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 – Banana Oat Bran Muffins

I cannot for the life of me believe I haven’t posted this recipe! I make it all the time, for any occasion that needs a (healthy) treat and for no occasion more than having over-ripe bananas.

My friend Julie gave me this recipe years ago. All I’ve done to it is swap a flax egg for real egg, sub some of the sugar for agave, and add dark chocolate chips. Okay, if I’m feeling really wholesome (or happen to be out of chocolate chips), I’ll add berries, usually from frozen as we always have berries for smoothies. Oh, and despite the name, when I don’t have oat bran (most of the time–I keep forgetting to pick some up) I use quick oats in the same amount. No one has complained.

Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal may not be something you have on hand. I don’t typically eat processed cereal but I will occasionally pick up a box of Kashi when I’m at Trader Joe’s. I haven’t tried, but I’m sure you could sub another brand of crushed wheat or oat bran cereal or simply increase the amount of oat bran, oatmeal or whole wheat flour.

I made a double batch and had them in the oven as the kids came home from school today. They dove in as soon as the muffins were cool enough to handle with exclamations of, “Oh, yah…!” They hit the spot.

banana-muffin

Banana Oat Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

3 (or so) medium bananas, mashed
1 flax egg
3/4 c unsweetened apple sauce
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c sugar
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/2 c Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal, crushed (it takes about 1 c cereal to yield 1/2 c crushed)
1/2 c oat bran
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash the bananas thoroughly and combine with the egg. Stir in apple sauce, followed by the sugar, vanilla, Kashi, and oat bran. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda, and add dry ingredients to banana mixture. Divide into muffin tin and bake for 30 minutes.

Meatless Monday – Trader Joe’s California-Asian Meal

By the time we arrived home from the Christmas concert matinee, it was dinner time. We needed a quick, easy, family-friendly veggie meal. As I began pulling things from fridge and freezer, I laughed… Every item–fresh, frozen, and condiment–came from Trader Joe’s!

I don’t have hard-and-fast recipes for the items on this menu, mostly because I change it up based on what I have on hand (for example, you could add bell peppers, broccoli, or onion to the fried rice). Feel free to use the below as a template for your own creativity. I call it California-Asian because nothing I prepared is traditional. Other than the gyozas, I wouldn’t expect to find these on a restaurant menu. I cook the way I like to eat: lots of veggies–raw and cooked, brown rice, low oil/salt.

The menu began with one of our fav quick-and-veggie freezer foods: TJ’s Thai Vegetable Gyozas. Prepare according to package directions (I have done step 1 with no oil, but they get crispier with oil). I regularly add these to soups and stir fries and serve them either as appetizer or side dish. If desired, serve with a simple sauce of low sodium soy sauce (2 Tbsp), garlic chili paste (1/2 to 1 tsp), and a few dashes of sesame oil.

The Tempura Cauliflower were an impulse purchase, but oh-so-yum! They couldn’t have been easier to prepare and tasted like spicy fried clouds hot out of the oven.

tj-meal-1

Once those were going, I decided we needed a bright, fresh accompaniment:

Cucumber Salad

Thinly sliced cucumbers
Shredded carrots
Thinly sliced red onion
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1″ nub of ginger, sliced thin and diced
Unseasoned rice vinegar
Sesame oil (optional)

Add veggies to a container that can be secured with a tight lid; rough rule of thumb: mostly cucumbers, some carrots, a touch of onion (or 3 parts cuke, 1 part carrot, 1/2 part onion). Add garlic and ginger, a few generous splashes of vinegar and, if desired, a couple of drops of oil. Secure lid and give your salad a shake. Shake occasionally as you prepare the rest of the meal.

Next I grabbed cooked brown rice from the fridge, my go-to TJ’s Brown Basmatic Rice (it cooks in 20 minutes and–bonus–smells like popcorn!).

Fried Brown Rice

2 c cooked brown rice
1/2 c chopped carrots
1/4 c each frozen peas and edamame (add water to defrost while cooking rice/carrots, then drain)
To taste: soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic chili paste
Optional: toasted cashews or peanuts, sesame seeds

Heat a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Add rice, and stir until warmed through and beginning to crackle. Make a well and add chopped carrots; cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add drained peas and edamame and cooked until warmed through. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic chili paste to taste.
tj-meal-2

Finally, I steamed a package of broccolini for about 3 minutes until bright green, and then squeezed juice of half a small lemon over.tj-meal-3

Today is Guy’s birthday. He’s spending the day on an outdoor adventure with friends, so we’ll stay in tonight for a warm and cozy family meal. We’re having White Bean and Pasta Soup with Orchard Crumble for dessert. Whatever you’re eating, I hope you eat intentionally, surrounded by love. Happy New Year!

 

Meatless Monday – Birthday Mac & Cheese

The one who made me a mama was turning 18. Because his birthday gift is a 3-day trip to an out-of-town concert venue with family + seven teenage friends over New Year’s (yes, we might be nuts, but we also have a lot of experience chaperoning teens…), we decided to have a celebration dinner at home. And because on his Thursday birthday he had rugby practice while Brother had a band concert, we made Sunday his birthday dinner.

He asked for homemade mac & cheese.mac-n-cheese

And because he will only turn 18 once and I have only this year leaned hard into a (mostly) plant-based diet, I gave him what he asked for.

Not only that, but between four different lunch requests between three people and several courses for dinner, I cooked for five hours and made nine different recipes: boxed mac & cheese with veggie dogs for Tween; a big salad and a tuna melt for Teen; spicy coconut noodles for me; homemade mac & cheese, veggie meatballs, and coleslaw for dinner, and orchard crumble for dessert; and–since I opened a can of tomato sauce but only used 3 Tbsp–enchilada sauce which would provide the base for two more weeknight dinners.

Food is most definitely one of the key’s to this young man’s heart! (Not to mention the traditional gingerbread pancakes and homemade applesauce he devoured for his birthday breakfast…)

This has been a big week in our lives: Thursday he became a legal adult. Friday Guy and I designed a congratulatory ad for his high school yearbook (and yes, I cried just a little, admitting to myself that there is no one else on this planet with whom I have such a unique relationship). Saturday he got his first job (other than kid-, pet- or house-sitting): for almost eight hours of absolute downpour, he stood outside and helped people select and attach their Christmas trees to vehicles; Guy had to take him not one but two dry changes of clothes (he even stole the shoes Guy had on!), and he did it all with a big smile and great attitude. And today, four days into his nineteenth year, he found out that he got accepted to his #1 college choice: Colorado State University at Fort Collins, where he will study Wildlife Biology and play rugby. And yes, I cried just a little more. He even let me hug and kiss him more than once this evening as the news sinks in…

Go rams!

Go rams!

So, yes, I made him exactly what he asked for and more. How many more birthday dinners will I have the privilege of cooking for him?

Macaroni & Cheese

¼ c red onion, diced
1 ½ c elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat mac)
3 T margarine
3 T flour
2 c milk
½ t salt
1/8 t pepper
2 c sharp cheddar cheese
Bread crumbs (mix w/ a little extra cheese & Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute)

Boil the macaroni according to package directions.

Warm small amount of oil (veggie or olive) in a sauté pan, then sauté onions until tender. Set aside.

In a large stock pot, melt margarine and blend in flour. Add milk, cook, and stir until thick. Add salt, pepper, and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Mix sauce with macaroni and onions and put in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Notes:
I use one large stock pot to cook onions and make mac & cheese.
You don’t have to use oil to cook onion; you can sub a tablespoon of water if onions start to stick.
The roux (margarine, flour, milk) always looks like it won’t work, and it always does. Seriously, it has never failed me. Just keep stirring and breaking up flour clumps by pressing them with a wooden spoon against the pot.

 

 

Meatless Monday – Spicy Coconut Noodles

Happy Halloween!pumpkins-1642289_960_720

Chili on Halloween has become something of a tradition for our family, mostly because it’s healthy comfort food to warm up your insides on a cool fall evening but also because you can make a BIG pot and share it with friends.

We have enjoyed Halloween parties with friends most of Tween’s school years. This year, however, Halloween is a Monday, a bummer day for a party. And Tween is in middle school, which comes with increased independence in our safe small town, and less need for parental gathering. Not to mention an important school project due tomorrow for Teen and a friend (both were at a smashing party last year–how time changes priorities! And what teacher assigns a big project due the day after Halloween? Seriously!).

So we’ll enjoy chili at home and actually be here to answer the doorbell and pass out candy to cute kiddos in costume. Not a bad option.

If you haven’t tried my veggie chili, please do: easy, quick, oil-and-salt free, healthy and, best of all, Delicious! AND I want to share with you a recipe that has become one of my weeknight go-to quick-fix meals. It’s super-easy and flexible, a good whatever’s-in-the-crisper recipe.

The genesis for this recipe came from Real Simple, an absolute gem of a magazine and a hit-or-miss recipe source, IMHO. If the recipe looks good I’m willing to try and, though the misses occur, the keepers seem always worth keeping.

I wasn’t sure the first time I made Spicy Coconut Noodles. But by the third time–having added my own twists–I knew this would stay in rotation.coconut-noodles

Spicy Coconut Noodles
Serves 4-6

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti (I prefer Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti)

Sauce
13.5 oz unsweetened coconut milk (I buy it by the box at Trader Joe’s)
3 Tbsp tomato paste (tomato sauce will do in a pinch)
1 tsp chili powder (or to taste – Guy always wants it hotter but, for the sake of others, sriracha…)
1 Tbsp chili-garlic paste

Add-ins (all optional – go with what you like//what you’ve got, but definitely GO for it!)
1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c unsalted peanuts/cashews (chopped if desired) or sesame seeds
1/2 c edamame
1/2 c peas
1/2 c diced carrot
1/2 c bell pepper, any color, diced (I always have mini red, orange, and yellow bell peppers)
1 package Trader Joe’s vegetarian gyoza, prepared according to directions
3 green onions, diced
other options: basil leaves, mint leaves, sprouts, celery (diced), zucchini…you name it!

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine coconut milk, tomato paste, chili powder, and chili paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

If using (please do!), saute coconut in a dry pan until toasted (take care – it goes slow at first and fast at the end); empty into a bowl and use the same pan to toast nuts/seeds (sassy turn: add a few drops of low-sodium soy sauce to the pan). Set aside for serving.

If using, prepare gyoza according to package directions.

Defrost vegetables (I always have frozen peas/edamame); chop vegetables (carrots/bell peppers). Toss add-ins to sauce as it simmers.

Add (gyoza, if using, and) noodles to sauce. Toss well in pan. Top with toasted coconut, nuts/seeds, and green onions. Serve immediately.