Author and founder of YumUniverse Heather Crosby talks to us about her latest book as well as cooking healthy and delicious plant based meals
For someone who describes herself as a former ‘veggie-phobe’, Heather Crosby sure knows how to put a delicious plant based plate together. The blogger and author says she approaches food ‘through a creative lens’ – and her flair for flavour is evident in her dishes.
Heather’s new book, Yumniverse Pantry to Plate, was conceived with a simple but brilliant goal – to inspire people to create healthy but tasty dishes night after night in their own home. The twist? The recipes are customisable, meaning you can build an almost infinite amount of meals with the food in your pantry.
Congratulations on your book. You’ve created a really vibrant, exciting, and tempting book, stuffed with delicious recipes and really enticing photography. Is this something that takes a lot of work?
Thank you so much. It sure does take a lot of work. No doubt about it.
What cuisines influence you?
I’m inspired by so many cuisines, but as far as my personal menu rotation goes, I’d say Latin flavors, Asian, Indian, and classic American comfort-food rule most choices.
Who inspires your cooking style in terms of chefs?
On a day-to-day basis at home, I like to keep it real with one-pot, quick, well-rounded meals. I use what I have on hand and go with what my food mood dictates to create a dish that simply makes me happy.
When entertaining, I enjoy choosing a theme and pushing the boundaries of that theme creatively. My everyday style comes from my heart and my memories, but when it comes to Chefs I admire and have enjoyed learning about, I’d say Grant Achatz and Dominique Crenn. I’m also crazy for the experience that Magnus Nilsson has created in remote, snow-covered Sweden (I obviously watch Chef’s Table). I often think of him when I daydream about opening a special, experience-based restaurant in my small, West Virginia town.
How do you approach creating a new dish? If you are trying to ‘veganise’ an old classic, do you adopt quite a scientific process?
I’m a curious person, and am also really energised by trying something out of the box to see if it works—success or failure being the outcome. Both are lessons learned and inform what’s next. My heart and tastebuds are my guides, unless it’s baking, then a little bit of that science and alchemy are involved.
When you were compiling the book, how did you decide what recipes went in there?
I first started by defining the 30 recipe templates for the foods we love to eat like veggie burgers, ice cream, fries, and cookies—the real staple foods. Then I created an outline to make sure I represented a variety of ingredients and techniques with the recipes so they truly showed what was possible for the reader to create at home based on those templates. Sometimes the ingredients I found at the time informed the recipe (Loaded Cherry Pie Ice Cream), sometimes tradition and nostalgia did (Sriracha Mac), sometimes curiosity and risk taking (hello, Blueberry Balsamic Nice Cream) led the way. I like to keep things open and let instinct guide me a lot of the time—it’s there for a reason.
What are your favourite recipes from the book?
Now this is a tough question. I’d say the Earl Grey & Strawberry Granola, Sweet Potato Muffins, Carrot & Cauliflower Tots, Mushroom & Sage Lasagna, Pesto Panzanella Salad, Dynamite Mushroom Maki, “Red Velvet” Peppermint-Choco Chip Cookies, and Bourbon Salted Chocolate-Pecan Cluster Nice Cream would be a great place to start.
If someone starting out as a vegan thinks it’s too complicated to make vegan food – or bland, what general piece of cooking advice would you give them?
Take baby steps and get real with yourself. Change can be difficult for many but if your reasons for wanting change are solid, they can give you strength to go for it. We all come to the table with a varied lifetime of habits, tradition, memories, and dietary needs. So, simply choose one recipe that looks good to you (and maybe has one ingredient that is easy to find, but it’s something you don’t eat that often) and add that to the menu rotation. Small changes can mean just as much as the big ones. Layer on small ones until they compound. Once you are comfortable with one addition, add one more and keep going until the good stuff starts to replace the not so good stuff in your food and wellness routine. Change takes time, respect that. If you rush it, you may miss all the lessons and details that build a solid, new foundation for a lifetime.
And I can guarantee you, nothing out of Pantry to Plate is “bland!” So start there. The templates help readers create comforting, health-booster versions of what they like to eat, from what they have, right now. So don’t wait—there is NO “perfect time”. Perfection seeking is a form of procrastination. Just try one thing. Now.
Is there anything you’d like to add to that?
I grew up eating convenient comfort food and sweets. When I had to change my diet, I didn’t want to give up delicious, creamy, decadence, but I also didn’t want to compromise my health or feel terrible anymore. I simply had to get creative and put in the effort to prepare, which wasn’t that bad at all after I got over the initial ‘I’m too busy’ resistance (excuses). It’s actually kinda meditative to prepare foods for the week. Plant-based recipes have come a long way, too, so enjoy it. Find what makes you excited and inspires you to action because healthy choices shouldn’t be about deprivation. Plant-based foods offer so much more variety of flavor, texture, and fun than the handful of staple foods that end up on dinner plates in most homes. Be curious. That’s how we learn, grow, and thrive.