HEALTH

How to Make Mealtime Feel Special with NikkiVegan

July 27th, 2020

Welcome to Dining In—a series that takes you into the homes of Thrive Market employees and brand partners to share what cooking in our own kitchens really looks like. Today, we’re talking to Nicole Vranjican, a YouTuber and recipe creator dedicated to crafting easy plant-based recipes. Her approach to veganism is relaxed and realistic, and she is passionate about helping people learn to love cooking as an act of self care. She’s sharing how she’s renewing her love of vegan cooking while dining solo.

Ziti

What does Dining In look like for you nowadays?

Lots of solo dining for me now that we’re social distancing! Some days I just eat what’s easy—leftovers usually—but once or twice a week I now make a “proper meal” of a family or restaurant-style meal even though it’s just me, myself and I. It’s become part of my Friday night routine in quarantine. I end work early, go for a walk, then return home, pour a glass of wine and make a nice dinner like my Vegan Baked Ziti and a Zesty Summer Salad. I listen to a podcast or call a friend while I cook and sip my wine. It’s been really great and gives me something to look forward to when all of the days can kind of seem the same!

What advice can you give others in a similar scenario?

Create moments to look forward to by punctuating your week with a theme night. It sounds cheesy, but wow, is it good for the soul! For me, it’s dinner and a movie on Friday Night Movie Night. Yours might be Taco Tuesday or Wellness Wednesday with a big superfood salad, a home facial, and time spent reading or meditating. Having something to look forward to is so important, and using recipes to create a theme night is a great way to make it fun.

How do you make mealtime feel special?

Lighting! Since we’re all home more than ever, the simple act of changing the lighting in our homes can help us mentally transition from day-to-night or from work-time to home-time. I turn off the bright overhead lights, then light my salt lamp and some candles. Instant ambiance! I keep it dim from about 6 p.m. onward, and as it gradually gets darker and more cozy, the flickering lights signal to my brain that it’s time for dinner and relaxing. Tip: opt for unscented candles at the dinner table so the scent doesn’t interfere with the food.

What’s your go-to meal when you don’t feel particularly motivated?

Honestly, breakfast for dinner is my favorite for quick and easy suppers! I love making tofu scramble because it’s just as quick and easy as making scrambled eggs, but it’s vegan and packed with protein! I scramble it with salsa, nutritional yeast, turmeric, chili powder (all of which I get on Thrive) and some spinach for just about three to four minutes and then serve it in a warm whole wheat tortilla with a slice of vegan cheddar and crispy tempeh bacon. It’s so good and feels like junk food, even though it’s super nourishing.

Taco

How has Thrive Market made Dining In easier?

Let me count the ways. The vegan filter definitely makes shopping so much faster and easier for me! Usually what I do is take inventory of what I already have, find some recipes that will utilize those ingredients (so nothing goes to waste), and jot down the items I need to buy. Then instead of running out to the store, I just sit down at my desk with my list and in minutes I have all of my essentials ready for the week ahead. The amount of time it saves me is invaluable and I’m so grateful each and every time.

How has your recipe inspiration changed since we’ve been in quarantine?

Now more than ever as a professional recipe creator I’m really trying to make recipes that I feel people need right now. For one, they should be easy and comforting because we all have a lot going on. But they should also be budget-friendly and nourishing. I created a semi-homemade desserts recipe video that fits this bill with recipes that are partially store bought and partially homemade. They’re cozy, comforting and soothing for the soul. My Brown Sugar Spoon Cake uses Thrive Market’s Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix and it’s honestly heaven in a bowl.

How have the past few months changed your perspective on cooking?

I’ve been very happy to see that people are enjoying cooking again. So many of my friends rely heavily on pricey restaurants and takeout meals, but now that they’re spending more time at home, many of them have told me that they’re enjoying how cozy it is to get into the kitchen and whip up a meal. Even a simple home cooked meal feels much cozier than reheating cold takeout fries. I love that people are realizing that cooking can be more than a means to an end. It’s an act of self care and a creative outlet in and of itself.

What are three of your favorite pantry staples? And how do you use them in recipes?

  1. Thrive Market Organic Old Fashioned Oats! I use them in lots of healthy baked goods like my Lazy Day Pancake Muffins. They bake in the oven instead of on the stove, so healthy pancakes are ready in 15 minutes.
  2. Spices! I love the wide range of organic spices that Thrive Market carries. They’re much less expensive than at my grocery store and such good quality. I love using Thrive’s Curry Powder to make (my new favorite) Golden Tahini Sauce. I put it on everything from salads, to sandwiches, or even drizzled oven oven baked sweet potato fries.
  3. I always stock up Thrive Market’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Kitchen & Love Balsamic Vinegar and Divina Fig Spread when shopping on Thrive so I can make this easy Homemade Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette.

You’re a certified sommelier! Do you have any favorite recipes that you’ve paired with our vegan Clean Wines?

My Easy Potato Taquitos pair really well with the Tour Des Gendres Sauvignon Blanc! The rich, cheesy potatoes and tangy salsa verde compliment the bright acidity of this wine. Such a summery and delicious combo!

What are three first steps that you recommend for people who are interested in going vegan?

Remember that going vegan isn’t about eating less. A lot of people get confused because they’re thinking about what they’re taking off of their plates—meat, dairy, and eggs. So naturally, they make the mistake of keeping just what’s left on their plates and making a meal out of that, which is bound to be unsatisfying and not very healthy!

I loosely follow the Healthy Plate Model which means that 50% of my plate is non-starchy veggies like a big salad and or sauteed greens or roasted broccoli. Then 25% is starch like potatoes, rice, or pasta, and 25% is protein like tempeh, tofu, beans, lentils, veggie burgers or vegan meat alternatives.

I always make sure to include healthy fats like nut or seed based sauces and dressings, such as the Golden Tahini Sauce I mentioned above. That combo keeps me full and nourished and thriving as a plant-based vegan! It’s easy once you get the hang of it—I don’t even really think about it anymore.

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This article is related to: Healthy Meals, Pasta Recipes, Plant-Based, Vegan, Vegan Meals

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Kendall LoweryKendall Lowery is a current college student and a lifelong food enthusiast. When she’s not studying, she spends her time playing the flute, finding her next great bite, and working at Thrive Market as the Creative + Content Intern.

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