Meatless Monday – Berry Muffins

Once a month I teach the preschool Sunday school class. Yesterday’s lesson was about being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, which means we are smart, and helpful, and creative (among other things).

We focused on the “creative” part and gave the kids lots of time to paint with watercolors, or color, or make paper airplanes. Some kids chose to create with play dough, while others created tree houses from blocks or created scenarios to act out with toy cars. We let the kids have a lot of free play while we noticed aloud their various creative efforts and how great it is that God made us all creative and unique.

I came home floating on cute kids’ creativity and decided I needed to express some creativity of my own. One of my favorite forms of creativity? Making delicious food for the people I love. Just the evening previous, I had come across a recipe for berry muffins that I knew I could vegan-ize, and I had some over-ripe bananas practically begging to become banana bread.

Muffins are a family fav because they make a quick breakfast, an easy lunch bag option, or a tasty after school snack. I’d wrongly anticipated this batch of 18 muffins would last most of the week, but today was a no-school day and the kids plowed through them with only a few leftover. Good thing they haven’t yet discovered the banana bread!

Berry Muffins

1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c organic sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxmeal + 3 Tbsp water, set aside 5 min)
1 c non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp agave
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c fresh or frozen berries
cinnamon sugar, optional

Preheat over to 350. Grease or line with paper 18 muffins cups. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flax egg, milk, agave, and applesauce in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Gently stir in berries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. If desired, lightly sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each muffin before baking (the recipe itself isn’t very sweet). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

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 – Plant-Based Challenge Wk2

Set it and forget it. In other words, plan ahead.

Week 2 started with a bang. I gave myself the twin gifts of time and money by skipping the store and meal planning with what I already had. The week’s theme foods included  wheat, chickpeas and squash, so I landed on pumpkin; I spent Sunday afternoon geeking out to The Hamilton Mixtape and cooking up a storm.

Pumpkin waffles (I subbed mashed banana for coconut oil. I also doubled the recipe; I thought I might freeze some but nope, the family ate them all over a few days).

Apple sauce (Dice apples and toss in a sauce pot. Add about an inch or so of water. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10+ minutes, until you can mash them with a potato masher; add small amounts of water as necessary. Add cinnamon–or apple/pumpkin pie spice–and juice of half a lemon). I topped my waffle with fresh apple sauce and didn’t need any additional sweetener.

Hash (I sauteed onions, garlic, peppers, and Field Roast sausage, then added diced/boiled potatoes and one can drained/rinsed black beans).

We ate waffles with apple sauce and hash for Sunday dinner and breakfast/lunches throughout the week. I also made a pot of Apple Pie Oatmeal, another breakfast option for the week. Surprisingly, though I’ve made it many times and my kids haven’t always loved oatmeal, this time they both commented on how good it tasted.

Monday dinner I considered making curry to use up the veggies in the crisper but the kids were absolutely not down for curry. So I met a friend at the dog park and, as we walked, I realized I could use the same veggies in Minestrone Soup. This is one of our family’s go-to meals and a favorite to share with friends. When I told the kids I would make minestrone, no kidding, they cheered!

On Wednesday, I made a double batch of Black Bean Soup (can you tell I’m grateful for fall? Fall flavors and soups!). I also dry sauteed red onions and orange and yellow bell peppers with taco seasoning; I wrapped them in whole wheat tortillas with some salsa, like simple fajitas. I wasn’t sure Q14 would eat more than a bite, but he finished what I put on his plate plus the leftovers in one sitting.

So far so good, right? Until I crashed on Thursday. Though the schedule indicated a five-hour work shift, I worked more than eight, until after midnight. I had to eat a little something just to keep moving, but we didn’t have vegetables. The next day was my birthday and, the way the day went, I took the kids for ice cream. I haven’t eaten dairy-based ice cream in years, so I had a cone. If you’re going to splurge, even if you don’t plan on splurging, at least make it worthwhile–and that was one hecka good mocha almond fudge!

Now we’re in to Week 3 and I’m back on track. I’m not going to beat myself up for a couple steps backward when I took so many huge strides forward. I’m going to learn from the bumps in the road and keep on going.

Meatless Monday – 21-Day Plant-Based Challenge

This is my third year in the three-week plant-based challenge run by UC Davis Integrative Medicine. I love that a major California university is charging ahead with cutting edge research and practical nutritional information, including regular blog posts, webinars, and this annual challenge that truly challenges my eating habits.

Because, counter-cultural as it may be, I know that I feel and look healthier on a plant-based diet. And it most closely coalesces with my ethics: a plant-based diet is better for me and for the planet.

Three years ago I tried oh so hard and it was hard and I did okay. Last year, life circumstances held me hostage and I flopped about. This year, end of Week 1 and I’m mostly on-point. It takes practice.

I appreciate that each year we’ve had a theme, and each week has its own focus. This year’s theme: Set it and forget it, all about meal prepping and utilizing the Instant Pot, the current kitchen it-gadget (one I happen to love!).

Week 1 cuisine focused on quinoa, potato, and black beans–perfect for me since I live in California and those ingredients play a solid role in our diet. One look at the suggested menu and I already had family-approved recipes that at least mostly fit the bill. Plus, I took into account what we had on hand and needed to use.

Breakfast:

Smoothies (this week’s rotation: frozen mango, canned pineapple in unsweetened juice, fresh spinach, fresh ginger, ground flax meal, with water to blend–my fav greener-than-green drink)
Avocado Toast–whole grain toast, avocado slices, with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Lunch:

Salad–I bought a bag of mixed cruciferous greens, which I topped with tangerine slices, peanuts, and peanut sauce dressing.

Dinner:

Tofu Chilaquiles
Quinoa & Black Bean Salad
Baked potatoes and Veggie Chili

Snack:

Jicama sticks

Meal planning helps oh so much because it’s all about what’s on hand and what I need to have on hand. Family schedules dictate that I don’t cook every night, so I try to cook big to have leftovers.

I made chilaquiles because I had made enchilada sauce the week before. I made quinoa & black bean salad as a side-dish for chilaquiles, and then used it all week to top other salads.

I baked a whole bag of potatoes on Wednesday while I made the chili, and we had friends over on Thursday to eat leftovers; alongside, I served a huge green salad with all the veggies–mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, cilantro, plus quinoa salad–and it was SO good.

Leftovers of that salad morphed into a taco salad with added kidney and garbanzo beans, topped with salsa. And, no kidding, a cooked baked potato, cold, even without toppings, makes for a delicious on-the-go snack.

Because I believe in doing my best, and grace, and most of the time rules the day, I didn’t worry over the tiny bites of artisan chocolate with my Napa wine pairing (yes, I do live 45 minutes from Napa and this gets to be an occasional treat in my life), and I didn’t make a fuss about the cauliflower-crust veggie pizza my husband bought and prepared for me when I got home from a long Friday at work. Both splurges were perfectly that–delicious, minute, lovely moments in my life this week.

On the whole, I fully enjoyed all the delicious food I ate. Honestly, I was surprised how I craved my upcoming lunch salad every single day; I never got tired of it! Because I’ve been at this for a while, I had the luxury of using my own recipes, mostly no/low-oil and salt, but again, I don’t fret about the occasional drizzle or dab of something because I know it won’t be an everyday/all-day occurrence.

Week 2 underway and, again, so far so good. More on that next week!

Meatless Monday – Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip

Well, this day did not go to plan!

Guy left this morning for a full week of travel. So of course, not one, but TWO cars to which I had access didn’t work.

Commence panic attack: I’m Stranded!

After I pulled myself together from a toddler-worthy temper tantrum, I calmed down and decided to take one car to a mechanic.

Not one, not two, but three mechanics later, someone took my key and my phone number. And I haven’t heard from him since, so I’m really trying not to think the worst.

So what do I do? After checking email and social media and wisely deciding not to rant (although, here I am ranting, and this will post to social media…), I start checking recipes to decide what I can make for dinner with what I have on hand.

Hash–roasted potatoes tossed in last minute with sauteed onion, vegan Field Roast Italian and chipotle sausages, bell peppers, and black beans–over a modified version of Quinoa & Black Bean Salad.

Enough, right? Except my curiosity wasn’t satisfied and I remembered a) I had some white beans in the fridge and a can of artichoke hearts in the pantry, b) I have a Tower Garden filled with glorious spinach, and c) I made a holiday party dip and forgot to make notes at the time.

Have you heard about Tower Gardens? These things are amazing! Generous friends gave us one, and we currently have so much mint and spinach and baby lettuce on the way; a few months ago we had abundant arugula. I’m not the best gardener but this thing seems fool-proof!

So I made a Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip. It comes together so quickly and then bakes to warm, gooey deliciousness. Just as it had cooled, Q14 dashed through the kitchen for a taste test. He declared, “Too spicy…” (I was heavy-handed with the Tapatio) “…and needs cheese” (it doesn’t, that’s just his way of teasing/answer for everything).

Spinach Artichoke Dip was one of my favorite party recipes before leaning plant-based, and I’m so happy to have a yummy non-dairy replacement. You could use kale instead of spinach. To satisfy the kid’s cheese request, I might another time add 2-4 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast, but maybe not. Tonight I’ll eat it with chips. Tomorrow I’ll put it on a toasted bagel or in a veggie wrap sandwich. Ooh, or maybe in a black bean no-cheese quesadilla. It’s versatile that way!

Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip

2 c packed fresh spinach
1 14-oz can water-packed artichoke hearts, well drained
1/2 c non-dairy mayo
1/2 c white beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 large garlic cloves
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp Tapatio or hot sauce of choice (start with less and add more)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb seasoning)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a baking dish and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Meatless Monday – Cherry Berry Banana Green Smoothie

A few months ago I read that a shot of cherry juice before bed could help with insomnia. So when I saw cherry juice on sale at Costco, I added it to the cart. But we’re tired and forget to a) drink it and b) make anything resembling scientific study when we happen to remember to drink it.

And now it is officially spring! Even though there’s still a chilly bite to the morning air, I have returned to my most-days green smoothie routine, in part prompted by the presence of cherry juice in the fridge.

As already noted, I am not scientifically inclined, aka, imprecise. I have tried to measure, but really, I throw ingredients in the blender until they “look right.” Be warned: you may want to experiment yourself for the exact ratios, if exact ratios are your thing.

Another tip: red cherries/berries + green spinach = interesting color. Pour your smoothie into a colored cup with a lid and enjoy it through a straw. Now you’re ready to take it on the go and no one (including you) will be distracted by your otherwise delicious drink.

Cherry Berry Banana Green Smoothie
Serves 1

1/2 c frozen cherries
4-6 large frozen strawberries (add to cherries and you should have just under 1 c fruit)
1/2 frozen banana
1 large handful spinach (approx 1 c packed)
1/4 c cherry juice
fresh ginger (about the size of the first digit of your pinky finger)
water, as necessary to blend

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Keep adding water a little at a time until you have good blending consistency.

No idea if the cherry juice at bedtime has helped us sleep better. But I can attest to a cherry smoothie helping to jump start my morning!

Meatless Monday – Tomato Soup

I was in a funk. The kiddo was sick and the day’s plans dashed. After walking the dogs, I decided to cook the rest of the day away. I created some lovely food, and the acts of creating and serving those I love helped lift the gray clouds from my atmosphere.

C19 had called from college to report that his girlfriend was home from college, sick. Apparently, tomato soup is her favorite, and he promised I would make some for her. Easy enough.

After school this afternoon, Q13 opened the fridge and started hollering, sure that I had delivered away all of the soup. Nah, of course I made extra, and it’s our dinner tonight. Tomorrow we will dive in to the vegan veggie-happy lasagna I also made, and maybe eventually I’ll share here that recipe as well.

C19 called today to say thank you, that GF had eaten soup for dinner last night and lunch today, that it was warm and comforting and perfect. He confessed: he thought I had opened a box of grocery store soup. They had no idea it was real, home-made soup. Which Q13 tells me I should consider a compliment, that the soup was so good it could have come from a box. Silly kids! It’s better than a box, and just about that easy.

Tomato Soup
Makes 6 servings

3 Tbsp non-dairy butter
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Coarse salt & ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp tomato paste
4 14.5 oz cans tomatoes (do not drain)
4 c veggie broth
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or no-salt herb/veggie seasoning)
½ Tbsp dried basil
½ Tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
Optional: 1 c cooked brown rice

In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add oil and onion, season w/ salt and pepper. After 3 minutes, add garlic. Cook until onion is translucent, about 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and tomato paste, cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes in their liquid, broth, vinegar and seasonings. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Turn off heat. Use an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) to puree. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Stir in rice before serving, if using.

This recipe is something of a blank canvas. The variations all depend on your taste buds!
Roast tomatoes, garlic and even diced bell peppers and use in place of one or more cans of tomatoes.
Use cans of whole peeled, diced, stewed or fire roasted tomatoes with whatever seasonings float your boat.
Swap out the vinegar for red wine.
Use fresh herbs instead of dried.