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.

I can’t believe it’s meatless Bolognese (vegan)

So the thing about change is that it requires flexibility and curiosity. Changing how you eat after 20+ years is kind of a big deal. You really have to think and act differently. As in, be mindful about food rather than fall into autopilot. It’s hard.

We started the boys early on trying new foods and basically expected them to eat like adults from very early on. If they didn’t like something, fine. But they had to try it. Multiple times.

So the vegan thing is just taking that to another realm. Mostly it requires ME to change. I have to adjust favorite recipes, find new ones and shop differently. Mostly it’s fun and I am enjoying experimenting.

We try some things and add them to the buy again list–like cashewyogurt–and others–like tempeh bacon–will need to grow on us. But every week I have tried something new, a new product or a new technique.

There are an incredible number of fantastic plant-based products out there. Avery is never going back to regular milk from his barista smooth Almondmilk. (And no this isn’t paid product promo).

This vegan bolognese was a wild success. “Mom, you can make this every week!” And the best part is that it doesn’t take 3 hours of simmering (plant protein doesn’t break down the same way animal protein does).

There are a couple of secret ingredients in this–wine and cinnamon. Plus it’s important to cook the mirepoix before adding the meat, then garlic and herbs, then tomato paste. (If your sauce sometimes tastes bitter it’s probably from uncooked tomato paste. It only needs a minute or so but removes the sharp bite).

Oh, and the only reason to make bolognese in July is a state swim meet: Go Aquajets, Power of the team!

Bolognese sauce (vegan)

  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 1 celery stalk diced
  • 4 garlic cloves chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 package ground meatless crumbles
  • 14oz veggie sausage
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup veggie broth
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté veggies in olive oil until soft. Add “meats” and brown. Getting a nice crust adds depth of flavor. Add garlic sauté 1 min. Add tomato paste and herbs, cook 1 min. Add diced tomatoes, sauce, bay leaf, cinnamon, red wine and veggie broth. Season with salt as it simmers about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Serve over pasta.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A year of opportunity

Just before the holidays we made some food changes in our house. We’d stumbled across a Netflix documentary “What the Health” and for the first time in 20+ years of marriage, Matt wanted a significant change too. I guess perhaps it was an early resolution.

We’re eating a plant-based diet. This is a big deal for him because he loves meat and milk. So we needed to quickly find some new options that he would enjoy. (Technically we’re not fully vegan, but vegetarian and dairy-free** with some exceptions. The boys are still eating some meat but we’ve completely cutout things like lunch meat).

It’s actually been fun to reimagine our food and explore new things. We’ve discovered we both love Indian food (although I have yet to try cooking anything and just prefer buying ready-made or takeout).

We know which veggie burgers we like, and the meatless meatballs are actually better (it’s a texture thing). He loves the chorizo “sausages”. The tofu lunchmeat options were the only failure, but substituting hummus and veggies or good old PB&J is just fine. Lots of avocados too! I got an avocado saver kitchen gadget for Christmas that makes me smile.

This week we’re testing out dairy alternatives. We’d already been using almond or coconut milk in smoothies and now it’s completely replaced dairy. The vegan mozzarella and cheddar are decent and perfectly fine as an accent. I like the tofu sour cream too.

But mostly we’re just not using cheese anymore. Honestly dairy was easy for me to give up and has made the biggest impact on how I feel. He’s noticing that a cup of tea is a better night time routine than a glass of milk and an easy way to cut calories. I have been trying a new tea each week to encourage (orange blossom from Teavana is a favorite).

Which got me to thinking about “diets” and New Years resolutions and why the stats say most people don’t stick with it past January. If I focus on all of the things I am giving up, it’s a whole lot harder and it frankly feels like punishing myself. The word diet itself just sounds negative.

Instead, focusing on the upsides–like using my insatiable curiosity to try new things and experiment as a tool to help us, and rewarding us with lots of things we love like splurging on fresh juices (strawberry lemonade!) and fruits, which I realize are being shipped in from somewhere much warmer, is a compromise I’m willing to make. The “goal” is about feeling healthier and having more energy, not trying to “stick with” sacrifices. That’s surely an eventual failure.

Speaking of compromise… going completely vegan is not in the cards for us. Making some modifications–like eggs and butter, and all of the things that they get used in–is one example. Sushi is another one that I just can’t give up, but have as a treat periodically.

As is splurging for special events. We had pastry treats for Christmas Eve breakfast and dessert from Rose Street Patisserie, and roasted whole rainbow trout with a garlic-mustard breadcrumb mix, which was fantastic! I appreciated every bite.

Everything in balance. I’m looking forward to more exploring in 2018 including maybe taking an Indian cooking class…Happy New Year!