

I’m a sweatpants person now.

Listen, if you’re not the kind of person who’s been waiting for someone to give you permission to buy and wear sweatpants, more power to you. I was late to the sweatpants game but I’ll never go back. I bought myself a pair of Killer Clowns from Outer Space joggers from Cavity colors a few weeks ago and have been living in them ever since.

I’ve tried to be a sweatpants person in the past, but always found that the waist was pinchy, the shape was just baggy and unflattering, and for some reason the ankles are always too tight. These are so different. They’re super-soft cotton-fleece, have a flattering drawstring waist and pockets, and ribbed ankle cuffs instead of that tight elastic that feels like a ponytail holder. Oh, and of course the best part is the licenced art work – in my case, from Killer Clowns from Outer Space but I also just bought myself a pair of Howling joggers while I was typing this.

Cavity Colors joggers are $40 and come in lots of styles, plus they make t-shirts, hoodies, and lots more.

4. Daily Harvest

At the beginning of stay-at-home orders, and therefore, working from home, I was eating a lot of boring salads. Upton’s Naturals, where I work, provides everyone with a free vegan lunch every day so I got really spoiled for several years and never had to worry about my lunch. After a few months of hating my lunch every day I tried one vegan meal kit that shall remain nameless, and found it to be really repetitive, boring, and expensive for what you got. Then Jess from Vegan Beauty Addict (a different Jess than the one who recommended Flobody, I am very influenced by Jesses and Jessicas, apparently) posted about Daily Harvest.

I used her $25 off code (here’s mine) to place my first order. You get additional discounts the more you ordered, so I ended up ordering 12 items for an additional $10 discount. I got a variety of Harvest Bowls and Flatbreads and waited about a week for my first shipment. I had the lowest expectations possible, and was totally shocked when the Kale + Kalamata bowl was well seasoned, had great textures, was what I was looking for nutritionally, and was incredibly easy to prepare (you literally just heat it up).

I’ve really dialed in my favorites over the months, and am always surprised by how flavorful a vegan, gluten-free frozen meal can be. Plus, they have incredible customer service so if you ever have something arrive in not-so-great condition or just don’t like something you tried just hit them up and they’ll take care of you. I’ve branched out to smoothies, bites, and lattes and those are really great too.

Daily Harvest items range in price from $5.99 – $7.99 per item, can be delivered weekly or monthly, and shipping is free. You can change your order any time, and can pause any time if your freezer is packed or you just need a break. Use my code for $25 off your first box.

5. uKeg Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Technically, I bought this for Tony for Father’s Day last year, but it’s been a real “Homer buys Marge a bowling ball” situation because I use it way, way more often than he does. You can brew cold brew inside the keg using reusable filter bags that come with the kit, or use your favorite store-bought, or other method of brewing. Fill the keg, pop a nitrogen cartridge in, infuse it and give it a shake, and you have nitro-infused cold brew in your own house.

If you’e had nitro cold brew at a coffee shop, you know that it’s generally less acidic that regular cold brew, and has a lighter, smoother flavor. It also usually costs about $5 for a 16oz cup, whereas you can brew and infuse your own for a few cents a glass.

The uKeg Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Maker is just under $200, and comes with a keg and protective bag, four coffee filter bags, a coffee funnel, and a serving mat.

One Last Thing

I always feel very much like someone in an MLM when I talk about Rakuten, but I’ve gotten more than $650 cash back since I started using it – not to mention all the money I’ve saved thanks to its coupon-finding plug in. So, here’s how it works: You download the app and/or install the plug in on your browser. On your desktop or laptop, you just shop like you normally would, and the plug in will let you know if the site you’re shopping on offers cash back, and also if there are coupons available. For instance, just today I bought a pair of vegan Reebok cross trainers and earned 2% cash back, plus Rakuten found a coupon code that saved me $34.

If you’re shopping on a mobile device, you go to the Rakuten app first, and then use it to navigate to the store you want to shop with in order to earn cash back and find coupon codes. I’d estimate that a good chunk of the $650+ I’ve earned came from shopping on Sephora while in the bathtub. Anyway, at the end of the pay out period you literally get a check in the mail (or a PayPal deposit) for everything you earned back. Last month I got a $94.96 PayPal deposit for buying stuff I was going to buy anyway.

If you want to give it a try, you can earn a bonus $30 when you use my link and spend your first $30.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click them and make a purchase I will earn a laughably tiny amount of money. 

Chicago’s Buona Launches a Plant-Based Italian Beefless Sandwich with Upton’s Naturals

*Click here to skip my story and go right to the Chicago Tribune piece about the Italian Beefless Sandwich!

Obviously I got the scoop on this because I was copied on the original email when Buona reached out about a partnership! But truly, I can’t explain how excited I am that we at Upton’s Naturals (where I am the Marketing Director) got to partner with Chicago institution Buona to launch their first-ever vegan Italian Beefless Sandwich.

If you’ve never heard of an Italian beef sandwich, it’s a Chicago staple – like deep dish pizza and dragged-through-the-garden hot dogs. It’s roots are said to be in the Union Stock Yards, where Italian-American immigrants made the sandwich from the less desirable (and therefore cheaper) cuts of beef. This story is contradicted by Al Ferreri, founder of Als #1 Italian Beef, who claims to have created the sandwich himself in 1938. Regardless of where it actually started, it’s now a mainstay in our cuisine. It’s a simple sandwich made with thinly-sliced and highly seasoned roast beef, a crusty Italian roll, au jus (we call it “gravy”) and spicy giardiniera. That’s it! Oh, but I should also mention that it comes doused in extra gravy so it’s a wet, wet sandwich and we love it.

There have been plenty of vegan versions over the years, but never before has one been taken on by one of the “big beef” brands. Upton’s Naturals founder Dan Staackmann and I worked closely with the folks at Bunoa to create an Italian Beef Seitan that had the look, mouthfeel, and of course flavor they’re known for. Combined with their own specially made vegan gravy and signature toppings, it’s the most authentic Chicago style Italian Beefless Sandwich anyone anywhere has ever made.

The italian Beefless Sandwich is available at all 24 of Buona’s Chicagoland and Indiana locations starting Monday April 26th. They’re planning to keep it on the menu until this summer, but if it’s a hit it might just stick around – and possibly pave the way for more vegan options. I should note that in addition to partnering on the main ingredient, Dan and I also personally advised on best practices to ensure that vegan and vegetarian customers have the best possible experience when dining with Buona.

Better Than Sex Cake Goes Vegan

If you stayed over at my house on a Friday night back in the day, you’d know I had two requirements for a good time – mom’s Better Than Sex Cake, and USA Up All Night. From 1991-1998, this B-movie variety show introduced me to classics like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Hell comes to Frogtown. And, in a twist of fate, they were both things my mom didn’t particularly care for! We weren’t allowed to say “sex” so we had to call it “Better Than a Handshake Cake” and I watched Up All Night with my finger on the “previous channel” button because I wasn’t allowed to watch that, either.

Still, the combo of chocolate cake, caramel sauce, whipped topping and crunchy toffee candy bars was the stuff of dreams. When I first published by book you couldn’t buy stuff like vegan whipped cream at the grocery store so this recipe is INTENSE and has lots of steps. But if you want to stick to the store-bought roots of the original, I have a quick version too.

Vegan Better Than Sex Cake – Cheater’s Edition:

Note: A surprising number of cake mixes are vegan! Most of them call for water, oil, and eggs to prepare them. If you have a preferred replacement for eggs, and the cake mix only calls for 1-2 eggs, use whatever you like. However, I’ve noticed when mixes call for three eggs you need to combine replacements that will: help the cake rise, bind the mixture, and add moisture. So I like to use the following in cake mixes that call for three eggs: 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce, 1 tsp baking soda + 1 Tbs vinegar, & either one egg’s worth of egg replacer, or 1 egg’s worth of flax egg.

Bake the cake in a 9×13″ pan and allow it to cool completely. Once it’s cool, use the handle of a wooden spoon or a metal straw to poke holes all over the cake. Pour about 6oz of caramel sauce into the holes (it’s fine if it gets on the cake, too. Chop up the candy bars and spread about 1/2 on the cake. Top with whipped topping, then sprinkle the remaining chopped candy on top. Sneak into your room and eat it before mom finds out.

For the from -scratch recipe below, you’ll need to prepare a batch of DIY Chocolate Cake Mix.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase I will earn the tiniest amount of money imaginable.

Vegan Better Than Sex Cake

A 100% from-scratch, veganized version of the cake I loved but wasn't allowed to talk about as a kid. If you're making the Whipped Coconut Cream, place the cans of coconut milk and whisk in the refrigerator overnight so they're all very cold when you're ready to use them.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: better than sex cake, vegan better than sex cake, vegan cake
Servings: 12

Equipment

  • double boiler (rig one up with a pot & glass bowl if you need to)
  • stand mixer or hand mixer

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 batch DIY Chocolate Cake Mix, prepared link above

Caramel Sauce

  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup plain, unsweetened nondairy milk
  • 2 Tbs arrowroot starch
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Whipped Coconut Cream

  • 3 (14 oz) cans full fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Toppings

  • 3/4 cup vegan semi-sweet chocolate chopped, or use chips
  • 1 Tbs plain, unsweetened nondairy milk
  • 1/2 cup slivered or chopped almonds or crunchy thing of your choice

Instructions

  • Prepare the cake as directed in that recipe, baking in in a 9×13" pan. While it's baking and cooling, prep the rest of the ingredients.

Make the caramel

  • In a large measuring cup, whisk arrowroot starch into the soy milk and set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the margarine, maple syrup, sugar and salt. Stirring constantly, cook until the margarine melts and the mixture begins to bubble.
  • Add soy milk mixture, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture bubbles again. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Set aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Prepare the crunch topping

  • Cover a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place the chocolate and soy milk in a double boiler, melting the chocolate. Stir in the almonds, and spread the mixture onto the waxed paper. Chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, or until the chocolate hardens. Remove from fridge, and chop into small pieces.

Whip the coconut milk

  • As noted above, place coconut milk cans and whisk attachment for mixer in refrigerator the night before you're going to make this topping.
  • Without shaking them, open the cans of coconut milk and scoop out the thick cream on top. Place the cream in your mixing bowl, add the sugar, and beat with the chilled whisk for 1-2 minutes, until it’s thick and fluffy.

Fill and frost

  • With the handle of a wooden spoon, poke holes all over the cooled chocolate cake. Pour caramel sauce into holes and drizzle on top of cake. Top with ½ chopped chocolate, and frost with Whipped Coconut Cream. Sprinkle top with remaining chopped chocolate. Serve immediately.
  • Whipped Coconut Cream sets up when chilled, so you can refrigerate it for about 30 minutes, then scoop it into a piping bag if you want to be fancy. If you refrigerate the frosted cake, be sure to let it sit out about a half hour before serving so the whipped cream softens.

Notes

I know, I know. This is a lot of work. Feel free to break it up into a few days! Make the caramel sauce ahead of time, it stores up to 2 weeks in the fridge. Bake the cake the night before! The only thing that should really be done last minute is the whipped coconut cream. 

Podcast: The Mental Vegan

I recently had the fun and unexpectedly emotional opportunity to chat with Billy Lau of The Mental Vegan. We talked about the pressure we put on ourselves as vegans, and why striving for perfection doesn’t help us or the animals – as well as body image, anti-Asian racism, and a lot more.

This was recorded on the same day as the Masters of the Obvious DC Hatecast so it was a big day of getting a lot of things off my chest.

Vegan Jedi The Mental Vegan

A collaboration with the vegan Jedi, host of “Vegan Debates and Topics,” nutritionalist and all around smart, cool guy.
  1. Vegan Jedi
  2. Bake and Destroy
  3. The Vegan Zombie

Podcast: Masters of the Obvious DC Hatecast

You may or may not recall a few months back when I was a guest on the premiere episode of Masters of the Obvious podcast. Since then, this has quickly become my favorite pod to listen to while working (along with Scientology: Fair Game – I love you so much, Leah Remini.)

If you love nerdy stuff, hot takes, and pop culture news you’re going to love it too. Anyway, I was STOKED to be asked back for their second season to dunk on Wonder Woman 1984, the final hot poker to the butthole of 2020.

I hope you enjoy it – subscribe, buy merch, and tell your friends!

Obviously, High-Key Loki ThirstCast Masters of the Obvious

On this episode Kirsten and Cyn discuss nerd news, new comic book releases and we give you our unpopular opinions. We also do a deep dive into the first 3 episodes of Disney+ and Marvel's show Loki.Brought to you by FierceUnicorns.com Use code "OBVIOUS" at checkout for 15% off!Support the show (https://paypal.me/MOTOpod)
  1. Obviously, High-Key Loki ThirstCast
  2. Obviously, Riot Grace + Lottie Guntank
  3. Obviously, Chelsea Cain
  4. Obviously, June Brigman
  5. Obviously, Tech & Fashion
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