Lentil meatballs (vegan)

So four of us in the house has been close quarters for the last 3 months. We were very thankful to get up to the lake last week for a change of scenery, with the trees just starting to bloom. It was gorgeous!

The weather has done its typical “cold” to “hot” transition with little temperate spring in between. But I am glad it’s hot and sending daily good karma for the outdoor pool to open in a few weeks (we’re just starting our reopening process). Please please please!

As per usual spring, I planted succulents and herbs. The war with the tree rats continues. We’re trying plastic forks to keep them from digging in addition to the fencing. Ironically the plethora of rodents has attracted a flock of crows that keep picking off the chipmunks, baby bunnies and squirrels. Nature is scary, but useful.

I used the basil on my pasta tonight to go along with the lentil meatballs. Honestly I forgot to check if the noodles were vegan. But I am seriously exhausted from all of the cooking. All the boys do is eat. It’s only Tuesday and we’re already out of bread, ice cream, and most of the fruit. We have ordered delivery ice cream twice now. Ridiculous.

Here’s comments from dinner tonight: “Ha ha, I ate my firsts as fast as I could so I could get the most seconds.” Defensive speed eating. Avery is world champion.

So the boys didn’t eat the vegan lentil meatballs but instead we tried Audrey’s porcupine meatballs. What a hit!

“It’s as if spaghetti and meatballs & bolognese had a cousin.”

I was pleased because it was easy to make ahead and reheats fast. They were fun to make and I understood the name once I saw the distinctive way the rice plumps up during cooking. 😁

I followed the recipe with one substitution: creamy tomato boxed soup. Closest flavor profile: vodka sauce. Definitely adding this to our lineup.

Hopefully you only have to make one recipe or the other. Soon enough my food terrorists will leave the nest and it will be just us two. Poor Matt will be eating lentil vegan meatballs all of the time. (I realize how unusual our eating habits are).

All in all I am glad we had this extra time during quarantine together. Even if Avery won’t be having a commencement or grad party. I forgive his spite eating.

Oh, and we’ve now ordered a half gallon of delivery raspberry chocolate chip ice cream three times.

Lentil meatballs (vegan)

  • 1 can precooked brown lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil plus more for rolling (or avocado oil)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 ounces tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
  • Fresh herbs if you’ve got em, I used basil, oregano, parsley and thyme, 2 tbsp total

Sauté the onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute. Remove from heat and set aside. Puree lentils, tomato paste, walnuts, and panko in food processor until smooth but ideally with a few pieces of nut chunks remaining. Add onion/garlic mixture and seasoning . Pulse to combine. You may need additional breadcrumbs if your mixture is not clumping together.

Chill mixture for 30 minutes. Roll into 12 2” balls. Freeze for 30 minutes. Re-roll them and coat with oil (Avocado is my preference). They will be sticky. Place on tinfoil lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, flip and bake another 15 minutes.

Eat them before the hungry boys get desperate.

Shiitake quinoa risotto (vegan)

It ain’t pretty, but for quarantine lunch, I’ll take it.

Straight up: I was bored out of my mind and decided some cookery would help. So opened up the fridge to find some shiitakes that needed to be used. Lacking any arborio rice, I substituted quinoa to make “risotto.”

In other acts of boredom…

Yes, I wore my wedding dress and veil one evening. Hey man, we’re coming up on 23 years and I figure I can wear it again at our silver (it’s too big!)

I have enjoyed coloring and making cookies for the boys. I made potato mini waffles. A turkey ended up on our backyard fence (the cats went nuts). And it snowed 5” on Easter. Life is entertaining when you slow down to watch.

I am actually starting to enjoy the pace and playing cards each night. I miss swimming but I look forward to the pool opener this summer (please please please!)

And we binged Sunderland Til I Die. I am now a soccer fan and can’t wait to go to England to experience a game in person!

Wishing the world health and peace.

Shiitake quinoa risotto (vegan)

  • 4 oz shiitake mushrooms (caps only), sliced
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 onion, finely diced (or shallot if your cupboard is better stocked than mine)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 c vegetable stock
  • 1/2c white wine
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter
  • Splash vegan creamer

Sauté shiitake until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil for 2 minutes on low. Add quinoa and toast about 1 minute. Add wine. Slowly add broth while stirring about 10 minutes. Add butter, cream and shiitakes. Season with salt and pepper.

Creative quarantine and hummus recipe (vegan)

“Are you kidding me? Is this for real? Didn’t you buy this 2 days ago?”

Yes, yes I did buy that half gallon of ice cream 2 days ago. And yes it’s almost gone. And no I don’t eat it so I didn’t notice it was almost gone. But yes this is what happens when 2 grown boys/ men are stuck inside. They eat.

It’s only been just about 2 weeks of shelter in place self-quarantine, but time seems to have taken on another dimension. Slower? But warped? It feels like a holiday break except there’s no big family dinners. Just the 4 of us. All close together. All the time.

So as of yesterday, I decided I needed some behavior adjustments and made 5 commitments to myself:

  • Hygiene. Did I really have to make a rule for this? Apparently. Skipping showers and wearing pajamas longer than appropriate needs to end.
  • Self care. Yes, this is a category different from hygiene. It’s exercise, meditation, not overeating or drinking. 5 days a week may be more realistic than every day.
  • Work boundaries. Be more intentional about turning it off. It’s easy to overwork as a form of coping.
  • Fellowship. Family, friends, online connections. Reach out daily to a few. We started a Sunday family Zoom meeting. It’s highly entertaining 🤣
  • Creative endeavors. Coloring, writing, cooking, blogging. Catching up on reading blogs I follow and trying recipes!

Yes, these rules seem kinda basic, but it’s clear that I need better routines to adjust to the current situation.

I have been making at least one new recipe a week. A roasted carrot farro fennel salad. Green curry zoodles with roasted shiitakes. Hummus this week…I will never buy it again! I have plenty of time to make it 😁

Hummus (vegan)

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic smashed
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • Salt
  • 3 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Puree chickpeas in food processor until smooth. Add garlic, tahini, salt and lemon juice. Process until smooth. Add water and olive oil. Allow to set for 30 minutes.

Eat it before the boys find it. Hide it behind the tofu.

Shepherds Pie (Vegan)

It’s day 6 of staying in. New habits are setting in. Things are slowing down; we’re eating more meals together. We’re trying new things—like using Zoom for Sunday family time. Highly entertaining! We’ll get better at it, but it’s nice to see everyone’s faces 😊

While we chatted with my sister and her family and our parents, I had this dinner in the oven. Now it could be that my standards have lowered, but I thought this turned out divinely! Flavor and texture were excellent. And an easy make ahead.

The key difference in this version is the mushroom/lentil combo. I thought I had too many creminis, but actually they cook down so much it was just right. I thought the lentils might get dry, but so long as you have a large can of tomato sauce, you’re good…just keep adding it if you need to as it simmers. They break down well into a texture very similar to the original.

This is also a dish where superior technique makes the difference on mashed potatoes. I stand by 2 things when it comes to potatoes: the heating of liquids (butter, creamer) and using a potato ricer. It makes for the lightest mashed potatoes! They look odd coming out, but create great consistency.

I wish I had tried veganizing this recipe earlier in winter!

Shepherds pie (vegan)

  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 oz vegan butter, divided
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 3/4 cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 12 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup plant creamer
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper

Melt 1/2 tbsp of butter, sauté onion, celery, carrot for 5 minutes until just getting soft. Add garlic and mushrooms, stir and cook 1 minute. Add frozen vegetables and cook another 2 minutes. Add lentils. Add seasonings and tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Allow to cook slowly while making the mashed potatoes (you may even turn the heat off completely and just allow the herbs to do their thing).

Cook the potatoes. Heat remaining butter and creamer for 1 minute in microwave. Drain and Rice potatoes into hot liquids.

Remove bay leaves from base mixture and place into casserole dish. Top with potatoes. Dot with butter for a browner top. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Tofu Thai peanut bowls (vegan)

Despite toilet paper hysteria, we’re not adjusting our shopping routine. Once a week. Maybe that’ll change in the coming weeks, but right now we’re calm. We’d heard stories about empty grocery store shelves, but found everything in stock at our local coop. Thankfully no one made a run on fresh fennel (yet) 😉

Being socially distanced means I have time to play with my new toy: a sous vide machine. Burgers last night and marinated soy sesame chicken breasts tonight for a quick Asian bowl. I am keeping calm by investing energy in creative pursuits!! The boys are happy because it involves meat.

It’s easy to drop the protein in a bag and let the sous vide do it’s thing. Basically the water slowly cooks the ingredient to a desired temperature and then holds it there without overcooking it because it’s in a Ziplock. You do it all via an app!

You don’t have to take it off when it’s done. It can stay in the water until you’re ready, which makes it super easy. For proteins it’s definitely a win. I have done carrots too which locks in the flavor and nutrients. I feel like a chef scientist!

As we were shopping this week, there was definitely an aura of “stocking up”, like what happens before a holiday or a snowstorm. When I looked in our cupboards, I realized how much we just have on hand. Those are some of my favorite meals—figuring out what to make based on random ingredients. Rice, peanuts and thai peanut sauce inspired this meal. We’re certainly not going to go without. I am very grateful.

I will be even more grateful when Alec returns from college (expected his classes will finish online this year) and Avery has just one more day before they break, and likely also move to a distance learning model. I will feel better with both baby birds in the nest, hopefully by end of the week.

Our world is changing. Fear and scarcity are the mindset of the day. I am hopeful that we come out of this with perspective on what needs to change in our culture. We have enough.

Tofu Thai peanut bowls (vegan)

  • 1/2 napa cabbage, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked Basmati rice
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • Serrano pepper, diced
  • Pickled red onions
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Dry roasted peanuts
  • Grilled marinated sesame soy tofu, extra firm
  • (Or Sesame soy marinated chicken breasts)
  • Sesame seeds, black and white
  • Thai peanut sauce

Slice extra firm tofu into 1/2” slices. Cover with paper towels and place heavy pan on top to remove excess liquid, About 30 minutes.

Slice 1/2 red onion thinly. Add 1 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp salt to 500mL vinegar (red wine and champagne or white vinegar mixture). Heat vinegar until sugar dissolves about 30 seconds. Red onions will be edible in about 30 minutes but better the next day 😉

Make rice.

Marinate tofu with soy/sesame oil and Sriracha mixture for 30 minutes. Grill the tofu.

Assemble the bowls using rice, cabbage, vegetables and accessorize to taste. Top with Thai peanut sauce.

(Not Grandma’s) refrigerator pickles

Pickles are expensive. Good ones, that is. The boys in my house eat a lot of sandwiches. Requiring pickles.

So in my effort to not spend $12 a week on pickles, I decided to give pickling a whirl. But not real pickling that involves boiling jars and possibly giving loved ones botulism. The kind for modern moms: stick it in the fridge in a glass storage container.

Refrigerator pickles are a piece of cake! They’re more cost conscious too. I am semi-embarrassed to post this because it’s not really cooking. It’s easy enough for anyone to do. (My grandmother would be horrified at my lack of canning skills.)

There once was a dream of mine to win the pickle competition at the MN State Fair Pickle so I could get my picture as Pickle Queen on the Gedney jar. <sigh>

I should design a logo for these: Pittman’s perfectly petite pickles.

Refrigerator pickles (vegan)

  • 6 small cucumbers (Trader Joe’s is a good source)
  • 250 ml water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 250 ml white vinegar
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • Crushed black pepper
  • 3-4 dashes hot sauce
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh dill

Heat up the water for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Add salt, stir until dissolved. Add vinegar, black pepper and hot sauce. Pour over the thinly sliced cucumbers, add crushed garlic, coriander and dill. Passable in 30 minutes but ideal around 3 days. I don’t know if they go funky after awhile. They never last that long.

Coconut Chia pudding (vegan)

Chia pudding with granola and berries

Time for breakfast

It’s been a wild ride these last 2 months, which I am thankful for because it made the darkest days of winter go by quickly!

The boys both finished up their sports this last week and it’s been a bit emotional to start to feel the end of a life phase. Avery ended his high school hockey career with an impressive 50 point season. We’re now waiting for the scouting/recruiting/tryout process for junior hockey to know where he’ll end up next year.

Avery @ Hockey senior day

I missed senior day for Avery while in Iowa for Alec’s swim championships. It was an exciting weekend for the Lake Forest women to defeat perennial powerhouse Grinnell. Alec swam great, including winning the mile in a school record time and NCAA D3 cut. It’s joyful to watch his hard work payoff!

Alec mile conference champ!

During the hockey season breakfast is often the only meal we eat together and I have found joy in getting up early to prep it, knowing it’s only a few more months of Avery at home and our nest is empty!

While I usually prep “regular” breakfast for him, I have simplified my breakfast routine by using one of the daily featured menu items from our recent Baja wellness vacation. Coconut Chia pudding with granola and fruit is ready ahead and provides enough whole grains and fiber to keep me sated. And yes, while this is a breakfast item, it is great later in the day too!

I kind of think of eating the same healthy breakfast every day like one of the Jedi efficiency hacks people like Mark Zuckerberg tout (he wears the same thing every day).

The one decision that removes 100.

The logic is to not spend brain energy on “easy” decisions so that you can focus on the more challenging ones. It’s also the same approach as the one decision that eliminates 100 decisions. Ie, Opting out of social media means hundreds of notifications eliminated daily.

I mention these efficiency hacks because life is truly a whirlwind right now between family and work, as the new business is getting its legs. I have had to make some choices about where to spend my time. My creative energies have been invested in work vs blogging, and I am ok with that for now even though I miss it and interacting with all of you 😊

Coconut Chia pudding with granola and berries (vegan)

Chef Efrain’s recipe from Prana del Mar.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of chia seeds
  • 500 ml of coconut milk
  • 500 ml of rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of chopped dry dates (prefer Medjool)
  • 50 ml of coconut cream (the solid part on the top of a coconut milk can)
  • 1/4 cup of dry coconut
  • 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds

Directions:

– Soak chia seeds in soy and rice milk, stir gently.

– Add vanilla, cinnamon, coconut cream, and dry dates. Cover and store in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight to thicken.

– Make sure your pudding looks thick and the chia seeds have gelled. Sprinkle with dry coconut and pumpkin seeds, granola and berries.