The Zucchini “Problem” and My Vegetti

 photo IMG_0567.jpgThose of you who’ve grown zucchini know that if the plant works, you go very quickly from wondering if you’ll ever get any zucchini to stuffing zukes in neighbor’s mailboxes when they’re not looking to offload some of your surplus. For the past several years my zucchini have been decidedly in the NOT WORKING category, so I’ve not had to force squash on the cul-de-sac, but this year (largely I think because I got ahead of the bugs early), we have zucchini.

While I like zucchini, I admit that even I am not a fan of the traditional sautéed squash, so I’ve become a zucchini seeker. How else can we use this prolific nutritious gift without having it be, well, yucky? Big Sis and I have shared a few zucchini secrets in the past, but I found a new, and perfectly lovely solution, right there in the “As Seen on TV” display. If you just laughed, then you should admit that you’ve been tempted to look yourself. I just couldn’t stop myself when I saw a little gadget that claimed that it would spiral cut my vegetables for $10 and would fit in a drawer, the Veggetti Spiral Vegetable Cutter. I snatched that little sucker up.

And let me tell you what. It works. It actually does what it apparently says it does on TV. With little effort and about a minute of turning I had enough spiral zucchini noodles for 2 adult dinner sized portions – from one zucchini. Nice.
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 photo IMG_0499.jpgBeing fans of Mediterranean food, we naturally concluded that we could put tomato sauce right on those bad boys and call it dinner, but we were feeling a little zesty, so we went in another direction, sort of a deconstructed zucchini chili mac.I simply prepared the fixins that I would normally serve for us to make burritos and instead of wrapping everything up in a tortilla, we served it on top of zucchini noodles. And it was delish. My vote on the Vegetti? A resounding yes, and I can’t wait to make some zucchini noodles for Pasta Sunday. Next time I post I’ll have another fab zucchini suggestion straight from the heart of Maryland. Hope you’re all having a lovely summer!

Varia-Pasta-Deliciousness

I really don’t mean to rub it in, but the truth is that I am at the beach.

Not only am I at the beach, but I am at the beach with Little Sis and her family and Carni-Mom.  What could be better than that?  Not much my friends.  And I certainly hope you have some time this season with loved ones in a special place.

As presented in posts around this time for the last several years, during our sojourn on the lovely shore of North Carolina, we take turns cooking large healthy meals for each other and skip the fast food / restaurant scene.  Lots of fun, lots of time together and everybody feels great and ready to hit the beach the next morning.  But of course, it isn’t always easy cooking for a discerning crowd that includes some vegans, some who do not do dairy, some who do not do gluten, several picky children and at least one who would really rather be eating meat (you may have guessed that this last individual is ‘Carni-Mom’).

So in Little Sis fashion, I decided to deconstruct a meal and present theparts so that everyone could find something that pleased their palate and their dietary approach to life.

Pasta offers many such opportunities!  And who doesn’t like pasta?
Oh – that’s right.  Mr. Bigg Sis, my dear husband, does not eat gluten.  Well there is always rice or quinoa pasta but honestly I am not a big fan of gluten free pasta…. but spaghetti squash makes an awesome (and vegetable based) alternative! Continue reading

Mi So Hongry

As a salute to the end of our long winter confinement, we seem to have contracted the latest public incubation system virus – and this time it’s a stomach thing. Oh mercy. Mr. Little Sis was the first to fall, then my little boy, then yesterday while checking out at Costco I succumbed. I imagine it is a matter of days (hours) before my daughter gets knocked out as well. Cooking for a family of four can be a challenge. Cooking for people who feel awful is an entirely different puzzle. While the one poor soul who’s suffering really doesn’t want anything – or just wants to test the waters, the others who aren’t yet affected are starving and ready for dinner.

IMG_0252My solution to this was to devise a soup that would allow each person to cater to their level of hunger/food readiness. But what to use for broth? And then I saw it. The miso paste container sitting there so innocently in the fridge. I’d bought it to make this delis cashew based cheddar and for whatever reason, didn’t even consider making soup with it even though miso soup is one of those rare birds that gets 100% positive response at my table.

A quick perusal of the internet and some cookbooks and I was off to the races. The beauty of this idea is that it’s totally variable, kind of like a soup version of our Varia-Bowl.

Miso BrothIMG_0255

  • 2-3 t miso paste per cup of water (I used 2 for a mild flavor)
  • However many cups of water you need to make enough soup.

That’s it. You boil the water and then add the miso paste. Yes, it’s that simple. No the paste won’t dissolve completely.  If you’ve eaten miso soup in a restaurant, you’ve seen the same thing – thicker broth on the bottom, thinner broth on the top.

While you’re waiting for your water to boil, assemble your add-ins. If you want noodles, you should obviously start them first as well.

Our Add-InsIMG_0260

  • cooked rice noodles
  • thinly sliced mushrooms
  • shaved carrots
  • chopped cilantro
  • spinach
  • tofu

Others That Would Be Great

  • seaweed, of just about any kind
  • basil
  • lemon juice
  • red pepper
  • rice
  • spring onion

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You really could put lots of things in there, and the fun of it for us was building that bowl of soup right at the table.  I dished up broth for everyone and then we each constructed our own miso bowl, perfectly suited and seasoned for our health level and taste preferences. Delish!

12 Healthful Freezer Faves

I confess that I love staying connected to my friends and family with Facebook.  It’s true. Social media is also useful when we get to see how much better other people function in situations in which we are… perhaps… slightly less super functional. A moment to explain. When I was pregnant, my interest in food and … Continue reading

On Becoming A Creative & Healthier Home Cook

Well Hello There!   It has been an exceedingly long time since we’ve posted, and mostly that was because we were visiting with friends and family every single minute.  It was a truly wonderful holiday and, speaking for myself, I am oddly both rejuvenated and completely exhausted.

During an extended visit with the best friends a gal could have, someone asked how I moved away from cooking from recipes – how I started making recipes up and how I knew what substitutions would work.  I know, those of you who’ve been playing along for a while are likely laughing as I’ve presented my move away from recipes as a basic inability to follow directions and recipes of any kind…. this being different from choosing to cook without that level of guidance.  The truth is that I do both – I regularly screw up whilst following directions and, hopefully more often, I make conscious decisions to abandon the dictates of the recipe for one reason or another, usually either to make the recipe healthier or because I lack an ingredient and I do NOT shop for a missing ingredient or two (lack of control in grocery stores demands limited exposure).

Since my friend asked, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this evolution occurred, wondering how I got to the point of really only being inspired by a recipe rather than actually following it, and I think there are some basic steps that could prove useful to folks in trying to branch out and/or health it up in their own kitchens.  There are myriad lovely cookbooks and blogs full of healthful recipes in the world.  There are also ways to change most recipes so that they are 1) healthier, 2) more affordable, and 3) easier to prepare. Here I’ll offer three approaches that have made me less recipe bound and have therefore made me able to adapt all kinds of recipes to my own tastes, dietary needs, and available time: the ingredient swap, the recipe mash up, and flavor profiling. Continue reading

Roast to Soup – the Whole Chicken

So you know that some pretty nasty stuff goes on at so-called factory farms.  (If you don’t know, please watch Food, Inc. because even though you don’t want to know….. you really DO want to know.  And if you’d like a short piece of the film about chicken farms, you can watch one here.)  We have not eaten beef or pork for a very long time, and further decided to only eat ‘clean’ chicken and turkey.  Well, as I’m sure you all know, ‘clean’ poultry costs a lot more.  We have 2 solutions for this.  We eat less meat: less often, and less of it on the plate when we do it eat it, and I buy whole chicken and make soup after an initial meal or two from the roasted chicken.  It’s really not that hard and there is nothing like homemade soup, so if you’ve never done it, here we go….. from raw to roasted to really delicious soup! Continue reading

Leftover Mashed Potatoes Make Great Soup…

It doesn’t matter who we’re having or what we’re eating, if I’m cooking for more than our little clan, I just can’t get the amount right.  Faced with a holiday dinner, I routinely make about twice what is actually required, sure that I may not be making enough.  In my mind every guest is a 14 year old athlete with a limitless metabolism and elastic waistband.

Thus our recent Thanksgiving dinner left us with a giant container of mashed potatoes in the fridge.  Now normally I am just fine with lots of mashed potatoes around, but truth to tell I am the only REAL mashed potato fanatic in the house.  Mr. Little Sis likes them, but can’t eat them for days and the kids are just not into them at all – there’s only so much a girl can do faced with all that mash.  I hated to think of it going to waste… surely there is another way.

While I could have made mashed potato pancakes, we’d had latkes just a few nights before, so no dice there. After being tired, cold, and a little lonely after the long weekend playing games and watching movies with the family, soup just seemed like the thing to do.  And what could be easier than making soup from mashed potatoes, especially if you have a leek.  This really doesn’t merit a recipe, but I’ll write it out that way to make it easy to follow.  You’re welcome.

Leftover Mashed Potato Leek Soup with Wilted Spinach and Basil

  • olive oil for the potIMG_0404
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts cleaned and chopped *
  • 4 cups mashed potatoes (I used these non-dairy beauties)
  • 2 c water
  • 1/2 t salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 c coconut milk (or whatever you prefer)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • About 5 ounces of fresh spinach (or as much or little as you like – it DOES shrink a lot)
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • small handful of fresh basil, chopped

* Leeks are dirty little suckers.  When they grow up through the soil, they bring quite a bit with them, trapped in the layers.  Cleaning them can be tricky.  I simply cut the portion of the leek I intend to use into quarters  the long way.  I think place those quarters (they will separate – it’s okay) into a bowl of water, let them sit while I prepare other bits, swish them around and then rinse.  Works like a charm, every time, and I learned it at fancy cooking school, so it must be right, right? ;-) I can say that the bowl of water is always cloudy and dirty – so it seems to do the trick.

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Warm olive oil in the bottom of a soup or stock pot, place chopped leeks and a sprinkle of salt in pot, sautéing and stirring occasionally until the leeks are tender and the white parts are a little translucent. Add the mashed potatoes and stir to combine.  Add water and salt and stir to combine. Here’s where we’re gonna have some variation.  If your mashed potatoes were perfectly cooked, had no lumps and were smooth as silk, you will only need to bring your pot of yum up to temp.  If, like most of us, your potatoes were delicious but slightly less than perfect, you may want to bring the pot to a gentle boil to cook the potatoes just a little bit as the flavors mingle.  When potatoes have reached the texture you prefer, add the coconut (or whatever) milk and ground pepper.  While the soup comes back up to temp, prepare the spinach.

Warm olive oil to low-medium in a pan (I used cast iron). Add spinach, a sprinkle of salt, and the garlic to the pan.  Turn/stir spinach frequently to encourage wilting throughout.  When nearly all wilted, add the fresh basil. Stir for a little while longer. When all spinach is wilted and bright green, remove from heat.

Serve soup with a few forkfuls of spinach, some lovely bread (ours was a non-dairy apple cheddar quick bread which I’ll share soon), and a salad.  Delicious, satisfying, and a great way to use too much comfort food. Hope your holiday provided you with memories, laughter, and leftovers you love to eat over and over again.

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Almond Joy Brownies (GF, DF…. OMG included)

I’ve been a baking slacker lately.  This only poses a real problem for my kids’ expectation for a “treat” in their lunches.  Mind you my lunchbox treats tend to be less sweet than anybody else’s, but it seems that it’s more important that there be something treat-like in there than that the treat in question be of any particular kind.  So up to now, I’ve been pretty good about doing just enough baking to keep them supplied with a steady stream of reasonably healthy “treats.”

A few weeks ago I started slipping ‘em low sugar graham crackers – really pretty harmless and something they enjoy.  No problem.  After a while of that they requested something else – anything else (and who can blame them).  I found myself wandering through the prepared treats aisle reading packages of corn syrup laden white flour options as though I had never once baked in my own kitchen.  I practically forgot that I used to spend a few minutes just about every weekend assembling a treat that would satisfy both the kids and me.  I would bake for our customary Sunday dessert and then serve the rest throughout the week in small lunch sized portions. When I brought home cookies previously deemed pretty wholesome without even reading the label, ate one and felt a film in my mouth and had to stop because it was too sweet to enjoy, I knew I’d hit the proverbial bottom.  Which is great, because it led me to spending a little time today making my new favorite dessert, Almond Joy Brownies.

Almond Joy Brownies

The Brownie – adapted from Sarah at Gazing In’s Sweet Potato Fudgy Brownies

  • 1/4 c coconut oilIMG_0199
  • 2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder or raw cacao if you’re feeling spendy
  • 1 c gluten free rolled oats blitzed in food processor until flour like
  • 1/4 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 c coconut sugar
  • 2/3 c sweet potato puree (baked sweet potato in food processor with enough water to create baby foodish consistency – add water SLOWLY so as not to overshoot)
  • 1 T ground flax meal + 3 T water (AKA flax egg)
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla

Preheat Oven to 350. Melt coconut oil and add cocoa, stirring to create smooth, silky chocolate that you should not eat. Combine oat flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Combine coconut sugar, sweet potato puree, flax egg and vanilla in medium or larger bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add chocolate.  Stir to combine.  Add dry ingredients (if you’re still holding a whisk, now is the time to switch to a spoon, unless you’re trying to create an “Oh no, I have so much brownie batter stuck in my whisk, however will I get it off…. slurp” kind of scenario.  Not that I’ve ever done that. Add a handful or so of your favorite chocolate chips.

Scoop into oiled square baking dish.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.  Look for typical brownie crackling on top and a slightly firm feel in the middle of the pan (that second test is only for those of us in the asbestos fingers crowd). You can try the toothpick test, but these are fudgy, and will not likely come out totally clean. So just look for not wet, mostly clean.  Remove and allow to cool in the pan.

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The Topping

  • 2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 16 whole raw almonds

Place coconut in food processor.  Turn on and let it run, run, run.  You’re going to let it go so long that the coconut is going to turn into a liquid.  You’ll want to stop it occasionally and scrape the sides of the bowl so all of the coconut gets transformed into superific coconut butter.  When the contents of the bowl are shiny, let it run a couple more minutes and then place in a container you can put a lid on so you can save the leftover and put it on your toast, in your oatmeal…. yes, the options are mind-boggling..

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The You Got Your Coconut On My Brownies Moment

So when the brownies have cooled a little (you don’t have to let them cool completely), spread the coconut butter on top in whatever amount makes sense to you.  I tried to show a little restraint because I wanted to chocolate flavor to prevail.  If your coconut butter has hardened, gently warm it a little to soften.  Place almonds on top – I did a one whole almond per brownie ratio, to get that crunch that I used to love in the Almond Joy, but I think chopped almonds would make for a nice effect as well.

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I don’t think I even need to tell you that these were great – what’s not to love? Super dark chocolate flavor, coconut creaminess and that wholesome crunchy almond.  Delish.  And now I’m ready for those lunch boxes for real.

Easier Chocolate Almond Butter & a Winner!

Serendipity is an appropriate first word for this post.  Our contest involved suggesting seemingly odd pairings of food.  Sometimes those pairings re a matter of serendipity…. what is on hand,….. what accidentally was added or left out…. or a moment of inspiration.  The updated version of chocolate almond butter was also a result of serendipity.  That is being kind to myself.  It was actually a moment of doing way too many things at one time and therefore not paying attention.  So, let’s get organized, I will tell you the winner of 2 heavy, colored Food Network silicone spatulas at the end – and update our chocolate almond butter recipe at the beginning. Continue reading

Tapas for Two, or Four

Miss Picky Pants (known for the remainder of the post as MPP) is a grazer.  She is easily overwhelmed by large portions (with the exception of cake, of course), and loves to have just a bit of as many things as possible.  In a desperate attempt to have dinner out a few years ago, Mr. Little Sis and I took the twins to a Tapas joint here in our little burg.

Don’t know if you’ve ever walked 4 year old twins into a restaurant before, but I can tell you it’s the rare restaurant staff that greets this moment with true enthusiasm.  Weren’t they surprised to find out that as long as they kept the bread and little plates coming, MPP and her all cuisine loving brother would be just fine, thank you very much.  To be fair my little MPP, she comes by the small plate thing honestly.  I love having bits on the plate to choose from , tie together, nibble on, mop up with bread.  Yum. Tonight we had just such a plate.  If there had been sections dividing MPP’s food, everything would have been perfecto.  All of it was simple, hearty, and super yummy.  Perfect for these increasingly cool evenings.  A little preview of autumn’s heartier fare. The highlight of the meal, for me, was garlic mushrooms, a classic tapas favorite. The beauty of this dish is its simplicity and its versatility. Want it with rice – rock it out. Over quinoa? Keen. With pasta? Perfection. Garlic mushrooms, a foodie’s best friend. Continue reading