Work

Feeding the Firebelly

Jan 04, 2019 – by Emily

Food is love. What better way to show we care than with food? We offer it in times of need: to new neighbors, to the sick, to parents of newborn babies. We gather over meals in the midst of grief and celebration alike. And we reconnect at the end of a long day of work or school around the table with our loved ones.  

Here at Firebelly it’s my job to cook freshly-made lunches to our staff (and sometimes clients and lucky visitors including my 8-year old on occasion) every day. Free meals made by an in-house chef is a unique perk for a company of our size, so why do we do it? From a practical perspective, feeding our employees saves them time and money and takes a basic need off their plate, freeing them to do their best work. It’s a way to care for the whole person. On a deeper level, sharing our midday meal together brings us closer. It makes us more of a family. And when we invite clients and guests to our table, they too become part of our Firebelly family.

Folks here occupy a wide spectrum of dietary choices: omnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, vegan, gluten-free, mushroom-free, even raw onion intolerant. To accommodate everyone, the meals I make are always vegetarian with a vegan option (with offending mushrooms, raw onions, etc on the side). I’ve found even the most passionate of carnivores can enjoy a plant-based meal, but you can’t flip it and expect everyone to be happy.

Cornmeal crusted tofu po' boys

I am not vegan or even vegetarian, but my culinary values and skills align with what I get to do in the Firebelly kitchen every week: whole foods, lots of vegetables and everything from scratch. I love learning new culinary techniques and tricks, and vegan cuisine is chock full of them. For instance, I had never made seitan, vegan ricotta, vegan peanut butter cookies or cashew sauce before coming here. Now not only are they staples in the Firebelly lineup, I make them at home for my family as well.

Mongolian "beef"

I get a lot of questions about how I put together the weekly menus. Planning daily meals for 17 people can be a juggling act, so I made some tools and strategies to help me. Spreadsheets organize and track everything: ingredients I’ve stockpiled, who’s in the office on any given day and a calendar of every meal I’ve ever cooked here. I try to rotate the star ingredients and mix up flavors and cuisines so we aren’t having Mexican three days in a row or tofu in every meal for a week. Sometimes I have to switch it up when my grocery delivery is late or subs the wrong ingredient, but that’s part of the fun of cooking—being creative and adapting.

Squash soup

For inspiration there’s an ever-changing stack of cookbooks on my desk. Veganomicon, Food 52 Vegan and the Moosewood cookbooks are some of my favorites. I very rarely follow a recipe exactly—I use them as a starting point to tweak and edit to make something that is my own. But if I’m in a slump I flip through the pages and usually find something new or a reminder to bring back an ingredient I haven’t used in a while. I also flip through plenty of non-vegan cookbooks for recipes I can imagine veganizing, as well as restaurant menus and of course, the internet. Culinary inspiration is everywhere if you are open to it.

I feel incredibly lucky to be the person feeding the Firebelly—it’s the perfect way to express appreciation for my colleagues. And I’ve noticed how everyone responds to eating a homemade meal together. There’s an emotional connection when someone puts the energy, thought and time into providing you with delicious sustenance. And when you eat a meal with your coworkers, you can’t help but grow closer. Every day we sit around the kitchen island, taking a break from client work to talk about our lives and share stories as we break bread and serve each other seconds. That’s the magic of food: you put love into it and it makes more love.

Hungry? You can see everything we ate on our Feeding the Firebelly Instagram account.

Vegan Peanuttiest Peanut Butter Birthday Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 12 minutes

If you are lucky enough to work at Firebelly, you get to choose which kind of freshly baked vegan cookies to have on your birthday. This recipe is one of our favorites.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups dry roasted unsalted peanuts, divided (dry roasted is important for a super peanutty flavor!)
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-natural peanut butter, room temp
  • ½ cup vegan butter, room temp (I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk (or any other non-dairy milk you like)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (you may also use vanilla almond milk and omit the extract)
  • flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roughly chop 1 cup of the peanuts - you want varying sizes of peanut chunks, including some whole nuts for the peanuttiest texture and flavor.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream together the peanut butter, butter and both sugars until smooth. I use a rubber spatula and press the mixture against the side of the bowl to incorporate it thoroughly but you could use an electric hand mixer or Kitchenaid for this step if it pleases you. Add the almond milk and vanilla (you could also just use vanilla flavored almond milk and omit the vanilla extract) and stir thoroughly to combine. Next add the dry ingredients, one third at a time, folding with a rubber spatula. Once all of the flour is incorporated, fold in the peanuts.

Using a tablespoon, portion the dough into 1 tbsp portions and roll with your hands balls. Space the soon-to-be cookies two inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet and press each ball down slightly with your palm to flatten. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and press an extra peanut or two on top if you’re feeling extra nutty.

Bake the cookies for 12 minutes until the cookies look dry and the edges just barely start to brown, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes before removing from the sheet pan.

Enjoy these warm love filled cookies with your colleagues, friends and family within 3-4 days, if they last that long.

Tip: You can freeze the slightly flattened balls of dough for the future and bake straight from the freezer! Just add a minute or two to your baking time!