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.

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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.

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.

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.

Green curry noodle bowls

Green for Glory. (A few of my readers will understand that inside reference 😉).

We’re still trying out new vegan options, some hits, some misses. I’m particularly surprised by Av who is actually adjusting to it, including the no lunch meat. He’s eating massive amounts of fruit (usually 2 or 3 pieces at lunch alone). The Açaí bowls and almondmilk yogurt are his favorites, particularly with Bubba’s Fine Foods granola.

Eating out is getting easier too, as I have found most restaurants have some good vegetarian options which can easily be modified to be vegan by holding the cheese or mayo, etc. We still have eggs, butter and parmesan cheese as occasional “treats”.

Quorn chicken patties/tenders have become a weekly staple, getting used in a variety of ways (the version in our store unfortunately contains milk, eggs but again, moderation in diet “compliance” works for us). It’s fun to stretch our food knowledge and try new things. I do realize we’re unique in that regard.

Several people have asked how we’re getting enough protein. I have tracked my calories for almost 5 years now in an app, which includes nutrient analysis. I set a goal so I can easily see how I’m doing–between 10-35% of daily calories from protein. I’m averaging around 15% protein and regularly hitting my 19g daily fiber goal, with most of the protein coming from ancient grains (quinoa, farro, bulgur) and beans (garbanzo, pinto, black and bean burgers as recurring sources). Of course vegs have protein too!

The historical data on my app shows that my protein has actually gone UP. I attribute that to being more intentional about it. And all in all I just feel better! Matt looks and feels great too, having lost weight in the process 😊

This recipe was easy and has a nice fresh flavor for midwinter. I was using up green stuff, but any veg will do and no reason to cook those ahead, just let the broth do it.

Green curry noodle bowls 8 oz rice noodles, cooked

  • 1 package extra firm tofu, sliced and marinated in soy sauce
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 1 tsp lemongrass purée(I buy the tube, which lasts longer)
  • 1 tbsp ginger purée
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (omit this to keep fully vegan, thanks Esme!)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • Zucchini, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • Lime slices

Slice and marinate tofu in soy for about 30 minutes. Cook noodles. Purée 1 chile, garlic and herbs/seasonings with coconut milk. Heat broth and add coconut mixture, allow to simmer and blend flavors. Sauté tofu in coconut oil until browned on both sides, drain on paper towels. Assemble bowls with vegs, noodles and tofu, top with curry broth mixture and a few herb leaves and remaining sliced chile.

Food as self care

It snowed again today. I hate January in Minnesota. If you’re coming here for the SuperBowl in a few weeks, pack your warm stuff!!

The only good thing about weather like this is that it keeps us inside together and gives us time to read, watch movies/tv and just be together.

It was a day off of school for the boys, and they enjoyed the leftovers from yesterday’s football game (Go Vikes!): Halftime chili and cheesy cornbread. I was surprised to learn that most of the teenage boys who came over to watch the game hadn’t ever had chili “Cincinnati style”, which is served over pasta. Anything that can be served over pasta is in our house!!

I did not partake, but instead made an açaí bowl with fruit and desiccated coconut. It looks awful but is utterly fantastic. I’d had this unique superfruit full of antioxidants in Kauai and was thrilled to find a smoothie ready frozen package. Individual servings make it fast and easy.

For dinner I made grain bowls with quinoa and black beans over mixed greens with whatever vegs I could find. I roasted green beans (20 minutes at 400 degrees), and this is absolutely my new favorite prep for what can be a tasteless veg in winter.

That got me thinking about how much we enjoy trying new foods and techniques, and that our habits have changed pretty dramatically in 15 years (since Avery was born). We used to care mostly about cheap and familiar.

With more time and more adventurous spirits, every week is different now. Food (and food prep for me) has become a form of self care. I truly enjoy learning and exploring, and slowing down after a busy day to pull a meal together.

I’m really feeling so much healthier these days–more energy especially–and think a lot of it is the vegan diet (particularly getting rid of dairy). It’s easy to stick with something that makes you feel better!!

Ps We’re planning our winter getaway, which involved updating my passport. I am thrilled to be getting rid of this photo (12 years ago)!! 40 something is way better than 30.

“Beef” stew (vegan)

The boys are generally being good sports about this vegan thing we’ve been trying. They’ve both figured out coping mechanisms. Avery has been getting supplements at lunch from his friends who take pity on him, and Alec just drives himself to buy something when he wants it.

I was honestly pretty excited tonight to try one of our favorite recipes, made vegan–Sunday Night beef stew by Pioneer Woman. It’s a winter staple. It’s hearty and easy, classic flavors.

It turned out great…the smell of a simmering pot filled the house all afternoon with anticipation and when the boys sat down there was honestly excitement. (I serve it over a giant portion of mashed potatoes and a good old bowl of carbs is always good bait for a teenage boy.)

So when we dug in, the reactions were nearly simultaneous: “This isn’t meat, is it?”

No. And then even I was laughing because there’s no way soy chunks improve by simmering. Quickly the nickname “feeb” stew caught on (beef backwards and perhaps a nod to feeble).

Lesson learned. I really liked this meatless beef tips product when we used it in broccoli stir fry last week, but I think it was greatly helped both by quick sauté and a spicy sauce. Cooking it for several hours made the texture akin to the “meatballs” in Spaghettios and the flavor was definitely not umami.

Everything else in the recipe turned out great–substituting olive oil for butter and vegetable stock for beef. I amped up the Worcestershire and added bay leaves to give the sauce more depth. That part of the recipe was a success. The carrots/turnips were great as usual too. Even the boys said so.

I’m going to keep tinkering with the right meat substitute, perhaps a tempeh or mushroom. The key to this vegan thing I think is to play with a food’s strengths, not to try to make something into what it’s clearly not. I’ve got some trust building to do for the feeb stew, can’t fool these hungry boys. 😉