Dog days

It’s the dog days of summer. The cats and I are in heaven. Heat. Humidity. Sun. It’s fantastic!

I am so thankful for the pool being open! Swimming outside is a true joy for me and each visit restores my soul.

We’re about one month from empty nest now. Alec goes back to college in Chicago in 2 weeks and Avery has decided on a hockey team in Connecticut. It’s surreal after all of this time together—more than my maternity leave—that soon we will be far apart again. I am glad for the boys to be moving forward and hopeful for their health and safety.

In the meantime I am spoiling them rotten with their favorite foods and trying new ones.

We were honored to try a new local chef’s Mediterranean takeout, Dervish Mazza. Fun tapas style dips and snacks. Winner!

It’s berry season and I found an awesome strawberry shortcake recipe (vegan)! It’s soooooo fantastic!! I use coconut oil for the fat and it really makes for a moist flavorful cake. I ❤️ fresh local strawberries! And can even find great nondairy whipped cream or ice cream.

Speaking of favorites… I don’t know what I love more, fresh local cherry tomatoes (the purple ones especially!) or Door County Wisconsin cherries! I don’t care how much they cost, yes please!

Avocado cucumber soup. Green goop? You betcha! Anything avocado. Thank you Martha, as always, for this winning recipe. It’s like gazpacho but more satisfying. Eating it at the lake helps too. Kayaking amongst the loons is restorative.

In our first happy hour out in public (and his first visit to a cocktail room), Alec and I enjoyed local distillery Dampfwerk. This watermelon/lime gin cocktail “take home” kit was just what we needed for Saturday night patio time. I am going to miss him!!

Peace to you all…

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.

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.

(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.

Potatoes dauphinoise (vegan)

There are some recipes that are simply classic. This potato dish is from Julia Child and comes out of one of my favorite cookbooks, Julia and Jacques Cook At Home.

I greatly admire Julia’s no-nonsense style both in her cooking and her on camera personality. I wonder what she would say about her classic being made without butter or cream! No doubt an honest assessment. 😇

One of the reasons this recipe rocks is because it has so few ingredients. Other than peeling and slicing the potatoes, it’s a piece of cake. You can pretty much use whatever plant dairy you have on hand whether it’s a creamer or just milk. You also don’t have to measure but simply pour until it covers the potatoes.

I was skeptical plant butter would give it the browning on top that makes for the original recipe’s just slightly crunchy texture, but it was perfect! It was just the warmup for our first snowstorm (6-9″ on Thanksgiving Eve, 😆).

Potatoes dauphinoise (vegan)

  • 3 lbs Yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced using either a food processor or mandolin. Do not rinse the sliced potatoes! It adds to the creamy texture.
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tsp+ salt
  • Nondairy creamer/milk (about 3 cups)
  • 3 tbsp nondairy butter

Butter the casserole dish. Place the smashed garlic in the bottom of the dish, season with salt. Place the potatoes in, and pour in enough creamer to cover. Chunk up the butter and place on top.

Put the casserole dish on the stove and bring liquid to a simmer. (Now’s a good time to carefully check seasoning. You may want to add salt. )

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness by using a knife to poke the middle. It should be soft.

Original recipe from Julia:

Roasted tomato sauce

Fresh tomatoes are one of summer’s best gifts. I just want to bottle it up and save it for January to remember warmth will eventually return! Now’s a great time to stock up at the Farmer’s Market.

Both boys have started asking for cooking lessons and before Alec left, we were focused on some of the basics that everyone should master. Obviously pasta is one of them!

It sounds easy enough, but there are a few techniques and tools that make for great pasta:

A spider for scooping pasta out of well-salted water. I prefer sea salt, and you should actually taste your water (before boiling 😉) to make sure it tastes like seawater. It takes more salt than you might think, but it results in more flavorful pasta. Remove pasta 2 minutes before “done” and finish cooking in the sauce that you’ve already started heating in a separate pan. This technique works even with store bought sauce.

This is the second tool you’ll need, a grabber to stir the pasta. Add 1 cup of the pasta water to finish the cooking and bind the sauce to the noodles. You can add as you go, more or less water until the texture is right. This works well with any non-cream based sauce.

This is the finished roasted tomato sauce, which is a beautiful color depending on the mix of tomatoes you use. There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of noodles with homemade sauce!

Roasted tomato sauce (vegan)

    4 lbs fresh tomatoes, quartered
    6 cloves garlic
    6 tbsp olive oil
    Salt and pepper

Toss cut tomatoes and garlic cloves in olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast at 200 degrees for 6 hours. Purée in food processor or using hand blender.

4 bean salad (vegan)

It seems about right that I am making one of our favorite summer salads in September. I am not quite sure where it went! But both boys are back to school, with Alec at college for almost a month now and Avery having started his senior year of high school this past week. One more year until empty nest!! 😆

His last first day pic.

We are getting back into the groove of quick weeknight meals between hockey and other school activities. My weekends are spent preparing things ahead so anyone can grab and eat whenever.

Honestly this 4 bean salad fits that criteria which is why it’s a church picnic staple in Minnesota. You can throw in any beans you have on hand–I happened to use kidney and great northern. Most of the time it’s all canned beans too.

But this week at the Farmer’s Market the yellow wax beans and green beans were just fantastic! That’s actually what inspired me to make this salad, along with grabbing about 5 pounds of tomatoes to turn into roasted tomato pasta sauce. (I wish I would have snapped a pic of the golden raspberries I bought too–but they were eaten within hours along with a pint of red ones. Still Avery’s favorite!)

Also on tap this week is beef stew for Matt’s birthday with mashed potatoes and an apple tart….chili and coconut tomato soup and a cauliflower curry….maybe fall isn’t so bad. But I still hate winter. One more.

4 bean salad (vegan)

    1 cup each yellow wax beans and green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
    1/4 small red onion, diced
    1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
    1/2c vegetable oil
    1/4c red wine vinegar
    2 tsp agave
    1/4c chopped fresh herbs–parsley and oregano
    2 stalks celery, diced

Steam green and yellow beans until tender about 5 minutes. Cool quickly in ice water.

Drain and rinse canned beans. Combine all beans together.

Soak red onion for about 10 minutes in cool water (takes away some of the bite). Dice.

Dice celery.

Mix the oil and vinegar and add herbs, salt and pepper and agave (sugar is fine if that’s what you’ve got).

Combine all ingredients together and let sit for an hour to marinate.

It’s ok! Play with your food

The end of summer is near–Alec returned to college in Chicago this week.

For those of you not from the midwest, a drive through Wisconsin creates the opportunity for comedic experiences. Such as the Mousehouse Cheesehouse that has a giant rat/cheese wheel on it. Interesting enough, this is not the ONLY giant rat/cheese “sculpture” found on the I94 route.

Beer, Cheese, Gifts and Fudge were advertised. None were purchased. This is Wisconsin. They’re serious about cheese. They also sell beer everywhere. I am unclear how fudge got involved except that after beer and cheese obviously one needs fudge to cleanse the palate. We stopped to snap a pic with the rat.

It got me thinking about how much fun we have in our house with food–trying new recipes or restaurants. So this post is a rather haphazard look at some of the experiments from the last few weeks (and hopefully distracts from my lack of actual recipe posts lately 😉).

What happens when you freeze watermelon cubes as mojito “ice”? Delicious drink for the lake

What happens when you puree an entire cucumber for a martini? Great flavor and color, not so great texture 😉

Challenge day: Can you make a breakfast baked good with a half eaten container of yogurt and a random amount of blueberries and no eggs because you haven’t done the grocery shopping at the lake yet? Oh-yes-you-can lemon-blueberry muffins. Could you repeat it because you wrote any of it down or measured? Oh no.

Favorite new food toy: the Jaguar of zoodlers (“leased” from my sister). Alec and I also laughed while doing this, it’s like the old Play-Dough toys.

I need another drink after all of that creativity! But a perfect reminder to stop and smell the roses (jasmine). It goes fast.

Actual recipes forthcoming now that Alec isn’t here to distract me.

Banh mi (vegan)

This is the vegan’s version of a barbecue sandwich. Layers upon layers of flavor and absolutely impossible to eat without making a mess. But you won’t care cuz it’s just that good.

I tried a different technique with the tofu–slicing into 1/2 inch, marinating and then baking it. It got a little texture on the outside but still plenty moist. It has the appearance of something other than tofu, which may be important to some folks.

I also used a readymade cabbage slaw for the pickled vegetables. That’s speeds things up too. I had black currant vinegar on hand which blended the tart/sweet punch perfectly!

You can pretty much accessorize with any crunchy vegetables you have though. I had radishes, daikon radish sprouts and a jalapeño. I thought about slicing a cucumber too but it was already too fat to fold 😉

Fresh herbs–mint and cilantro–and a Sriracha mayo finish it up. Round 2 was open-face sandwich style.

Creating this feels like creating art: between the colors and flavors it turns out differently each time, but always delicious! Easily my favorite sandwich and WAY better than barbecue.

Banh mi (vegan)

  • Baguette
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
    2 tbsp Sriracha, divided
    Juice of 1/2 lime
    1/2 cup vegan mayo
    1 cup coleslaw blend
    1/2 cup vinegar–apple cider or another fruit based cider works well
    2 tbsp sugar
    Sliced radishes
    Sliced jalapeño
    Sprouts or lettuce
    Cucumbers
    Mint and cilantro leaves

Drain and slice tofu. Mix tamari, sesame oil and 1 tbsp Sriracha. Coat tofu and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Microwave vinegar about 1 minute until just warm enough to dissolve sugar. Cool, then add coleslaw and allow to soften for about 30 minutes.

Bake tofu on tinfoil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. An ambitious person would flip it halfway through.

Mix mayo with remaining Sriracha and lime juice. Adjust heat to your preferences.

Slice cucumbers, radishes and jalapeño. Prep mint and cilantro leaves.

Assemble sandwich by putting mayo, herbs, vegetables and tofu on one side, slaw on the other.