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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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.

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.

Spring cleaning 


The war on the bunnies begins again in our yard. I have more determination this year: There’s new landscaping at stake. 

I can accept being outfoxed by squirrels, but bunnies? That’s pathetic. I’m upping my arsenal and let’s just I have found one friend who admits cooking them in a crockpot. I truly would prefer a peace accord–Suggestions welcome!

The one positive is that this definitely signals an end to winter (fingers crossed!) These long months of cold and gray are hard on me, even with trips to Vegas and Kauai mixed in. I’m ready!

The changing seasons inspired me to purge some things from my life that were holding me back and the creativity is beginning to flow again.

Soon we’ll have more fresh produce to choose from and the few months of abundance to make that effortless. I’m planting more than a dozen herbs and drooling at the thought of herb-marinated tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. 

I’m going to try planting some French lavender for a blank spot in the landscaping, hoping the scent fills the new patio area. I’ll be buying it all at the Friends School plant sale at the State Fairgrounds, which truly is an experience (Think: Black Friday for plants; people with wagons getting competitive with their finds). 

My mom recently visited Leatherwood Vinegary and brought back a sample pack. The black currant is really nice–not too sweet and it’ll be great for salads, perhaps something with a grilled stone fruit and punchy goat cheese. I’m looking forward to some true “spring mix” to use it on. Who knew there was such a thing as a vinegar tincture expert? 

And for Easter dinner, I stretched my wings a bit to make this pink cake–dense chocolate with raspberry buttercream. The frosting was fantastic!! Skip the from-scratch chocolate cake and use a box mix, and take a lesson from winter: don’t give up on the frosting….keep beating it, eventually you will prevail. Ps Thanks to my niece for the cake “deco-raisins”.

To sunny days! And bunny-free gardens.

Chicken sage pesto sandwiches

Using up the last of the herbs from the summer garden–this week: Sage. This savory herb is great inside a whole roasted chicken, I also like to make this sandwich, with a fresh take on pesto using sage.

Chicken sandwiches with sage pesto

For chicken:

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/4c vinegar (I used VOM FASS calamansi–light and citrusy)
  • 1/3c olive oil
  • Baguette
  • Granny smith apple

For pesto:

  • 1/3c sage leaves
  • 1/2 bunch arugula
  • 1/4c walnuts (or pine nuts)
  • 1/3c parmesan
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper

Tenderize chicken, marinate in garlic/olive oil/vinegar mixture for at least a couple hours. Make the pesto by processing sage, arugula, walnuts, parmesan and garlic in a food processor or blender. Add oil until the mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken. Top baguette with chicken, sage pesto and sliced granny smith apples.

Photo Sep 27, 6 03 23 PM

The best thing about summer: Tomatoes!

Finally! My tomato plants are producing lovely bite-size red ones, and slightly larger yellow sungellas. Mostly, I just throw them straight into salads, but I also like to do this marinade, which gives them kind of a sauce. It can be eaten as is or thrown over lettuce, pasta or other grains, like farro or quinoa. It captures the best of summer!

Marinated tomatoes

  • 2c mixed small or cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/3c olive oil (I used the VOM FASS orange!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 cup mixed chopped herbs (Basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill all work)
  • Zest of one lemon & a generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into half rounds
  • 1c fresh mozzarella balls (Or feta or skip it)

Photo Jul 22, 9 54 21 AM

And one bonus recipe for those of you looking to use a common CSA vegetable: fennel. Chipotle-marinated pork tenderloin with fennel salad. Served it with dill baby red potatoes and corn on the cob with cayenne/lime juice/feta and of course, butter. The pork was flavorful, but not too spicy, for those of you with Minnesota palates 🙂

Photo Jul 26, 6 28 35 PM (1)