Creamy Roasted Tomato Pasta (DF)

 photo IMG_0756.jpgI don’t quite understand it, but my tomato cherry tomato plants just keep going. They look terrible. An ill-timed vacation left the plants vulnerable to the one two punch of japanese beetles and grasshoppers, but they don’t seem to have gotten the message that they’re kaput. And so I keep going out and gathering a few at a time. I have standard cherry tomatoes and these wonderful yellow pear shaped ones that I grew from seeds my Mom got for me while visiting Monticello. Yes, these are Thomas Jefferson’s tomatoes. What former history teacher wouldn’t geek out about that?!

At any rate, I featured these tomatoes in a an easy and satisfying dinner last night that got a 100% approval rating – yes, folks you heard me right. Last night I defeated Ms. Picky Pants. Granted it was pasta, so it’s kind of cheating, and I deconstructed the dish so she could have some control over the ratio of the elements, but the pasta had the creamy goodness already on it, and pre-sauced pasta without complaint is a victory over here! I take what I can get. We’d had a few not thrilled with dinner nights in a row, so I decided it was time for a dish that stood a better chance of at least being consumed without complaint.

 photo IMG_0753.jpgWhat makes this pasta meal special is three main elements. The creamy goodness (here I’ve used my friend Annie’s cashew cream which I think I could write a book on because it’s so wonderful), the roasted tomatoes (if you’ve not done this you have really been missing out), and the fresh herbs. The cashew cream provides just the right amount of cream feeling without the clumpiness of sunflower cheese or real dairy ricotta. And roasting tomatoes? Nothing brings out the sweetness like a little roast. Throw in a little olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar and you’ve got a dresser upper for just about any dish. Fresh herbs? I say yes please!

The original version of this dish is here on Meatless Monday’s website, a great resource if you are looking for vegetarian meal ideas. Because my version is pretty close, I’m just going to cover a few highlights. In changing this recipe for my family, I removed the dairy, increased the pasta amount (because leftovers are good), and left the components separate (aside from combining the cream and pasta) because this is a more successful strategy with my children. You could also choose to use gluten free pasta or veggie noodles like these.

Roasting Tomatoes: To achieve super goodness, preheat the oven to about 350. Place clean tomatoes in a baking dish. Add olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of salt. Stir to ensure tomatoes all have contact with the other yum. Place in oven and cook until tomatoes have cracked skins and have begun to release their juice. Mine took 35 minutes, with a goose up to 425 for the last 5 minutes. Your kitchen will smell heavenly.

While the tomatoes are roasting, boil your pasta, chop your herbs, and if you have some toast some pine nuts in a pan. If you don’t have pine nuts, walnuts would also make a nice addition to this dish.

Creaminess: As I said, I used cashew cream for my version and simply added just enough to the dish to ensure that noodles all had some cream, but were not drowning. Many dishes with cheeses and cream sauces go overboard in my opinion, so I usually start with less than the recipe calls for and see how that looks.

Herbs: Fresh basil makes this dish absolutely sing. The combo with the tomatoes is a natural, and the basil cuts through the cream in a way that makes the dish lighter feeling, more summery. We also put chopped fresh parsley on ours.

Other veggies. After our initial taste, which garnered universal approval, Mr. Little Sis and I began our usual varia-bowl treatment by adding fresh spinach and other chopped veggies we had in the fridge. This would be a great place to use some zucchini noodles.

So there you go, another way to use that summer bounty, and to enjoy those flavors while they linger. May all your pasta be delicious and all of your meals garner 100% approval (or at least 75). Delish!

 

GF Pancake Mix – Making Time for Pancakes

What if some fine morning when you have time to make pancakes you used 3 or 4 bowls?  1 bowl for the pancakes to make that day and the other 2 or 3 bowls to add all of the dry ingredients for another morning’s pancakes?  Might make it easier to get those cakes going on a busier morning…..

I’m still thinking about saving time, so when I saw this post from our good friend Annie at Unrefined Vegan, I decided I had to give it a GF go.  Please feel check out her version which is chock full of interesting grains and flours as well as the idea that you can flavor up a batch of pancakes or waffles once you start with the basic recipe.   Gluten free or Gluten full – pancakes are a lovely way to start the day and we’re going to see if I can whip up a batch of pancakes tomorrow morning before school if I have the head start of pre-mixing all of the dry ingredients. Continue reading

Zucchini “Crab” Cakes (GF,DF)

 photo IMG_0567.jpgIt would seem that I am not the only gardener overrun by zucchini this year, and I’m with most of the gardeners who responded to my last post; I’m delighted to have this problem of what to do with all of my zucchini. A few years ago a pal of mine posted a recipe on her Facebook page during the height of zucchini season. I was intrigued by the simplicity of the recipe and by the ingredient list which includes Maryland’s favorite spice mix, Old Bay Seasoning.

And so I began my usual process of fiddling, seeing how far I could move within the recipe while achieving the desired results. Over time I’ve adapted my friend’s lovely summer recipe and it is a zucchini staple in our house. While I won’t say that these actually taste like crab cakes (because my mother and many other Marylanders would be appalled by that idea), the flavor of these babies SUGGESTS crab cakes and they are just darned tasty crab facsimile aside. If Old Bay is not available in your area (I nearly passed out when I couldn’t buy it in California years ago), look for spice mixes intended for steamed spiced crabs, but be sure they don’t include super large chunks of spice as many shrimp boil spice mixes do OR try a homemade version like this one. Continue reading

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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