Quinoa and Black Bean Stew

So I said this week that I was going to experiment with some new recipes since Mr. Little Sis was home. What I should have said was that I might even make him cook some of them. Wasn’t that nice of me? Hey sweetie, can you cook dinner while the kids and I are at violin? Great, here’s the recipe. We should have everything for it… Yeah, it was inspired. Good thing he’s a good sport.

So while I listened to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star played in about 5 rhythmic variations on a violin and viola, Mr. Little Sis dug in and did his best in a kitchen that is organized to someone else’s liking. I have to confess that it strikes me as unclear who got the short end of that stick. With a few texts about “we don’t have…” answered by “just use this with a little of that,”  Mr. Little Sis was off to the races.

The time estimate on this fantastic Quinoa and Black Bean Stew from Vegetarian Times is “under 30 minutes.” I think the estimate was pretty close given the aforementioned substitution advice via text and the “where does she keep the…” problem. The procedure was easy and the ingredients were not outlandish. We didn’t have fire roasted tomatoes so subbed out regular diced and added some smoked paprika. I admit that was genius, and it added just the right flavor. All of those fundamental flavors bubbling away with a smoky edge… coming home to this stuff already cooking was a heavenly moment for sure.

The stew is flavorful and interesting, even with a little less chili powder than called for (a concession to the children). The avocados added just the right amount of fat. And yes, you want the lime. It was so great little man requested leftovers in his lunch and ate every last piece of quinoa. As for Ms. Picky Pants? Well, you can’t win them all; she predictably did not care for the stew and that’s really all I can say about that. 75% approval around the table is an A- in this house, or at least a really strong B+. Given how much I personally enjoyed it and how I mourned the end of the leftovers, I have to say the non-super taster grade for this stew is an A.

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Weekly Meal Plan 10/26-11/1

The Halloween countdown is on. At breakfast, at dinner, at random intervals for no apparent reason during the day. I know at any given moment exactly how long it is before my kids get to wear their costumes (one of their costumes) to school. One of their costumes, you say? Are they going to change mid- beggary like a bride at the reception? Who bothers with two costumes? Well, I’ll tell you. For some reason, our elementary school has decided not to celebrate Halloween. Fine, whatever, I really don’t care. BUT they are having fall parties on the last day before Halloween and for that day the kids can wear a costume of their favorite book character…. So they’re going to dress up and eat snacks with orange colored plates and jack-o-lantern decorations. But it’s not Halloween. Is it me?

But you’re wondering why the two costumes… because when asked what they’d really like to be, and I remind them that this is their big chance to dress up as anything they want, only one of my two ever picks a book character. And I’m not going to make them do it just because their school can’t admit that they are celebrating Halloween. Harrrummph.

So that’s what we’re up to this week. Mr. Little Sis is on the West Coast, so we’re all sticking our tongues out at him while we enjoy our beautiful fall foliage. Full days, kid friendly dinners, and the smell of leaves and fireplaces.

Monday: Whole Wheat Pasta with Creamy Walnut Pesto, green salad

Tuesday: Lentil Casserole, cut veggies, green salad

Wednesday: Potato Squashers, green peas, steamed broccoli

Thursday: Mulligatawny Soup, whole wheat bread, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Roasted Vegetable Chili, corn bread, green salad

Sunday: Homemade pasta with mushroom sauce, sautéed green beans, green salad

Adult Lunches: With Mr. LIttle Sis gone, I confess to a nearly obsessive relationship with lunchtime hummus. We have LOTS of those here. This page is a nice start.

Lunchbox Treats: Yeah, I’m not baking. I have found some nut bar type deals that have minimal ingredients and are low in sugar, so those will be happening at least twice.


Here’s hoping your days are filled with fall colors and smells and that you’re celebrating something, even if you don’t call it Halloween. Eat well, be well friends.

Broccoli Meatballs? Reallly? Yes, Really.

I don’t know about you, but my preparation of, or suggestion of broccoli to the youngest members of our tribe is rarely met with an enthusiastic: “Oooooo broccoli!” I confess I find it hard to understand as broccoli was one of the only vegetables I willingly ate as a child, but I digress. When I make broccoli (despite their admission that my preparations are better than most thanks to this broccoli secret) there is usually at least a few faces that range from disinterest to disgust and either an implied or directly stated requirement that it be eaten regardless of how you feel about it because it’s broccoli. Why should they (and by they I mean all of us) eat their broccoli?

If you’re a data hound looking for reasons to eat broccoli, check this out (lots of graphs for you). If you prefer paragraphs to charts, give this one a go. The long and short of it is that broccoli is one of the richest sources of nature’s good stuff out there. It’s so great it makes the Mayo Clinic’s list of top 10 healthy foods. I’m gonna assume at this point that you at least logically believe that eating broccoli is a good idea, even if it has not been your favorite in the past. I would suggest that this preparation is a winner and just might turn your broccoli feelings on their healthy little hearts.

Vegetarian Times says: “Broccoli Meatballs.” Okay, there’s a lot of problems with that name for a dish. First of all “broccoli meatballs” just sounds weird. Secondly the fact that these little gems are called “meatballs” suggests that they have meat in them, which they do not. Admittedly simply calling them broccoli balls would likely not increase their appeal. Even I, a broccoli lover, am not particularly interested in eating broccoli balls. These little dealios, strange name or no, are really quite delicious, packed with nutrition (they include yet another ingredient on the Mayo Clinic’s top 10 list, almonds), and pretty simple to prepare. So let’s get on with… broccoli balls or bust! Okay, yeah, still no on the broccoli balls.

Broccoli Meatballs (adapted from Vegetarian Times Broccoli Meatballs with Garlic-Tomato Sauce)

  • 4 cups chopped broccoli (original called for just florets, but that’s wasteful, so peel the stems and go for it)
  • 1 c raw almonds
  • 2 t sesame seeds + 1 t salt in a 1/4 c measure – fill the rest with nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
  • 11/2 T dried basil
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh spinach (shut the door – it’s another super healthy Mayo Clinic approved food!!)
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 flax eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease or line a baking sheet with parchment. Steam the broccoli until just fork tender (maybe 10 minutes). It should be bright green and not mushy. Remove from steamer and allow to cool. Pulse almonds in food processor until ground. Place in mixing bowl. Pulse broccoli in food processor until mostly chopped. Add spinach and pulse a few more times and then add to ground almonds. Add all remaining ingredients except for the flax eggs and stir to combine. Add eggs and stir until combined. Shape mixture into meatballs.

  

We made 12, but I would make more smaller ones next time. You will have to press a little to get them to stick together. Place on baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until browning on the outside. Serve wherever you might consider serving meatballs. We had ours in mini pitas (a slight size mismatch there) with some leftover Easiest Pasta Sauce EVER, a salute to my old favorite a meatball sub. Sauteed green beans on the side made it a super green dinner bonanza. Delish! Since then I’ve had the leftovers with pasta, on a salad, and on a bed of rice with more nutritional yeast. All of them were great, so I give this badly named nutritional powerhouse a super Sis Sisters thumbs up! Eat well, be well friends!

  

Oats, They’re Not Just for Breakfast

I told you a week or so ago (okay, it could have been last year, I have no idea) that I had become intrigued by the fact that people the world over eat some form of porridge and that they have it for lunch and dinner. Let me tell you what time of year is a good time for porridge for lunch and dinner – the time where it’s starting to give you lots of reason to believe that this winter may just well be as cold as the last, when leaves are crunching under foot (and blasting by in 40 mph gusts), and you’re digging in your sock drawer for that special pair you actually slip over other socks when things are really bad (just me?). I am a fan, a convert, and a chilly advocate of savory porridge.

 photo IMG_0915.jpgOur last porridge attempt was polenta, because I knew the mediterranean leaning would make it more approachable for my crew. This time I decided to go a little more full-on porridge by using oats.  In this preparation an ‘oats risotto.’ Let me confess right here that pretty much anything with ‘risotto’ in the title will get my interest, add oats to it and I’m downright intrigued. This particular oats risotto had mushrooms, walnuts and leeks. The original recipe can be found on this little treasure trove for those trying to increase their plant-based intake (or decrease their other), Meatless Monday. Continue reading

Weekly Meal Plan Plan

The word on the street is that I’m not the only one who struggles to plan my meal scene. After a few weeks of experimenting with a more regimented approach, I have to admit that the results I expected have once again proven true. Planning my meals ahead of time made my life easier in a variety of ways: 1) no last minute scramble, 2) a sensible, shorter, and more complete  grocery shop, and 3) less money spent at the store. What’s not to love about that? With all those pros, it seems like I could hardly fail to plan my meals…. except that I do fail to plan my meals and after a couple of weeks doing just great I stumbled and we had a chaotic week with weird food and greater expenditures at the store.

So, here I am, putting all my meal planning cards on the table. I am going to attempt to post my meal plans here. I’d like to say that I’ll do it every week, and I plan to. I know you’ll understand if life gets the better of me from time to time. Just in case you’ve always wondered how Little Sis’ family eats all week, here you go.

Monday: White Bean and Kale Stew (Kathy Hester’s The Vegan Slow Cooker)

Tuesday: Crock Pot Burritos

Wednesday Potato Pancakes with Cashew Cream & Apple Sauce

Thursday: Asian Varia-Bowls

Friday: Homemade Pizza (Mr. Little Sis is awesome)

Saturday: Dinner at a Friend’s (Yay!)

Sunday: Homemade Pasta (Again, Mr. Little Sis provides)

Yes, that’s a lot of slow cooker going on. We have fall sports going on and I’ve found the Crock Pot to be a great help on these evenings. Nothing better than coming home from the gym or field to great smells and hearty dinners. As for the planning, I know there are a lot of systems out there. I am a luddite. Here’s my meal planning system.

 photo ede6f695-961e-4418-be47-544776301897.jpg

Not terribly high tech, but totally user friendly and CHEAP. So I make a plan and then make a grocery list from the list. Has taken less than 40 minutes every time.

So there you have it. All planned up and grocery store bound at some point.Here’s to better grocery trips and home cooked meals! Ta Da!

Lentil, Mushroom, and Sweet Potato Soup (GF,V)

You know how we feel about lentils around here…  OR, if you’re new and you don’t, I’d like to send you here first before you then do a search on lentils and see how ridiculously fond we are of this little protein and fiber packed cheap meal makin’ legume.  Lately our weather has been driving my food cravings and after our recent spate of unseasonably warm weather (leading to Cold Sesame Noodle perfection), we’ve had a predictably unpredictable Mid-Atlantic weather shift to slightly cooler than average with rain – lots and lots of rain.  Not much better remedy for wet and damp days than soup.

And so we turn to our humble pantry staple, the lentil. This soup is great because it doesn’t require that much in terms of super fresh food, but packs a nutritious and flavorful punch.  I found it on Dr. Weil’s site after doing some basic searching for soups.  He apparently got it somewhere else.  I’ve done a little tinkering – out of necessity rather than critique. I’d encourage you to do the same.  Soup can be very forgiving and is a great place to use up veggies that are on the verge of being unusable. Continue reading

Caribbean Flair – Cheap, Easy, Delicious

I can’t count the number of posts that I’ve started by way of saying that I was running late and hadn’t planned dinner well…  Well, I guess I could, but honestly I don’t really want to.  The simple fact is that planning is not my strong suit.  So how do I eat healthy food without breaking the bank? I keep a healthy pantry and that pantry allows me to start with the ingredients that I have and cobble together something that works for most of us most of the time.  (Learn more about our real food pantries here.)  So last night, running on about 3 hours of sleep and a miserable day of contract work I stood in front of my magic pantry and waited for inspiration.

And then it happened.  Oooh, sweet potatoes.  Oh right, I just got some quinoa!  Black beans, hot dog!  Chipotle, garlic, cumin, salt, coconut oil… oh and cilantro!  Oh yes, life is good.  Dinner for four in about 35 minutes featuring: Continue reading

Sometimes It’s Not That Complicated

I am a member of an online Mom’s group.  I don’t necessarily participate all that much, but when the twins were infants and we had just moved here, it was a lifesaver.  There was always someone around to “talk” to.  I still check in from time to time, to chat with my book club friends, get advice on a restaurant, or help a new Mom know it’s going to be okay.  While I was visiting with my online ladies yesterday, an interesting question caught my eye. Continue reading

Herbed Zucchini Rice – Soopah Fast Dinner

I know you may find this hard to believe, but there are nights when I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner. The day gets away from me; I get immersed in work and whatever 12 projects I have going and before I know it, it’s time to meet the bus, which means it’s almost time to start dinner, which means I’m in trouble if the fridge is bare. My inability to consistently plan HAS had the side benefit of forcing me to be creative in a hurry, and sometimes that’s a good thing. On this particular occasion, it worked out just fine. If I were really sneaky, I’d just tell you how I made this dish and act like I’d planned it all along – I’m pretty sure that’s what I told the kids. 😉

This post highlights one of our favorite real food strategies: cooking excess when you cook. The reason I was able to pull this particular dinner together without stress was that I had both quinoa and rice leftover from previous dinners. Any time I make a grain for a meal, I double the amount that I cook. That way I can use it as a base for another meal, for packed lunches, or for hot cereal in the morning. Oh yeah, a little brown rice, some coconut, some raisins, some pecans – warm – but I digress… This is dinner we’re talking about, and it was great.

Herbed Zucchini Rice

  • 3 medium zucchini, grated (no seeds)*
  • olive oil for pan
  • 1 onion, chopped as fine as you prefer
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 4 c cooked grains (I mixed quinoa and rice
  • 1-2 tsp dried tarragon (or herb or your choice)
  • salt to taste
  • dash pepper
  • juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • 1/2 c sunflower cheese (or soft dairy cheese like ricotta)
  • chopped parsley (optional)

* For this dinner I grated the zucchini.  It is important to grate only the skin and the flesh, not the core and seeds of the zuke as the “interior” of the squash contains a lot of water and has a less pleasant texture when cooked, in my opinion. I’ve described the technique in detail here (along with some other zucchini love). The short version is to grate it down to the core, place in a strainer with a little salt and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.

While the zucchini is resting, warm the oil in a pan.  Chop the onion, add to the pan and let cook on med-low heat until translucent.  Return to the zucchini and press as much water out as you can with a spoon or squeeze in a towel (over the sink). Add garlic to onion in pan and cook until fragrant.  Add zucchini to pan and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add tarragon (you could use another herb, but the tarragon gave a nice fresh and light taste), salt, and pepper.  Add rice (or whatever) and sunflower cheese (or whatever) to pan and lower heat – you’re warming, not frying.  Stir occasionally.  When warm, add lemon juice and stir through.  We served ours with chopped parsley on top.  Easy, soopah fast, and delish!

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.