Oatmeal On-the-Go Taste Test! Vegan Options.

I'm not quite certain you can classify oatmeal as a dining trend, but it certainly is a breakfast staple here in America. And yes, maybe timeless oatmeal has even become a tiny bit 'trendy'. Here in NYC, and I imagine most places, if you peruse the breakfast menu of almost any restaurant, you're sure to find "their (classic or modern) take" on a simple, healthy bowl of oats.

Breakfast Oatmeal: Slow-Cooked Gets Speedy. Over a year ago, two major 'fast' food brands, Jamba Juice and Starbucks unveiled their take on oatmeal (as well as a few other big name brands). And fast food oatmeal may be a diamond in the rough. Let's face it, compared to most fast food breakfast options, oatmeal is a quite nutritious, vegan-friendly option. And a bowl of warm oatmeal (made cravable by some fresh fruit, nuts, maple and/or spice accents on top) sure beats skipping breakfast altogether on a chilly fall or winter morning.

But who makes the best On-the-Go Oatmeal? I wanted to find out (and be prepared for the chilly days ahead!)...

Seasonal Mornings. I've brought out my boots, and I'm considering placing my scarf in the 'ready' position on the hook by the front door. The fall (and winter) days ahead will no doubt bring cool, crisp and chilly mornings at my doorstep and I want to be ready for them! Cocoa in the pantry, cinnamon sticks on the spice rack and plenty of warm bowl options for breakfast.

Homemade is Best. Despite the array of amazing to-go and dine-in options, homemade, when your life can manage it, is usually best. And while I'd love to eat lavish drawn-out breakfasts, seated, sunlit, slippers still on as I flip through the morning paper (what's that?) and slowly savor my fruit bowl and tea, the everyday reality is nothing as I might imagine in my "breakfast fantasy".

..Thank goodness for the weekends where hopefully we can all sit down and savor our bevie, bowl and fruit (slippers on).

So when you are lucky enough to have time in your morning during the week (or the weekend, which is more likely), might I suggest one of these happy, healthy, warm your core bowls:

*Breakfast Almond Risotto with Sake-Poached Figs
*Kiwi Cherry Almond Oatmeal
*Vegan Rice Pudding
*Fuyu Cinnamon Walnut Maple Oatmeal
*More vegan breakfast recipes

But if you're like most people, including myself on a busy day, to-go breakfast options are the only thing that stand between you and a stone cold, empty, growling afternoon tummy. So if you are breakfasting on-the-go and oatmeal is what you crave, give my Oatmeal Taste Test a look, and you might find something inspiring (or at least better know what you are looking for in a bowl of to-go oats).

Why Only Four Brands? Note: Obviously I am just one person, and so I maxed out at choosing the top four brands side-by-side. I wanted to taste test these bowls spoon-to-spoon for maximum review effectiveness. So I made AM rounds and quickly picked up these bowls. I hoped the barista at my last stop, Starbucks, wouldn't notice the 3 other bowls of oatmeal in my bag. haha. What? I'm a food blogger. :)

I then transported them home (they sat for about about 15-20 minutes before I could dig in). I chose brands that I easily frequent here in NYC. Starbucks and Jamba Juice are the two most pedestrian brands in my taste test.

But even if these brands are different from your oatmeal options, look over my comments and you may be more informed on how to weed out bad (and find good) on-the-go oatmeal options.

My Review Process: I scored each oatmeal on taste/texture/toppings/milk options. The totaled scores at the end are important, but also read my tasting notes/descriptions. You'll want to take note of the price/nutrition - as they are not factored into the number scoring.

To-Go Oatmeal Taste Test (Starbucks, Aroma, Le Pain Quotidien, Jamba Juice)
scores are from 1-5, 5 being the best, 1 being the worst.


Aroma - $3.25 "Warm and Delicious Oatmeal"

Starbucks - $2.45 "Perfect Oatmeal" Hearty, 100% whole grain oatmeal.

Jamba Juice - $1 w/ promotion/beverage purchase ($2.95-$3.25 w/o) "Slow Cooked Steel-Cut"

Le Pain Quotidien - $5.50 (varies) "Organic Steel-Cut Oatmeal with berries"

The Presentation:

Aroma's Water-Based Oatmeal with Strawberries:

Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal with Nuts:

Jamba Juice w/ Berry Topping & Brown Sugar:

Le Pain's Organic Soy Oatmeal with Fresh Berries:


Aroma - Options include a variety of fresh fruit. Asked if I wanted water or milk base. I chose water and fresh strawberries. Berries were average, fresh, but a tad soggy. vegan-friendly.
Score: 3

Starbucks - Asked if I wanted brown sugar, dried fruit or nuts. I chose the nuts. They cam in a little packet, nice flavor and quality of nuts. vegan.
Score: 4

Jamba Juice - A variety of toppings. I chose blueberry/blackberry combo. Also came with a big scoop of brown sugar. Berries had a nice taste, but they were not fresh and overall the topping was way too much and overly sweet. Ask for no brown sugar (or on the side) if you don't like 'overly sweet' oatmeal. vegan.
Score: 3.5

Le Pain Quotidien - Fresh berries is standard garnish. I add a drizzle of agave syrup which is available at the counter. Maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon would make these toppings perfect. Specified soy milk oatmeal. vegan-friendly.
Score: 4.5


Aroma - Dry, slightly mushy. Grains were visible, but the oats were flat and very sticky. Missing a nuttier texture. May be better if they used milk - but since they did not have a soy option, not possible for a vegan.
Score: 1

Aroma's Texture:

Starbucks - Reminds me of the texture I get from an instant microwave oatmeal pack. Slightly slimy and lacking hearty thick cut oats. Slightly pasty to chew. Nice and moist, however, not dry. Sticky.
Score: 2

Jamba Juice - Nice mix of nutty thick oats and moist softer oats. Bumpy texture with a proper amount of 'slow-cooked' moisture. Not slimy or mushy. Medium-light fluffiness. Nice chewiness.
Score: 4.5

Jamba Juice Close-Up:

Le Pain Quotidien - Perfect amount of moist soft oats and nutty thick-cut oats. No slime at all. Fluffy and lightest of all the oatmeal.
Score: 5

Le Pain's texture of oats, close-up:

Taste (Oats, not topping):

Aroma - Slightly salty, not sweet at all. The dry, dense texture really takes over any pleasant flavor. Bitter, grain flavor is dominant. Needed some sweetness, nuttiness and moisture, badly.
Score: 2

Starbucks - Nice caramel taste, slightly sweet/salty. A bit of a vanilla flavor. Lacking greatly in nuttiness and warmth to the flavor. Aftertaste is slightly metallic.
Score: 3

Jamba Juice - Lovely bright nuttiness. Smooth flavor. Balanced. Nuttiest flavor of the bunch.
Score: 4.5

Le Pain Quotidien - Pure nutty, rustic flavor. Balanced warm flavors which let the texture and fluffiness of the oats sing. Slight bright oat tones are reminiscent of a tapioca or custard.
Score: 4.5


Aroma - doesn't say description
Starbucks - 140 calories, 4g fiber full
Jamba Juice - 290 calories, 6g fiber full
Le Pain Quotidien - 169-190 calories menu

Taste/Texture/Topping Scores (Totaled from above - does not factor in price):

Aroma - 6
Starbucks - 9
Jamba Juice - 12.5
Le Pain Quotidien - 14

Last words:

I must say the most fascinating thing about this taste test was how I found Jamba Juice to be drastically better than Starbucks. I was quite disappointed by Aroma, and I probably will not be going back there for oatmeal - although their sandwiches/salads/bevies are fantastic. Le Pain's oatmeal was my favorite - I could really taste the natural, organic flavors and textures.

Starbucks was the biggest disappointment. There was really nothing "perfect" about that oatmeal. Although the price is right if you are desperate for a healthy, warm bite in the morning.

And if you grab a Jamba Juice oatmeal (which I recommend you give a try) be sure to tell them you want toppings on the side - or at least specify that you don't want it too sweet. If that fails, simply scoop off some of the over-done topping. The oats are impressive for a truly fast food chain.

The oatmeal that comes to the front of the line: Le Pain:

Jamba Juice
Le Pain Quotidien


Pumpkin Spice Cashew Cheese Dip. Fall Appetizer.

We usually stick pumpkin at the end of the meal, in the form of pie. But my recipe for Pumpkin Spice Cashew Cheese Dip brings pumpkin to the head of the table, as the lets get this party started opening act of your family meal, posh party or weekend chill time.

More pumpkin? More pumpkin! Actually, I'm quite enjoying myself as I nail down a few go-to pumpkin recipes early on in the season. Perfect them now, enjoy them all season long. ..And well into the holidays when go-to vegan dip recipes really come in handy!

Pumpkin is one of those warm, cozy flavors that you really can't enjoy as much in summertime. So I say, bring on the crisp air. And bring on the pumpkin recipes...

Cashew Cheese. This is another one of my baked cashew cheese recipes. You'll find a few more in my dips recipe index. Molding pumpkin into a savory-sweet "cheese" dip is a delicious way to put pumpkin at the start of the meal.

Sure, you could prepare a creamy pumpkin bisque or pumpkin-sage ravioli as a starter, but this is a true party-approved appetizer recipe. Less fuss for your pre-meal eats. Perfect for those standing-room-only gatherings...

..Place a large warm pot of this stuff on your coffee table surround it by fresh chopped veggies, crackers and bread and you are set! Pumpkin Spice Cashew Cheese Dip is cozy enough for a pajama party yet chic enough for a party dress gathering.

Fall apples and rustic grain bread dip perfectly with pumpkin..

*Hot Dip Tip* Glam it up! Want to turn this dip into a foodie-approved wow-bite? Try this: Add saffron to my recipe below. Before you add the water, boil it stove top with a few pinches of saffron. This will infuse the entire dip with a sweet, romantic flavor that everyone will be swooning over.

Why Pumpkin Cheese Dip Works. I was a little worried that this dip would taste too much like pumpkin pie, but the kick of saltiness, spices, and lemon juice really perks up the pumpkin flavor. When you bake this dip the cashews dry out the texture and the cheese 'crust' becomes nice and fluffy. This is a perfect variety of dip for people who traditionally shy away from dips because of the "mushiness" factor.

..In fact, if the word "dip" scares you off - this could also be called a pumpkin paté of sorts.

Texture. Like all my cashew cheese recipes, you can customize the texture in terms of how 'wet' or 'dry' you want it. If you want a wet dip (like the one shown in my photos). You should use a deep oven-safe bowl for the baking process. The top layer will become crusty and dry, but the layers below will stay moist and warmed.

If you like a dry cashew cheese, I suggest using a shallow oven-safe dish to bake. Spread the mixture in a thin layer and bake for a longer period of time, and possibly at a slightly higher temperature. See recipes below for temp/times estimates.

Shallow dish baking.

You can also achieve a dry texture by hanging/straining the cheese through cheese cloth for a few hours. This will definitely give you a dry style cashew cheese. Both options work - it just depends on what you crave. I did not drain my cheese this time and enjoyed both the shallow and deep bowl options delicious.

Pure Pumpkin. You can use your own fresh pumpkin puree or 100% canned, unsweetened pumpkin. If you want to use pumpkin pie mix you can (sweetener/spices/salt pre-added) - in that case, simply leave out the additional sweetener, salt and spices.

Pumpkin Spice Cashew Cheese Dip
vegan, makes 4 cups

1 can 15oz. pumpkin (unsweetened, pure)
2 cups raw cashews (soaked and drained)
1/2 cup water (use soaked nut salted water)
1/4 cup maple syrup (sweeten to taste)
2-3 Tbsp grapeseed oil (you can use olive or pumpkin seed oil as well)
1/2 tsp sea salt (salt to taste)
1/4 cup lemon juice (or orange/tangerine juice for a warmer, less zesty flavor)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cayenne (add more for extra spicy pumpkin dip)
optional: blend in additional soaked pumpkin seeds to add another layer of texture/flavor


1. Soak the raw cashews overnight in salted water. Drain, but reserve the water for use in the dip.

2. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

3. Add the drained cashews, pumpkin, maple syrup, lemon juice, oil, salt and spices to a food processor or high speed blender,

4. Add the water in a few splashes at a time. (If you are infusing the water with saffron, as I mentioned in my Hot Dip Tip, be sure to add in that step) Add more if needed. You want to process the cheese into a thick texture - a bit thicker than hummus. Process until the desired texture is reached (at least 2 minutes on high).

5. Do a taste test. Add in more spices/salt/sweetener/lemon juice as you see fit. You can also add in additional flavor changers like harissa for a smoky/spicy taste. Or crushed sage for a warm herbed flavor. Or extra black pepper for a peppery flavor. As i said above, you can also substitute the lemon juice with orange juice for a mellower, warmer flavor. I used lemon and loved it though.

6. When your flavor is perfect, pour your cheese into your baking serving dish. Sprinkle a few modest spices on top. You can also top with a few pumpkin seeds as a nice garnish. The seeds will toast up nicely in the oven. Shallow dishes will result in a firmer/drier end product. Deep dishes will keep your smooth creamy texture.

Dip poured, before baking (deep bowl):

7. For a shallow dish, bake at 250 for 50+ minutes. For the deep dish where you only want to warm the center and crisp the top you only need to bake at 250 for 20-30 minutes. The cheese dip will dry out the longer you bake it. The more you bake cashew cheese the more familiar you will get with your baking preferences.

8. Plating. Serve warm. You can also chill and firm up in the fridge if you'd like a cold pumpkin cheese dip. I enjoy both options. Serve with veggies, crackers, bread cubes. You can also add a drizzle of oil and/or maple syrup over top the final serving cheese if you'd like.

This dip will be devoured..


Panko Crispy Green Bean Fries. Just Give Veggies Luv!

Give veggies love, and they will love you back.

Of this I am certain.

Earlier today I read a timely article in the New York Times called "Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries." I squinted, furrowed my brow and a "hmmph" pouted out of my lips. Why was I not surprised by this article?

Now besides that the article's title was insinuating very poor psychology 101. (Kids and teens especially, do not like to do as they are told.) In my view, there really is a fundamental problem with the "you should be eating more veggies" mentality... It's not fun! Let's make it fun to eat veggies (even green beans)...

Green Beans = Fries. Why not...

Taking the Fun Out of Veggies. It's true, nutritional guidelines, data tables, calorie charts, finger wagging nutritionists (oh, but you know I love ya) and squinty-eyed doctors can take the fun out of food. Especially veggies. I don't want to do something because I am "supposed to". I will do something because it makes me feel better, look better, glow with energy and when it comes to food... because it tastes delicious.

Give Veggies Love... You certainly aren't going to plate some raw broccoli and call it delicious. But you can do this: toss the broccoli in some nutritional yeast and EVOO, roast for twenty minutes, toss with salt/pepper and serve = delicious! That raw broccoli just needed a bit of love to make it sing.

Or how about green beans. Raw green beans aren't exactly what I'd call 'nature's candy' - and many kids and adults have a certain stigma around them. My husband being one of those adults. He hates them. Fears them. Won't order anything at a restaurant that even references those stringy little bean creatures. But funny, green beans look a lot like... french fries. Long and thin and easy to munch. Hmm...*light bulb*

Green Beans. Love 'em or hate 'em..?

So I gave my veggies (green beans) a little love today and in my opinion they are fantastically fun, delicious and veggie-tastic. And still green beans. Eating veggies can be fun.

..you just need to add a little love...

My Panko Crispy Green Bean Fries recipe is kid and adult-bean-hater approved. Husband said "they look good!"

Eat (and enjoy) green beans...

Change Your Mind. Because once you (or your kids) see that eating veggies can be fun, fantastic and delicious, you (or they) will lose your grip on that "I don't wanna eat my veggies" balloon - and it will float far far away never to be seen again.

Change your thinking and you can change your diet, change your body and change your life.

Green Bean Fries: The Flavors. Savory nutritional yeast, bold garlic powder and a dash of paprika and cayenne give these once simply sweet green beans a zesty splash of flavor. Add some crispifying panko bread crumbs, and a light fry later your green beans are ready to grace the same plate as the most-decadent of veggie burgers. Side of green bean fries please...

Panko Crispy Green Beans Fries
vegan, makes 2 cups of "fries"

2 cups of fresh green beans, de-stemmed

Panko Crumbs (about 1/2 cup)
*Panko crumbs are light and crispier than traditional bread crumbs.

Flour/Flavor mix:
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp paprika

Sticky Liquid mixture:
1/4 cup plant milk
1/4 cup agave syrup

enough veggie oil to submerge "fries" I used canola oil - about 1+ cups

coarse sea salt (sprinkle after cooking)


1. Prep your green beans by washing them, plucking the stems and drying them well. If you want "short fries" slice them in half.

2. Prep your mixture bowls. Combine all the sticky liquid in one bowl, the flour/flavor ingredients in another and the panko crumbs in another.

Flour/Flavor Mixture:

3. Add your oil to your preferred pan, I used a medium soup pot, and turn heat to medium. Oil should be hot in about 90 seconds.

4. While oil heats, you can quickly dip and drop your first round of beans.Process: Sticky liquid, flour, panko. You may need to do a double dip if the ingredients are not sticking properly the first time. The key is to prep the beans and get them in the pan ASAP so the breadcrumbs mold and cook quickly around them. I'll admit that the process was a bit sketchy for me at first, but once you find a process you like the ingredients will adhere and your beans will come out crisp and golden.

5. Drop your dipped beans and cook for about 30-45 seconds. When they crumbs turn golden, they are done.

6. Pull the beans with a strainer or slotted spatula and rest them on a paper towel.

7. Continue with your 2 cups of beans.

8. Toss bean fries with sea salt and maybe a bit more of the nutritional yeast.

9. Serve warm with spicy mustard. Enjoy!


Inspired Breakfast Risotto. Arborio Rice, Citrus, Figs.

Risotto is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Accent it with butternut squash, peas, mushrooms and just about anything and I will come running to the table. So when I saw a recipe by Joe Bastianich featuring Breakfast Soy Milk-Arborio Rice Pudding and Poached Figs - I swooned. And planned on making the next day..

My Recipe Spin. I took Joe's awesome already-vegan recipe and made a few subtle changes. I subbed the soy milk with almond milk. I added some whole almonds. Switched up the splash of 'port' to 'sake' (since that's what I had on hand) for the poached figs recipe. Plus I added in some cinnamon and swapped the honey for my fave grade B maple syrup. The results of my Almond Arborio Breakfast Porridge with "Sake Citrus" Poached Figs: glorious! I ate two bowls. Thank you Joe!

Get the vegan recipe and learn more about why I'm a JB fan...

My attempt at poaching figs:

The Flavors. Sweet, tender figs dance with crunchy roasted almonds - all over top steamy, moist, creamy (yet dairy-free) arborio rice pudding/porridge/risotto. Whatever you call it, it is fabulous. And totally acceptable for breakfast. Fiber, complex carbs, protein from the rice and almond milk/almonds. Accented with warm layers of vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and maple syrup. Love. this. recipe.

Meet Joe (Again). My favorite thing about the world of food is exploring the people behind the dishes. Behind the recipes. Behind the food blogs. Behind the restaurants. Or in Joe Bastianich's case behind the foodie mega-brands.

You may know Joe Bastianich as Lidia's son. You know, "Lidia's Italy". Or you may know him from his recent foray into foodie reality television as a judge on Fox's MasterChef, along side Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot. His family's Bastianich brand also just launched Eataly NYC with Mario Batali.

What you may not know is that JB used to be 60 pounds overweight. And that he is now a devoted runner and all around athlete.

I get so excited about fit Chefs. There is nothing better than a Chef who is totally passionate about cooking, eating and staying fit.

Joe Bastianich Photo from Runner's World (credit: Michael Lavine and Antonis Achilleos)..

"He's a dedicated runner who finds time (in the morning usually) to run up to 10 miles a day. Although he started running just four years ago, he's completed the New York City Marathon twice and the Los Angeles Marathon once. " - Runner's World article (link below).

So how did Joe get so fantastically fit? Well he slimmed down without giving up his favorite foods, including pasta. He also loves and speaks very highly of a few of my faves: beans and veggies. Read about his love of beans here.

Runner's World Spotlight. After reading this fantastic article in Runner's World about JB's healthy lifestyle I was inspired to reconnect to my Italian roots. And why not start by whipping up some arborio rice with luscious figs for breakfast? Yum and yum.

Here is JB's Arborio recipe posted online at Food and Wine Magazine's website.

Want more JB recipes? There are some fantastic recipes (many vegan) linked from the Runner's World article.

More links... Joe on twitter. The Winery: Bastianich.com

And now onto the yummy recipe!!..

Steamy Arborio Rice Cooked for Breakfast! Nice change from oatmeal..

Then add some Poached Figs and voila! elegant, delicious, healthy breakfast..

I Love Figs:

Almond Arborio Breakfast Porridge with "Sake Citrus" Poached Figs
recipe inspired by Joe Bastianich's Soy Milk–Arborio Rice Pudding with Poached Figs
vegan, makes about 4-5 cups 'risotto'

8 ounces Arborio Rice
2 cups water
1 tsp EVOO
3-4 cups vanilla almond milk
2-3 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted roasted almonds

"Sake Citrus" Poached Figs
10 figs, whole
1 cup water
splash of sake
2 thick orange peel slices
a few whole cloves (I used 4)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp orange juice (optional)
1 bay leaf


1. Begin by poaching your figs. Add all the ingredients (except figs) to a skillet over medium heat. Dissolve sugar and bring to a slow boil. Add in figs, stem-side-up. Simmer until tender, about 1 minutes for me. Note: At first, I quartered my figs and sauteed them. This allowed them to cook quickly, but they were slightly mushy. Either way will work - but keeping the figs whole will allow the skins to stay in tact - as opposed to falling apart a bit.

2. While you figs are poaching you can get started on your rice. In a large saucepan or soup pot add in your water, EVOO and salt. Bring to a boil - high heat. Add in your rice and stir continuously until most of the water is absorbed - reduce to medium heat. Low boil for about 15 minutes.

Water-Cooked Arborio...

Next up is adding the almond milk to intensify the 'creaminess'..

3. Next add in your almond milk (still stirring continuously) about 1/2 cup at a time until it is absorbed. Repeat until all the almond milk is used up.

4. Next reduce heat to low and fold in your maple syrup, vanilla extract, almonds and cinnamon.

5. Add in another splash of almond milk if you like your porridge 'wet'.

6. Spoon porridge into a bowl and garnish with the poached figs and a splash of the fig syrup. Add a few slivers of the orange peel and some additional almond on top.

7. Serve warm. Store leftovers in the fridge and reheat in microwave.