Sunday, December 12, 2010

What we have been eating

We have been pretty busy around here, what with the holidays and all.  Oh, and the new game I have been playing online.  I have been cooking though, and even taking some pictures.  Here is what we have been eating, starting back with the week of 11/29 and my last posted plan.

Monday plan:  Chickpea noodle soup, from Veganomicon, without the mushrooms, since I am the only one who likes them (and we were out anyway), leftover steamed green beans and spinach

What we had: 

Exactly as planned, with no mushrooms, and green things added to the soup.  Delicious.

Tuesday plan: Roasted butternut squash risotto, steamed broccoli

What we had:

Broccoli not shown, because we were running so behind this day, the kids' dad came to pick them up just as I was finishing cooking this.  I dished up a bunch to send with them, and ate alone that night, but at least it was delicious food.  Also, I tweaked this recipe a little--I didn't change the amount of broth at all, but I upped the amount of rice to 2 cups.  It was still plenty creamy and fully cooked, and made even more food, which is good for something that we actually like to eat the leftovers!

Wednesday plan:  Borrachos, whole wheat tortillas, sauteed turnip greens, steamed sweet potatoes

What we had:

Just as planned.  The tortillas didn't make the picture, and I added some guacamole with spicy pico de gallo from Trader Joe's in the back there.  This made a huge amout of beans--that isn't even all of them in the serving dish there.  I used pinto beans because that is the best I could find at the grocery store, but I am thinking I need to hit a winter's famers market soon to see if I can get something more interesting to try.  These were delicious, though, and, as I suspected they would be, even better the next day.

Thursday plan:  Fried rice/quinoa, cucumber wontons

What we had:

The kids decided to add some raspberry cocoa smoothies to this meal, which were very good.  I love that they seem to be so enthusiastic about smoothie making, although we get a LOT of cocoa powder when they are in charge of the recipes.  Not that they put too much in the smoothies, but all of their recipes seem to include the cocoa, is what I'm saying.  Still, there were bananas and raspberries and calcium-fortified soy milk, so it all evens out.

Friday plan:  Pizza, one with chickenless strips and pineapple, one with sausageless Italian sausages

I didn't get a picture of this, because we dived into the pizzas as soon as they were ready.  We did this a bit differently than planned, though.  We had veggie pepperoni in addition to the sausages, and my mom came over, adding her pickiness, so we had a bunch of different pizza sections.  One pizza had chickenless strips all over, and pineapple on half (my mom and the girl), and the other had pepperoni and Italian sausage on 3/4 of it and chickenless strips and pineapple on the last 1/4 (the boy and me).   I have been getting the pizza crust dough from Trader Joe's because it is only $.99, but we have discovered that you really need to cook the plain crust for 5 minutes before adding the toppings, or the crust doesn't get cooked all of the way.  The kids were helping with the crust rolling, so one crust went in before the other, and when I took out the first one to put the pepperoni and sausage on it, I accidentally turned the oven off when I meant to turn the timer off.  So, the chickenless pizza had a gooey crust, and we ate much later than intended, because I didn't discover the oven was off until I went to check to see if the pizzas were done cooking.  Hence the lack of pictures.

Saturday:  This was the big party.  I am not comparing the plan and actuals here, because it is a big menu, so let's just start with some pictures, shall we?

We had: 
 For dessert, we had:
  • cranberry upside down cake
  • maple cupcakes
  • some of my homemade mint liqueur
The mint liqueur was a hit, although very strong.  The mint in my garden has a fantastic flavor, though, so it tasted really good, and everyone liked it.

After the party, I decided I needed to save some money and clean out my kitchen, so we did not do a grocery shopping trip for this past week.  I had some extra stuff that I bought for the party and didn't end up using anyway, since a couple of entire families that were supposed to come got sick, and I didn't want to have FAR too much food (as opposed to the merely too much that we had, ;) ).  I don't have pictures of everything from this week, but here is what we had:

Sunday was leftovers.  We all ate our favorite things from the party, and barely made a dent in the mountain of food.

Monday I went with easy:

Whole wheat spaghetti, and butternut squash sauce from a jar, with spinach added as it cooked.  Very nutritious and delicious and easy.

Tuesday, when I picked the boy up from school at 5:30, he reminded me that he needed to be back at school by 6:30 for his chorus performance.  I had tentative menu ideas, but I don't even remember what they were, because we scrapped them in favor of leftovers again.  This, combined with all the lunches that I ate from the leftovers, meant that I didn't have to throw out any of that good food.  I was pleased that none of it went to waste.

Wednesday the kids were going to their dad's, and one of our neighbor's was over to do a school task with the boy (she is doing education classes, and she needed a practice student), so I pulled out a box of Road's End Organics Shells and Chreese, and prepared it with lima beans.  This is super fast and simple, and the kids are always happy, even when I use lima beans instead of the peas or edamame that they prefer.

By this time, I felt like I was really getting to the bottom of the options, so I thought I should try to do some planning ahead.  Wednesday night I went searching online for a good recipe for red lentil dahl, because I love that stuff, and I knew I had red lentils in the cabinet.  There were lots of good ones out there, but the one I went with came from the New York Times.  I also found a jar of masaman curry sauce in the pantry, so I went with a very non-traditional masaman curry on the side, with tofu, zucchini and carrot,s and brown rice and qyuinoa cooked with Bombay saffron rice spice from World Market.  I invited my friend Andrea over for this, because she likes Indian food, too, and I actually got a picture:

We also had some garlic pickle from a jar and a bit of mint chutney.  The kids made smoothies again, too; raspberry cocoa with some vegan chocolate chips.  These were good, but probably more dessert-y that smoothie-y.

Friday the girl was in a play, and work was crazy, so I gave in and took the kids to Crazy Bowls and Wraps.  I really want to avoid eating out as much as possible, but this is one time in over two weeks, so I feel pretty good about it.  We used to eat out at least once per week and sometimes more, so this is progress.  I should have planned ahead a bit better, though.  This involved a lot more driving and money and less vegetables than I would have liked.

Last night was my dad's birthday, so we went over there for spaghetti.  My dad had meatballs and sauce, and I doctored up a jar of garlic marinara with sauteed mushrooms, onions, sausageless Italian sausages from Trader Joe's and even more garlic.

My plan was to make a menu today and go to the grocery store, but it snowed overnight, and I am kind of a wimp about driving on snowy streets, so I am thinking I will try to find one more meal out of the pantry/fridge today and go to the store tomorrow.  I do need to do that plan, though.  But that is  topic for another post, after some more game playing...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Menu, 11/29 - 12/3, along with some Thanksgiving stuff

Last week, I didn't do a plan, and I didn't do much cooking.  I don't even remember what we did on Monday, Tuesday we went to my parents' house for an early Thanksgiving dinner, since the kids were going to their dad's for the holiday, Wednesday, we just had falafel with pita bread and tahini sauce, and the weekend I just kind of grabbed some leftovers or peanut butter sandwiches.  I did cook for my parents on Thanksgiving, but not as much as I have in the past.  I am saving my serious cooking for this coming Saturday, when I think there will be a lot of people here.  (Ack, I need to do a lot of cleaning!)  On Thanksgiving, I made cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes with maple syrup and margarine, mushroom gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts, seamed green beans, and a roasted buttenut squash dressing.  Here is a picture of the meal:

The dressing was based on the carmelized onion butternut roast with chestnuts from Veganomicon, but I didn't make it to the store, so I substituted walnuts for the chestnuts, a loaf of cubed cranberry pumpkin seed bread for the beans, and left off the breadcrumb topping, although I did add the seasonings to the casserole.  It was a huge hit--both of my parents loved it.  Also, since we had done the whole turkey dinner thing onTuesday (except I didn't eat any turkey of course), my dad didn't even bring any turkey, and we all ate the vegetarian meal,which was pretty cool.

Anyway, on to this week.  I actually didn't make the menu and get to the store until today, but I wanted to put yesterday on this menu, since the idea is to help with future planning after all.  I did most of this menu and the grocery list while the girl practiced putting contacts in and out of her eyes for the first time in the optometrist's office.  Way to plan ahead, huh?

Monday:  Chickpea noodle soup, from Veganomicon, without the mushrooms, since I am the only one who likes them (and we were out anyway), leftover steamed green beans and spinach

Tuesday:  Roasted butternut squash risotto, steamed broccoli

Wednesday:  Borrachos, whole wheat tortillas, sauteed turnip greens, steamed sweet potatoes

Thursday:  Fried rice/quinoa, cucumber wontons

Friday:  Pizza, one with chickenless strips and pineapple, one with sausageless Italian sausages

Saturday I am making a big meal for some friends.  I don't have a full menu yet, but here are some things I am thinking of making:

Main meal:
  • cranberry upside down cake
  • double layer pumpkin cheesecake
  • apple cranberry crisp
I hope it is enough food.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What we actually had for dinner 11/14 - 11/18 (with pictures and notes)

In order to help me plan better, I decided I should document what I actually do with my plans, so I can use that information for future planning.  So, I took pictures of our dinners each night this week, and I am gong to compare the plan with what happened, along with notes about what changes I made to the recipes.  The pictures are not that great, but I have hungry children waiting to eat when I put this stuff on the table!

Sunday plan:  Carmelized Onion-Butternut Roast with Chestnuts, roasted Brussel's sprouts, cranberry sauce

What we had:

Exactly what was on the menu.  It was so delicious, too!  Okay, I was the only one who liked the Brussels sprouts, but I only made the kids eat two bites, and they survived, and I liked them enough for everyone.  Both kids like butternut squash, so that was helpful. This was the first time I had had chestnuts.  They were good, but kind of expensive.  We will be having this again.

Monday plan:  Mole Skillet Pie with Greens, steamed broccoli, orange/blackberry fruit salad

What we had:

Pretty much what was planned, except that Trader Joe's didn't have any blackberries, so we had blueberries instead.  I know, totally out of season, but I am making many efforts to eat seasonally, and sometimes I just crave the out of season stuff.  As for the mole skillet pie, did you go to the link?  It has chocolate in it!  It was awesome.  I used turnip greens from the garden, and I added a grated zucchini to the filling because I had a zucchini in the fridge and I wanted to use it before it went bad.  My mom was over for dinner this night, and she said I should definitely make it again, which I was already planning to do.

Tuesday plan:  Tempeh noodle casserole, steamed broccoli/carrots/snap peas, pineapple

What we had:

I volunteered at the elementary book school fair from 4 - 6, then we had to walk through the book fair and pick out some books, and then we walked home, and we had a pretty short amount of time to get dinner cooked, served and eaten before the kids were picked up by their dad.  Fortunately I had some gnocchi and a jar of sauce in the cabinet, which I can get on the table in 20 minutes from taking out the pot.  I added some frozen peas and a bit of baby spinach, and rounded out the meal with some steamed green beans and applesauce.  We all liked this, and it saved us on a busy night.

Wednesday plan:  Lentils and rice with carmelized onion tahini sauce, beets, steamed sweet potatoes

What we had:

I got this started, with onions carmelizing on the stove, and brown rice and quinoa in the microwave steamer, when I found that I was out of tahini!  How could this happen?  I definitely need to head to the international foods store for the big tub of tahini this weekend--that is the best part of the meal!  It was still pretty good, though, although the beets were a bit old, and neither the boy nor I liked them (the girl doesn't like them anyway.)  I spent all of the time that I would have used making the sweet potatoes looking for tahini, so we did without and I grabbed a bag of broccoli and cauliflower florets I could throw in the microwave for 5 minutes instead.

Thursday plan:  Peanut noodles, steamed green beans, green smoothies

We ate the green beans on Tuesday, so those weren't available tonight.  The peanut noodles had plenty of veggies, though, so I decided to just forget that element of the meal.  I made a double batch of the sauce, and used a tub of Healthy 8 diced veggies from Trader Joe's, along with a pound of extra firm tofu.  Personally, I think that if this was the only recipe I ever got off the internet, it would be worth it, because it is just so darn awesome, but the kids aren't really fans.  Of course, the boy said he didn't like it, but still had seconds; the girl didn't eat much.  We all liked the smoothies, though.  I used 2 cups of calcium-enriched orange juice, 1 cup of vanilla soy yogurt, 1 cup of blueberries and a bunch of baby spinach.  The girl does not like that they are green, but she does like the taste.

All in all, a pretty good use of the plan.  We mostly had what I planned on, with some slight changes in the side dishes and one wholesale substitution.  I think we did get a fair amount of fruits and veggies with dinner, and I ate a lot of leftovers for lunches, so I got plenty of veggies during the day.  The kids did bring some baby carrots, so they did get a bit more veggies, although we are still working on that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Menu, 11/14 - 11/18

I am continuing my quest to make more of the delicious recipes from Veganomicon this week with two casseroles.The girl will probably not be happy (she doesn't like her food to be touching!), but I am really excited about these recipes.  The menu only goes through Thursday this week because the kids are going to their dad's on the weekend, and I get paid on Friday.  I will probably eat something out on Friday, then do a new plan on Saturday.

Sunday:  Carmelized Onion-Butternut Roast with Chestnuts, roasted Brussel's sprouts, cranberry sauce

Monday:  Mole Skillet Pie with Greens, steamed broccoli, orange/blackberry fruit salad

Tuesday:  Tempeh noodle casserole, steamed broccoli/carrots/snap peas, pineapple

Wednesday:  Lentils and rice with carmelized onion tahini sauce, beets, steamed sweet potatoes

Thursday:  Peanut noodles, steamed green beans, green smoothies

I am going to use up some of the turnip greens that are still going strong in my garden despite the frosty nights, and the butternut squash I still have from the garden, so I am still using some garden produce!  You can also see how much I love carmelized onions in this menu.  I tried to add plenty of plained steamed veggies and furits to the menu so that the girl doesn't starve, but I know she will also be happy on Tuesday and Wednesday--even though the main dishes on those nights aren't plain foods, she still likes them.  I am going to wear her down eventually on the casserole thing, I am sure of it!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Some thoughts about last night's dinner

  • It turned out to be more universally orange than I was anticipating.  It still had plenty of nutrients, but the plate would have been more interesting if we could have seen more colors.
  • The hot sauce glazed tempeh was amazing, and even better the next day.
  • This is a huge casserole.  We had a friend over, and only ate half of the casserole.
  • The nine corn tortillas that I had on hand were enough, although the 12 called for would have provided better coverage.  I was maybe just a little bit crazy trying to make the pieces I had cover the whole layer.
  • I added a diced Anaheim chili to the veggies (you knew that was coming, didn't you?)
  • Obviously, the lack of garlic in the original recipe was an oversight.  Who would purposely leave garlic out of such a recipe?  Crazy peole, that's who.  I added about 3 or 4 cloves of crushed garlic after the onions had cooked for a few minutes.  I also added just a bit more cumin.
  • Overall, it was delicious.  I will just have a non-orange vegetable instead of the sweet potato next time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Menu for the week of 11/8

I know, this week is more than half over when you consider that I only made a Monday through Friday plan, but I want to document it anyway. I like to look back at old menu plans when I am making new ones, and my usual method of writing the menu on random pieces of paper is not very helpful for this. Plus, I can add notes on what I actually did this way, which is also useful.

Monday: Chickpea Noodle Soup (from Veganomicon), apple cranberry crisp

I was going to make grilled cheese sandwiches with some shredded Daiya cheddar cheese, but I didn’t make it to Whole Foods to get the cheese, so we did without. Also, I added some spinach from the fridge and chopped turnip greens from the garden to the soup. The kids were unimpressed with the addition of the greens, and with the mushrooms called for in the recipe, but I am hoping to wear them down eventually.

Tuesday: Orange Roasted Tofu and Broccoli, brown rice and quinoa, pineapple, roasted butternut squash

I substituted broccoli for the asparagus called for in the recipe (because the kids actually eat broccoli), and added a lot more—two 14 ounce bags of florets. I also doubled the sauce to make sure there was enough. The butternut squash wasn’t on the menu to begin with, but I had gotten a bag of cubed squash from Trader Joe’s to make risotto last week and only used half, and I decided to use it up while it was still good. I just sprinkled it with some cinnamon and nutmeg, sprayed it with some cooking spray and mixed it up a bit, then tossed it in the oven where I was roasting the tofu and broccoli already. The kids liked this, which is fantastic!

Wednesday: Fried rice/quinoa, made with tofu and chopped veggies, plus Island teriyaki sauce

I know, that is two nights of vaguely Chinese tofu and rice dishes in a row. Originally this was supposed to be Thursday’s dinner, but my friend Andrea is coming over tonight, and she will appreciate the original Wednesday menu more than the kids will, so I did a switcheroo.

Thursday: Chilaquiles casserole, hot sauce glazed tempeh, steamed sweet potatoes

I am hoping that if I steam a bunch of sweet potatoes, the kids will take some in their lunches. They actually like sweet potatoes. I am really trying to get more veggies in their lunches, because they cannot eat enough at dinner to cover a full day’s supply, and that is where they eat most of their veggies now. Oh, and I personally am really excited about the hot-sauce glazed tempeh! I am thinking of making a double batch so that I have leftovers for a long time.

Friday: pizza, baby carrots, green smoothies

I don’t think the girl is going to be excited about the green smoothies, but the boy will! And everything goes better with pizza, at least around here.

I haven't really thought through the weekend, but I have plenty of stuff around the house.  I am going to so some more planning this weekend.  I would like to avoid going to the grocery store until payday on the 19th.  I could buy groceries (although not many!), but I want to try to use up what I have and see how creative I can be.  I suspect there will be at least a short trip to the store for fresh fruit and veggies, but I am going to see what I can do with what I have first.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Using up the garden: Various saved up pictures and meals

wwwI have been cooking and using the garden produce, but I haven’t had a lot of blogging time to post about it, so this post is just going to be a mishmash of what I have available. First, pizza!

Here are two mini-pizzas with some chopped Anaheim chilis and basil leaves from the garden, along with some chopped mushrooms from the fridge:

And here they are out of the oven with Trader Joe’s sausage-less Italian sausage and Daiya mozzarella added to the top:

The next day, I used the rest of the basil I had picked to make some awesome, garlicy pesto. I didn’t really follow a recipe for it, I just added a bunch of washed basil leaves to the food processor along with some minced garlic, nutritional yeast and pine nuts, then streamed in some extra virgin olive oil while pureeing. So good! I used a little of it to mix with tomato sauce for some more mini-pizzas, but I didn’t take a picture of those.

I decided to use a bunch of the pesto to try and recreate a veganized version of the pesto cavatippi dish I like to get from Noodles & Company. Every once in a while I get this dish without the cream or added Paremesan, and it is so good. I am sure that there is some more parmesan in their pesto, but I try not to think about it, because I do love me some pesto. But, I thought I could surely do better at home with my fresh pesto, and looking at the nutritional info on the Noodles site, I think mine has to be better on some of those categories as well (particularly because mine has no cholesterol or saturated fats!)

Anyway, here is the picture:

And here is what I did:

Olive oil, 1-2 TBSP
1 pound of tofu, cut into small-ish squares
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 onion, diced
1 or 2 Anaheim chilis, diced (frankly, I am not certain about this one, but I have been adding them to everything--Marsha gave me some extras, in addition to the ones I have still growing outside, so I probably added these)
1 pound of whole wheat pasta (rotini is what I had on hand)
About half a cup of pesto, maybe more (I didn’t really measure, sorry!)
3 - 4 cups baby spinach

Start boiling the water for the pasta. Fry the tofu in the olive oil until browned on at least one side. I did this slowly, over medium-high heat, while I chopped the other veggies and chatted with my mom. This is one of those things that just takes some time, and you don’t want to stir too much, which is one of the hardest tasks for me. Add the pasta to the water in the other pot as soon as it is boiling. Once the tofu is browned on at least one side, addethe onions, mushrooms, and chilis. Gently fry all the veggies with the tofu, stirring occasionally. When the pasta is cooked al dente, ladle out a cup or so of the pasta water to add to the sauce, then drain the pasta.

What I did next, versus what I think will work better next time:

Actually did: Add the pasta to the skillet with the tofu and veggies, then add in the pesto and the reserved pasta water. Stir to mix, then add baby spinach in handfuls, covering to let the spinach wilt, then stirring and adding more until the spinach is all incorporated.

Next time I will: Add the pasta water and pesto to the skillet with the tofu and veggies, stirring to make a slightly thinned out pesto sauce, adding enough liquid to make it saucy, but not so much as to make it too thin. Add the pasta to the skillet, stir to combine, and then start adding the spinach a few handfuls at a time.

I also added a bit of Trader Joe’s everyday seasoning to this, because I add that to a lot of things these days. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby, or you don’t want to use a seasoned salt, Mrs. Dash salt-free seasonings are a good substitute.

I meant to add some cherry tomatoes to the skillet right before the pasta was added, so that they would cook down some but not completely lose their shape, but I totally forgot. That would make it more like the restaurant dish, as would a bit of wine, but I forgot that, too. Next time, I will probably add a little bit of wine with the pesto, maybe half a cup of Pinot Grigio.

I still have just a little of the pesto left, but I am not sure what I am going to do with that yet.

The rest of the season in basil:
  • Mostly, I just went out before cooking many, many things and got a small handful of fresh basil leaves to add to the dish. 
  • I did make the Sweet-Basil Tapenade from Veganomicon for my birthday open house, but I forgot to put it out, :-(. I ate some of it after the party, though, and it was a mixed success. I have been using the Grade B maple syrup lately for it’s richer maple taste, and that may have been a bit too much for the tapenade--I suspect it was supposed to be mostly pesto-y with some sweetness, but it was very sweet and maple-y, just a little too much. I may try again next year with some Grade A maple syrup, or less syrup or something. 
  • Like the mint, I should have been using more of this earlier. Although I did use basil a lot when it was growing strong (I don’t think there was a week that went by once it was coming in that I didn’t use it two or more times per week in recipes), I could have used a lot more when it was growing back in almost as fast as I picked it. I could probably have made a big batch of pesto every week and popped it in the freezer without noticing a decrease in the amount of basil I had available for other uses. 
  • Next year, I want to try basil lemonade, like the mint and lavender lemonades that I made this yea
In other news, I still have a lot of greens to use. For brunch last weekend, I made the Collard Greens and Sausage recipe from Vegan Brunch, although I used turnip and mustard greens, mostly. It was really good, although I think I could have cooked it a bit longer. Doesn’t it look pretty, though?

I made pumpkin pancakes and cranberry ginger sauce from Vegan Bruch as well to go with, along with hash browns. Such a yummy, nutritious and filling brunch!

I have a LOT of parsley out in the garden. I cannot believe how well that herb is still growing. I gather that it is supposed to be biennial, but it never died off this summer, and it is still going strong out there. I think I am going to ask a friend to let me use her dehydrator to preserve the rest of it soon, because I don’t want to just let it die, but I am not sure what else to do with large quantities of the stuff. Another thing to research for next year.

Here is a mostly non-garden dish, with some pretty parsley sprinkled on top:

The garden is mostly done for the year. I have a few Anaheim chilis, and some turnips and beets to dig up, along with all the parsley, but my days of going out to pick dinner ingredients are numbered. I still have a big adventure figuring out what to do with all the turnips that are coming in, but for the most part, the work and preserving food is finished. I think I did pretty well this year, barring the time when I was broken and couldn’t do much. I am feeling pretty good about expanding the garden next year, and now I just need to start planning what I want to do with all the extra space. Also, I want to review these posts about what I did this year and what I want to do differently next year, along with some research for new things I can do next year to make sure I grow what I want and preserve it well. I have a few things that I will carry into the winter months this year, but not many. Next year, I would like to do a bit more preserving for long term. So, I don’t have to stop obsessing about the garden after all, even though this season is ending! That is a post for another day, though.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Using up the garden: turnip greens, garlic, Anaheim chilis

One of my favorite ways to use up veggies is to add extra veggies to a likely looking recipe. I think most recipes are improved by adding more veggies, with improved taste and definitely superior nutrition! I found a couple of good candidates for this treatment when I was deciding what to make for dinner last night.

First, I have been trying to make more soups, to get more veggies into our diet, and now that I am working at home, I can actually use my crockpot (which really irks me--all the recipes have 8 hour or less cooking times, which is too short for the days that I got to the office), so I went to my copy of Robin Robertson’s Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, and found this awesome recipe for French White Bean and Cabbage Soup.

I mostly followed the recipe, but the biggest change I made was to add a bunch of veggies. Marsha brought me some extra veggies last week, including some red bell peppers and one last zucchini. My zucchini plant died long ago, but they had one more plant that reseeded itself and produced a few late squash. So, I chopped those up and added them to the skillet for the intial sauté. Here is a picture of the veggies waiting to be softened (except the garlic):

As you can probably tell, I sliced up some baby carrots, rather than using a big carrot. I like to buy those for the kids lunches and fast cream of carrot soup. I also substituted 8 fingerling potatoes, some golden and some red, sliced thinly, for the Yukon Gold potato, and I added just a bit more thyme than the recipe called for, because I love thyme. I did not add the liquid smoke, because I can never seem to find that in the store. Here’s my bowl of the finished product:

For the main dish, I found this awesome recipe on the Vegetarian Times website. These days, I am always looking for recipes for greens, both because they are so healthy, and because I have a bunch of turnip greens in the garden that I want to use. Again, I mostly followed the recipe, but I did add an Anaheim chili to the onions and garlic. I also added a whole can of tomato sauce and water to make the full liquid amount, since I was out of veg stock, and a lot of extra garlic. I meant to add some baby spinach at the end, but after running to the Halloween store, then Target, then back to the Halloween store, then to Trader Joe’s, where I bought soy sausage, but forgot to buy more veg stock, I was feeling a bit frantic at the end of the cooking time, and I totally forgot. Next time. Here is my plate of this dish:

Predictably, the boy liked both dishes--he helped with the greens and sausage--but the girl was not a huge fan. I am going to wear her down eventually, I know.

Other things I have done lately with turnip greens and Anaheim chilis:

Tofu scramble: I used the recipe from Vegan Brunch, adding the chili with the onions in the beginning, and the greens near the end of the cooking time

This Yummy Yam curry: This did call for greens, but really, there aren’t many recipes that I don’t find suitable for a nice mild chili or pepper.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In which I care about my health

Did you know that, regardless of how much time you spend exercising, sitting too much makes you less healthy? If you exercise for an hour every day, but spend the majority of the remaining time sitting down, your health outcomes are not that much different than those of a couch potato.

So, standing in the kicthen making sugar syrup, transferring my lemon peel infused vodka to a bigger jar, and mixing in the sugar syrup and more vodka today was clearly done because I care about my health! Now I just need to get some more sugar so that I can move my mint liqueur to the next step, too. You know, because I care about my health so much.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Using up the garden: butternut squash, thyme and garlic

I got two butternut squashes out of my garden this year. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but last year I had a big long vine with lots of flowers and no squash at all, so I was pretty thrilled with these two. Of course, they were ready to pick while my hand was broken, so I couldn’t really do anything with them—they are hard to cut! But, they also last a while, so it was not a problem.

I am feeling a lot better these days, and I have been having some success with chopping when I use my left hand to stabilize the knife and apply some of the cutting pressure. When I was trying to decide what to do with those beautiful butternuts, I was thinking about how much we have been enjoying risotto lately. The kids will eat a lot of things if they are in risotto, and I find it very relaxing to stand there with a glass of wine and stir for 25 minutes or so.

I based my recipe loosely on this one from Food Network, but only as a starting point. I didn’t get a picture, but it was very pretty. I made sure to show the kids the red saffron that would turn our risotto yellow. I love that kind of thing. It’s the chemistry of cooking! (That is why I used to be so obsessed with fudge, back when I wasn’t vegan. I need to find some good vegan fudge recipes. Not that this has anything to do with risotto.)

Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto

1 medium squash (maybe 1 ½ - 2 pounds)

Halve the squash and remove the seeds. Peel the squash and chop into small, bite-size chunks. I put them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, sprayed with a little cooking spray, and tossed with a little bit of Everyday Seasoning, which is a seasoned salt from Trader Joe’s. I put those in a 400 degree oven and got started on the rest.

6 cups veggie broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme, fresh from the garden

I put this in a pot on the back of the stove, and warmed it up, then turned the heat down to low.

1 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP olive oil
1TBSP Earth Balance

Melt the butter and olive oil together in a skillet, then sauté the onion and garlic until translucent. Add:

1 ½ cups Arborio rice

Stir to make sure that the rice is coated with the butter/olive oil mixture. Add:

½ cup dry white wine

Pour a glass of wine for the cook to sip while stirring. You have to open the bottle anyway! Stir the wine into the rice, and continue cooking until the wine is fully absorbed. Add two ladles full of the warmed broth, along with:

1 tsp saffron
Several twists of the Everyday seasoning

Then, it’s all about the stirring. Add more broth as the rice absorbs the broth already in the pan. During this time, make sure to keep an eye on the squash in the oven. When it is roasted to perfection (25 – 30 minutes), remove it from the oven and set aside while you finish the risotto. When about two thirds of the broth was incorporated into the rice, I started adding some baby spinach as well, a handful at a time. I don’t have a measurement on this one, I just kept adding spinach until there was lots of green in the dish. When all of the broth was incorporated, I turned off the heat and added:

¾ cup nutritional yeast

Wow, this made the risotto so creamy and rich tasting! The final step is to add the roasted squash.

Everyone loved this. My mom thought it was fantastic and even the kids ate the spinach without much complaining. I will probably do something different with the other squash from the garden, but we will definitely have this risotto again with store-bought squash.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Using up the Garden: Turnip Greens

I haven't been here for quite a while now. A little over a month ago, I broke my right hand. Since then, I haven't been doing much of anything except for taking pain medication, napping, having surgery on my hand, and then lots of hand exercises. Fortunately this coincided with a slow period in the garden, so I didn't lose as much produce as I might have. I couldn't chop anything or even eat much, so I did lose some, but an abrupt turn to colder weather meant that the warm weather crops mostly died off all at once, before the cooler weather stuff was ready to harvest.

I am starting to feel a bit better now, though, so I have been anxiously awaiting my Brussel's sprouts and beets and turnips. I have been reminding myself to be patient, even though I always want fresh stuff from the garden all the time! But when Marsha came to take care of the garden yesterday, she pointed out that I could get something from the garden now--turnip greens! When I was growig up, my family was not really the greens eating type (more like the canned green beans or corn type,) so it just didn't occur to me that I could eat the green part, too, even though I have eaten greens as an adult. I was very excited to realize I could go out and pick something for dinner. That is my favorite part of the garden--the way I go out right before I start cooking and pick some ingredients. So cool!

I went out tonight and picked a big pile of turnip greens and an Anaheim chili. Marsha left me some collard greens yesterday, so I used those, too. I de-ribbed the greens, then washed them and chopped them and put them in boiling water for about 10 minutes. While that was cooking, I chopped up the chili and a shallot (I am getting better, but I am still a bit slow...) Then I took the greens out of the water with a slotted spoon, and added a pound of whole wheat pasta. While the pasta was cooking, I put a good amount of olive oil in a skillet, and added some minced garlic from a jar and the shallot and chili. I was using the last of the garlic, so I ladled a little bit of the pasta water into the jar to get all the garlicy goodness and set it aside. When the veggies were softened, I added a few shakes of red pepper flakes, then the greens, and cooked for about 2 more minutes, tossing to coat them in the garlicy oil. When the pasta was done, I drained it quickly, then added it to the skillet with the greens. I added the extra garlicy pasta water from the jar at this point, too. If I was using fresh garlic, I would have taken some of the pasta water out before draining to add to the greens and pasta.

This was so good! I was worried I might find it bland, but it had a nice warm finish without being too spicy, if that makes sense. Even the girl liked it (the boy is off spending the night with a friend, but I am sure he would have liked it, too.) This garden is definitely the gift that keeps giving--fresh, healthy food, and new vegetables that the whole family enjoys!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Adventures in sustainability: gardening

I have been thinking about environmentalism for a long time, and what kids of things I can do in my life to be more environmentally conscious without sacrificing my comfort or adding a bunch of work that I don’t enjoy. So, I am a vegetarian, in part because I think that the way we eat meat in such large quantities in this country is unsustainable, but I actually find that I eat a wider variety of interesting foods on a vegetarian diet. I am always trying new things with veggies and legumes, and I actually enjoy cooking. And I have a garden in my backyard because that is the most locally grown food you can possibly get, but I hired someone else to install and maintain it. This way, I get great food with no fossil fuels expended to ship it to my table, but I don’t have to weed, or have a lot of gardening knowledge.

In this vein, I came across the coolest article in my local paper about a couple who are trying to make their suburban home more sustainable. They put in a geothermal heating and cooling system, which sounds like something I will need to save my money for. I am not needing a new heating and cooling system at the moment, which is good, because the initial investment is steep ($18K - 21K.) They also grow a lot of their own food, with a combination of raised bed gardens, trees, containers and food plants worked into the regular landscaping. Mary Deweese is a professional landscape architect, so she is definitely more equipped to design a yard this way than I am, but there are some ideas I can take from her landscape design.

First of all, they grow a lot of fruit. So far, we have planted cantaloupe, watermelon and strawberries, in addition to the sour cherries and raspberries that were already in the yard when we moved into this house. I have been planning to pay someone to remove my Bradford pear trees (non-fruit producing) in the backyard in the spring, and then I will replace them with a peach tree and an apple tree, but now I am thinking maybe I can do even more with fruit. I want to look into doing a fig tree in a container on my patio. Figs are expensive! Growing my own will make for an improvement in both personal sustainability and the variety of fruit we eat, because I can rarely afford to buy them at the store. Also, I had no idea you could grow kiwis in St. Louis. My daughter *loves* kiwi, so it would be awesome to grow some of our own. They have a slightly wider variety of vegetables, too. For instance, I would love to do artichokes, cauliflower and cabbage. Although, I may be getting cabbage for the fall planting--I know that Brussel’s sprouts are coming then. Last year, I went out on Thanksgiving morning and picked the last Brussel’s sprouts for our meal, which was awesome.

However, it is clear that the biggest difference they have from my garden is that they devote a lot more space to growing food than I do, which is a good idea. One good way to do this is the container gardening that they do. I would like to do some potatoes in containers to conserve some ground space. Last year we grew sweet potatoes, and got only about enough for one meal, so I would love to maximize our space for growing more potatoes, and more kinds of potatoes.

Even with the container gardening, I think we are going to have to do more ground space. This year I have been making more effort to use up the produce before it goes bad, so we are getting more out of the garden than last year, but it still isn’t as much food as I would like to have. I didn’t have much to preserve for the winter, so once the summer/fall were over, that was it. I keep looking at what we are getting and thinking it could be a lot more. I am thinking that maybe we could double the main area of the garden by building out into the yard. I am wondering about the front yard, too. It seems a shame to be thinking about pulling up the young tree in the front yard and putting in a fruit tree instead, but the front yard does get a lot of sun. I wonder if I could get the tree transplanted somewhere else?

I even find myself thinking I wouldn’t mind doing a bit more of the gardening work myself, which is surprising to me. As time goes on, though, I am much more excited about the whole gardening concept, and the work doesn’t seem quite as bad (except when it gets to 100 degrees out there!) Maybe I could start with a few containers and see how it goes?

Is anyone else getting into growing their own food? What are you doing?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Using up the Garden: Mint

Last year, when I had my garden for the first time, I loved it, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I wasn’t really prepared for getting a lot of some things while getting none of others, and I wasn’t ready to start cooking with whatever I had on hand. I had long been a menu planner, but I was a grocery store menu planner:

  • Think of what sounded good
  • Make a menu and grocery list
  • Go to the store and buy it
The difference between this kind of planning and garden planning is that grocery stores usually have whatever you want, produce-wise, whenever you want it. Gardens produce whatever is in season, whenever they happen to be ready. I just wasn’t prepared for that shift, from starting with a menu and getting whatever produce went with it to starting with the produce that I had and making a menu from that.

This year, however, I was determined that things were going to go differently. I would plan ahead, searching out recipes, and adapting the recipes that I have! We would eat squash every night if necessary! Veggie soup! So far, I haven’t been perfect (a few things have gone to the compost bin), but we have actually eaten the majority of produce to come out of the garden. I want to start keeping track of what I have done and lessons for next year here, starting with mint.

Several weeks ago, I started using my mint in nearly everything. There was so much, and I didn’t want to waste any of it, because it is really good stuff! I made mint juleps, and sweet mint tea, Lebanese lentil salad and tzatziki-like herbed dressings, herbed chopped salads and mojitos. All of this did use up a lot of mint during the growing phase, but once all the mint started flowering and reaching the end of the season, I needed to do something fast, with a LOT of mint.

A quick search of the internet quickly led to a list of liqueur recipes, and I was hooked. It is the perfect way to use a lot of mint, and I can give some of the results away for Christmas presents, not to mention having some homemade liqueurs right here at home. Unfortunately, I also found a lot of other liqueur recipes that I am making with things not from the garden, but that is a story for another time. I settled on this recipe, and started it once as stated, but that barely even touched the huge amount of mint out there. Clearly, more drastic measures were needed.

Yesterday, I went out and cut off all of the rest of the mint in the garden. I used my kitchen shears and cut under all the leaves, but not all the way down to the ground, because I am hoping that more mint comes back in the fall. This may seem crazy when you consider how much work it was harvesting the mint yesterday, but I do love having fresh stuff from my garden! Here is the mound of mint waiting to be processed:

As you can see, some of the leaves don’t look so good, but much of it was usable. I got about 5 ½ lightly packed cups of mint leaves out of this mound. I stood at the sink for probably 2 hours or maybe a bit more, broken up into two stretches, pulling leaves off the stems, washing them, spinning them in the salad spinner (as an aside, the garden has changed my salad spinner from a slightly expensive indulgence--I used to buy pre-washed produce all the time--to an almost daily use kitchen gadget, which I think is pretty cool,) and making mint syrup and more mint liqueur.

For the mint liqueur, I decided to use rum this time, both because I had some rum on hand while I am out of vodka, and because I am just not a vodka fan. I guess it doesn’t matter since it is going to be so highly flavored with the mint and sugar syrup, but I wanted to try it with the rum anyway. Since I already started some with the vodka, I will be able to compare and see which one is better. I put about 4 cups of mint in with 9 cups of rum, playing a little loose with the recipe proportions. Although, really, that is only about a quarter cup extra mint, which will just make it extra good, I am sure. Here is a picture of what I have so far:

Since the jar is so big, it looks like it is not much, but it really is a lot! I have smaller jars for when it is ready to start aging and being sent out to friends as presents (or going in my liquor cabinet.)

For the mint syrup, I brought three cups of water and 1 ½ cups of mint to a boil, then added about 2 ½ cups of sugar. I let that return to a boil, stirring, then turned the heat down, put a lid on the pot and simmered for about five minutes. Then I runed off the gas, took off the lid, gave it a quick stir and left it to cool and steep. When I got back around to it, I drained the syrup through a colander to remove the mint leaves, put a lid on the bowl and stuck it in the fridge. We are going to get some vanilla ice cream today to have with this, and I may make some tea with it, or maybe some lemonade. I made lavender lemonade with a sugar syrup infused with dried lavender flowers and fresh lemon juice recently, and the kids loved it, so mint lemonade may be a hit, too.

Lessons I have learned from mint:
  • I could have started liqueurs long ago. While the mint was going strong, anything I took off came back within days, and it was all fresh and healthy. I would still do this end of season thing, but I could have gotten a lot more out of my mint if I had used it more at the beginning.
  • I need to look into drying some of these herbs. I assume I just need to get some kitchen twine and tie up a bunch in the basement, but I need to look into specifics.
  • I got more mint this year than last year, and chances are I will get even more next year.
  • I need to start saving all glass jars that I use during the year. I can save a lot of things in jars.
  • I could use even more minty recipes.

Overall, I know I did a much better job using the mint this year than I did last year. I am very excited about my homemade mint liqueurs, and I cannot wait to give them to my friends for holiday presents. Now I just need to see if cutting back the mint now leads to another crop in the fall. I am hoping that it will, but if not, I know that I will be better prepared to use even more of the mint next year. I am calling this one a definite success!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Very soon, I am going to have a LOT of yellow squash coming out of my garden. On the one hand, I am super excited about this—I love yellow squash, so does my mother, and last year we didn’t get nearly enough. Last year, we didn’t get a huge amount of anything from the garden. It seemed to be a fairly universal problem, and conventional wisdom said that it just wasn’t hot enough. This is what having a garden has done for me—actually made me think there is such a thing as a summer that wasn’t hot enough! I never thought I would see the day.

Anyway, this year it is much hotter, and the garden does look more productive. The yellow squash plant in particular is brimming with produce. And, to top it off, a couple of weeks ago, I consulted with my gardener and we couldn’t remember if there was a yellow squash plant already, so we planted some more. Those plants are still pretty small, but eventually, they will start producing even more vegetables. So, today I am looking for recipes to try out. I am not sure what to do with so much of one type of vegetable! I hope that my children aren’t going to get too tired of it.

As usual, a consultation with the internet turned up many delicious looking recipes. I am gathering them all together here so that I can find them again when I am trying to figure out what to do with all of those squashes:

This should get me started, along with my standard side dish of yellow squash, broccoli and sautéed onions. Now, I just need to be patient and wait for the bounty to begin!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Vegan picnicing

We went to the Shakespeare festival last night. We generally go early and eat a picnic dinner so that we can participate in the festivities before the play starts. They have jesters wandering around, and a fire eater and a juggler, and various dances or talks. It is all very fun, and a nice way to spend the evening with family and friends, topped off with some great free entertainment.

As I have said, I have been trying to eat mostly vegan, so the thought of a completely vegan picnic wasn't as daunting as it could be. I just feel so pleased with myself anyway, that I had to share what we are had:

For our main dish, we had falafels. In search of a healthier sandwich, I pan-fried half of them, but then I wasn't 100% sure that they were cooking all the through, so I baked the rest. On the right of the falafels in the back is some spicy hummus from Trader Joe's, which is very good. In front of that is a salad I made with tomato, cucumber, avocado and a Tzatziki like dressing (with some extra dressing on the side.) For the dressing, I used Tofutti Better than Sour Cream, fresh herbs from my garden and garlic powder. I was thinking that a little bit of mayonnaise would make it nice and creamy, but I was determined to have a vegan picnic, and I had bought a big jar of mayo right before I decided to go vegan, not Vegennaise. However, I looked at the jar of Trader Joe's reduced fat mayo, and saw that it is eggless, so I was thrilled to read the list of ingredients and find that it is vegan! It's like it's stealth vegan--they say no eggs, because vegans know that eggs are the non-vegan mayo ingredients, but then they don't have to scare people away with the v-word, ;-). In front on the left is tahini sauce with lemon juice, water, fresh cilantro and parsley, and lots of garlic, which was so yummy. Rounding it all out are whole wheat pita breads.

For dessert/snacking, I made up a quick fruit dip from La Dolce Vegan, which was so simple. Silken tofu, maple syrup and cinnamon in the blender--could it get any easier? It feels like a treat, but it is healthy--my favorite kind of food. I brought along pears to slice when we were ready for them:

Not pictured, we brought along whole wheat bread, peanut butter and bananas for the picky girl and her friend, and veggie chips and kettle corn and Sobe life waters, and juiceboxes and a bottle of wine. It was a great night, with friends and good food and a wonderful play, too!

Exciting discovery!

I just now discovered that Pi Pizzeria has Daiya cheese as an option for their pizza toppings! Vegan pizza! At a very popular restaurant (one that even our president likes!)

I am not usually so exclamatory, but this is pretty darn exciting. This is a place I can go out to eat with my not-even-close-to-vegan friends, and we can all be happy. Plus, we just discovered the awesomeness that is Daiya cheese at home in the past month or two, so I know it is delicious and the kids will be happy, too. But really, the awesomeness of the part where we can go out with our friends cannot be overstated.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

More transitioning

Last night I finished reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Damn. Now I have to become a vegan.

Not that I am opposed to veganism. Much of the food that I eat is vegan. But now all meals with other people will be fraught with tension. People will feel judged, and I will feel left out, and the sort of community that you get from eating with other people will be even less available to me than it is now. I can’t un-know what I read in that book, though. I actually cried while reading some of the descriptions of animal lives and especially accounts of what happens in the slaughter houses. So, we are changing. We are going to go ahead and eat what we have in the house (if I can stomach it), but then no more.

The hardest thing for me will be the eggs. They are so useful when it comes to cooking. And a quick omelet is an easy dinner when I am feeling uninspired. I do have at least one vegan omelet recipe online, though, so that should help. Oh, and I have made tofu frittatas before, and those were awesome! The internet in general should help a lot. I have many vegan blogs bookmarked. And, this past year or two of being almost vegan will make for a less traumatic transition (for me at least—I don’t know about the kids.) Speaking of the kids, I am going to have my daughter read the book, too. I think this is really important.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Menu plan, Saturday to Friday

Saturday: Peanut noodles with tofu, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, salad, some kind of fruit

Sunday: West African Peanut Stew (I know, two nights of peanutty stuff in a row, but it was hard enough to pick all of these recipes now that I am out of the habit; I am not redoing this), amaranth or brown rice, apples

Monday: Curry Coconut Shrimp (I am going to add some carrots, and probably use Thai red curry paste instead of the curry powder), Thai Vegetables, brown rice, mango

Tuesday: no plan; I may go to a friend's house for dinner and then working out, or I may just eat leftovers--kids at their dad's

Wednesday: Salmon noodle casserole (Yay! I will be the hero mom!), broccoli, some kind of fruit again

Thursday: Pasta with capers, tuna and tomatoes, salad, some kind of fruit again

Friday: pizza, carrot sticks, fruit

On Saturday we are headed for Troutlodge, where we will be fed, so no need for plans for then.

I am trying to start serving a fruit with dinner each night again, because I know those kids aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables every day. It is harder to plan that, though, and I am thinking I may need to just get some fruit canned in juice for a backup.