Tomato herb couscous salad (vegan)

Spring has finally arrived! I planted my herbs and flowers this week. Fingers crossed 🤞 that the window boxes will look decent in time for Alec’s graduation party in a few weeks.

We’ve had a good mix of sun and rain so my herb plants are flourishing. It’s so nice to just pop outside and clip a few to brighten up any meal. I plant basil, tricolor sage, rosemary, mojito mint, french thyme, lemon thyme, dill and oregano. Lavender goes into the garden to hopefully get big (and provide some fragrance). Still need to plant tomatoes.

This recipe highlights a mix of herbs and tomatoes, getting me in the mindset for summer. You can easily adjust it to whatever herbs, tomatoes or grain you prefer. Or even skip the grain altogether.

Since becoming vegan, I find that I like having a grain made ahead that can be mixed into a lettuce salad for some added protein or topped with sautéed vegetables for breakfast. Or some cucs and peppers.

Additional beans like garbanzo or cannelini would make it more filling too. In other words, it’s adaptable (eaten hot or cold too).

The boys will be out of school in just a few weeks and our weekends will be spent at the lake. This salad would be a great make ahead to picnic on the boat!

The outdoor pool is just around the corner, too….I can’t wait!! Life is good during our Minnesota summers, am set to cherish every day of sunshine.

Couscous tomato herb salad

  • 1/2 package Trader Joe’s Israeli couscous mix (quinoa and dried garbanzo ups the protein in this)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2/3c chopped fresh herbs (basil, dill, parsley, thyme, oregano work well)
  • 2c diced cherry or grape tomatoes, variety of colors helps
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic

Make couscous according to package. Rinse and drain. Combine olive oil, lemon zest/juice, garlic and herbs. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and let steep for 30 minutes to bring out juices in tomatoes. Add couscous.

Advertisements

Emotional eating

There’s a time and place for emotional eating. This weekend is one of them. It’s mid-April, and we’ve already taken our winter vacation. I thought it would be downhill after our return. Silly me.

It has snowed 15″ in the last 48 hours. And it’s not done yet. This is definitely stretching my optimism skills, as hockey season is almost done (go Wild!) and baseball is underway (go Twins!) But Avery will be lucky to be practicing and playing outside by the end of the month, roughly half of the HS baseball season. He’s not happy.

By Saturday night I was pretty squirrelly after being stuck inside so long. So I did what I do when my emotions run wild, I cooked. I made chocolate chip cookies and opened a bottle of wine. Fully admit this is emotional eating. And not vegan. Real Irish salted butter made these the best cookies I have ever made (keep it in the fridge for splurges and this definitely qualifies).

When the plows finally came through this morning and Matt had collapsed from shoveling the driveway (spring snow is heavy!), I ventured out to the grocery store to re-stock. And do some more emotional cooking.

We’re having favorites this week –made egg salad for Matty, bought lunch meat for the boys, spaghetti and “meat”balls, roasting a bunch of vegs and making ramen for me, which starts with an awesome garlic vegetable broth. All comfort foods that definitely have meaning for each of us. Is it so wrong to attach emotions to food and use it to perk up oneself from time to time?!

The cooking process itself calms me down. I came out of my rage as the broth simmered, realizing how few “snow days” we have left as a family. That we were all safe and snuggled in wearing pajamas for 2 days straight, gathered round the kitchen laughing and making the best out of it (binge watch recommendation = The Looming Tower on Hulu).

And it’s helping me make my case that our winters (Nov to May) should be spent elsewhere…just 2 more to get through! My suggestion to sell the house and buy a boat to sail the Caribbean is looking a lot less “crackpot”….

Garlic miso broth

  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 stalks celery (with leaves)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 head garlic, halved
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs, parsley or cilantro
  • Miso individual soup packet (optional)

Sauté smashed garlic in olive oil over low heat until brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic head, water, celery, scallions, bay leaf, herbs and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain and add miso packet, salt and pepper as desired. A great base for ramen or any veg soup.

Travelogue: Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres is a small island just off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. While it’s a sunspot destination for folks like us from the northern US, it’s generally not built up in large resorts like most of Mexican beach towns. In fact, most people get around via golf carts and cash only is the norm. There’s only one grocery store.

We were fortunate to find a wonderful condo on VRBO on the southernmost point of the island that had views of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea for sunrise/sunset. I spent most of my days lounging with water views of some sort!

For a small island, the food scene is decent too. There are 150+ restaurants of all kinds but mostly tacos, seafood and bars. I did not stay vegan (fish, eggs and some dairy. It was almost impossible with limited veg options 😔). Some highlights:

  • Nachos at The Joint, just across the street from us. We could hear the live music from our place. Along with giant mojitos with fresh mint!

  • Breakfast at Green Verde with chilaquiles and huevos rancheros with scratch red chili sauce, yum!

  • Dinner with the fancy boating types at Marbella. Stone crab, hamachi sashimi, red snapper, hog fish fillets and lime pie. I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. An insight to how wealth runs the world and the relativity of that wealth in the world. We’ll never take clean drinking water for granted again.

  • Ceviche at Maria’s Kan Kin at a little hotel on the beach. I loved the octopus in it!

  • Fish tacos with fiery salsa at Jax. Really fresh fish, perfect avocados and too many margaritas (2). Yup, still a lightweight. Alec discovered he likes a Miami Vice, a mix of piña colada and strawberry daiquiri. Basically a booze smoothie. (The drinking age is 18 here).

  • 6 different Beers at Isla Brewing, the only brewery on the Island. The IPAs were solid and the hibiscus was unique.

  • Finally a shout out to Rosa Sirena’s, a new spot with a fun rooftop palapa bar. Somehow the Ambrosia cake got eaten before I got a pic, baked by owner Debbie-who’s super friendly and finding her way in a second career after retiring from trial law (“much less stress”). The boys were happy with large portions of chicken and pork chops. We’re on vacation after all!

Speaking of which…I think this might possibly be our last family winter vacation together. 12 days of sunshine and beach and pool and eating and fun with friends…it went by fast. All 18 years of it.

Roasted butternut squash rosemary lasagna

When I crave lasagna, I generally don’t think vegan–getting rid of the meat is the easy part, it’s all that cheese holding the layers together that’s hard to replicate. And I haven’t yet found a really good nondairy cheese that both melts well and holds up in the oven in a dish like lasagna (suggestions welcome!)

So when my sister served this lasagna at a recent family celebration, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s based on this butternut squash garlic lasagna recipe.

I fully admit that I did not go all vegan on this, but used real parmesan. I would have liked to try again with nondairy parm before posting this, but probably won’t get a chance before we’re done with winter roasting weather here in Minnesota.

That’s good news, it means that I am looking forward to roasting corn outside on the grill…soon!

Roasted butternut squash rosemary lasagna (almost vegan)

  • 12 par-cooked lasagna sheets
  • 1 Butternut squash, cubed (buy the precut cubes if you can, about 6-8 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups nondairy milk (I used unsweetened coconut)
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 4 tbsp nondairy butter
  • 1 cup nondairy creamer (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 4 oz parmesan
  • Salt

Toss squash cubes in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, depending on how big you cut your cubes and how “roasted” you like your vegs.

Bring milk to a simmer and steep rosemary for at least an hour. Remove sprig.

Sauté garlic in “butter” 30 seconds, add flour and stir until the roux is browned, about 3 minutes. Slowly pour in milk mixture and cook until sauce is creamy about 10 minutes. Add squash. I really smashed my cubes into the cream sauce since I wanted a smooth consistency. Depending on how roasted your cubes are this may require a bit of elbow grease 😉 I liked the extra depth of the well roasted squash. Season with salt and pepper.

Layer lasagna by putting 1/4 of sauce on bottom of pan, top with 3 noodles, sprinkle with cheese and repeat 3 more times with the top layer as noodles. (I used more layers than the original recipe, which made it have a bit more structure.)

Pour cream over top and remaining parmesan (this too is a change from the original recipe as the “whipping” of almond milk will result in a giant mess but try if you insist 😉).

Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 40 minutes until noodles are soft. Cool before cutting.

Chipotle chili (vegan)

One of the reasons I started doing the blog is to force myself to write stuff down. And actually measure. Ummm, yah, not so great at either of those things. I’m a little vague on exactly how much of what that I put into this chili. It’s the first time I have made it and just grabbed what I had on hand.

Wouldn’t you know it, this was fantastic. A nice smoky heat and good heartiness. I should try harder, and take pictures of the steps. Then I wouldn’t have this problem. But that sounds like a lot of work. Almost as much work as actually measuring and then actually writing it down. This is why I am a “cook” and not a baker. Too hard.

I think I will just call my stuff “recipes”. As in good enough. If you test this and find the amounts in odd proportion, you’re probably right 😉

Chipotle chili

  • 3 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 chipotles plus 1 tbsp adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 c diced bell peppers (yellow, orange, red)
  • 4c vegetable stock
  • 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2c quick cook barley
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • Salt

Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chipotles/adobo and peppers and sauté another 2 minutes. Add stock and tomatoes, bring to simmer and add barley. Simmer on low about 20 minutes and add beans, cook 5 minutes more. Season to taste.

Avocado citrus salad

Dreaming of warmer weather, I am regularly throwing together salads etc that seem more like summer and less like 28 degrees and 6-9″ of snow (forecast for tomorrow). We’re so close to the end of winter I can taste it! Just 2 more weeks until Mexico and when we get back it should be “downhill.”

HS hockey and swimming are now done, both boys finished the season strong. Alec has made his college choice (Lake Forest College), and I have purchased a ridiculous amount of Foresters gear! He will continue swimming, but mostly we are glad for the balanced and practical experience he has chosen for his undergrad experience. Plus Chicago is close but not too close 😉

We’re very proud and excited for this new chapter in his life. Avery has design plans for his “new” car and life as an only child. Oh boy.

Oh, and after all the bragging, here’s the recipe:

Avocado citrus salad

  • Avocado, diced
  • 1 cup citrus segments (grapefruit, oranges)
  • 1 cup hearts of palm segments
  • 1 cup diced cherry/grape tomatoes
  • 16 oz mixed greens
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced, including leaves
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced
  • Citrus dressing (2:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice, 1 clove garlic chopped)
  • Salt and pepper

Toss together and pretend to be somewhere warm!

Redemptive root vegetable stew (vegan)

So several weeks ago I posted about a “failure” in trying to make something into what it’s clearly not: “Beef” stew (vegan), using substitutes that simply didn’t measure up to the original. The main problem was that I was using a “beef” tips product that should not be slow simmered. It got sour and bitter. The boys nicknamed it “feeb” stew, beef backwards and feeb for feeble.

I continued to tinker and found the flavor profile that was “close” to the original but still honored the inherent flavors and textures of the replacements. I feel this recipe redeems itself now.

If you have never had turnips, this is a great one to try them in. The root vegetables in this all tend towards sweeter than potatoes and are a bit firmer in texture. It’s soft, but not mush. It’s a perfect Sunday supper and makes the house smell good!

So here’s one thing about eating vegan–it’s not about “replacing” meat with a different plant protein. It’s working for us when we reimagine familiar recipes with new ingredients and techniques.

It takes a bit of layering to bring out the “umami” flavor meat adds, I am starting to figure it out. The mushrooms do it in this one, and cremini are solid enough to hold up to the long cook time without getting bitter. Cooking the tomato paste also helps bring depth and bay leaves in the broth brighten it up.

I truly love this version as an update to a comfort food winter favorite. The original recipe is from The Pioneer Woman. I served it with yukon gold mashed potatoes (boil, mash and add unsweetened coconut milk) and peas. Multi-colored carrots are a nice touch for visual variety, orange/purple/white.

Feeble no more…power to the plant!

Root vegetable stew

  • 1 onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz tomato paste
  • 8 cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • Dash sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 turnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 parsnip, sliced into 1/2″ rounds
  • 4 carrots, sliced into 1/2″ rounds
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté the onion in oil until translucent, about 5 min. Add garlic and mushrooms, cook another 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, sugar and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours until liquid reduces to half. Add diced vegetables, cover and cook another 45 minutes to an hour until soft. Remove bay leaves.

Serve with mashed potatoes and peas.