Tag Archives: pasta

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


That’s what you get for asking.

29 Jan

As we sat down for dinner on Thursday night, I reminded everyone that I would be grocery shopping after Cub Scouts that night. That meant we needed to come up with ideas for dinner for the next week. I always shop from the week’s menu so I’m not wandering aimlessly through Kroger just grabbing random stuff. Without a plan for meals, how do you even know what to buy? Aside from that, not planning ahead means running to the store several more times during the week to pick up miscellaneous items for that night’s dinner.

So I asked for ideas and they all looked at me blankly. “Okay,” I said, “here’s the deal. Everyone gets to choose one complete dinner. Whatever you pick, I will make.” Well, then everyone had an idea! Jason immediately said “brats on the grill.” I said, “Fine.” (Followed by a look of surprise from him!). Next?

Someone said “panini.” I said, “how about a soup with that?” “Tortilla Soup, please.” Done. Next?

“Can we have taco pasta?” Done.

I said, “How about something with fish?” I think in unison they said “Fish Tacos.” They’re kind of time-consuming, but I agreed, since I haven’t made them in forever.

That left one day, and a bunch of blank faces staring at me. I said, “There’s one more day and the first person who comes up with an idea gets it.” Madison immediately said, “Can we have those vegan chicken nuggets from the store?!” And Logan shouted, “with that purple sauce you made one time?!” (the blackberry-mustard dipping sauce from Eating Well magazine.) I said, “what else do you want with those?” And before anyone else could respond, Madison said “mashed potatoes!” Done.

Well, that was easy enough. Only thing is, we’re eating a lot of taco-ish meals this week! I guess that’s what I get for asking, huh? 🙂

Here’s the breakdown:
Sunday – fish tacos, southwestern slaw, fresh pineapple
Monday – grilled brats (portobello mushroom for me), grilled marinated vegetables, applesauce
Tuesday – taco pasta, salad
Wednesday – vegan chicken nuggets with dipping sauce (June 24 post), mashed potatoes, corn
Thursday – tortilla soup (October 26 post), grilled panini

I guess I’ll worry about the weekend when it gets closer.

Regarding the brats, I had planned on buying the same old Johnsonville brats I usually buy in the summer, along with a pack of vegan brats for myself and Madison. When I got to Kroger and went to pick up the brats, I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. I stood there staring at that package…knowing it was 100% factory-farmed meat. I looked at every single package there. Nothing but factory-farmed meat. I contemplated the turkey brats…for about a second…then remembered all I had read about factory-farmed turkey. Disgusting. I put them back and walked over to the health food section again. I considered vegan brats for all of us, but I knew that wasn’t what Jason had in mind when he said he wanted brats. I kept looking. I finally came across a package of Organic Prairie’s Organic Pork Bratwurst. The front of the package says “Pork used is humanely raised on family farms without antibiotics.” I bought them ($6.99 for 4 brats…not too outrageous).

When I got home, I checked out their website. Organic Farms is a co-op of family farms whose owners believe in farming ethically and sustainably, providing their animals with as much pasture time as weather will allow. Here’s the description for the bratwurst I bought:

Ours start with pasture-raised, heirloom-breed hogs that frisk in the fresh air and sun, yielding the big-hearted flavor and gusto that brats are justly famous for.

If you get a chance, and are in the market for ethically/sustainably raised meats, check out their website at www.organicfarms.com. Be sure to read the sections on pasture-fed animals and some of the descriptions of their farmers. Though I’d much rather buy locally-raised meat, I have yet to find pork raised happily. This suits me just fine for the two or three times a year that I make brats on the grill.

I’ll give you a full report on the taste of the brats after dinner on Monday!

Good food and fun exercise… I’m making progress!

17 Jan

It’s been a whirlwind start to 2011 already. Not only have I been busy designing for clients, I’ve really gotten focused on exercise. I’m exercising for 30 minutes, 5-6 days a week and feeling really good!

I guess the big thing these days is to switch up your exercise routine often so your body doesn’t get “comfortable” with it. It’s called muscle confusion. So that’s what I’ve been doing. On our cable programming, under videos on demand, we have a section full of free exercise programs that you can watch whenever you want. So each day, I choose one and go with it — Jillian Michaels’ abs, Leslie Sansone’s 2 mile walk, Disco Abs with Cheryl Burke, Billy Blanks’ Cardioke, and more. They run about 30 minutes. Some days, I put on the kids’ Wii Dance Party and do a half hour of dances. I’m having a blast while working up a big sweat!

I’ve also been eating as clean and whole as possible — lots of veggies, fruit, nuts, and grains like quinoa and brown rice, and the occasional bit of fish or shrimp. For now, I’ve completely ditched the gluten, just to see what that does for me.

Apparently, something’s working. Since January 2, I’ve lost 7 pounds. Woo hoo! I also FINALLY have some energy! And on Friday when I was at Kroger, I checked my blood pressure on the machine in the pharmacy (I check it there every time I’m in the store). BP was 140/90! I’m hoping that wasn’t a lucky low reading; that maybe it’s coming down because of the exercise. Hoping.

Anyway, I don’t have any new recipes to share yet because I’ve been making easy, simple whole foods. I did make the Cauliflower Pesto Soup from Isa’s new book, Appetite for Reduction. Delish! Even the kids went back for seconds. I’ll be making that one a lot. It’s full of flavor despite having only about 4 or 5 ingredients. Plus, it’s quick and easy. I made it a little thicker than her recipe. Yummm…

Other than that, I’ve been making simple stir-fries, steamed veggies, big salads and stuff like that.

Here’s what this week’s dinner menu looks like:
Monday – shrimp & veggie kabobs on the grill + baked sweet potatoes
Tuesday – Popeye Spinach soup + cheesy quesadillas (for Jason & the kids)
Wednesday – GF penne pasta with sauteed mushrooms and onions + a big salad
Thursday – fajitas in corn tortillas (veg for me, locally-raised beef for the fam)
Friday – not sure yet – omelets? leftovers?

This past weekend, we spent a ton of time with our good friends, Kevin and Lisa. It was so much fun! We absolutely adore them — and we laugh a lot when we’re together, which is good for the blood pressure! Lisa is trying to eliminate gluten from her diet, too. She said she feels better when she doesn’t eat it, but it’s a hard diet. I told her I would make her some GF goodies. She asked for doughnuts! You know me…always up for a challenge! They’re on the top of my baking list as soon as I get my new oven (which will, hopefully, be at the end of the month).

Hope everyone’s New Year started out as good as mine. Are you still working on your resolutions?

And the winner is…

5 Nov

I’ve been contemplating the gluten free thing for the last couple weeks, and I just don’t know if I can be vegan and gluten free. I love the vegan lifestyle, but give up whole wheat?! Oooh, I don’t know about that. I’m part Italian — I need my bread and pasta!

So I decided to do a little experiment. I went to www.allrecipes.com and looked up recipes for corn bread. I selected the one with the highest ratings and I made them. Only here’s the thing — I made half the muffins as listed in the recipe, and the other half with all the substitutions to make them vegan and gluten free — Ener-G egg substitute for the egg, almond milk for the regular milk, and gluten-free flour for the whole wheat flour. The original recipe ones went into Halloween cupcake liners and the vegan/gluten-free ones went into plain cupcake liners. They baked in the oven in the same muffin pan and for the exact same amount of time. I even rotated the pan halfway through to ensure even baking of all muffins.

And the winner is…
the vegan/gluten-free muffins!

I had my kids and mother-in-law do the taste testing since the original recipe muffins contained dairy. They thought both kinds were really good, but said the vegan/gluten-free ones were slightly more moist. I was actually surprised that they baked up the same height. I didn’t expect that. The only real difference was that the vegan/gluten-free muffins did not crack on the top or brown as much as the regular ones. Otherwise, they tasted exactly the same.

My conclusion? I can at least have tasty corn bread! I’m going to make them again to use in an upcoming Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. In the meantime, I’ll keep experimenting with all the substitutions and see what else I can come up with.

The original recipe is here. My version is below.

Original recipe on the left; vegan/gluten-free recipe on the right

Original recipe on the left; vegan/gluten-free recipe on the right

Vegan & Gluten-Free Corn Muffins
makes 12 muffins

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Ener-G egg substitute for 1 egg, mixed per package directions
1 cup plain almond milk
1/3 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg substitute, almond milk and oil until well combined. Divide evenly between the cupcake liners.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of one muffin comes out clean. 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!

Happy World Vegetarian Day!

1 Oct

“It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” — Albert Einstein

Today is World Vegetarian Day.

World Vegetarian Day is the annual kick-off of Vegetarian Awareness Month, which ends with World Vegan Day on November 1. In 1977, October 1 was established as a day of celebration “to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism.” It’s meant to bring awareness to the environmental, ethical, health and humanitarian benefits of living a vegetarian lifestyle.

“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.” – Abraham Lincoln

A meat-free diet protects the lives of animals as well as our planet’s resources. And, extensive research confirms that a vegetarian diet leads to a longer and healthier life. For me, eating is a whole lot more enjoyable knowing that no animals suffered along the way and that my choices are improving my health.

About one million people become vegetarians every year in the U.S. alone.

World Vegetarian Day invites all non-vegetarians to give meatless eating a try, even if it’s just for one day. I’m hoping you’ll give it a try. To help you out, I’m going to post a vegetarian recipe every day for the month of October. No kidding! Some of them will be vegan (no dairy or eggs) and some will be vegetarian (may contain eggs).

First up is a fabulous soup recipe. It’s a “veganized” version of the wonderful Chicken Pasta Soup at J. Alexander’s restaurant. This is one of my all-time favorite soups. I used to make it all the time until I went vegan. The restaurant’s version has chunks of chicken, penne pasta, carrots, mushrooms and sugar snap peas in a creamy broth with a hint of lemon. My mouth is watering just writing that! My version uses all those wonderful vegetables plus meatless “chicken” slices. If you’re not a fan of “fake chicken,” you can leave it out and just bump up the amount of pasta and veggies to make up for it. As for the broth, I haven’t found a canned or boxed vegetable broth yet that I like. When I was at Whole Foods last month, I bought a powdered vegetable broth in the bulk foods area. You just mix it with water. It didn’t have any “scary” ingredients, the sodium was fairly comparable to the boxed ones, and the flavor was fantastic. Very chicken-y.

I don’t want to pat my own back or anything…but…this soup ROCKS!

Creamy “Chicken” Pasta Soup
makes about 10 cups

6 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 cup sliced meat-free “chicken”
1-1/3 cups penne pasta, uncooked
1 tablespoon vegan butter (Earth Balance)
1 cup sliced celery (about 3 stalks)
1 cup sliced carrots
1 medium onion, diced
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 pound sugar snap peas, halved diagonally
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a medium stockpot, place 4 cups of broth and the “chicken” pieces. Bring to a boil. With a slotted spoon, immediately remove the “chicken” and set aside. To the boiling broth, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, spray a large stockpot with non-stick cooking spray. Add the butter and allow to melt. Stir in celery, carrots and onions and saute for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in flour and allow to cook for 3 minutes while stirring. Gradually whisk in the remaining 2 cups of broth. Bring to a simmer. Add the coconut milk and the “chicken” and simmer for about 5 minutes. When the pasta is done, pour it and the cooking broth into the soup. Stir in the frozen peas. Add the sugar snap peas and simmer until they are tender-crisp. Mix in lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Note: If you have leftovers, be aware that the pasta will absorb some of the broth and you will end up with fatter pasta and a thicker soup.

10-Minute Meal?

6 Jun

We had a wonderful family day today down at the Old West End Festival. Garage sales, live music and dancing, children's activities, art show and more. We've been so busy working on our landscaping, new screen room and preparing for Brady's birthday party, that this was a much-needed break.

Of course, the festival had all the usual food fare — bratwurst with all the toppings, barbecued ribs, super-size steak fries, funnel cakes, fresh-squeezed lemonade, etc. The kids cooled off with ice cream, but Jason and I behaved ourselves and passed on all of it. 
Boy, am I glad we did. We left there and headed back to our neighborhood for a graduation party. My good friend, Rosie, had a beautiful buffet of food for her daughter's celebration. She made pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, pasta salad, relish trays, and bowls of fresh fruit. But the best part? A SALAD BAR! Yes, a huge bowl of mixed greens and a bunch of smaller bowls of toppings — carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled beets, chickpeas, dried berries, sunflower seeds, broccoli, cauliflower, red and orange bell peppers, bacon bits, shredded cheese, chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced ham, croutons…I can't remember all the rest! I made a big salad with everything but the meat, cheese and eggs. It was the perfect dinner, with some fresh fruit on the side. No problem being vegan at this party.
And, to top it off, I didn't have to cook after an activity-filled day.

I mean, let's be honest. A busy day doesn't always end with a party where someone else has done all the cooking! So, who doesn't want a meal you can throw together in a matter of minutes? Life is crazy and sometimes spending 30 minutes or more getting dinner on the table just isn't possible.

Here's a quick, easy, delicious entree I made a few days ago with miscellaneous items I had in my fridge. You can use other vegetables you may have on hand, but this was a wonderful combination. Putting this together only takes about as long as it takes for the pasta to cook. While it's in the boiling water, make the Alfredo sauce and slice the onions and mushrooms.
serves 6
12 oz. box of whole wheat pasta
Best Ever Vegan Alfredo from Vegan Dad's website*
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 an onion, halved and sliced thin
8 oz. baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, sliced
salt substitute and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
chopped fresh basil for garnish (optional)
Cook pasta in boiling water per package directions.
Meanwhile, make one recipe of Best Ever Vegan Alfredo sauce from Vegan Dad's website. Reserve 1/2 cup of sauce. Toss cooked pasta in remaining Alfredo sauce and set aside.
In a large skillet or saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute garlic and onions for two minutes. Stir in mushrooms and saute until onions are translucent and mushrooms are lightly browned. Add red pepper flakes, pasta and spinach and cook for 2-3 minutes. Toss mixture with remaining Alfredo sauce and season with salt substitute and pepper to taste. Garnish with basil. Enjoy!
*You can substitute cornstarch for the arrowroot.

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