Andrea is the veggie lover behind “Dabbling Chef“, a food blog full of healthy recipes, from vegan to vegetarian, Paleo and Whole30. She is also a mother of three, a plant-based chef and you may have already seen her live videos on Facebook where she shows us the entire process behind her recipes, right from her favorite spot: the kitchen!
Andrea is always an inspiration for me and that’s why I want to share her story with you today, in a detailed interview about eating habits, diets, cooking and how to take care of our bodies and health. Plus, she’s part Romanian! 🙂
We’ll also start a collaboration soon, as she’s all in for meal planning and meal prepping, so stay tuned!
Go ahead and read this interview and don’t forget to visit Dabbling Chef for some healthy recipe inspiration!
P.S. Want to read more interviews with my favorite bloggers? Check out Veggie Stories!
We know that you don’t actually subscribe to any specific diet religiously and that you rather listen to your body and allow yourself to make mistakes here and there. How do your daily meals look like and how much of your diet is plant-based?
I personally define „plant-based” as a plant-forward diet. So while I’m not 100% vegan, all my meals are veggies first, which means I plan meals around the vegetables as the center. I think of meat as more of a garnish – this saves a lot of money too and still helps contribute to less meat intake overall.
On a typical day, I eat vegan for breakfast and lunch – this is a strategy that has helped me significantly through to years to maintain my weight after having 3 kids, and it makes my body feel great (more energy and less bloating – I’ll take that any chance I can get!). For dinner, we usually have a mix of vegetables, proteins and whole grains.
I prefer fish over red meat, but when we do eat either, I try to buy the best quality possible, like wild-caught fish or grass-fed, organic meats. The mentality of meat as a garnish allows you to splurge more on the best quality because you don’t need to buy as much of it.
I’ve learned techniques to really stretch the meals to feed the entire family with, say, one roasted chicken for the week. I call this a „miracle chicken” where I can make it last almost all week long in a variety of recipes, like tacos, for example, and then bone broth. This is more like the way my grandparents used to eat, so it feels close to home.
When and how did you discover your passion for cooking?
I’ve loved to cook for as long as I can remember. I used to come home every day after school and watch „Great Chefs, Great Cities” and then try to mimic the recipes. I remember one time I made onion soup for my parents and their friends, but I’m pretty sure it was just onions and water and some spices. I was so proud when I served it.
Looking back, they probably had to pretend to like it! That feeling of preparing something special for your loved ones never gets old – I was instantly hooked (and now I make a real French Onion Soup that actually tastes delicious!).
From vegan, vegetarian, Paleo and Whole30-friendly recipes to party food and desserts, Dabbling Chef inspires us to try healthy and easy recipes perfect for the entire family. What’s the story behind your blog and how it all started?
I started my blog 10 years ago as a place where I could share my favorite recipes and the small tweaks I’d make to existing recipes to make them healthier. It was more of a personal recipe box in the beginning, but I enjoyed writing and cooking so much that I kept it going as a passion project throughout the years while working full time in advertising.
It wasn’t until I had my second child that I realized there was a need for easy, healthy, family-friendly recipes, so I decided to take it to the next level and get certified as a plant-based chef and recipe developer. I wanted to learn how to create reliable recipes for busy moms to help ease the stress of putting dinner on the table, so it’s amazing to see how it’s evolved from a personal blog to a community.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement since you started Dabbling Chef?
Hands down, all the people I’ve met through the process. It was scary when I first decided to quit my job in advertising to be home with the kids and pursue a food career. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the community of friends and followers I met along the way.
The live videos, in particular, shifted the conversation from a one-way blog post to a fun, interactive cooking experience where it felt like friends gathered together in the kitchen while I shared a recipe. The only thing missing is the chance to actually sit together and eat together, but I love that we can do so virtually and make friends, share recipes and exchange cultural dishes with people all over the world.
How did you come up with the name for your blog? Why “dabbling”?
The original idea behind the name is based on the fact that I wasn’t a trained chef when I started my blog. I was just “dabbling” in the kitchen by trying out new recipes and putting my own spin on them. You don’t have to be a chef to put good food on the table for your family, but you can have fun in the process, learn and experiment and see what works best for your family’s needs. Hence, the „dabbling”.
Over the years, the meaning of the name has evolved to represent the different styles of cooking and diets I’ve „dabbled” in before finding what works best for my body. I want others to know it’s ok to dabble – we are all learning and growing in our health as well as our culinary journey. Trial and error is part of the fun! It makes healthy cooking a lot less intimidating when you embrace the idea that you can dabble a little here and there with delicious results.
Even if you make mistakes along the way, that’s the best way to learn. I want healthy food to be inviting and approachable for those of us who aren’t ready to commit to a single way of eating or willing to spend all day in the kitchen cooking complicated recipes.
What are the most important things you learned along the way after you decided to start taking care of your body and iron deficiency and start those plant-based cooking courses?
I learned that everybody is different and not one single diet works for everyone. It’s so important to listen to your body, but in order to do so, you have to first eliminate some of the noise. We think our body craves certain things because of habit or custom or things we were told growing up, but in order to truly know what’s right for you as an individual, you have to (at least temporarily) eliminate the processed foods and sugars that cloud your ability to know what your body needs.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s so worthwhile. You’ll gain clarity on so many levels. I also learned it’s really important to be in tune with your body so you don’t just jump on the next diet trend. It gives you a moment of pause to say, well, I know cashews make me breakout and sometimes even give me cold sores, so I’m not going to eat them at every meal even if they are some miracle ingredient (they are pretty amazing, but they do affect my skin and lips so I learned that the hard way!).
Eliminating processed foods and sugars for even 1 week, while truly being mindful of the way you eat will give you amazing results. You’ll feel great, your sugar cravings will fade, and you’ll notice that many of our eating habits are just that – habit. Habits can be changed. So much of our diet is mindfulness and mindset, not just the foods we choose to eat. Shifting your mindset to reach for vegetables first when you’re hungry will make a huge difference for your long-term health and wellbeing.
You’re a mother of 3, a blogger, a writer, creative director and plant-based chef that enchants us with bi-weekly live videos from the kitchen. How do you manage to make all these and still have some time for yourself and your family?
I don’t watch TV. I know it sounds impossible, but it’s true. At least not during the day. I only watch a little TV at night with my husband after the kids are asleep. Otherwise, during the day, the TV is off, and I’m focused on what needs to get done. I know my time is limited so I do my best to make the most of it.
In the morning, I take a few minutes to sketch out my day down to the hour. This has helped me stay focused and productive. Ultimately, my goal is to be truly present with my kids. These days, being 100% present in the moment is such a simple yet priceless gift we can give to each other.
When it’s time to be with my kids, I put everything else (especially technology) far away so I can just enjoy my time with them.
Do you practice meal planning? What do you think of it?
Practice is a good word. I feel like I’m still practicing and have yet to master meal planning. One thing I’ve always loved is to simply go to the farmer’s market and pick out a bunch of random fruits and vegetables that catch my eye.
My menu for the week evolves from there. My biggest struggle with meal planning is in the over planning. I don’t necessarily want to plan to cook a new recipe each day of the week, but I want to have recipes that guide me on how to use up the fresh produce in my fridge. That’s what I loved about your program.
My dream is to empower people to meal plan in a similar way – shop for fresh fruits and vegetables and then know how to use those foods to put a delicious meal together for their family. It takes practice, but it’s a skill that will help you put dinner on the table for years to come.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to someone who wants to make a change and eat more plant-based meals?
First, I’d say to be proud of yourself for taking the first step towards a healthier lifestyle, it’s exciting when someone is ready to make a change and looking for a guide. Then, I’d say to get ready to be shocked at how flavorful plant-based meals are.
The true mark of a chef or recipe developer is in how they cook their vegetables – why? Because that’s when we truly have the opportunity to get those ingredients to shine. Flavors and taste buds will rejoice. In terms of advice 1) give up the processed food first. It will make the transition easier.
Start eating real food as close to nature as possible and buy fewer things that come in a box. Your grocery bill will be cheaper too, even though it doesn’t seem like it would be. 2) Make a list of vegetables you’d like to try roasted and a list of vegetables you like to eat raw.
Many vegetables can be sliced and roasted simply with a little avocado oil, salt, and pepper and cooked at 375 until softened. Pre-slicing things like carrots and celery, peppers or cucumbers to keep in the fridge (at eye level) is an easy way to make sure you reach for vegetables first when hungry.
It only takes a few minutes of prep and your snacks are basically done! 3) Learn to make a classic vinaigrette and have a big green salad with every dinner. A classic vinaigrette is basically 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (any kind of vinegar will do or fresh lemon juice works too).
My go-to is fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of hummus or dijon mustard and salt and pepper. If you’re feeling fancy, some minced garlic and fresh herbs too. Mastering a delicious dressing will make any salad better. Plus, we need some healthy fats to better absorb the nutrients from the veggies!
Favorite fruit and favorite vegetable in the world?
Avocado and avocado and avocado. Is there anything else? 😉
What are the top 3 most popular recipes on your blog?
I’d say my Vegan Mac and Cheese, Vegan Pot Pie and Thai Curry Noodles. But the videos are a little different. The most popular video I ever did was a challenge – can I make banana bread in 60 seconds or less (I came close!), the recipe was a Paleo, Grain-free Banana Bread and the video had over 15k live viewers!
My most popular recipes on Instagram always seem to involve super melty chocolate or a funny caption along with super melty chocolate. The Chocolate Beet Cookies, for example, are also popular because of the hidden veggie + melty chocolate.
And your top 3 favorite recipes ever that you’re always eager to make?
My husband and I love curry, so we’re always craving it. I make a simple curry sauce that goes with pretty much any vegetables. That’s one of our personal go-to dinners. We also love pesto. It sounds so simple, but sauces like pesto always make me feel like a chef.
I’ll whip together a quick basil and arugula pesto and serve it over a mix of zucchini noodles and spinach tagliatelle pasta. That’s one of our favorite dinners, even though it’s so basic. And finally, banana bread. I have so many banana bread recipes yet I’m always experimenting (aka dabbling) 😉 because it’s just one of my favorite things to make and eat.