Tag Archives: gardein

A birthday, friends, drinks and great conversation…

5 Jun

I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was just perfect. On Friday, we celebrated Brady’s 10th birthday at the local bowling alley. He wanted a bowling party, so we went all out with 8 friends, 2 games of bowling, the game room, pizza, blue slushies and dirt cake (his request). We left there at 8 p.m. and came back to our house with two of the families that were at the party. We had a campfire, the kids ran around playing games, and the adults enjoyed wine and beverages with a few simple snacks. It was great to just enjoy our screen porch and the beautiful weather with good friends.

Saturday was another gorgeous weather day. (We should have been camping!) It was about 80 degrees and sunny all day. After breakfast, I got to do a little garage sale-ing with my friend Stacey. Fun! Then came home and figured out what the plan was for dinner. I needed a few things from the grocery store, so Madison and I decided to walk there. It’s about 1.5 miles there and back and we picked up her friend that lives on our street along the way. It was nice to walk with “the girls” and chat for a while. I did a little reading, helped Brady with his new K’Nex kit he got for his birthday, did a load of laundry…just kind of a leisurely day.

The kids wanted grilled shish kabobs for dinner, so I whipped up a batch of my Meaty Marinade (see my June 30, 2010 post) and poured it over a big bowl of red bell pepper wedges, onion wedges, zucchini slices and whole baby portobello mushrooms. I marinated some “happy” boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s and a vegan “chicken” cutlet in it, too. Threaded onto skewers, along with some fresh pineapple chunks? Fabulous! To go alongside, I made a big fruit salad and came up with a new couscous recipe. This is super easy and is loaded with fresh herbs, making it a tasty Mediterranean-style side dish. I will definitely make it again. It was equally as good hot out of the pan as it was an hour later as I was scooping room-temperature bites out of the bowl while cleaning up. Yum!

Mediterranean Couscous
makes 6 (1/2-cup) servings
approximately 160 calories per serving*

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 teaspoon minced garlic
about 1/4th of a red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced onion (such as Vidalia)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup couscous
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
10 pitted kalamata olives, sliced
freshly-cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, optional

In a medium sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, peppers and onions and saute until tender and lightly browned. Add 1 cup vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous. Return to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so then fluff with a fork. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the fresh herbs and kalamata olives and season with salt and a generous amount of cracked black pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese, if using, and toss to blend. Remove to a serving bowl and serve immediately or at room temperature. Enjoy!
*By my own calculations of the ingredients

Ah, Sunday…sunny and warm again. Honestly, it was the perfect camping weekend and we didn’t take advantage of it! We made a big veggie omelet for breakfast and then spent the day basically just “piddling,” as my dad would say. A little cleaning here and there, some work on the pool, a quick run to Target and Lowe’s, a little work on stuff for Madison’s 6th grade recognition program (I overvolunteered….again). Oh, and baked 3 dozen vegan Oreo cupcakes for Brady to share with his classmates tomorrow. (See my March 8, 2010 post for the recipe.)

I even went easy-breezy for dinner tonight. I made my own version of the Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad. If you know this salad, you know it’s delicious! What’s served in the restaurant is far from vegan or “happy,” though, so I created my own recipe that’s very similar in taste. I’m calling it vegan-ish because the dressing has honey, which is not technically vegan. If you want it 100% vegan, try substituting agave. (Note – You will end up with more dressing than you need, so save it for the next day on a wrap!)

Vegan-ish Oriental Chicken Salad
makes 4 dinner-size salads

3/4 cup Vegenaise
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste

16-20 vegan “chicken” nuggets
4 cups thinly sliced Romaine or other mixed greens
4 cups bagged cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 of an English cucumber, sliced
2 8-ounce cans mandarin oranges, drained
3 green onions, sliced
1 cup crunchy Chinese rice noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients and refrigerate. Bake “chicken” nuggets per package directions. Meanwhile, arrange 1 cup lettuce and 1 cup cole slaw mix on each of 4 plates. Top each with shredded carrots, mandarin oranges and green onions. Slice the nuggets and layer on top. Drizzle with the dressing and garnish with Chinese rice noodles and toasted almonds. Enjoy!

As the weekend comes to a close, I feel relaxed and ready to tackle the week ahead. It’s the last full week of school and it’s going to be crazy! (I’m forecasting a lot of thrown-together-at-the-last-minute dinners this week!)

June 5, 2011


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.

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!

Tasty enchiladas…and a week of simple cooking.

24 Jan

It’s Monday again. Blah. It’s 10 degrees out. Blah. I’m so sick of this weather, I just want to stay inside and read by the fire with a cup of hot tea all day.
Every day.

This is the kind of week that calls for warm, home-cooked comfort foods. We topped off this past weekend with vegan enchiladas garnished with lettuce, onions and salsa for dinner last night. They were warm and gooey and the spiciness seemed to heat me from the inside out! I served them with Spanish rice (recipe on March 15 blog post) and fresh pineapple and grapes. Jason and the kids topped theirs with sour cream. I topped mine with guacamole (recipe on March 4 blog post). I assembled the enchiladas in the morning and placed the pan in the fridge so all I had to do at dinnertime was pop them in the oven to bake. I usually make my own enchilada sauce and taco seasoning, but for super speedy cooking, canned enchilada sauce and a packet of low-sodium taco seasoning will work just fine (look for one without MSG).

The recipe makes enough filling to stuff about 14 corn tortillas. My 9×13 baking dish only holds 10 enchiladas, which is just the right amount for my family, so I usually put the rest of the filling in the refrigerator to be re-heated one evening for a tasty dip for tortilla chips. Feel free to make as many enchiladas as you can with the filling. You should have enough sauce. Simply adjust the amount of cheese as needed.

Also, these can be very easily converted for your cheese or meat eating family members. You can substitute regular cheese for the vegan cheese and you can substitute ethically-raised boneless, skinless chicken breast for the Gardein “chicken” patties.

Vegan Enchiladas
makes 10-14 enchiladas

2 Gardein “chicken” patties (non-breaded) or 4 oz vegan “chicken” strips
1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a green pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes with jalapeno peppers
1 packet low-sodium taco seasoning
2 cans enchilada sauce
10 to 14 corn tortillas (6″ size)
1 cup shredded vegan cheese (or more to taste)

Coat a large skillet with non-stick cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Dice the “chicken” into tiny pieces and saute in skillet until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside. Re-coat the skillet with cooking spray and saute onions and green peppers until softened. (Add 1 tablespoon water if pan is too dry.) Stir in black beans, diced tomatoes with juice, and the reserved “chicken” pieces. Sprinkle taco seasoning on top and stir until well blended. Cook 5 minutes or so, until hot and bubbly. Turn off heat.

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon 1/4 cup enchilada sauce in the bottom and spread to cover completely.

Warm the corn tortillas between damp paper towels in the microwave (about 1 minute if stacked 5 tall). You want them soft and pliable so they don’t crack when you roll them. Pour remainder of enchilada sauce into a round, flat-bottomed bowl that is slightly larger than the corn tortillas. Lay a tortilla in the sauce and turn over to cover completely with sauce. Drain off excess and lay it in the baking dish. Spread 1/3 cup filling down the center, sprinkle with cheese and roll up. Slide it to one side of the pan, seam side down. Continue with remaining tortillas and filling, tucking them side by side in the pan. Pour remaining sauce over the top. (See picture below.)

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce is bubbly. Serve with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, salsa, guacamole, etc. Enjoy!

Note: You can make these in advance. Assemble all of them in the pan, cover with foil, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature while oven preheats. Then bake until sauce is bubbly and they are heated through (may take slightly longer if they are still cold inside.)

Enchiladas ready for the oven.

The Rest of the Week:
It’s a busy week for Jason (he has meetings at the union hall on Monday & Tuesday nights and we have Cub Scouts on Thursday night), so this week’s dinners are quick, easy ones.

Here’s the menu:
Monday – Vegan Cheesy Broccoli Soup (October 21 blog post) with tossed salad and crackers
Tuesday – Grilled cheese sandwiches, oven fries and peas
Wednesday – Gyros and a new chickpea salad recipe I’ve been wanting to try (I’ll blog about it later if it’s a keeper)
Thursday – Vegan Mac & Cheese (April 7 blog post), sauteed mixed vegetables and applesauce
Friday – takeout pizza (kids’ request)

Nothing spectacular; just meals that come together quickly. All of them are kid pleasers, though, which makes my life easier!

Spears Family Camp-out!

12 Jul

Every year, we have a camp-out at our house for our families — parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Everyone shows up on Friday night with tents and campers and they stay for the weekend. This past weekend was this year’s big event.

I think everyone had a good time between swimming, playing games, and just hanging out together. Oh, and eating good food! Everyone brings goodies to share throughout the weekend, plus we have a big dinner on Saturday night. Each family brings their choice of meat/vegs to grill and everyone brings side dishes and desserts for a big buffet.

Friday night, after everyone arrived and set up tents and campers, we grilled burgers (a veggie burger for me), hotdogs and brats. We had all kinds of fresh fruit, veggies and dip, and chips, plus my sister made the Edamame and Black Bean Salad I mentioned in one of my camping posts last month. An easy night for a vegan!

For Saturday night’s dinner, most of us made kabobs — some had steak, some had chicken and some had shrimp. I made mine with marinated mushrooms and zucchini from our garden. The other item I grilled was a whole Vidalia onion like our friends did over the 4th of July weekend. Just peel it and cut it into wedges, but not all the way through to the bottom of the onion. Drizzle it with olive oil and season as you like. I used McCormick’s Montreal Seasoning, but feel free to experiment with other herbs and spices. Wrap it up in foil and place on the grill for about half an hour. It came out tender and sweet with a little hint of smokiness. I took a picture of it before I wrapped it in foil. Then when it came off the grill, it went onto the buffet. I forgot to take a picture of it until I was in line for food. By then, it was half gone!

My side-dish contribution to the buffet was a salad similar to the one my friend Lisa made last weekend — fresh greens, sweet corn, cauliflower, green onions, grape tomatoes, cucumber, and shredded cabbage — tossed with her Poppyseed Dressing. It was a big hit. My mother-in-law brought cheesy potatoes that must have been tasty because I’m pretty sure I saw my brother-in-law scraping the last bits from the pan! Jason’s aunt Janet made a delicious vegan Red Potato & Tomato Salad that was a Giada DeLaurentis recipe. It will go into my binder of favorites! And my brother-in-law made a new take on cole slaw from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. He surprised me by preparing a separate bowl for me to just add in my vegan sour cream and Vegenaise. It was fantastic.

And then there were desserts…cookies of all kinds, an eclair cake, and ice cream pie…none of them vegan so I steered clear of those!

Oh, and let’s not forget the late night snacks. Aunt Janet made a buffalo chicken dip with chips, my sister made a Mexican layered dip which she (very thoughtfully!) made a separate bowl for me without the sour cream and cheese, and I made Chicken Bacon Poppers. I blogged these back in one of my camping posts last month. They are always a hit, so I made them again. They’re basically seasoned chicken breasts stuffed into half a jalapeno pepper then wrapped in bacon and secured with a toothpick. They’re cooked on the grill or over the fire and served with a sour cream-based dipping sauce that has been seasoned with cumin, lime juice, chili powder and garlic powder.

This time, I also attempted a vegan version for myself. I took a Gardein “chicken” breast and seasoned it the same as the real chicken, then cut it into thick strips and put them in the jalapeno halves. Next, I had to come up with a substitution for the bacon. I cut really thin strips of zucchini, marinated them in olive oil, smoked paprika and other seasonings, and then wrapped them around the peppers and secured with a toothpick. The flavor was fantastic and I was really pleased with the outcome. Though the zucchini didn’t crisp up like bacon or have the bacon-y flavor, it held the poppers together and they were very satisfying dipped in a vegan version of the sour cream dipping sauce (made with tofu). I’m going to keep working on these before posting an actual recipe.

All-in-all it was a great weekend with perfect weather, good food and the company of family.

Does your kitchen have “LL”?

27 May
One time when my parents were here for a visit, my dad said, "Uh, Tam…you know it's time to clean the crisper drawer when you have LL." I said, "What's LL?" He replied, with a grin on his face, "Liquid Lettuce." He then held up a bag from the back of the bottom crisper drawer. It originally contained pre-cut romaine lettuce. It had liquified. Gross.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't dig to the bottom of the refrigerator crisper drawer regularly, only to discover a few weeks later a forgotten box of mushrooms or bag of fresh parsley. Am I?

I do have to say, though, that ever since that incident, I've tried to stay on top of it a little better. I do occasionally discover something slightly past its prime, but you won't find LL in my fridge anymore.
The best part of regularly investigating your produce supply is that you can pull together amazing salads while your veggies are still fresh. Last night's dinner salad included all kinds of things that needed to be eaten before they perished! My hubby even commented, "this salad is delicious." In fact, it would be beautiful as a summer picnic salad. It had green leaf lettuce, baby spinach leaves, shredded carrots, green onions, celery (for my blood pressure!), sliced strawberries and toasted pecans from the pantry. I drizzled mine with a balsamic vinaigrette. Jason and the kids had poppy seed dressing.
I served it alongside grilled sesame tilapia for Jason and the kids, grilled Gardein filets for me, and baked potatoes. If you haven't tried the Gardein "chicken" breast filets yet, they are worth a try. Not only are they made from healthy organic ingredients, they're the most chicken-like chicken substitute I've had so far. The look and texture is exactly like chicken. The taste is very good, although I've discovered that marinating them makes them really good. The first time I cooked them, I pulled them out of the package, tossed them on the grill, and then brushed them with BBQ sauce in the same way I cooked real chicken for everyone else. They were not as good as I'd hoped. Yesterday, I pulled them out of the package and put them in a plastic container and smothered them in the sesame sauce I was using for the tilapia. They were in the marinade sauce for a few hours. Then I continued to brush them with sauce while grilling. When I pulled them off the grill, I gave them one last drizzle of sauce. They were fantastic.
So the next time you're digging through the fridge, start mixing and matching and see what you can create. Most likely, you'll be pleasantly surprised!
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