Meatless Monday: Plant-Based Challenge Wk3

When you come to appreciate the wisdom of planning ahead because a) you get sick and b) you hadn’t planned adequately enough…

I enjoy meal planning and prepping on Sundays. But last Sunday would be followed by a day-off Monday, so less need. Plus, I felt slightly under the weather, so napping took priority.

Hence the week began with easy food: pasta with marinara (I didn’t roast, just sauteed All the Veggies, added a jar of ready-made sauce + spinach until wilted, then pureed) and bean dip that we folded into whole wheat tortillas with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and more salsa for burritos. Oh, and yummy pumpkin smoothies for breakfast, sweetened with soaked dates rather than molasses.

By Wednesday, the bug had fully infested my system and I ended up in Urgent Care – bleh. And this is when I recognized how wise it would be to stock the freezer with yummy leftovers for just such a time… I needed to take meds with food, so toast with nut butter saw me through. One afternoon I warmed some veggie broth, added brown rice from the fridge and frozen peas, and seasoned with a little low-sodium soy sauce & a squeeze of fresh lime juice, my quicker-than-quick version of ramen.

Thankfully, the drugs are working and yesterday I got back at the meal prep. I bought a 2-lb. bag of cubed butternut squash (I know, bad for the environment, but grace…), bigger than I needed for the farro-kale soup I’d been craving. I roasted it all anyway (no oil, just Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute).

Once I’d made the farro-kale soup, I used the remaining squash to make my first-ever attempt at butternut squash soup:

2 c butternut squash, cubed
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 large russet potato, diced
4 c veggie broth
Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, to taste
1 tsp dried thyme
other spices, to taste
toasted pumpkin seeds or fresh herbs, optional

Add squash to a roasting pan and sprinkle with 21 Seasoning Salute. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 400. Remove from heat.

In a large stock pot, saute onion for 3 minutes; add garlic, carrot, and potato and continue sauteing for 2-3 more minutes. Add veggie broth as needed to keep veggies from sticking and to deglaze the pan. Add squash, veggie broth, and thyme. Simmer for 10 minutes. Test potatoes and continue cooking as needed until potatoes are easily pricked with a fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Use an immersion blender to puree. Taste and adjust seasonings. I don’t like my squash to be too sweet, so I added a sprinkle of red pepper and curry powder; if you like sweet, try nutmeg. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds or chopped fresh herbs as desired.

My soup wasn’t the gorgeous orange color I expect with butternut squash soup, but I attribute that to the roasted and sauteed veggies. Still, it tasted so cozy-comforting. And now I have two different healthy soups to see me through until we go veggie-crazy on our meatless Thanksgiving Day feast. Yum-O!

Meatless Monday – Potato Leek Galette

I made a Fruit Tart and had an extra sheet of puff pastry. I made Leek & Potato Soup and had an extra leek. I wanted something quick and easy to accompany leftover soup for dinner. I opened the fridge and there they were, leek and puff pastry, side-by-side. Potatoes were in the pantry. Ingredients? Check!

I have never made a galette. I think I’ve only tasted one once and it contained roasted squash. So, not the same, but similar. How hard could it be?

One of my fav foodie sites is Food 52, and they have this thing about no-recipe cooking. So do most home cooks, but our (my) version of no-recipe cooking is boiled pasta and canned sauce, salad, or whatever is in the freezer. Theirs is, thankfully, more inspirational. Although I’ve definitely had my share of failed attempts while following recipes, I’m also not above winging it once in a while.

So I read a bunch of recipes, and then went for it. Here’s what I did…

Flour a parchment-lined cookie sheet and roll out the puff pastry. Preheat oven to 350.

Thinly slice 2 medium potatoes. I used Russet, but I’d bet most any potato you like would work. A mandoline would probably make this easier, but I’m afraid of mandolines as I’m fairly certain I would manage to clumsily slice off all my fingertips. So I use a knife, slowly, and aim for evenly thin slices. Put them in a pot of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes.

Slice 1 leek, white and light green parts, in circles. Rinse really well to remove all dirt. In a saute pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and add leek. Press 2 cloves of garlic and add to pan. Sprinkle with some Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.

Leeks and potatoes should be done at roughly the same time. Rinse potatoes under cold water, then pat dry.

Leaving a little room around the edges, lay potato slices in rows. No need to be OCD about it, you just want even filling. I tucked thinner slices between and around thicker slices and used up all but the little round ends of my potatoes. I could’ve used those, too, but I fed them to my bunny (yes, really, we have a bunny and when I wonder, “Will she like xyz?” I think, “Peter Rabbit did…”).

Here’s the one thing I didn’t do and wish I had: chop up some fresh rosemary and sprinkle it under and between layers of potatoes before adding leeks. Next time…

Tuck pastry edges up and over the potato edges, then top potatoes with leeks. Pop it in the oven for about 30-ish minutes, checking periodically to make sure it’s baking evenly. My oven was a little hot, so I turned it down and rotated the pan.

The results? It needed the rosemary, or at least a little more seasoning. The leeks were crazy good, and so more might have been good, too. The kids were distracted and a crabby so they tolerated but didn’t love it (well, they prefer fruit tart, so potato tart seemed odd and fancy-sounding galette didn’t impress them even a little bit).

I, however, thought it worked nicely. And was so easy. And paired perfectly with the soup. And would be a fantastic addition to whatever potluck dinner I host or attend next. It looks kinda fancy, and might just be peasant food. Whatever. It’s all good!

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Meatless Monday – Farro & Kale Soup

A friend sent the best kind of text. She asked when I could be available to come for dinner; she had a vegan recipe she wanted to make for girls’ night. Count me in!

She set the table with a charming quilt she’d made and heirloom china, beautiful plates with a raised spot for a tea cup in which she served soup. She had veganized a recipe she’d tried a few times to good results, and we went back for more and more and more–dainty cups couldn’t contain enough hearty veggie goodness. The kale for the soup came from her garden; so did the lettuce in the salad, to which she added strawberries, walnuts, and avocado. Another friend came straight from her shift at a local winery toting a couple of bold reds. With inviting hospitality, good friends, delicious food and drink, this weeknight could not have been any better.

Before grocery shopping this weekend, I noticed that the weather report indicated another cold front approaching. Indeed, today on this first day of spring the skies have again turned gray and wet, which makes it a perfect soup night. I bought butternut squash, already cubed because I couldn’t find whole, but forgot the kale. Imagine my delight when I came home to find a bundle of fresh kale on my doorstep, yet one more gift from my friend.

Farro & Kale Soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 c butternut squash, peeled & cubed
pepper/Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, to taste
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 c farro
6 c reduced sodium vegetable broth (I use Better Than Bouillon reduced-sodium vegetable base)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
2-3 c kale, spines removed & leaves chopped

On a roasting  pan, drizzle cubed squash with oil and sprinkle with pepper and 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb mix). Roast for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. (Note: you could skip this step, but roasting brings out so much fabulous flavor that I think it’s worth it. If you add squash straight to the pot, you might need to add another 5 minutes or so to the total cooking time).

In a large stock pot, saute onion for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add farro and toss to coat. Add broth, roasted squash, tomatoes, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and partially cover, simmering until farro is cooked, about 25 minutes. Stir in kale and simmer until wilted, about 2 minutes (if you’re not serving right away, you can add kale and remove pot from heat; leave covered until ready to serve). Adjust seasonings to taste.

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Meatless Monday

Fall plays hide and seek with the Bay Area. Mostly, Fall hides. Oh, we catch glimpses of her as the mornings flash an early chill, a playful breeze kicks up, and the days gradually shorten. If we’re lucky, we might wake up to damp ground, evidence of a light rain or at least a heavy dew.

But afternoons can be hot and blue as summer. The calendar announces that Halloween is right around the corner, and we chuckle and shake our heads as child-like Fall has already donned her costume: Summer!

Last night while I brushed my teeth, Guy decided it really had to be time by now to switch to our warmer duvet. Too warm, neither of us slept well.

Even while the farmers’ market continues to sell flavor-bursting vine-ripened tomatoes, we residents of this mild-seasoned state begin to long for comfort food – soups and stews and roasts (all veggie in this household, mind you). And so last week, when given the opportunity to bring a meal to friends facing hardship, I made minestrone soup. It’s one of our family favorites, full of veggie goodness. Easy to make and even better as leftovers, it also makes enough to share. Add a simple green salad and crusty bread for dunking and you’ve got a hearty, satisfying meal.

Minestrone Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped
3 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
½ large onion, diced
1 c green beans, cut bite-size
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can each kidney and garbanzo beans, drained/rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes, undrained
6 c veggie broth
Pepper/Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute/basil – to taste
1 c red wine
1 c dried small pasta, cooked separately
3 c spinach

Saute zucchini, celery, carrots, onion, green beans, and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings; bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta. Add wine, pasta and spinach and remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Notes: If you’re reheating the next day, you might want to add an extra 1-2 cups of veggie broth. My always-on-hand veggie broth staple: Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base. Simply mix 1 tsp with 1 c hot water and you’ve got a cup of broth. Cup for cup, I think it’s both less expensive and way more convenient that storing cans/cartons of veggie broth. Besides soup, I use it in cooking beans, grains, even sauteing veggies sans oil, everywhere you’d use whatever other veggie broth you’re using.

And if you haven’t discovered Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, you’re missing out. It’s a no-salt veggie/herb seasoning blend. I call it “21 Gun” and use it everywhere, for example, in salad dressings, and it rocks on steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Finally, don’t skip the red wine in the soup! Use whatever inexpensive but still tasty brand you can find – I’ve used shiraz and merlot/malbec. The wine gives the broth a depth of flavor you won’t get without it. I’ve tried a lot of minestrone recipes, but it’s the wine at the end that really kicks this up a notch.

So here’s the irony: I took a break from writing to walk the dog and, as I stepped outside, it began to rain!