Tomato soup (vegan)

Potpourri. Growing up that’s what mom called leftover night. I hated potpourri night. So now, beloved readers, I give you a potpourri post. A recipe, yes. But some other random food stuff since it’s been awhile.

Let’s start with something cool. I am trying out a new Twin Cities startup, Local Crate. It’s a food delivery concept involving ingredients from local farms and artisans. It’s not dissimilar to why I originally started blogging–to inspire people to explore what’s grown near them. It’s been an interesting and time-saving experience to have a couple meals pretty much prepped. I made vegan tikka masala this week!!

It doesn’t quite look like the picture but it tasted good. This is ideal for people who love to cook but hate planning and shopping.

In other food news, Alec is discovering how good he had it eating at home. “Why don’t they make spaghetti and meatballs?” The thrill of a cafeteria offering perpetual ice cream sundaes has worn off. He says he’s losing weight especially now that swim season has kicked in. He has 5:30am practice 3x a week. We look forward to feeding him at Thanksgiving!

Avery has really embraced the vegan diet. He’s even doing a biology research project on how plant protein impacts athlete performance. It’s the first time he’s gotten truly curious about molecular structure 😉

He’s also learning how to make vegan snacks for late night studying (nachos being a favorite). Yea for adaptability and learning!

Finally, here’s the recipe. This is so simple it shouldn’t really count, but sometimes simple is good for the soul. It snowed this week. Yes people. Snow. I am perpetually cold and it’s only October.

Tomato soup

  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 3 carrots, sliced into halfmoons
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • Celery leaves, fresh oregano and thymes stalks
  • 4c vegetable stock
  • 28oz can whole tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper, basil

Simmer onion in oil until soft. Add celery, carrots and garlic and sauté another 3-5 minutes until onions are golden. Add tomatoes and vegetable stock. I added a few end pieces of the celery with leaves attached and some fresh oregano and thyme still attached to the stalk. This gave the flavor a bit more depth. Simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Remove the celery leaves and herb stalks (if you used them). Purée until smooth with hand blender, season to taste with salt pepper and basil (1/2 tsp is an estimate).

Late summer veggie orzo salad

I have always loved the challenge format cooking shows, where competitors get a basket of miscellaneous stuff and have to quickly make something fantastic.

Our house is sometimes like this when we are nearing the end of the week and due for a grocery shop. I love the challenge of figuring out how to pull something together and the thrill of when it’s actually good.

This pasta salad could be made with a variety of things, substituting what you have on hand (different veggies, shape pasta, lemon for lime). I will say that adding a green of any kind is a nice change of pace and certainly adds some nutrients.

It also helps to have adventurous eaters (or just really hungry ones) to try out the experiments! 😉

Late summer veggies orzo salad

  • 12 oz orzo
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/3c olive oil
  • Zucchini, sliced lengthwise in quarters
  • Yellow squash, sliced lengthwise in quarters
  • 2 ears corn
  • 2 large handfuls mixed greens, arugula or spinach

Cook orzo and rinse. Mix together dressing of lime juice, olive oil, dijon and honey. Season with salt and pepper. Toss orzo to coat. Add in greens. It helps if the pasta is slightly warm to just wilt them. Grill zucchini, squash and corn for 10 minutes. Chop squash and slice kernels off of the cob (let it cool first!) Add to salad and toss to combine.

A goat cheese or vegan goat cheese/chevre is a nice touch of tangy too.

Watermelon jalapeño gazpacho

People either love or hate cold soup. Ya know, the kinds that are supposed to be cold. I happen to love them, with gazpacho being top of the list. Especially right now as the tomatoes are just starting to come in.

Sidenote: I have 2 perfect green tomatoes growing on my deck. I have invested a lot in these beauties and am protecting them fiercely from critters. Am relishing a perfect slice atop a veggie burger or all on its own. It’s just a few weeks now and they’ll bloom red. Please, Mr. Squirrel, please pass by my perfect tomatoes.

Anyhow, this soup is nice because it’s not the same old but is both sweet and spicy. A good quality watermelon makes all the difference–seedless is the only way to go.

Top it off with fruit salsa. Normally I like to use what’s in it so people know, but in this case I had some cantaloupe left to use up and needed a color contrast.

An easy way to get your fruits and veggies in and low fat too, perfect on a hot summer day. Super easy and super fast!

Watermelon gazpacho

  • 3cups cubed seeded watermelon
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4c red pepper slices
  • 3 inches of a seedless English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 slices jalapeño (no seeds!)
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, cut in large chunks
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar (white or red wine or lime juice works too)
  • 1 tbsp mint finely chopped.

Blend everything but mint together in blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and add mint. Top with fruit salsa or a drizzle of olive oil.

Fruit salsa is simply diced watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber and finely chopped mint.

Vegs for breakfast

Sitting on the back patio with a cup of coffee early on summer mornings is one of my “recharge” rituals. I love the quiet of the world, with mostly only nature stirring about, and the 70 degrees is perfect.

I have never been a big breakfast eater. In college I remember being weird in that cereal was not a default meal for me. Even before the vegan diet I didn’t enjoy sausage or other heavy rich foods first thing. Brunch time? Maybe. But just a cup of coffee wasn’t all that unusual for me to survive on til midday.

But then you get older and just coffee kind of makes you feel yucko and jittery. So I have really been trying to eat in the morning and in the process expanding my foods.

I have discovered that I like vegetables for breakfast! Typically that’s sautéed zucchini and cherry tomatoes, some bell peppers if I have them and fresh basil. If I need some starch, will put it over quinoa.

Sometimes even a mixed green salad with sautéed sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocado and nuts (pistachios in this case). It feels a bit odd to have salad in the morning but eh, I am used to being different by now 😉

I also love toasts, with avocado or hummus and topped with radishes or more tomatoes, and dill. A side of fruit salad with mint rounds it out. I make cold press overnight so the coffee is always ready as soon as I am up.

Maybe because it’s first thing in the morning, it’s easier to slow down and take my time to beautify my food too.

There’s something about starting out the day with some solid self-care, both in the enjoyment of nature and healthy food, that is nourishment on many levels.

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.

Panzanella (bread salad)

Halfway through winter has me dreaming of the dog days of summer, and my favorite ingredients–fresh tomatoes and basil.

Before getting into this salad recipe, I must share a bit of context for you, dear reader, many of whom are scattered across the globe and virtually all of you somewhere warmer than MN. It snowed a foot yesterday. This is what that looks like:

We (well mostly not me) shoveled 3 times in the last day. There’s nowhere to put it! The boys were disappointed that school wasn’t canceled. I remember those grade school snow days well–watching the TV update the school closings…a mixture of joy at an unexpected day off and the exhaustion at the end of it after pulling kids up the sledding hill endlessly. I was bummed that we couldn’t spend the day like that today.

So I popped over to the neighbor’s to reminisce, as his creative kiddo built a snow fort. It was a glorious day full of winter sunshine and a balmy 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect for hiding out and an ambush snowball fight 😈

Back to this summery recipe….

We Minnesotans like to clarify our salad types (ie lettuce salad, pasta salad, Jello salad), so it’s surprising that Panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad isn’t big here. Maybe we’ve never tried it because I have never had day old bread to use up 😉.

I substituted in lemon juice for the traditional red wine vinegar and added cucs, skipping the onions. It’s so easy! It’ll be truly fantastic when we have local, fresh tomatoes and variations of cucs, zucchini and herbs!! Cheers to only 3 more months of winter!

Panzanella bread salad

  • Loaf of crusty bread, cut into large cubes (I used a seeded sourdough)
  • 2 best quality tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/2″ half moons
  • 1/4c chopped fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3-1/2c olive oil

Mix all ingredients except bread together in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper. Allow to marinate for at least an hour. In the meantime, toast bread at 350 for 8-10 minutes until dry but not dried out. (Skip this if you cube the bread ahead and just leave it overnight or if you truly have dry bread to use up. The texture is important). Toss the bread into tomato mixture until moistened but not soggy. You may need a bit more oil depending on how dry your bread is. Serve at room temperature.

Winter smoothie prep packs

It’s winter in Minnesota and the fresh local fruit options are sparse. It’s also hockey and swim season, meaning time is precious and calories in high demand.

What can I make ahead that’s fast and healthy? I pulled some miscellaneous greens and celery from the fridge, canned and frozen fruit. garbanzos, and various nutritional adds like oatmeal, desiccated coconut, flax and chia seeds, fresh mint, ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric.

Then I threw some combinations together into sandwich bags and tossed into the freezer so the boys could grab as needed, add liquid and a banana. Ironically we had all of the weird stuff but no bananas? Boys.

If you run into the same issue with an ingredient just know that everything except liquid freezes well and gives it a nice chill, but if you don’t happen to have celery you can always add it when you blend.

Smoothie recipes are loose and easy to experiment to find what you like. This is definitely more art than science in my book, meaning the amounts and exact fruit are really up to you. Here are some of the combos we like:

Tropical: mandarin oranges, pineapple, peaches, pears, 1/2 banana, desiccated coconut. Use whatever combo of fruit you like about 1 cup total plus 3 tbsp of the coconut (usually found in the bulk section, and you don’t generally want to use the sweetened stuff). Add 1 cup+ of almond, coconut milk or whatever milk you drink until you reach your preferred consistency.

Berry blast (fiber): 1 cup spinach, 1/2 total of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and 2 tbsp or so dried oatmeal, 1 tsp dried cinnamon, 1/2 banana. Add 1c+ milk. The oatmeal makes this very filling.

Toxin Cleanse: 1 cup chopped kale, 1/2c pineapple, 1 stalk chopped celery, 1 tsp ginger (I use the fresh ginger in the tube found near the fresh herbs). Add 1c+ water or coconut water if you’ve got it, which has awesome electrolytes. This smoothie is a great way to flush toxins, if you have overindulged or have an upset tummy.

Balance: 1c spinach, 1/4c garbanzo beans, 3 large strawberries, 1 tbsp fresh mint, 1 tbsp flax seeds, dash of cinnamon, 1/2 banana. Add 1c+ milk of choice. The boys don’t like this one, but it’s one of my favorites when I’m feeling run down as it brings me back into balance with all of the great protein and iron in it. Flax seeds add fiber and help absorb the other nutrients too.

A note about blending: Depending on how compact the bags are, you’ll have something close to a solid chunk. You’ll want to break it up a bit (smash it a couple times on the counter) before blending or your blender may make an angry noise 😉

We found that filling a standard size sandwich bag about half full was a good size.

Shrimp quinoa bowls (a “recipe”)


Does boiling water count as cooking? I’m not sure, so I decided to call this a “recipe”. Since only the quinoa needs to be cooked, everything else is just throwing it into the bowl. I mean extra credit if you place it in the bowl to make it look pretty 😉

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself, since really there aren’t many truly new recipes, but just tweaks on old ones. 

Maybe a new combination or delivery method (ie the bowl trend right now, which drops the calorie-laden tortilla in many cases). But most things are familiar. Familiar is good. Easy is good.

Heck, you could even buy pre-cooked quinoa and then there’s really no cooking involved in this recipe. It’s brilliantly efficient and open to any tweaks of your own that make it an entirely new recipe!

Ps The boys love saying keen-wa. 

Shrimp quinoa bowls

  • 1 lb cooked shrimp
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes 
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Olive oil

Cook the quinoa according to package. I sprinkled the shrimp with cajun seasoning, leave it plain or choose a spice you like (paprika, cumin, cayenne are some ideas). Divide among 4 bowls. Squeeze lemon juice and drizzle olive oil over all ingredients.

“Instant” Italian soup


I saw this idea for “instant” on-the-go soups in both Martha Stewart and Cooking Light and admit I was skeptical. Would it have decent flavor? Would vegetables get “cooked” enough?

I have played around with ingredients and can say, yes! It’s not as good as long-simmered soups, but a healthier, fresher option than canned soup. Hub loves it as a work lunch–just add hot water (like found from the coffee maker in an office).

A variety of ingredients work and it sits well too so you can make several days’ worth at a time. Enjoy!

Instant Italian Soup (2 servings)

  • 1 box Parmesan couscous (uncooked)
  • 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced 
  • 1/2c navy beans
  • 1/3c spinach or kale, chopped 
  • 1 chicken sundried tomato mozzarella sausage, sliced
  • 1/4c matchstick carrots
  • Handful small tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • Salt & pepper

Layer ingredients in 2 wide-mouth jars. Sprinkle the couscous with the parmesan seasoning packet. Top the vegs with the pesto and salt and pepper. When ready to eat, fill jar with hot water, cover and let steep for 3-5 min. 

Watermelon arugula salad

  
So our CSA share started back up a couple of weeks ago and I have to say that it always delights me. It’s like getting a surprise each week–a box full of vegs, some that normally I wouldn’t seek out. It definitely stretches cooking creativity (just try searching “pac choi” and see what you get…nada!)

Yet, it also reminds me that fresh, local ingredients require NO work. The simpler the better. The boys loved this salad, which proves that if you expose kids early enough to unusual flavors, they’ll be open to trying just about anything, including food they don’t recognize (aka “green” foods are not the universal enemy).

Watermelon arugula salad

  • 1 bunch arugula (about 4c)
  • 3 c chopped seedless watermelon
  • 4 tbsp crumbled feta
  • 3 tbsp chopped mint
  • Drizzle of high quality balsamic vinegar

Layer ingredients. This is so easy I feel guilty calling it a recipe. Enjoy!