Conversation with a Food Blogger: hot for food
In this column, we're interviewing the tastemakers, foodies and chefs that are dominating the web. This week: Lauren Toyota & John Diemer from hot for food.
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Van Halen may have been “hot for teacher” but Lauren and John are hot for food…as long as it’s vegan of course. Together, this couple is cooking up drool-worthy dishes that we can’t believe are meat- and dairy-free. They also have a knack for recreating popular recipes like mac and cheese, burgers, caesar salad, and even cheesecake, bringing plant-based cooking back to mainstream and proving that a vegan diet is far from boring. But we think the proof is in the pudding; hot for food launched in February 2014 and attracted nearly 10,000 visitors the first week. With numbers like that, we couldn’t resist having both Lauren and John join the Clean Eating family, and they now produce a monthly Clean Living column for the magazine, featuring homemade household and beauty products. But, their recipes are just as good. Just try their Cauliflower Buffalo Wings.
If you could describe your blog in three words what would they be?
Vegan, comfort and food
Why are you so passionate about eating vegan?
I just think it’s truly the cleanest way to eat and live. The changes I’ve experienced not just physically but emotionally and spiritually by making this lifestyle change are profound and positive. I want everyone to have that experience.
What is your favorite meal of the day?
All of them! But usually dinner is when I get my real cooking chops out so I have the most fun with that.
What’s an ingredient that you just can’t live without?
Nutritional Yeast is a must for a vegan. It’s a B12 supplement but it also helps a lot in terms of achieving “cheese” like flavours in vegan cooking.
This year I plan on eating more?
Seasonally. I think when you do a blog it definitely helps to stay in season more because you want to play to what’s available produce wise, but with so much variety at a grocery store nowadays, it’s something I forget to keep in mind. You know, asking myself “where did this come from and should I really be eating it at this time of year?”
I think everything tastes better with?
Herbs and spices
Where is your favorite place to shop for ingredients?
A local market in Kensington in Toronto called Essence of Life. They have everything a vegan cook needs and it’s well priced!
What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
Cookbook you can’t live without?
I actually don’t ever use cookbooks. So the internet, I guess? I check google if I don’t know how long something should bake or for finding something like the easiest way to cut a grapefruit. Little cooking hacks.
You’re a popular food blogger with thousands of followers. Is there a food blog that YOU follow?
I’ll follow a blog mainly for photography and I love the look of Green Kitchen Stories.
Who would you consider a culinary icon?
I’ve been a fan of Tal Ronnen since becoming vegan. He helped me “see the light” in my vegan journey.
Favorite guilty pleasure?
Favorite late-night snack?
What are the biggest challenges and greatest rewards of being a food blogger?
The main challenge is to stay motivated when you realize that everything has basically been done and there are so many food blogs out there. You sometimes think “how on earth am I supposed to get noticed or make a living from this.” But that’s also the rewarding thing because there’s an amazing community to be part of. It’s also very rewarding when people give you feedback on your content. They loved the recipe or it was a huge hit with their dinner guests or family members. We like hearing those things and that reminds me that we’re doing something good and changing the way people look at food and the vegan lifestyle.
What’s one piece of cooking advice you’d like to share with our readers?
Just cook. I feel like I’m always battling people who are reluctant to cook, think they’re not good at it or are lazy. It’s not hard and you just have to do it even if you’re afraid. The failures are how you learn and you get better every time you make something.
Do you have any recipes that stand out for being epic fails?
To be honest, most of the big cooking fails happened before I was a blogger and before I was vegan. I found baking difficult with butter, eggs, etc. Baking as a vegan has been so much easier and much more intuitive rather than scientific. When I do fail at creating recipes for the blog it’s usually that I’ve left something in the oven or on the stove too long, and it burns. I think I can multi-task in the kitchen because I have so many things to manage as a blogger, but you can’t! You have to focus on the recipe!
What’s next in your career?
The main focus right now is creating YouTube content for both: hot for food, and my personal channel: LaurenToyota. This is what I love doing because it draws on my skills as a blogger and cook, but also as a former tv host and producer. I want to really grow on that platform and be able to basically run my own production company.
Finally, can you share one of your favorite recipes?
One of my favorite recipes is our vegan mac & cheese. The sauce is made from cashews and it always seems to be a hit with people who aren’t vegan. That’s always what I’m going for!
Vegan Mac & Cheese (Vegan, Gluten free option)
- 3 cups uncooked macaroni noodles
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 3/4 cups raw cashews (soaked for 3 hours or overnight)
- 1 1/2 cups almond milk
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp miso paste
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tsp arrowroot flour (can sub tapioca flour)
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 pkg daiya jack style wedge (optional)
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tbsp go veggie! Parmesan topping (optional)
- In a large pot, bring pasta water to a boil with 1/4 tsp of sea salt and cook the pasta to al dente. Meanwhile make your sauce.
- Place all the sauce ingredients in a vitamix or high-powered blender and blend until smooth.
- Don’t cook your pasta all the way. It should be cooked just before al dente – still firm as it will still cook in the oven. Drain the water and pour the pasta into a 9 x 9 baking dish. Then take 1/2 the daiya jack style wedge and cut it into cubes. Toss those into the pasta and add all of the sauce and stir to coat all the noodles. It will seem a bit liquidy but the arrowroot flour will thicken everything in the oven.
- Cover your dish with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes at 325 F.
- Mix the breadcrumbs with the dried herbs and Parmesan in a bowl and set aside.
- When the mac & cheese has baked for 20 minutes then remove it from the oven. Uncover it and add the breadcrumb mixture evenly on top and bake uncovered for another 10-15 minutes until the inside is bubbling and the top is brown.
Tip: you could stir in chopped kale, broccoli florets, sundried tomatoes, or vegan ground beef.
Check out Alexis Nilsen’s blog Cow Crumbs where she is proving one recipe at a time that gluten-free can be so much more than rice flour and tapioca starch.