Vegan Mac and Cheese

Vegan Mac and Cheese

wild drive life

Finally nailing this vegan mac and cheese sauce recipe changed my life. It’s the little things. 🙂

I used to love making homemade regular cheesy mac but hated the way I felt after eating it. Cut to a few years and lessons later, I can still enjoy the ultimate comfort food without the belly upset and mucus inducing results of consuming dairy.

This recipe came out of a series of testing and research on how to create a plant based sauce that was comforting, creamy, smooth but not too heavy and gluey. Thank you raw cashews.

This dish would be perfect with veggies and your favorite protein (tempeh, tofu and chickpeas are a few of mine!) and a slab of my homemade focaccia bread and a sprinkle of some vegan parmesan cheese! I’ve also used it alongside a red sauce in lasagna or stuffed shells. There’s more to the sauce than just mac and cheese!

vegan mac and cheese recipe cashews
I’ll eventually get into the different angle photos galore for each dish but for now, here’s ONE! haha. 🙂

The Essential Ingredients

Along with some other spices and accoutrements, I gathered a quick list of ingredients I recommend to have on hand if you want to achieve vegan mac and cheese sauce excellence at a moment’s notice.

We’re looking for a bit of tang, a salty richness and depth, and of course a creamy smooth texture. Here’s the crew:

  • Raw cashews (I buy mine in bulk online. If you want to go nut-free here, silken tofu is an excellent replacement)
  • apple cider vinegar
  • dijon mustard
  • nutritional yeast (I buy this in bulk too, store in an airtight jar/container.)
  • lemon juice (if you have a lemon allergy, substitute lime juice or more apple cider vinegar)

The basic how to of this recipe (you know it’s my favorite!) is to throw everything in a blender and blend until smooth. That’s about it. Easy peasy.

What if I don’t have a magical Vitamix Blender?

No worries!

My Vitamix was the greatest purchase I’ve ever made in the history of my healthy at home cooking pursuits. This is true. I’m AMAZED at the power and ability to transform just about anything I throw in there into silky smooth deliciousness. It’s magic. However, for YEARS before I got one, I rocked a $3 yard sale 1970’s blender I called Lady Kenmore. I loved her.

After a blade broke and the motor burned out, I used an immersion blender and a large stainless steel cup. I used this inexpensive combination to make cashew cream sauces, green smoothies and everything in between. It’s great to take with you if you’re traveling.

There are also a lot less expensive blenders out there too. Don’t fret, you have options!

TOPPINGS AND VARIATIONS

  • Are you allergic to onion? I was reading about an Indian spice called Asafoetida that has a very similar flavor as onion and garlic. Check it out!
  • Add a few fresh basil leaves or sun-dried tomatoes in the sauce and blend.
  • Sauté mushrooms and red pepper with some spices and few splashes of tamari for a topping.
  • Stir in some steamed broccoli florets. TIP: add the broccoli florets right to the boiling pasta water in the last THREE MINUTES of cooking, they’ll steam and cook to al dente perfection and can be strained in one step with the pasta.
  • Crumble tempeh and sauté in avocado oil, tamari + onion powder.
  • Roast up some butternut squash and stir in after adding the sauce!

No Cheese ever, what?!

I often hear from curious friends that cheese would be the most difficult thing to eliminate from their diets. I’m not going to disagree with you, but, there’s hope! I can honestly say that in my current plant-based lifestyle, I never feel like I’m sacrificing or missing out on anything. Mainly because I take the time to seek out delicious ideas that can be just as satisfying. THERE ARE PLENTY, I promise.

TWO THINGS really made it possible for me, in the event that you, you beautiful reader you, are also curious:

  1. Learn about the AMAZING alternatives out there. Whether you go full on DIY like me or purchase non-dairy products from great brands like Miyokos or Violife; the plant-based resource world is tremendous online and in stores. Just be sure to stick to products that have QUALITY ingredients you can pronounce and recognize.
  2. Experiencing how I FELT without dairy, really tuning into those improvements was a huge turning point for me. I noticed my belly flattening, regularity sure is nice, my cough / sinus issues improved, etc. I have PCD and bronchiectasis so avoiding dairy wasn’t AS much of a choice for me, it was necessary to breathe better and be able to perform athletically. I committed to the change and the differences are pretty remarkable. So, combined with the other motivations of environmental and humanitarian impact, I’ll simply never go back for my health’s sake. I like being able to run fast and often without wheezing. 🙂

Soaking Cashews

Soaking raw cashews to prepare for making vegan mac and cheese or other creamy cashew-based goodies is super easy. I have two go-to methods: OVERNIGHT or QUICK.

If you have a high powered blender, soaking isn’t absolutely necessary but I always recommend it. The goal is to hydrate and soften the nuts up for the creamiest sauce possible.

  1. OVERNIGHT: Place 1 cup of raw cashews in a large bowl. Cover with water (at least 2 inches above cashews). Soak overnight.
  2. QUICK: Place 1 cup of cashews in a large heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over the cashews, at least an inch above the cashews. Let soak until the water cools, about 30 minutes tops.

If you have any questions at all please feel free to reach out to me!

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vegan mac and cheese recipe

Vegan Mac and Cheese

  • Author: Meag P. @wilddrivelife
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 15
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: sauce, vegan, savory, dinner, pasta
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Creamy and satisfying vegan mac and cheese sauce recipe made with simple whole-food plant-based ingredients.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 cup silken tofu (about half a package)
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight or in hot water for 1530 minutes, drained
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
  • 1/3 cup soy milk
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Better than Boullion veggie
  • 1 tsp. Salt (you may add more after blending too)
  • 1 tsp. Onion Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. of each: Garlic Powder, Pepper, Chili Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika for a bit of color

Instructions

  • Throw everything in a blender. Blend until smooth, about 20 seconds.
  • Taste test. Add a bit of extra soy milk to bring to desired consistency. It shouldn’t be too thick. Add salt & pepper as needed.
  • Cook your favorite pasta (or pasta alternative!). We use whatever we have on hand, typically whole wheat elbows or spaghetti. Drain. Stir cheese sauce into warm noodles and serve. Add toppings (veggies + protein) if you’d like!

Notes

  • We’ve made this vegan mac and cheese sauce served over spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles as well which are great gluten-free options.
  • When reheating the next day, mix in a few splashes of soy milk to help rehydrate and bring back that delicious creamy texture!

Keywords: vegan mac and cheese

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Nut Butter Sauces and Dressings 101

Nut Butter Sauces and Dressings 101

Different variations of nut butter sauces and dressings make an appearance every single week in my plant-based meal prep. They’re simple to make and super versatile.

REAL INGREDIENTS

Combining whole food ingredients you can pronounce and stand by to create nut (or seed!) butter sauces at home have a couple key benefits.

  • Make more for less than the cost of buying pre-made processed options at the store. 
  • Maintain full control of the ingredients and flavors to keep things as healthy and nutritious as YOU want.
  • Keep things simple and free of additives, gums, preservatives, etc.

VERSATILITY

I use nut butter sauces to dress salads, drizzle over roasted vegetables, in bean and rice bowls, or as a dipping sauce. They basically make every food a little more interesting and add an additional bit of protein too!

I rarely measure ingredients with precision, everything is heaping this or sorta kinda that. Unless you throw in 12 cloves of garlic instead of one or two, or 3 tbs. of cayenne instead of 1/2 tsp. — you really CAN’T MESS THIS UP.

PROCESS

I love recipes that involve “throw all the ingredients in and blend until smooth” as a step. This is the case with nut butter sauces and dressings. I basically throw it all in my Vitamix, blend it up, taste, adjust and I’m done.

Side note: I still made alllll the homemade sauces and dressings while we traveled full time in the bus too, sans Vitamix. I had my trusty $20 hand blender (immersion blender) and stainless steel smoothie cup by my side instead. They were a magical duo. But I do appreciate the upgrade to a blender. 

Use whatever you have at home!

peanut sauce dressing vegan salad
Mixed green salad with peanut dressing, peppers, tomatoes, marinated sautéed tofu (aminos, garlic, spices + a bit of cornstarch).

BASIC ELEMENTS OF A GOOD NUT BUTTER SAUCE

There’s a handful of basic categories of ingredients that come together to make a nut butter sauce. Take the recipe I share below for example: nut butter (duh.), spices (ginger + cayenne), sweet (maple), tangy/savory (tamari + vinegar), oil (sesame), and a bit of acid (lime juice).

All of these things can be easily swapped with another ingredient in the same category to make a completely different tasty dressing/sauce. 

INTUITIVE COOKING

It’s more important to learn the basic concepts and building blocks behind an element of cooking rather than worrying too much about strictly adhering to one specific recipe or LOOK.

Sometimes I feel like the overly perfected and expertly plated recipes featured on social media or in major magazines can be a little defeating and unapproachable! Give me something REAL I can make EVERY WEEK for cheap and feel good about without spending 4.5 hours to make it. 🙂 Using obscure and unapproachable ingredients and methods isn’t a lifestyle you can stick with, it’s a special occasion kind of thing.

This flexibility and understanding exercises our eye and taste buds to cook intuitively with what we have on hand. That’s both more convenient and more fun because you really CAN make delicious stuff happen with random things in your house right now. What can i do with what I currently have? Well, if you’re stocked with spices and staple pantry items, you’re off to a good start.

ESSENTIALS ON HAND

When you dig into the HOW, you can create 10+ nut (or seed!) butter sauces and dressings on a whim.

Over time you will get to know the key pantry and ingredient staples to have on hand for meal prep greatness.

Here is a quick list of 10 things I use constantly and always have on hand:

  1. Unsweetened organic soy milk
  2. Tamari
  3. Better than Boullion Vegetable
  4. Nutritional Yeast
  5. Sesame oil
  6. Nut butters
  7. Garlic & onions (they go in everyyyyythiiiingggg)
  8. Apple cider vinegar
  9. Different types of dry rice, beans and lentils
  10. Lots of fresh produce (greens, lemons, limes, carrots, peppers, kale, spinach, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, etc. etc.)

Think about what your essentials are. Sometimes having a bit of an outline and routine to your weekly meals helps to keep things on a healthier track. You’re not wondering WHAT to buy because the list rarely changes. You know you can make a long list of delicious things with the same core ingredients + different sauces + different spices.

I hope this sparks some ideas for how you can create some sauces in your kitchen!

Tahini lemon dressing with roasted root vegetables, wild rice and sautéed kale, peas and red onions. Perfect example of a nut butter sauce variation here! Same idea, different ingredients. Always tasty.

INGREDIENT SWAP TALK

Ohhhh the possibilities. Here is a list of ingredients in my favorite peanut sauce (below) along with a few ideas of swaps you can make to switch up the flavor profile of the nut butter sauce you’re dreaming up.

PEANUT BUTTER – almond butter or tahini or omit for a lighter feel of a dressing.

GARLIC – fresh minced ginger (tasty with apple cider vinegar and tahini) or 1 tsp. dijon mustard (great to pair with balsamic)

RICE VINEGAR – apple cider vinegar, balsamic or omit the vinegar and add more liquid via water or soy milk for a milder flavor, less tang.

SESAME OIL – olive oil or avocado oil

TAMARI – coconut aminos (sweeter, LOVE this with almond butter, lime juice and some soy milk) or liquid aminos (milder flavor)

MAPLE SYRUP – agave (I like using a liquid sweetener in dressings but coconut sugar works too, just shake/blend it well)

LIME JUICE – lemon or orange juice (this piece really adds something FRESH, orange juice is delicious with ginger and sesame)

GINGER & CAYENNE  – curry powder + onion powder (sometimes I go a bit crazy in the spice department but I’ve yet to go wrong. If you have the right core spices at hand, just pick and play.)

START PLAYING

Here’s a base nut butter sauce recipe idea to start adjusting and swapping ingredients. Please, as always, feel free to reach out to me on FB messenger or email if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help.

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nut butter sauce recipe vegan

My Favorite Peanut Sauce

  • Author: Meag P. Wild Drive Life
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Total Time: 5
  • Yield: 16 oz. 1x
  • Category: dressing, sauce
  • Method: blend
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This is a delicious plant-based peanut sauce recipe (quite possibly my favorite variation yet) that can be used as a dressing, dip or drizzle on salads, roasted vegetables, in a wrap, on pasta, you name it. It makes everything it touches a bit more interesting.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs. tamari
  • 3 tbs. rice vinegar
  • 2 tbs. sesame oil
  • 2 tbs. maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. lime juice (1/2 a lime)
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional but tasty)
  • 24 tbs. water (start with 2 tbs.)

Instructions

  1. Throw all the ingredients in a blender and blend it up until smooth.
  2. Check consistency. Add 1-2 tbs. more water to thin it out if needed.
  3. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. We usually eat ours within a day or two because it’s so good. Juuuuust a warning.

Keywords: vegan, dressing, sauce, peanut sauce

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Lentil Balls and Whole Wheat Penne

Lentil Balls and Whole Wheat Penne

My lentil balls and whole wheat penne recipe is one of my go-to dishes for plant-based meal prep. It’s inexpensive, delicious and full of healthy energy via legumes, whole grains and veggies. It also makes A LOT of servings too, about 6 – 8.

Feel free to use a jarred sauce to make this even quicker (just check ingredients, keep it simple!). Throw in some frozen peas to add a few more grams of plant based protein. ENJOY!

Pasta Please

When I first went plant-based 11 years ago I didn’t really understand the importance of combining a variety of whole foods in your daily diet for sustained energy, health and stamina.

I just ate A LOT of plain pasta on pasta on pasta. 🙂

I’ve learned a thing or two since then but yes, I still eat (and love!) pasta a couple times a week, just with a few easy adjustments.

  • I traded in processed white pasta for organic, non-GMO whole wheat pasta (6g fiber + 7.5g protein per serving!).
  • I incorporate more veggies and additional protein sources to make things more substantial and balanced. Take this meal prep recipe as an example — three little lentil balls provide an additional 10g of protein to the dish!
  • I PLAY with spices and flavors. Stock up your spice rack and and start playing. Oh and onion powder and garlic powder go in just about everyyyything.

Pasta is a great inexpensive palette for healthy meal magic.

Especially if you’re active, you NEED carbs. Plant based diets inherently have a higher ratio of carbs and that’s okay. Just remember to level up and create BALANCE with servings of seasoned legumes, tofu, tempeh, seeds or nuts, and lots of roasted, steamed or sauteed vegetables. So many possibilities here.

Remember the goal to is to eat a variety of WHOLE FOODS. Minimize the processed junk as much as possible and you’ll be on the right track!

If you’re looking for a plant-based protein powder to supplement your diet or add to smoothies, check out my homemade vegan protein powder recipe!

How do I make this deliciousness happen?!

Quick overview! More in the recipe card below.

Cook the lentils. The ratio to remember is 2:1 water to lentils. Amp up the flavor with vegetable broth instead of boring water.

Prepare and bake the lentil balls, 400 degrees for 12 minutes, flip and bake for another 10 minutes. Easy peasy. I always double the recipe so that I have extra for other meals. They freeze really well!

While the lentil balls are baking, make the tomato sauce. I’ve used everything from all day family recipe style sauce to the glorious shortcut of a Classico organic jarred sauce. You do you! I shared a super quick and flavorful 20 minute sauce recipe for you here. Right in the middle! 🙂

While the sauce is cooking, prepare your pasta. That’s easy.

With a few minutes left to the pasta, steam some veggies, in this case I chose spinach, but feel free to use sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, roasted butternut squash, etc. — I just love incorporating some vegetable element with the whole grains and protein of this dish.

Throw it all together! If you’re serving it right away, let the lentil balls warm a bit in the red sauce to soak up even more flavor. If you’re packaging this for meal prep for the week, keep them separate so they don’t get mushy.

I hope you enjoy it! Please reach out to me with any questions.

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lentil balls pasta dish recipe vegan

Lentil Balls and Whole Wheat Penne

  • Author: Meag P. – Wild Drive Life
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 40
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: Meal Prep
  • Cuisine: Vegan
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This high-protein, plant-based pasta dish features herbed tomato sauce, spinach + veggie packed lentil balls making it meal prep favorite of mine. I typically double the lentil ball recipe for an easy meal another week. Lentil ball sub sandwiches maybe, or a salad topper?! Yum.


Scale

Ingredients

LENTIL BALLS:

  • 2 tbs. ground flax seeds + 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup green lentils (dry)
  • 1 1/2 cups water + 2 tsp. Better than Bouillon Veggie (or 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth)
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/3 cup oats (quick oats are best or you can pulse regular oats in a food processor to grind them up)
  • 2/3 cup carrots, grated
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 tbs. nutritional yeast
  • SPICES: 4 tbs. fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried), 1 tsp. Italian seasoning, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, pepper and onion powder.

HERBED TOMATO SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbs. real maple syrup
  • 2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. each oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, salt + pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

OTHER DELICIOUSNESS:

  • 1 16 oz. box of whole wheat pasta (100% whole wheat = 6g fiber, 7.5g protein per serving)
  • 23 cups fresh spinach + 2 tbs. water
  • nutritional yeast and hemp seeds to sprinkle before serving (optional)

Instructions

Prepare Lentil Balls:

  1. Rinse and drain the lentils. Put the lentils and broth together in a medium saucepan and cover. Heat to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low, simmer and cook for 20 minutes until tender and all water is absorbed.
  2. While lentils are cooking…
    • Prepare “flax eggs” — in a small bowl, combine ground flax seed + 1/4 c water, set aside.
    • Caramelize onions — Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium, add onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower heat, cover and cook until golden and caramelized, another 10 – 15 minutes.
    • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the cooked lentils, caramelized onion, oats, carrots, garlic, tomato paste, flax eggs, and spices. Mix really well until combined.
  4. Scoop portions of the mixture into balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Each batch should make around 16-20. I find it helpful to use a cookie scoop. I also put a little olive oil on my hands to keep it from sticking too much when shaping.
  5. Bake for 12 minutes, remove the pan, flip, and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.

Prepare the Sauce, Pasta & Spinach

  1. While the lentil balls are baking… prepare the sauce!
    • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and follow the same procedure to caramelize — cook for 5 minutes, lower heat, cover and cook for another 10 minutes until golden.
    • Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes.
    • Add the remaining ingredients and spices to the skillet, stir to combine. Increase heat to medium high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before serving!
  2. While the sauce is cooking, cook your pasta according to the instructions on the box. I chose penne, but go with your favorite pasta shape!
  3. (OPTIONAL STEP) Once the sauce is cooked, carefully add the baked lentil balls to the sauce. Spoon some sauce on top to coat. Cover the skillet for a few minutes to heat the balls through on low then this is ready to rock! NOTE: If you’re not serving this right away, skip this step like I did in the photos for meal prep and keep the balls separate so they don’t get soggy.
  4. Last but not least, prepare the spinach. Feel free to sub other roasted or sauteed veggies here.
    • Add spinach and 2 tbs. water to a small skillet over medium heat. Cover and wilt, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes tops. You want to keep that vibrant green color!
  5. Plate your pasta, add the sauce, top with 3 lentil balls and a bit of spinach. Sprinkle some nooch and hemp seeds if desired.

Notes

Always always always taste throughout the cooking process and add a bit more salt and pepper when needed. Add some more spices, mix it up, adjust to your taste, this recipe isn’t meant to be static, play with it!

The lentil balls are fairly soft but should hold together nicely once baked.

Feel free to add your favorite sauteed or roasted veggies to this dish for even more dynamic flavors and variations. I’ve added sauteed sliced mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers, etc. — there’s no going wrong!

Keywords: meal prep, vegan, plant-based, savory, pasta

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Jackery Explorer 500 Review Portable, Versatile Power

Jackery Explorer 500 Review Portable, Versatile Power

Oh Hello, Jackery Explorer 500!

Ben here with another product test and review blog! I’m pleased to share with all of you our third and largest member of our portable power station family… the Jackery Explorer 500.

You may have already read our blogs on the Explorer 240 and Jackery HLS 290 (if not, check ’em out!) and how they’re excellent additions to any off grid, mobile work/play, or emergency preparedness situation. Backup power options are always a plus to have on hand.

So what else can I say about the Explorer 500 that hasn’t already been said? 

It has more power! Blog done.

Just kidding, there’s more…

The Right Stuff + Savings

portable power station jackery

There are many similarities to the smaller Jackery portable power models like the pure sine inverter, multiple charging methods, solar panel compatibility, etc. It can power MORE with not that much added weight.

They maintain a light, compact, and durable battery pack without compromising the excellent quality Jackery is known for. They’re able to pack in 500Wh while still only weighing 13.32 lbs. — they even added a nifty little LED flashlight on the side! Woo.

finance wild drive life

We love saving money and you probably do to, SO enjoy these coupons (Thanks, Jackery!):

$79.45 off for Jackery E500 power station Use Code: Meagan500 (5% code + $50 off coupon) ACTIVE FROM 01/07/2020 7:00 AM PST to 02/29/2020 11:59 PM PST

$30 off on Jackery 100W Solar panel Use Code: MeaganSP100 ACTIVE FROM 01/07/2020 7:00 AM PST to 02/29/2020 11:59 PM PST 

My face below says everything about how much I enjoy Meag taking awkward photos of me. Okay, let’s get back into it!

jackery power station at work
“Hold it right there!” — Why Meag, why?!

PRODUCT SPECS:

  • Battery Capacity: 518Wh (24Ah, 21.6V)
  • AC Output: 110V, 500W (1000W peak.)
  • Car Port: DC 12V, 10A , 2*DC Output: 12V, 7A (Total 120W)
  • USB Outputs (3): 5V, 2.4A (each)
  • Input: 8mm DC, 12V~30V (100W Max)
  • Dimensions: 11.84*7.59*9.2 in
  • Weight: 13.32lbs

More Power

power station jackery 500

My favorite thing about this battery is the added versatility you get with the extra power, 500w. It’s easy to see from Jackery’s website and other blogs that the Explorer 500 can power a TV for seven hours or charge a smartphone 50 times. Those technical specs are great for understanding the capacity of the portable battery, but I didn’t open the box and say, “Yay, I can’t wait to charge my GoPro 92 times!

What I’m getting at here is that there are some real world practical applications, or dare I say, life hacks that the 500 can be used for.

Here are a couple examples from our recent ventures and life here in southern Maine.

Jackery at Work

Someday we’ll convert the van from a tool shed to a camper! 🙂

The daily application I use the Jackery Explorer 500 for is with my business at various job sites.

I (Ben, if you missed that earlier) run a home improvement and renovations business that is completely cordless. Our chop saw, table saw, drills, etc. are battery powered. We’re big fans of the Dewalt Flexvolt series.

Sometimes we HAVE to work outside, even during a nippy Maine winter.

This versatility makes set up a breeze wherever we’re stationed and there’s no tangled cords to deal with. It also means we can work anywhere regardless if there’s easy access to electricity or not.

On long days we can eat through our tool batteries pretty quickly and that’s where the Jackery Explorer 500 comes in.

I built a charging station in my work trailer to recharge dead batteries on the job site. I know, charging batteries with a battery isn’t the most efficient use of electricity. But that’s not what it’s about here. It’s about flexibility. It allows us to be off grid anywhere and still be able to get work done without any interruptions. 

Off-Grid Power

wild drive life product testing
This shot is from our last cross-country trip. Ahhh Arizona in January. It’s a beautiful thing.

For any weekend road trippers or anyone thinking about trying out vanlife, this part’s for you. 

Meag and I recently purchased a 4×4 1993 Mitsubishi Delica van with the intention of converting it into a weekend camper this spring. It’s currently my work vehicle as you see in these photos! All in good time, right?!

The idea of setting up a battery bank with solar and alternator charging capabilities in a van conversion can feel a bit overwhelming if you’re just starting out.

There are varying battery types, charge controllers, inverters, and complicated wiring to install. It’s all doable but sometimes requires the assistance of a professional.

A Simple, Portable Power Option

jackery explorer 500

A simple, out of the box power source like the Jackery Explorer 500 could be a viable option if your goals are more weekend trips and short-term fun vs. full-time living! This power station has everything you need built right in and is compact enough to store anywhere in your vehicle.

Add one of Jackery’s Solar Saga 100w solar panels and you’re ready to rock.

Since our Delica is indeed a road trip vehicle rather than our full time home like the bus, we’re all for simple setup!

I’m setting up the Explorer 500 to power our lights, refrigerator, water pump and of course an immersion blender for smoothies. It’ll also act as a charging port for laptops and phones.

Charging the Jackery Explorer 500

With options to charge via a 12v car port, AC wall outlet, and solar panels like we mentioned above, it’s easy to keep the 500 charged whether you’re parked or on the road. It’s a plug and play version of your typical micro off-grid power set up. 

Now, I’m not saying this is a full replacement for full-time RV living.

The 500 isn’t large enough to power all the components of an RV for very long. However, if you’re just looking to get away for the weekend or can stand live live full time with minimal power requirements, this can be a great option for you. 

Another Great Product from Jackery

These are just two examples of what you can do with the Explorer 500. Everyone knows you can use a battery to go camping or if there’s an emergency, but there’s so much more if you just use your imagination.

Catering, tailgating, farmer’s markets, movie in the park, I could go on and on. As long as you think outside the box and apply a little creativity there are endless possibilities when you have portable battery power at your fingertips. You can read more about the Explorer 500 and the Solar Saga 100 on Jackery’s website, too!

Don’t forget about the awesome coupons we shared earlier. Here they are again:

$79.45 off for Jackery E500 power station Use Code: Meagan500 (5% code + $50 off coupon) ACTIVE FROM 01/07/2020 7:00 AM PST to 02/29/2020 11:59 PM PST

$30 off on Jackery 100W Solar panel Use Code: MeaganSP100 ACTIVE FROM 01/07/2020 7:00 AM PST to 02/29/2020 11:59 PM PST 

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Easy Focaccia Bread

Easy Focaccia Bread

I started making homemade focaccia bread years ago with the goal to create a recipe/method that was simple, forgiving and delicious.

This is it. You don’t need years of practice or fancy tools. You don’t need hours and hours of time in the kitchen. This focaccia bread takes about 20 minutes of active time, 1-2 hours of resting time and 25 minutes or so in the oven.

What is Focaccia Bread?

Focaccia is a yeasted flat bread born on the shores of the Mediterranean. The original recipe likely originated with the Etruscans or Ancient Greeks.

It’s considered a precursor of modern pizza. Yum.

Among challah (which can be made vegan!) and ciabatta, it’s one of my very favorite breads.

Focaccia is rich in olive oil and herbs and often topped with delicious things like caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

Focaccia is light and airy inside, golden and crispy on the outside when fresh from the oven. It has an open structure similar to ciabatta, but with a softer, pillowy chew.

Keys to a Great Focaccia Bread:

homemade focaccia bread essential recipe

Strong or high gluten flour — When I first started making focaccia, I used all-purpose flour. I’ve had MUCH better results since switching to bread flour. The higher protein content provides a more stable structure and a chewier texture/bite.

Bread Flour: 14 – 16%
All-Purpose (AP) Flour: 10 – 12%

What kind of bread flour should I use?! I love King Arthur Flour, personally, since they’re New England born and their non-organic products are all non-GMO.

Active Dry Yeast — Make sure your active dry yeast hasn’t been sitting in the cabinet for years, that won’t work. 🙂 I’m a fan of buying yeast in bulk since I bake bread weekly and it’s cheaper. Store yeast in an airtight container in the fridge after opening.

If you don’t bake bread often, go for the yeast packets.

High hydration — Focaccia dough is more on the slack (wet) side than your standard sandwich bread or whole wheat loaf. Don’t worry! The classic sessions of kneading by hand don’t really happen here. Time saver! I simply mix for a few minutes in a large bowl with a rubber spatula.

Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil — We want all the rich flavors here. There’s a few tbsp. in the focaccia dough and we drizzle more on top before baking. It’s all essential to the finished product! Don’t skimp with over filtered “light flavor” olive oils and blends.

Simple Homemade Bread Baking

homemade focaccia bread

Bread in it’s simplest form is flour, yeast, water and a touch of salt.

That’s it.

The grocery store bread aisle tells a much different story; a long, confusing one with added sugars, preservatives and ingredients we can’t quite pronounce.

But who has time to make bread?! We all do! It’s all about simplifying the method.

Focaccia is a good gateway to a life of homemade bread baking! You could also try making my family’s traditional French Acadian Ployes! which is in the flatbread family too. Flatbreads are easy peasy.

I used to think that making bread from scratch at home would take ALL DAY and years to master until I read Artesian Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

I’ve been experimenting with that foundation for years and can attest that you don’t need hours of hands on time to bake delicious bread! Your bread!

It’s all about making the method work for you, don’t settle for less. My mother in law swears by her bread machine and I agree it’s a pretty amazing option too. It provides the same limited ingredient fresh bread consistently with minimal hands on time! Win win.

Whatever method you choose, trust that homemade bread can fit into your lifestyle and become a healthy habit.

Focaccia is versatile, simple and delicious

focaccia bread recipe easy

Add my vegan basil pesto and veggies to make a pizza, slice in half and build a sandwich, serve alongside olives and hummus for a tasty appetizer. It’s all good.

You don’t need any fancy tools to bake this at home. Just make sure you have a quality sheet pan for baking and a large enough bowl for mixing and proving.

I’ve made several tweaks and made hundreds of loaves over the years. Be on the lookout for a golden top, bottom and sides with an open-textured interior, large holes, soft and chewy bite.

Basic Focaccia Method

The ingredients list is so simple: bread flour, water, yeast, salt, olive oil, herbs/spices of your choice. Let’s do this!

Mix the yeast and warm water in a large bowl until combined. Let sit for five minutes. The yeast will get foamy. I forgot to take a picture after the yeast got foamy. Oops.

Let’s pretend it’s all foamy on top:

focaccia bread yeast mix

Add three cups of flour + 2 tsp. salt. Mix for a couple minutes to wake that gluten up. We’re mixing with a rubber spatula in lieu of kneading. It’s a quicker, cleaner and easier process.

making bread homemade
The dough will be pretty wet at this point.

Add the rest of the flour (+1/2 cup or so) and olive oil. Mix for another minute. The dough should be slack but still come together/retain it’s shape.

focaccia bread dough
Still slack but strong. She’s ready to rise!

Cover the bowl with a dinner plate and let rise for 1-2 hours.

risen focaccia dough
The focaccia dough should double (and then some) in size. It’ll depend on the warmth of your room. Feel free to give it extra time.

Shape into loaf or rolls, place on olive oiled cookie sheet. Herb & oil it up and let it sit while the oven preheats to 425 degrees.

focaccia bread ready for the oven
Poke lots of dimples into the dough with your knuckles, drizzle olive oil and herbs before baking. We left all our green dried herbs at the bus so I used parsley in this photo! Hah!

BAKE. ENJOY!

I make one loaf of focaccia every single week, at least one because I share it so much, and you can too. It’s a very forgiving method!

Try shaping them into rolls!

I am so excited to share what I consider to be the best and simplest focaccia bread recipe.

Behold, my every day focaccia!

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homemade focaccia bread

Easy Focaccia Bread

  • Author: Ben & Meag
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 25
  • Total Time: 2 hrs.

Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs. active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 3 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil + more for the pan & drizzle
  • 2 cups warm (not hot) water
  • 2 tsp. sea salt + more for sprinkling
  • Fresh/dried herbs of your choice for toppings

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk water and yeast together until combined.
  2. Let stand for five minutes or so until yeast starts to foam.
  3. Mix in 3 cups of bread flour. Stir with rubber spatula for 2 minutes or so. The dough will be wet. Pretend you’re a KitchenAid stand mixer for a bit. Have fun.
  4. Add the other 1/2 cup of flour + salt and 3 tbs. olive oil. Mix for another 2 minutes. The dough should still be slack but come together and hold its shape nicely in the base of the bowl.
  5. Cover the bowl with a dinner plate and let rise for 1 – 2 hours until dough doubles in size.
  6. Oil a large sheet pan with a bit of olive oil.
  7. Uncover the dough and say “WOW!”
  8. Oil your hands so the dough doesn’t stick and shape the dough into a flat bread or rolls on the baking sheet pan. It doesn’t have to be perfect, this whole process should only take a minute.
  9. Press your knuckles into the dough to make dimples. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt and your choice of herbs on top. Let stand to rise a bit more while the oven preheats.
  10. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. BAKE 22 – 28 minutes.

Keywords: bread, focaccia,

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Baked Sesame Orange Cauliflower Bites

Baked Sesame Orange Cauliflower Bites

Sesame orange cauliflower gives you all the delicious flavor memories of sesame orange chicken, but it’s plant-based and HEALTHY! Oh yes.

These baked sesame orange cauliflower bites are vegan, gluten free, dairy free, easy to make and delicious.

Whether you’re a plant-based eater or not, you’ll love these. The fresh garlic, ginger, and toasted sesame oil is perfection.

They’re crispy, tender and packed with fresh flavors!

These would be the perfect appetizer or addition to a rice and veggie dinner bowl. Throw ’em on a salad, get crazy. I do.

Veggie Prep: It’s Fun to Switch Things Up

It’s really nice to switch things up with a dish like this one. Roasted cauliflower is DELICIOUS, but with the addition of a light baked breading AND a flavorful orange sauce?! Next level!

My main goal in playing with this sesame orange cauliflower recipe was to bring the indulgent flavors of sesame orange chicken into the healthier plant-based world and it’s so possible!

ON MOST DAYS, I’m on autopilot with veggies. I simply steam or roast just about everything.

ROASTING VEGGIES 101: Cut similar cooking time veggies into bite size pieces, coat with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.

Spread seasoned veggies in a single layer on a large cookie sheet.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and bake until golden. 20 – 25 minutes. Done!

QUICK TIP: Ingredient Swap – Coconut Sugar

My favorite part of cooking plant-based is finding ways to make DELICIOUS, satisfying food that you feel great after eating. Simple ingredient swaps make all the difference.

One of my FAVORITE swaps, featured in this recipe is coconut sugar instead of white, granulated sugar. Swap it 1:1 in baking. Among other pros, coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index (35) compared to white sugar (65), which means it won’t spike your blood sugar as easily. Still use moderation, of course! 🙂

TIP: Reduce your use and consumption of highly processed, white granulated sugar; don’t keep it in your house. Don’t buy it. Pretend it doesn’t exist on the grocery shelves. It sneaks it’s way into a lot of processed foods, so check labels! Baby steps.

wild drive life

Recipe Method Notes

This recipe uses simple ingredients that you’ll likely have on hand in your kitchen already. YAY! The only wildcards are arrowroot starch and a gluten free flour mix, I really like this one from King Arthur Flour.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is making the sesame orange sauce and even that is pretty simple, so don’t worry!

Making a sauce from scratch means that you know and can control exactly what ingredients go into it!

Make the sesame orange sauce ahead of time and store it it a ball jar in the fridge! You could definitely use this sauce for other dishes as well.

It’s really important to remove the excess batter before baking the cauliflower bites.

The first time I made it I battered the cauliflower and transferred them right to the pan with batter kind of pooling around the florets. It was still SO TASTY, but everything sort of stuck together and I knew it could be improved.

MEAG TIP: I batter the cauliflower in batches and set it on a cooling rack with a sheet of parchment paper underneath (to keep things neat). Give it a minute and they can head on over to the cookie sheet and into the oven to bake to perfection!

sesame orange cauliflower bites: vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free recipe

You could try using broccoli with this same method! I plan to. If you do, please let me know how it goes! Let’s dive into the recipe! Please let me know if you have any questions at all.

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sesame orange cauliflower bites vegan

Sesame Orange Cauliflower Bites

  • Author: Meag @wilddrivelife
  • Prep Time: 20
  • Cook Time: 25
  • Total Time: 45 minutes

Description

These sesame orange cauliflower bites are the perfect savory appetizer to try next! They’re vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and delicious.


Scale

Ingredients

Main & Topping

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 1 tbs. sesame seeds 

SAUCE:

  • 2 tbs. toasted sesame oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth (I use better than bouillon)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tbs. tamari
  • 2 tbs. coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tbs. arrowroot starch
  • 1 tbs. cold water

BATTER:

  • 1 cup gluten free flour mix (or regular flour if the GF part isn’t crucial)
  • 1 tsp. arrowroot starch
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Pepper
  • 1 cup unsweetened soy milk (find one with limited ingredients, my favorite is WESTSOY brand — soybeans and water, that’s it!)

Instructions

Prepare the Sauce:

  1. Heat sesame oil in a large skillet – med. high. Add garlic. Sauté for 2 mins.
  2. Add everything on this list except for the arrowroot and water to the skillet. Bring it to a simmer, stir occasionally. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste test — does it need anything? Add it now!
  3. Remove sauce from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
  4. BLEND the sauce in a high speed blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.
  5. Return sauce to the skillet and a medium high heat.
  6. While the sauce coming back to a boil, whisk together the arrowroot starch and water in a small bowl.
  7. Once the sauce comes to a boil, whisk in the arrowroot mixture. This will thicken the sauce up nicely. Cook for two more minutes at a simmer.
  8. Remove sauce from heat and set aside.

Next Prep Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Prepare a cooling rack with a sheet of parchment paper underneath for easy cleanup. This setup helps to remove excess batter from the cauliflower before baking.
  3. Using a paper towel, grease a large cookie sheet for baking with 1 tbs. olive oil.
  4. Cut cauliflower into bite sized florets.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together all batter ingredients.

Batter & Bake

  1. Dredge the cauliflower florets in the batter bowl in a few batches to make it easier. I got in there with my hands, shook the initial excess batter off into the same bowl first and transferred them to sit on the cooling rack to remove a bit more excess batter. If you leave too much batter on it kind of glues the florets together and isn’t as pretty.
  2. Transfer the coated cauliflower from the cooling rack to the cookie sheet. Spread everything out evenly in a single layer.
  3. BAKE at 425 degrees for 25 minutes until golden and sizzly. Test a piece, depending on how thick the batter is, they may need a few more minutes.
  4. Let the cauliflower cool for a few minutes.
  5. Toss the cauliflower with the tasty orange sauce to coat. I found it easier to do this in a large bowl vs. directly on the baking sheet. It’s up to you.
  6. Transfer the sauced wings to your serving dish/plate.
  7. Sprinkle with 1 tbs. SESAME SEEDS & minced fresh parsley if you want to be fancy!

Notes

Try this with broccoli!

Keywords: vegan, cauliflower, appetizer, savory

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