Tag Archives: food

Summer is almost here!

26 May

I can almost feel it. We’ve had quite a few warm sunny days and LOTS of spring rainy days, but I think summer is just around the corner.

Most of my vegetable garden is planted, although the wild turkeys that visit my yard every day have decided this year that my garden is nice place to stop for a snack! About a week ago I went out to check on it and they had walked all over in my raised beds and rooted through the dirt, kicking a lot of it out of the wood frame. I don’t know if they’re eating the seeds I planted or looking for worms, but what a mess. Unfortunately, most of the seeds had been in the ground for only a week, so they hadn’t sprouted yet and I can’t tell if seeds are missing or if they will still be coming up. I’m going to have to wait a little while and then try to determine what’s left. I’m sure I will be replanting many things.

I did notice the lettuce was sprouting, which is a good thing because I have recently turned into the salad queen! For some reason, I’m finding it necessary to have a salad every day. I guess that’s a good thing! I can’t wait for all the delicious fresh veggies coming soon. (See below for my latest salad addiction.)

Because I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks, I wanted to share a few things I’ve enjoyed recently.

On Mother’s Day, we all went to my in-laws for dinner. She, of course, made a wonderful dinner, but — the dessert was insanely simple and insanely satisfying. These were called Berry Dessert Nachos. I don’t have the recipe (which came from a diabetic cookbook of hers), but basically you build nachos out of dessert items. For the base, she took whole wheat flour tortillas and brushed them with melted butter. They were sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and baked until they became crispy chips. Those went into the bottom of the bowl. On top of that were all kinds of fresh berries — strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. This was all topped with a sort of sweet sour cream mixture. I’m not sure what was in it, but I think a scoop of vanilla yogurt or vegan ice cream would be just right. And then — just to blow your mind! — she sprinkled on toasted almonds and shaved a bar of dark chocolate over that. Absolutely delicious and not at all bad for you.

One of the people I most refer to for what I should be eating is cookbook author Mark Bittman. I borrowed his latest book from the library — “The Food Matters Cookbook.” (If you haven’t read his book, “Food Matters,” definitely put it on your to-read-soon list!) Last week, I made one of his new recipes, Skillet Tamales. It’s a casserole with all the flavors of tamales. The finished dish was really good and the whole family enjoyed it. I had a little trouble mixing up his corn bread topping, even though I followed the recipe exactly. In the end, it came out okay and I will probably make this again, but I need to work on the topping a little. Anyway, check out this picture of total yumminess. I topped mine with guacamole. Jason and the kids garnished theirs with shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa.

Do you ever make something to eat and then you sort of become obsessed with it? Like, you eat it for days and days and days and you keep making it all the time until you get burned out? Um…I do this pretty often. For a long time, my favorite homemade lunch was a whole wheat tortilla spread with hummus and then piled up with any kind of salad ingredients I had. I’d roll it into a wrap and enjoy. I still have those once in a while, but I went for months eating that almost every day! Well, my latest lunch addiction is Taco Salad. I made this up off the top of my head one day and now I eat it pretty often — sometimes with the vegan “chicken” and sometimes with black beans. Sometimes with guacamole and most times without. It’s so satisfying! Plus, it makes a huge plateful and is only about 300 calories.

VEGAN TACO SALAD
makes 1 serving

1 vegan “chicken” breast, thinly sliced or chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons salsa, divided
2 cups mixed greens
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/3 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
1 green onion, sliced
2 tablespoons Newman’s Own Corn & Black Bean Salsa (addictive!!!)
1 corn tortilla, baked until crispy

Spray a small skillet with nonstick cooking spray and add the oil. Over medium heat, saute the “chicken” pieces until lightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon of salsa and stir to coat all pieces. Sprinkle with ground cumin, if desired.

Spread out the lettuce on a large plate. Drizzle with lime juice and toss to coat the lettuce. Layer on the corn kernels, grape tomatoes, green onions, and Newman’s Own Corn & Black Bean Salsa. Top with the “chicken” and the remaining salsa. Crumble the corn tortilla over all and enjoy!

Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.

28 Apr

I am just back from a long Easter weekend in North Carolina. We stayed with my parents for 5 days and had a wonderful time. The warm weather and sunshine were such a welcome change from the cold, rainy days we’ve been dealing with here in Michigan.

I came home refreshed…and inspired.

While in North Carolina, I saw a poster in a store window that said “Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.” I thought it was so perfect. I know it refers to everything consumers spend their money on — not just food. But, of all the things I’ve learned over the last 16 months or so since I started this journey, trying to buy locally-made or locally-grown products as often as possible is the one that’s the easiest for me to incorporate into my daily life. I know it’s not always feasible to buy local goods…hey, I’m on a budget! But when it comes to food, I can’t stress enough how smart it is to really know where your food comes from, know your farmer personally, grow your own vegetables or support your local farmer’s market, and shop at smaller family stores instead of the big box stores whenever you can. Not only does this almost guarantee your food is safer, tastier and healthier, it also provides financial support to your own neighborhood. Now that’s inspiring.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, my mom is a fantastic chef. I always enjoy her cooking and our discussions about food, cooking and health. My Easter dinner was SO good. While the omnivores in my family dined on grilled pork, I devoured marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms. The side dishes were all vegan –- oven-roasted vegetables, grilled asparagus and a wonderful chopped salad with toasted almonds and chai vinaigrette.

While in Asheville on Monday, we had a fabulous lunch at Rezaz Mediterranean Restaurant. (I should have taken a picture!) We started with an appetizer of polenta fries with their housemade tomato jam (a sort of chunky sweet catsup). Honestly, I could think of a hundred things to slather that tomato jam onto! It was that good. My meal was a fat little potato cake topped with a green olive tapenade. On one side of this was a fresh arugula salad. On the other side were four thin slices of grilled ahi tuna. Then the whole plate was lightly drizzled with an orange vinaigrette. After lunch, we shopped some more and came home with 3-4 new cookbooks each. That gets me inspired!

Speaking of inspiring…I consider my dad the king of all things house-related. He’s a builder, woodworker, tile layer, painter, wallpaper hanger, upholsterer, deck designer, plumber, and master of just about everything under the sun. Honestly, my dad can do anything! His latest project is a restaurant in downtown Waynesville, NC, where they live. The owner/executive chef bought an existing restaurant building but is basically gutting the whole place and starting fresh — using local products such as reclaimed barn siding, tin panels and other materials. My dad has been working on this project for months. We got to tour the construction site while there and meet the owner/executive chef. His name is Kaighn Raymond and he, too, is an inspiration.

The name of his restaurant is Frogs Leap Public House. It will be a farm-to-table restaurant meaning they will focus on locally-grown, sustainably-farmed organic foods, which will then be transformed into amazing regional dishes. He’s planning to have a seasonal menu that will feature the freshest produce from local farmer’s markets and farms. I got to talk with him as we toured the place and I absolutely cannot wait to eat there! It looks like the grand opening will be in June, but I’m not sure we’ll get back down there before fall.

If you want to know more about Frogs Leap Public House, check out their website at http://frogsleappublichouse.org or “Like” their Facebook page. I left the restaurant…inspired.

So inspired, in fact, that I already have several new recipes on the menu for next week. Recipes and photos to follow, so stay tuned!

Oh, and put your money where your heart is!

Can you be vegan-ish?

5 Apr

I think that’s what I have to start referring to myself as. Vegan-ish. Not 100%, but mostly vegan.

I’m still making the majority of my meals vegan. But I do eat eggs a couple of times a week (fresh from happy chickens at a home in my neighborhood). I have, on occasion, enjoyed a small piece of humanely and sustainably-raised chicken or beef, purchased locally. Not too often, but once in a while. I’ve also been actively searching out sustainable seafood. I downloaded the National Sustainable Seafood Guide (here), which helps me choose seafood that is not overfished, is environmentally-friendly and supports healthy oceans. I’ve always enjoyed seafood and I’m glad it’s back in my diet.

I feel good about my food choices. I’m still eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And I’m not supporting industrial animal farming in any way except dairy. Though we’ve cut way back on the milk consumption in our house, I still haven’t found a local source for it, so I’m stuck with the grocery store variety for Jason and the kids. Luckily, they like almond milk, so I keep buying it even though it’s more expensive than regular milk. I think that will be one of my goals this summer — locally made cheese and other dairy products.

But let’s get back to the vegetables. I think spring might actually arrive here in southeast Michigan sometime soon! Goodness, this weather is making us all crazy. We are 10 degrees or more below normal just about every day. I’m dying to get out into the garden and get my veggies planted! In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes. Some vegan, some gluten free and some vegan and gluten free. Check back often, because I’ll be posting them!

Here are a couple of recent ones that don’t require an actual recipe.

Sesame Green & Yellow Beans
Rather than the standard old steamed green beans with butter, try these for a quick side dish. Place cleaned beans in a deep saute pan with a little water. Bring to boil, cover and steam them until just barely tender-crisp. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. In the same saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Toss the beans back in and give them a quick saute. Remove to a serving dish and toss with salt, pepper and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Polenta Pizzas
The kids wanted to do make-your-own pizzas Saturday night for dinner. They made theirs on regular pizza crusts, but I wanted something gluten free and vegan. I have a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Dough mix, but just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I stared into my pantry hoping something would jump out at me. And it did! I pulled out a container of instant polenta. I cooked it per the package instructions (which takes all of 5 minutes) and poured it into a foil-lined baking dish. I spread it out evenly and placed it in the fridge to chill while I got all the pizza toppings ready to go. Once cold, I lifted the foil and polenta out of the pan and put it on a cutting board. Using a biscuit cutter, I cut it into 4″ circles and sauteed them in a little olive oil, turning once, so they were crispy on both sides. Then I used these to build my pizzas on. Though they don’t have the texture of pizza dough, they were really tasty and still had all my favorite pizza toppings. I just popped them into the oven with the kids’ pizzas so the vegan cheese got melty. Cut slightly smaller, these would be fun appetizers! Here are my combinations:

BBQ Chicken Pizza (top)
BBQ sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + red onions + sauteed vegan chicken slices + minced cilantro

Mediterranean Pizza (bottom right)
Vegan pesto mayo + Daiya vegan cheese + grilled red peppers + kalamata olives + red onion + dash of dried oregano

Sausage Pizza
(bottom left)
Pizza sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + crumbled vegan Italian sausage

Spring is here…even though it’s still below 40 every day!

27 Mar

As usual, my “full plate” has been overflowing! We received a Home Depot gift card from my parents this past Christmas and I decided to update both of our bathrooms the last week of February. We painted, laid tile, installed new baseboards in one bathroom, and just gave them both an all-around new look. It had been almost 10 years for the one bathroom, so it was time. They look fantastic…thanks mom and dad!

Just a few days after we finished up, I got slammed with the flu. I mean slammed. I can’t even remember the last time I was that sick. I actually could barely get out of bed 2 of the days. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Two weeks later, I’m still battling the cough occasionally, but at least I’m back to functioning.

Now that spring is here, I’m looking forward to fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market and planting our garden. My mom sent me a seed catalog and I’m excited to get a new plan in place for my raised beds.

Even though it will be a few months before I can harvest anything, I’m in the mood for the taste of crisp salads and beautiful veggie combinations. I decided to make a quinoa salad last weekend and it turned out to be something you’d want on a warm summer day. It has a light flavor and plenty of vegetables. I will definitely be serving this up at a few backyard gatherings.

If you haven’t had quinoa before, you are missing out! Quinoa is a grain-like seed that has a nice chewy texture. It’s gluten free and is a nutritional powerhouse. Full of vitamins and minerals, it is an excellent source of iron, magnesium and zinc — which are good for blood pressure control and diabetes. Quinoa has just 220 calories per one-cup serving and provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. The protein in quinoa provides all eight of the essential amino acids we need, making it an ideal food for vegans and vegetarians.

Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking rice, but you have to remember to rinse quinoa in cool water before starting your recipe. If you don’t, it has a bitter taste. So rinse it well in a fine mesh strainer or colander with tiny holes. Then cook per package directions.

I made this salad only an hour or so before dinner, but the flavors were much more developed the next day when I ate the leftovers. I would highly recommend chilling this overnight before serving. It does not get soggy. It’s delish!

Spring Quinoa Salad
serves 6

1 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 English cucumber, chopped
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
1/4 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
salt and pepper

Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Chill for about 1 hour.

In a blender, combine lemon juice, vinegars, dijon mustard and garlic. Puree. Slowly drizzle olive oil into running blender until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, red onion and olives. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Season to taste with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Chill overnight. Enjoy!

Me? A butcher?

15 Nov

Yep — a vegan butcher. That’s what I felt like yesterday as I attempted to peel and chop a whole butternut squash. Good grief, those little buggers are hard to cut! I whacked at it for a while until my knife got stuck in it and then my awesome hubby came to the rescue! He took over with a much sharper knife (and a lot more muscle) and diced it into cubes for my recipe.

Thank goodness, because this is a not-to-be-missed recipe that is super easy once you get the butternut squash peeled and diced. Or, look for cubed butternut squash in your store’s freezer section and save yourself the butchering job. I’ve bought it before in the “natural foods” section at my local Kroger.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe I found on Prevention’s website a few years ago. I’ve never made it before, but it’s been in my big binder of recipes to try. I looked over the recipe and decided to veganize it and kick it up a notch by adding Granny Smith apples and more spices. I completely assembled this dish and took it to my in-laws all ready to bake. It came out of the oven warm, delicious, and very satisfying. It is a great holiday side dish.

Butternut Squash & Apple Casserole
serves 8

2 tablespoons vegan butter (Earth Balance)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cubed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small pan, melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the onions and saute over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool while you cube the squash and apples.

In a large bowl, toss together the onion mixture, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, cumin, thyme, squash and apples. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until squash and apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Enjoy!

A Fun Day Today

29 Oct

But, a busy one. I spent my morning trying to catch up on work because I will spend my afternoon at my kids’ school for their Halloween parties. I’m so looking forward to the weekend so I can get all the things done that fell by the wayside during this week of craziness.

Despite a jam-packed day, I did take the time to make myself a nice lunch. I opened the fridge in hopes of finding some leftovers I could just warm up. No luck. The only leftover in there was cooked spaghetti squash, which I already had yesterday and the day before with my mom’s homemade marinara sauce. I dug around the fridge a little more to see if I could come up with something to do with the spaghetti squash. Hmm…baby portobellos, already sliced. Looks like my answer.

I started with a little olive oil, diced an onion and some garlic, and started sauteeing them with the mushrooms. A little of this and a little of that from the spice rack and pantry, and I came up with a really tasty mushroom mixture to top the reheated squash with. The mushrooms made it meaty, and the rosemary and garlic gave it a very gourmet flavor. Delicious and done in about 15 minutes.

Honestly, I will make this again and again. It was perfect on top of the spaghetti squash, but it’s also a great way to dress up penne pasta, creamy polenta or a big baked potato.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Rosemary and Garlic
serves 4 if used as main dish

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
16 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
salt and pepper
1 cup Marsala (cooking wine)
2 tablespoons vegan butter (Earth Balance)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Add rosemary and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until mushrooms are tender and golden brown. Stir in Marsala wine. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the butter until it melts. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir until well blended. Cover and simmer another 2 to 3 minutes so sauce thickens slightly. Taste and add salt or pepper if needed. Remove from heat and stir in chopped Italian parsley. Serve over cooked spaghetti squash, pasta, polenta or baked potatoes. If you aren’t vegan, try sprinkling on some grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

¿En el humor para la sopa?

26 Oct

That’s Spanish for “in the mood for some soup?” I am! More on that in a bit…

About six months after Brady was born (June 2001), my husband and I decided to make a serious effort to lose the baby weight. My father-in-law had just joined a program through work that included Weight Watchers. To help support him in his endeavor, and to lose weight ourselves, we decided to follow the diet and exercise program without the meetings. We measured our foods, we counted points, and we walked every day with the kids in the stroller. It worked. Both of us lost about 30 pounds in six months! (Sadly, we both put weight back on when baby number three came along.)

In the Weight Watchers program, most vegetables are zero points. This is the key to losing weight on this program. Tons of vegetables means a full belly without using up all your daily points. One of the most filling and satisfying ways to eat vegetables is in soup. So we ate soup. Lots of soup. I would make it for dinner one night and the next day we would both eat the leftovers for lunch. Then the day after that, I’d make another kind of soup for dinner and we’d eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I have tons of recipes for every kind of soup imaginable, but there’s one that was always there to save our butts when we didn’t leave ourselves enough points for a big dinner. One day, way back then, I started throwing all kinds of vegetables into a big soup pot with broth. Then I started adding seasonings and came up with a zero point Taco Soup. It was delicious! Lately, I’ve been wishing I had soup in my fridge ready for me to warm up for lunch. Last night, I decided to make a pot of the Taco Soup. Once I got started, I changed things a bit and I think the end result is even better than the original. (It’s now about one-and-a-half points per cup instead of zero, if you happen to be a points counter.) The recipe makes 12 cups but can easily be halved.

I served this for dinner last night and will be devouring it for lunch today. The homemade tortilla chips and chopped cilantro on top are the perfect garnish.

Tortilla Soup
makes 12 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup shredded or sliced carrots
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small zucchini, shredded or diced
1 cup shredded cabbage
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cans diced tomatoes with juice
3 cups frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon Bob’s Cajun Spice Mix (see October 22 post)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
tortilla chips for garnish

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onions, green pepper and garlic and saute until carrots are just tender. Add zucchini and cabbage. Stir in the vegetable broth, water and tomato paste until the tomato paste dissolves into the soup. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the diced tomatoes, corn, Bob’s Cajun Spice Mix and cumin. Continue to simmer for 5 more minutes. Add the black beans and lime juice and stir until beans are heated through. Stir in the cilantro, reserving a tablespoon or two for garnishing. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. You can also add more of Bob’s Cajun Spice Mix if you want to heat it up even more.

Serve hot with crushed tortilla chips and cilantro on top. Enjoy!