Beets – delicious from tip to tip

I confess that until I was in my 30’s I had only ever consumed pickled beets – and while I liked them, I was missing out.  Those glorious blood red orbs have a distinctive but mild flavor that my child has always enjoyed.

I recently bought a set of 3 very large, gorgeous beets with greens and over the course of the next 4 days I used all but the very bottom root and the section where the greens emerge and the skin is particularly thick.  I should have saved those for pink soup stock 😉

I used the beets themselves for beet & avocado salad with goat cheese.  My 11 year old preferred the beets all by themselves.

I also used the beet greens in a lovely kale and cannelini beans dish from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Several days later I chopped the beet stems I’d saved and sauteed them along with onions and spinach as a layer in Luscious Layers – my GF, easy lasagna-type-thang.  Nobody noticed or cared and we used up the whole beet and kaboodle.

First, I will tell you about the original plan for the beets : Beet and Avocado Salad

There are many variations of this combo on-line, all more complicated than the following.

Beets – enough for about 5 or 6 slices for each person
Avocado – enough for about 5 or 6 lices for each person
Goat cheese – mine was honey goat cheese from Trader Joe’s which is relatively cheap, a bit sweet and delicious
lemon juice and olive oil on hand for the drizzlers in the crowd.

Cover the topped/ bottomed beets with water, bring to a boil and then let simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until the tenderness you desire.

Let them cool off a little and then they are very easy to peel.  The color underneath the skin at this point is unbelievably vibrant.  My slightly fuzzy pic gives you some idea of the color:

Aren’t they pretty?

Once the beets are cool and peeled, you can slice them and arrange the slices on each plate (or throw in a bowl if presentation ain’t in the stars when you make this)
Slice the avocado and lay on top of the beets
crumble a tablespoon or so of goat cheese on top of each one
If you like drizzle a little lemon juice and/or olive oil on top.  I though it was quite good all by itself.

My plate is bigger than my stomach!

The kale and cannelini beans involves boiling the greens which I’ve never done before.  Tenders the little fellows right up!

Boiling Beet Greens Batman!

You see the finished product on the plate with the beet salad.  My 11 year old also ate this without complaint…. I’m on a beet roll…

Last but not least – sauteed beet green stems with onions (to which I added spinach)

The stems have a beet-y flavor, but not overpowering at all.

And for the first time I made and used our good friend Somer’s cashew cheese which can slice and melt.  Wow!  Really delicious.  Somer has variations of this cheese, so if you need dairy free cheese, check out the above and her new blog Vedged Out where you can find her newest cheesy creations and lots of other great plant-based foods.  A warning – the cashew cheese is expensive to make, but for us it was quite a treat to have something creamy and cheesy.

beets? There’s no beets in there!

My other favorite way to eat beets is cut into chunks and roasted with sweet potatoes and yellow or red potatoes and some oil and seasoning.  FANTASTIC.

Little Sis and I have been known to throw raw beet into smoothies as well – makes a lovely pink smoothie!
Little Sis also shared a great Beet soup recipe, as well as Beet burgers.

Who new the much maligned could be something other than pickled?  Glad I know now.

What do you like to do with beets?

A Better (Veggie) Burger

You may have noticed that I have a thing for veggie burgers.  It’s okay, I can admit it.  I have a thing for veggie burgers.  I like the whole hot sandwich approach to a meal and the customization that comes with years of condiment practice.  I like that burgers can be made in different ways (and in different sizes that appeal to the “cute food” eater in our crew) and that they present this opportunity to jam a bunch of stuff in there that might not otherwise make it into a body.  I know, I’m weird.  I’ve tried a number of different kinds of burgers and patties, and finally, I have created one all my very own that is indeed, burger-y.  As usual, my inspiration was largely driven by what was in my refrigerator, but this doesn’t preclude you from actually PLANNING to make these babies.  I’m sure there’s something to be gained there. 😉

The flavor secret for these burgers, is mushrooms.  You say: “But wait, we don’t all like mushrooms; I’m not even sure I like mushrooms.”  I say THIS is the way to test that idea.  The mushrooms here are so small that they don’t play the textural havoc that can interfere with some folks’ appreciation.  What they do is add that elusive umami.  They lend a great kind of, well meat-y savory flavor to the burgers.  We enjoyed them immensely.

Nutshroom Burgers (Gluten Free, by the way)

  • 1/2 c onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 c cooked leftover grain (I used quinoa)
  • 1/2 c black beans ( I imagine other soft beans would work)
  • 1/4 c peanut butter
  • 1/2 c walnuts
  • 1 c rough cut mushroom
  • 2 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
  • 1/2 t dried rosemary (yes, really)
  • 1 c finely chopped mushroom (I used portobello, but to each his own mushroom)
  • 1 c rolled oats
  • 1/2 c flaxmeal

Browning like good little meatless burgers…

Throw the first 9 ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth-ish and well incorporated.  I chose to add my walnuts late to retain a little texture.  Your call.  Spoon batter into a large bowl and add the remaining three ingredients.  Stir to incorporate.  Fashion into patties of whatever shape and size floats your burger boat.  I happened to reach this point relatively early in my day, so refrigerated the patties at this point for about 45 minutes with no ill effect.  When you are 20 minutes from dinner, heat a small amount of oil (I used olive oil) in a pan.  Cook burgers for a total of 15 minutes or so, flipping as needed to provent burning.  This recipe made dinner for four and two leftover lunches for two enthusiastic grownups. Delish!

For more ideas on what to make with leftover grains, how about quinoa for breakfast, or using leftover grain as a base for healthy lunch boxes. Maybe you want another gluten free burger option, or you’re looking for the cheapest meatless burger ever.  Next time you’re cooking rice or quinoa, make a lot and save yourself some time later in the week.

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Sweet & Sour Lentils

I used to be pretty cheesy.  In both manner and diet.  Eggs & cheese for breakfast (insert goofy grin), grilled cheese with pureed broccoli for lunch (insert silly joke), and if meat was not a part of dinner, then there had to be cheese – and a side of ridiculous rhymes.  Cheese.

It is hard to beat cheese in texture and taste, however, my husband’s medically imposed diet of no gluten and no dairy forced me to look for new options…..and hopefully new jokes.

Little Sis and I have extolled the virtues of the humble (and VERY CHEAP) lentil before, a lentil loaf, a lentil soup, a lentil/potato burger, and lentil -bulgur burgers (say THAT 10 times fast to amuse the 5 year olds in your house!).

While I’m not sure that we want to change our name to ‘The Lentil Lodge,’  I just have to share this recipe with you because it is delicious, different, and was given the thermos thumbs up for inclusion in  his school lunch by my 11 year old.  Thermos thumbs-up is a cut above acceptance at dinner because it must be good enough to consume in the mere 25 minutes my cheesy, somewhat pokey boy has in which to eat his lunch.

All that and a fraction of a $1.29 bag of dried lentils and you can see why I love my lentils.

Now you are all set to learn how to make Sweet & Sour Lentils, cheesy temperaments and jokes welcomed whole-heartedly.

I’m all you need Baby, all you in your tight wad-ery ever dreamed of… and all for $1.29

Sweet & Sour Lentils (from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

1 1/2 cups brown lentils
2 cups unsweetened apple juice
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger root (much easier to grate frozen, fresh ginger root)
2 cups water
1 c chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 cup peeled and diced carrots (I never remove an edible peel)
2 tsp. canola or other vegetable oil (I use safflower)
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, diced
1 tomato chopped (I used some leftover canned diced)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce (I used Bragg’s liquid aminos)
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

cooked rice (I used 5 spice rice from Mollie Katzen) recipe below
chopped scallions – I omitted these

Rinse the lentils (looking for any lentil-like stones that made it into the bag – I’ve never found any!)  Combine in saucepan with apple juice, ginger and water.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 – 40 minutes until tender.  Add a little water if starting to stick.

While lentils are cooking, saute onions, garlic and carrots in oil for about 5 minutes until onions begin to soften.  Add bell peppers, zucchini or squash, tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes until just tender.  Stir in the sauce and vinegar.

When lentils are ready, combine them with the vegetables.  Serve on rice and top with chopped scallions.

a tasty and different lentil based dinner

I think I’ll add kale or spinach next time to get some green happenin’ in there.

If you’d like to spice things up a little more you can use Mollie Katzen’s 5 spice rice
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 tsp. dark sesame oil – I use toasted sesame oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tsp. five-spice powder (which I was delighted to find in the Asian section of my Kroger grocery store)
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup dry sherry or Chinese rice wine (I used sherry)
a few splashes of soy sauce

In a colander or sieve, rinse the rice with cool water and set aside to drain.

Warm the oil in a medium saucepan and add ginger, garlic, and five-spice powder.  Saute’ for 1 minute, stirring constantly, add the rice and salt and saute for another 2 minutes, continuing to stir.

Add the water and sherry or rice wine, cover, bring to a boiled, and then gently simmer for about 40 minutes until all of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender (I had to add a little more water to get the rice tender – keep an eye on it.)

Add soy sauce to taste and serve with or without Sweet & Sour Lentils!

Have you had any lentils today?

This message was not brought to you by the Lentil Growers of America, but we thank them none-the-less.  (Insert cheesy grin.)

Baby Step 4: Adventure, Experimentation, and Gratitude

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it: “I want to eat healthier, but my kids (partner, whomever) won’t eat that food.”  Everyone who said it was 100% certain that this was true.  The only thing I am 100% certain about as regards feeding others healthy food is that if you don’t have it/make it/serve it, they certainly won’t eat it.

Changing our own eating habits is hard; convincing others that this is a group project can be daunting at best, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t mean the effort is not worth it.  Big Sis and I have both enlisted our families (immediate and in some cases extended) in our pantry transformations and we have some ideas that just might help you do the same.  The truth is that, as with any meal, eating real food is easier and more enjoyable when you do it with the people that you love.

So here we approach the core of Baby Step 4: just as eating healthier foods requires you to be more conscious of what you’re eating and how you’re making it, so too will rallying the troops involve an evolution in consciousness about food.  You must be the leader in the movement to develop an attitude of adventure, experimentation and gratitude surrounding food and mealtimes in your home.

Our suggestions fall into three basic categories:

  1. The Use and Acceptance of Baby Steps as Progress
  2. Attitudinal Adjustments
  3. Education

Baby Steps

I can’t speak for everybody, but when I embark on a new venture that I’m enthusiastic about, I want to share it.  I want to share it with everybody and I (unreasonably) want everyone to be as excited as I am…  It’s sweet, isn’t it?  The cold water of reality is a bit uncomfortable.  Just because I’m enthused doesn’t mean they will be.  My loved ones’ priorities might be entirely different than mine and the mental steps I’ve taken to prepare myself for this wonderful new transformation have not been their mental steps as well.  If we can agree that baby steps are an effective tool for making changes in our eating habits, we must remember that those we wish to encourage (and feed) deserve the same gracious and gentle introduction to foods with which they are unfamiliar and that they may not be initially inspired by.  Does this mean don’t try? No, no it doesn’t.  It may mean don’t try ALL the time.  It may mean be ready to see consumption without complaint (but no real enjoyment) as progress over grousing.  It may mean lovingly saying that you understand when deep inside you’d like to remove all the plates from the table and tell everybody to….  okay, that’s just me now and again – I know, it’s not pretty.

1. Establish baby steps with your family by: designating one meal per week to be healthier food night/ or healthier entree or side dish night if you need a gentler step.

Attitudinal Adjustments

Family mealtime means different things to different people and for many folks it is comfort.  When we are trying new foods, it’s not always so very comfortable.  So rather than highlighting the comfort of familiar foods, we must highlight the adventure of trying new things.  This can be particularly challenging with little people.  I get it, really I do.  But again, if we give up all we can be sure of is that they will NEVER try the new food.  If we persist and attempt to make it fun, who knows what will happen?

This is what we remind my sweeties of.  If you don’t TRY it, you’ll never know.  We then remind them of the foods they’ve tried and discovered how delicious they are.  If we’re trying a dish that highlights flavors from another culture, we talk about that place and the role that this food plays there.  We take an adventure.  When they are adventurous with their food, we lavish them with praise.  Big Sis had a great idea that I think we will implement – the adventurous eater medallion.  We may also try adventurous eating hats. Occasionally, in desperation, we appeal to their sibling rivalry and have a race to try the new food.  I can’t say the last method encourages delightful table manners, but it does seem to work.

Feeding this little mug is not always easy.

In addition the the positive role that adventurousness and competition can play, there is no way to overstate the importance of gratitude at the table.  Mr. Little Sis has instituted a fabulous family tradition at the beginning of our meals.  As head chef, I occasionally become discouraged by the cajoling that feeding twin 5 year olds can require.  When we sit down to eat, Mr. Little Sis immediately says, “Thank You Mommy, for making such a wonderful meal for us.”  The twins usually follow on quickly, even if they are mid-complaint or moving stuff around to see what’s under there icky-face-making.

The most interesting thing about it is that once they’ve said thank you, they rarely return to the complaints, at least not with volume and vigor, which helps keep the mood at the table a little lighter, and prevents them from discouraging one another from trying new foods. Highlighting the importance of gratitude in a positive way, “We are so fortunate to have this healthy and nourishing food, and to be able to enjoy it together,” over the “There are starving kids all over the world who would be happy to eat that ____,” rightly changes the focus at the table from whether or not the meal meets every individual’s expectations to mealtime as a time to come together and recharge.

2. Establish adventurousness and gratitude by asking for it and acknowledging it.  Reward adventurousness and model gratitude.


Different strategies work for different people.  Some like the games (my daughter) and some need the rationale.  I am still making this meal even though you’ve expressed it’s not your favorite because it has ingredients in it that do _____ inside your body.  Anything that helps that boy’s allergies will go in the mouth.  Guaranteed.  It is difficult NOT to take advantage of that knowledge.  We’ve also talked a great deal about why I pack their lunches and why I don’t include many of the things their friends eat regularly.  I marvel at the lack of pushback on this.  They occasionally express their severe deprivation (along with a host of injustices that I have perpetrated), but they also, I’ve found, are able to make choices that they would not if we didn’t share so much food information.

I’ve discovered that when they are offered a treat at a party, they limit themselves, without my saying anything.  They tell me when they’ve had a surprise goody at school or with friends so that I can make adjustments to what I give them for the rest of the day.  They GET IT.  When they’re older and they ask about McDonald’s (or whatever) rather than toeing the line on that front as they do now, perhaps we’ll sit down and watch SuperSize Me together.  My husband and I watched several food documentaries before we embarked on the last round of dietary changes, discussed the information we found, researched the questions that remained.  Just as I need information to make a big change, so too do the loved ones in my life.

3. Educate your loved ones by telling them why you are doing what you are doing.

So your Baby Step?  What should you do?  You should consider your surroundings and try (gently and patiently) to get’em on board.  Your life will be easier; your food will be healthier; and your table will be a place of adventure, experimentation, and gratitude while you tackle another pantry swap, or try a new recipe.  Baby Steps for you, Baby Steps for them.  It worked for all of us once, right?

Working on cutting back on meat? Already cut back on meat and stuck in a rut? A nice summary of 5 protein-rich ingredients (including our favorite friend, lentils) to enhance your pantry.


meat alternatives

If there’s one thing environmentalists and your general practictioner will agree on, it’s that we should be eating less meat. High meat consumption has been linked to a variety of cancers, cardiovascular problems, and obesity, while its negative impact on the environment has raised alarm bells among scientists. An important source of greenhouse gases like carbon, methane and nitrous oxide, human-reared livestock now consumse an astounding 60% of all the food we grow, with 1 pound of beef taking up to 20 pounds of feed to produce. 

It’s time for some healthier, and greener, sources of protein in our diets. Here’s a look at 5 of them, each delicious and nutritious in their own way.

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Souped Up – We Double Dare You

So I’m talking to Big Sis on the phone (yes, that could have been just about any day and we like it that way – so glad these babies are cordless) and inevitably the “Whatcha havin’ for dinner?” part of the conversation arose.  I told her I was making bread and chopping veg for soup, a Deborah Madison soup incidentally.  And in another mystery of nature vs. nurture, it turned out Big Sis was also in the process of making soup from her beloved Deborah Madison cookbook.  “Sounds like it’s time for a soup post.”  I’m not sure which one of us said it, but I’m pretty sure it hardly matters.  And so you are the unwitting beneficiaries of our non-coincidentally parallel lives.  There’s a sign post up ahead… Insert Twilight Zone music here 😉  (Bigg Sis here – no italics)  Oh and Little Sis gave me the big fat Deborah Madison book as an impromptu gift.  Made me feel as warm as soup!

My most recent Deborah Madison experiment was a blatant attempt to capitalize on my picky daughter’s relative willingness to eat lentil dishes.  I wanted soup; she likes lentils; the answer was self-evident.  I whipped up some bread to insure my dinnertime victory (carbs are the answer to my daughter’s every question) and checked out the pantry to see what kind of lentil soup would make the most sense.  After a fruitful pantry dive, I consulted my favorite chef and settled on Lentil Minestrone.  Heck, I knew it would make ME happy.

Lentil Minestrone – Adapted from Deborah Madison in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1.5 c chopped onion
  • 2 T tomato paste (I freeze mine in a big blob on wax paper after I open a can and cut off what I need from the frozen blob)
  • 2 T chopped parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 carrots cut small
  • 1 c celery cut small
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 c lentils (I used green)
  • 2 bay leaves, several branches parsley and a few thyme sprigs,  (or dried herbs to taste)
  • 9 c water or vegetable stock (I went halfsies)
  • Bragg’s or soy sauce to taste
  • 1 bunch greens, chopped (I used chard from the garden)
  • 2 cups cooked pasta (we used leftover homemade green pasta)

Warm olive oil in a large pot.  Saute onion for about 10 minutes until soft and starting to brown.  Add tomato paste through the celery and the salt.  Cook for a few more minutes.  Add the lentils, the herbs, and water/broth.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about a half an hour. Taste and add salt and or pepper.  If the soup tastes flat, add soy for richness.  Cook the pasta in a separate pot and drain.  When the soup is ready, spoon pasta and raw greens into bowl and ladle soup on top.  Add parm if that works for you.  We just dipped sunflower cheese bread instead. Delish.

That sounds really good.  I think we’ll be swapping soups here over the next couple of days.

My Deborah Madison recipe took advantage of the fact that my son will eat chickpeas – and many other things he objects to – if in soup.  For your slurping from a big spoon pleasure – I give you:

Potato and Chickpea Stew.  from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, p. 252

1 pound Yellow Finn, fingerling, or red potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced (I diced, but not so finely as is my sloppy way)
2 generous pinches of saffron
2 Large red bell peppers, finely diced… (again – I’m a chunky dicer, not a fine dicer)
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into strips  (now you’re talking!)
2 large garlic cloves, minced (I’m a masher, not a mincer)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika (I used regular paprika – is there a difference?)
1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup medium dry sherry
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, plus their juices (I used diced)
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 15 oz. cans rinsed
3 cups chickpea-cooking broth or water – I used vegetable broth here – bean cooking water is pretty gas-forming
salt and freshly milled pepper
Picada on top:
1/2 cup peeled (can you guess?  I didn’t peel), toasted almonds (350 degrees for 8-10 minutes)
2 slices white country bread (I used the whole grain I had) fried up to crisp in 2 Tbsp olive oil – both sides
2 – 4 cloves garlic.
Deborah Madison tosses these 3 ingredients in a food processor.  I added the garlic (mashed) to the saute pan with the bread, chopped the almonds in a chopper, broke the bread into bits and was done.  My food processor was dirty and I prefer sauteed garlic.

Luckily I gave birth to a little free help in the kitchen 11 years ago. Ain’t he somethin’?

Warm oil in a large pot and add onion, saffron, peppers, garlic and potatoes, over medium-low, stirring occasionally until potatoes are softening but firm – about 25 minutes.

Beautiful fragrant saffron

Add paprika, parsley and pepper flakes and cook 3-4 minutes

Add the sherry and cook until juices are thick and syrup-y, about 12 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth to cover. And 1 1/2 tsp salt and plenty of pepper.  Cover and cook over low heat until potatoes are very tender.  She uses the picada as a thickener, I used it as a crunchy topper.

She also adds a Romesco sauce.  I did not do this and thought it was fabulous and it was not hard – but not easy either, so I was done and sampling said it was done as well.  Everyone liked this a lot.

So there you have it!  Little Sis and I are in the soup, all souped up, and will be boiling something tasty up tonight as well!  I hope there’s some soup in your future, it sure is fine!

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Go Back Jack – Baby Steps Check In

You go back Jack, do it again.

So says Steely Dan.  And so says the Baby Steps approach to healthy eating.

How are you coming along?  Successes?  Failures?

Build on the successes & Learn from the failures, and most importantly, do it again.

Make that choice again.

Making changes can be much easier with a buddy.  Do you have a friend or relative (or maybe you’re lucky and have both in one like my Little Sis) who would like to eat healthier and look and feel better?  Why not share the Baby Steps with him or her.  Tell your Buddy what you are doing and invite them to come along.  You can even post our Baby Steps button on your blog and invite friends that way.  (The link is on the sidebar).  The more the merrier and the more people eating healthier, the cheaper and more plentiful healthy food will become… in restaurants & schools, at events & practices and in the grocery store.  But it has to start with us, in our homes, in our pantries and in our refrigerators.

And now is a great time to re-check Baby Steps #1 & #2

Baby Step #1 –The ol’ Switcheroo.  What did you switch?  I switched apple butter for maple syrup on breakfast foods.  I’ve had some successes and a couple of failures… but the apple butter is in the fridge and I’ll have more chances to make the switcheroo.  Time for another switcheroo?  Did you find something in your pantry that you know you should live without?  We found too many chips.  We get the ‘healthier’ versions when they’re on sale (by this I mean natural ingredients, good oils, low calorie doesn’t mean healthy, i.e. read the labels), but we’ve begun mixing in more triscuits when making a snack of chips and also substituting popcorn.

Baby Step #2 – Be Fearless, Be Honest

Be conscious of what you are eating and why you are eating it.  Is it for comfort?  Is it for convenience?  Is it for cost?  What can you switch or eat less often on the list of things you know you’d be better off without.  And again, it’s often time to go back to Baby Step #1.  Switching, not losing.  Replacing, by type of food and by function (comfort, convenience, cost).

If you haven’t checked on your pantry yet… give it a go.  Here’s a refresher for Baby Step #3.  Below I’ll give you some links to recipes Little Sis and I use with our standard pantry items.

Brown rice: Sweet potatoes and brown rice for breakfast?  Yes!

Brown rice and lentil casserole dirt cheap and kid friendly
Stir fry using rice
Lentil and oat ‘neatloaves’
quinoa main dish called kichadi – lots of room for variety!
another quinoa main dish with whatever veggies you’ve got : When time runs out on dinner
My personal favorite sweet substitute – Brownie Bites and
an awesome sauce Little Sis came up with that will dress up whatever you’ve got!  Pasta, grains, meat, veggies.  Fabu Asian Peanut sauce

Please feel free to search our site, send us questions, ask us for encouragement.  We’d love to keep your toes pointed in the right direction while you take those Baby Steps towards healthier eating.  You might be behind us, or you might be in front of us but we’re all on the road together so make sure to wave and smile.

Fancy Pants Quinoa Polenta

Most days I don’t leave enough time to plan or cook dinner, so I do an awful lot of winging it. My well-stocked pantry saves my disorganized patootie on a regular basis. The truth is, however, that a well-stocked pantry can also help you find your way to a new and fabulous meal. Sometimes you wanna get a little fancy pants, and empty shelves make that sort of idea dissipate pretty quickly. A well stocked larder gives you lots of room to play, and if you have time, that’s a great deal of fun. I was desperate for something new, and so turned to a different cookbook friend to see if inspiration would strike. It did, and with a few minor adjustments (yeah, I’m still me) I served up an unusually elegant and tasty meal. Mr. Little Sis and I enjoyed it immensely; honestly, it felt a little like date food, and any dinner that seems like date food while you’re eating at your kitchen table with twin five year olds, deserves to be shared.

Quinoa Polenta with Tempeh Sausage and Mushrooms – adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Millet Polenta and Tempeh Sausage recipes found in Vegan with a Vengeance : Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock

For the Polenta:

  • 1 c quinoa
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water (I used 1 stock, 2 water)
  • 1 T olive oil plus more for pan
  • 2 c fresh shredded greens (I used chard from my garden)
  • 1 T fresh oregano (I grow it, but you could use 1/2 t dried)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • dash of black pepper

For the Tempeh Sausage:

  • 8 oz package tempeh
  • 1/2 T fennel seed (yes, you need this if you want it to taste like sausage)
  • 1 t dried basil
  • 1 t dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes (opt – I left out for Ms. Picky Pants)
  • 1/2 t dried sage
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
  • 1 T olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Sauteed Mushrooms:

  • mushrooms (I used about 1/2 lb)
  • olive oil for pan
  • dash salt


Start with the polenta as it needs some time to “set.”  Because of this requirement, this is also a great dish to make ahead of time.  Make the polenta one evening after dinner, then simply prepare the tempeh and mushrooms when you’re ready to serve the meal – at least that’s what I’ll do next time. 😉  Let’s get started, shall we? Toast the quinoa in a dry skillet for about 5 minutes until it browns a bit and becomes aromatic.  Rinse several times in a sieve.  Bring water/broth, quinoa and olive oil to a boil in a pot.  Lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes (check on this to be sure it doesn’t burn).  Mix in greens, spices and continue to simmer on LOW for a few more minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Scoop into an oiled dish – you can get fancy with this and make shapes, or you can do what I did and put it into a glass baking dish and it into shapes once firm.  Allow to cool on counter.  Once the polenta is firm and cut, you will be browning your polenta shapes in a frying pan.

Give the polenta at LEAST an hour to cool if you are using a flat container, if you want to get real fancy shmancy and make a roll of polenta in cans, you’ll need to let it cool for longer.  When it is cool, cut it into whatever shapes you prefer.  The rest of the elements of this dish will take about a half an hour.

Slice your mushrooms, warm olive oil in the pan, spread mushroom slices (or chunks if you prefer) in the pan.  Sprinkle with salt.  Leave them along until the mushrooms are wet on top and starting to curl under, then flip them.  While the mushrooms are sautéing, crumble the tempeh into a pan and add enough water to near cover it.  Simmer the tempeh over med-high until most water is absorbed or for about 12-15 minutes.  Assemble the herbs and seasoning for the sausage in a bowl.  Drain remaining water from tempeh, return tempeh and seasonings to pan until a little brown (about 10 minutes). Don’t forget about your mushrooms.  When they are browned to your liking, remove them from the pan and set aside.  Add a little olive oil, and put polenta into the frying pan.  Brown for a few minutes on each side.

Serve by placing polenta on plate, sprinkling sausage on top of it, decorating with sautéed mushrooms, and sprinkling with any leftover bits of greens that didn’t make it into the polenta.  Add some toasted nuts if you’re feeling a little EXTRA fancy.  Delish.

‘Hot & Hearty’ – Better than Porridge

Did you hear that joke about oatmeal?

It was a lot of mush…

Actually I like oatmeal, but I get tired of oatmeal, and variety is the spice… and I’ve got this big honking bag of quinoa in the pantry that I bought from CostCo, so… I had to try some different hot cereals.  Another plus is that both oatmeal and quinoa are on our list of healthy pantry items that can come through for you in a pinch.  (See post “Peeping in our pantries’)

I did, but I just need to state that I think we need a better name than ‘hot cereal’ or ‘porridge’..  Hot & Hearty is not that great either, is it?  Seriously, neither ‘hot cereal,’ ‘Hot & Hearty’, nor ‘porridge’  (please, Sir, could I have some more?) gets folks leaping out of a warm bed into that cold kitchen.  So in Little Sis’ honor, I will call my creation ‘Warm Bowl of Yum’.  This is not an instant recipe, but make a big pot, because with a little extra milk (whether dairy, soy or nut) to moisten, it works for a couple of days!

This, as is so often the case with people who cook from scratch for children, was developed over time with changes here and there to finally find the Warm Bowl of Yum that both my boys (one a smadge older chronologically, but not at heart), and I, enjoy.  I especially enjoy it because I’ve snuck some protein and lots of trace minerals in by using nuts that my son won’t eat when they are whole.  (Grind ahead of time if your children object to nuts!)

Warm Bowl of Yum

5 cups liquid : I use 2.5 water and 2.5 almond milk
1 cup oats
1 cup quinoa
1 cup ground walnuts (you can certainly try other nuts, but walnuts really seem to thicken this and they are not very noticeable either ;-)1 tsp salt (optional)
1-2 tsp allspice / or 1 Tbsp cinnamon (optional)

toppings like raisins, honey, more nuts, maple syrup, etc.

Bring your liquid and salt, if using, to a boil.  Be careful!  Almond milk is the wallflower of boilers.  It waits and waits and then suddenly gets inspired, leaps into the fray, jumps out of the pan and into the saucer under your burner there to create a rather ghastly smell and even ghastlier mess.  Do not step away from the stove until you’re at a safe simmer!

‘pot full of milk’ waiting to be transformed into ‘pot full of yum’

Once it boils, toss in your quinoa, turn down to a simmer and cover.  Let simmer about 10 minutes and then boil again Baby!

Toss in the oatmeal, turn down to low and cover. Let simmer about 5 minutes.

While it is simmering, grind your walnuts.  I am blessed with a Vita-Mix which is a noisy but effective way to grind nuts.

Noise, Noise, Noise! Why do you have to be makin’ all that noise?

Stir in the ground nuts and cook covered for a few minutes or until the oats are tender and the quinoa is tender.

A few large walnut lumps – but he doesn’t seem to notice!

Schplop into bowls with your favorite schplopper and enjoy!

I am feeling very grateful for raisins right now.

If I have leftover rice in the frig that is not ear-marked for something to be cooked, I have been known to toss that in as well at the final stages.

I’m sure some of you have your own ‘warm bowls of yum.’     Do tell – spice up my life 😉



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