Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chickpeas and Avocados

     Growing up I never realized what a narrow selection of foods we ate. And to my mother's credit, it could not have been easy to plan meals for 6 very different people, 4 of which were picky, snot nosed, little kids who would whine at the very thought of trying something new. And when it comes down to it, feeding 6 people is expensive, so if you're going to be spending that much money on feeding everyone you are going to be sure everything will be eaten... maybe even joyfully. And growing up, I was perfectly content to not try anything new. Ever.

     But I'm the Mom now, so I can plan the meals. And while I take my daughter's preferences into account, I don't let them dictate my overall grocery list. I'm branching out and trying all sorts of things that I never tried when I was growing up, in hopes that it will help encourage my daughter to not be afraid of trying something new. Two ingredients that never crossed our plates as kids were the inspiration for tonight's meal: chickpeas and avocados. Both of which hold a wealth of nutritional value for vegetarians and dieters alike.

Quinoa Falafels Ingredients
     First we'll take a look at chickpeas. Now, these are something I ate one time as a kid. It was an awful experience too. My mom agrees with a, "What was I thinking?!". I want to say we had them whole on a salad or something similar. All I really remember was chocking down these hard little balls while my younger brother sat at the table refusing to eat his. He sat there until bedtime and never did have to finish them. Lucky kid. That experience was more than enough to keep me away until years later when I was expected to make hummus at work. And of course, we had to taste everything we made. Turns out ground chickpeas taste pretty good with oil, garlic, tahini, and cilantro. In fact, hummus has become one of my all-time favorite afternoon snacks. As for their nutritional value: Good source of protein, iron, dietary fiber, and calcium, reduce the risk of heart diseases and certain cancers, and great for weight loss because they can keep you full feeling longer. Read up on them here if you want to learn more.

Avocado and Tahini Dressing Ingredients
     On to the avocado. These funny looking things were never a part of my childhood. I can understand why though, my brother's and I would have never willingly tried them and I don't think they are my father's favorite either. This is another food I came into more recently having made guacamole at a previous job and being a big fan of sushi. These fruits were long thought to be unhealthy with their caloric and fat content, but the inverse has since become the popular food theory. Read up on the nutritional facts here. On to tonight's meal:

     Originally I was just hunting the internet for something interesting that used avocados. I found a smoothie that I'm excited to try, but that wouldn't make a great dinner I'm afraid. And a couple clicks later I'd fallen into an internet wormhole that lead me to Vegangela. Falafel's were a perfect idea for my daughter since in one show she enjoys the main characters are always eating at Falafel Phils. So it was a good tie in that had her hooked on really trying to like something. And the dressing had the avocado element I was looking for! And quinoa! Three superfoods in one meal?! SOLD!

     I can honestly say I didn't change much from her recipe. I thought it read great as is. Only changes I made were: blending the cilantro and seasonings in with the chickpeas, adding a little bit of avocado oil to make it blend better, and changing the two vegan eggs into one regular egg. As for the sauce, I added some garlic. I also didn't fry in as much oil, just pan sprayed my pan.

     I mixed mine up and used an ice cream scoop to portion out 7 fairly large falafels, pan seared them off, and then served them on a piece off naan. My daughter was not a fan of the avocado sauce sadly. So after trying it she ate her falafel 'burger' with ketchup instead. Which she thoroughly enjoyed. I really like the sauce though and am glad to have it for future dinners and possibly as a dipping sauce for carrots at a later date.

Quinoa Falafel
Avocado Tahini Dressing

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Italian Quinoa Casserole

     This week I did a little bit of exploring into the super food quinoa. It's one of those grains that is highly recommended for vegetarians because it is one of the few places to get all 8 amino acids in one place. Usually to get complete proteins, vegetarians have to eat combinations like beans and rice. It is also full of other goodies like B vitamins and magnesium. Which, I just found out is good for people who suffer from migraines  Good to know as I've been known to be a migraine sufferer. Less so since I've embarked on this fitness journey though.

     Again, once confronted with something new I did some digging on the internet to find some inspiration that would hopefully pass my daughter's picky palate. This time I found a Pizza Quinoa Casserole. It looked more like a side dish than main course though so I added a healthy dose of veggies including mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, and onion. I also cheated a bit and used premixed Italian/pizza seasoning.

   It's really a fairly simple and straightforward recipe to put together and doesn't use too many dishes. Perfect for a busy mid week meal! I was easily able to get this made up between my daughter getting home and rushing her off to Girl Scouts. With enough time, by the way, to let dinner settle before going for my Tuesday evening run.

     As for the taste? I really enjoyed it. Could have maybe used a bit more sauce, but as is is not unpleasant  My daughter thought it was alright, not something she'll mind eating as leftovers, but not one of the star dishes I've made within the last few weeks. It is also really filling, so as a side dish, you could probably get 8+ servings out of it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Butternut Squash Mac&Cheese

     Since the beginning of this journey, my daughter has been begging for me to make one dish: Mac&Cheese. As with many young children, it is her favorite dish. And to be fair, it is vegetarian as well. But with many recipes coming in around 600 calories for a small serving, I just couldn't bring myself to make it. Until the internet lent me a hand...

     I've slowly been working on trying out new vegetables. As a kid, I hated almost all vegetables. If it wasn't carrots, cucumber, green peppers, onion, corn, or iceberg lettuce I was not having it. Those habits have followed me into my adult life and until a year or so ago it didn't bother me too much, I didn't feel deprived of anything. But nowadays I'm looking everywhere and seeing that these veggies I've previously shunned (some without even trying!) have quite a bit of value to my overall health. Take tonight's star vegetable... doctors and dietitians recommend it to control cholesterol and reduce weight. It's also full of vitamins A and complex B vitamins. Read all about it here! Anyway, I figured it was time I gave butternut squash a try. So with a rough outline of a recipe in hand, I set out to make a healthier mac&cheese.
     I did alter the original a little bit based on the comments and reviews and according to my own personal preferences. Fancy cheeses like Gruyere can be expensive and not as palatable to kids. Not to mention a little higher in fat. So I'm using some of my leftover low fat cheese from my chard quiche and some low fat smoked Gouda. Use whatever cheeses you like or have on hand though. I also removed the panko topping, I find it unnecessary. A few other small adjustments along the way and I'd say mine and the original are two different recipes.

     It was fairly simple to make up. If you have the time, you can reduce the dishes by cooking up your noodles, draining them, and rinsing with cold water then using the same pot to cook up the squash. But what's one more pot really? I also wish I had used my immersion blender to mix in the Gouda, as it looked a little lumpier that I had hoped. But it tasted great! Even my daughter liked it. To the point that she almost wanted to skip going out to eat leftovers! That's saying something! My friend that was joining us enjoyed it was well, so I'd say it received 6 thumbs up.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Slightly New Format...

   Sorry for the absence here. Work has been crazy and just started settling down. Sort of. Just getting settled into the busy season once again.

     Anyway, with the time off I've been thinking about what I can do to this blog to be slightly more informative. Such as actually writing down my recipes so you can make them at home. And with the power of technology I can even provide nutritional information! How awesome is that for everyone! Tonight's dinner was the first test run I've had with all this, and while it took a little longer to measure everything out in a way my app can understand it wasn't too bad and certainly something I'd be willing to do. Especially if doing so allows me (and thus you!) to better track my calorie intake and make better choices. On to the blogging!

     If you haven't heard of the nutritional powerhouse that is Swiss chard... you aren't alone. I only recently stumbled upon it myself. But it is high in vitamins A,C, and K, high in dietary fiber, and also high in protein. It also is a natural way to help control carbohydrate breakdown and blood sugar. For a more in depth look at all the health benefits, check out this site.

     With all those benefits  it's no surprise I decided to try and find a way to work this leafy green into my diet a little more often. Most preparations I've found online remind me of how I've seen spinach prepared, so I venture into chard territory with a slightly altered recipe from my childhood: Chard Cheese Pie. Or if it sounds more appealing, Crust-less Chard Quiche. 
Click to make it readable...
     It's a fairly simple recipe to make, fiveish simple steps and dinner will be on your plate! A few things I learned along the way though. You have to saute your chard enough to remove a good bit of the water, but not so much as to make it bitter. I under cooked it just a little bit and as a result there was a little bit of water in the bottom of my pie plate. The eggs were cooked perfectly, so I wasn't concerned about that. If you error on the side of caution like I did, it's all good. I rather have a little water than a bitter dish!

     Also, feel free to make additions or substitutions. It's a flexible recipe. Add mushrooms, spinach, peppers, bacon if you aren't going veggie... Egg Beaters instead of whole eggs. Almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk instead of skim. Use whatever cheese tickles your fancy.  I opted for 6 ounces of Cabot's Sharp Light Cheddar and 4 ounces of their Jalapeno Light Cheddar. I like a little zing in my dinner, but feel free to use whatever you have in house! I also seasoned mine with some Trader Joe's African Smoke Seasoning Blend. I love the flavors in that.

     This is mine, straight from the oven. I could have possibly even cooked it a bit longer to get more of that browned cheese flavor, but dinner was smelling good and everyone was getting hungry! I shared this dish with my parents as well as my daughter, and it went over fairly well. My parents loved it, my dad even took a second slice! My daughter... she liked the browned parts quite a bit, and after quick run through the microwave to help dry it out, she liked it well enough. Perhaps not a favorite dish for her, but not a least favorite either.

     Now, as promised nutritional values! Just some background on how these were calculated... I have a new app on my phone that I absolutely love called "Lose It!" In this app you can record what you eat and it will track your calories for you. With a little bit of information, it sets a budget for you to help you reach your goals. Mine for example are set to lose 2 pounds a week until I reach 150 pounds. So I am allotted 1,285  total calories a day. Which doesn't sound like a lot, but when I started recording everything I ate, I realized most of the calories I ate in a day were from grazing at work. By cutting that out, I've actually had trouble even getting to my budget goals. Also, by recording any (and I mean ANY... they have it all figured out including housework, romance, and music playing) exercise the app gives me those burned calories back to have a chance to eat them again. So really... you don't have to exercise to lose weight, just don't go above your budget! Anyway... in the more section, it gives you the opportunity to plug in a recipe and number of servings and it will calculate it all out for you! Which is what you see here, my recipe, broken down into eight servings. So if you alter the above recipe, the nutrition facts will be different for yours. But hey, at least I've given you a frame of reference now! Happy quiche making!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Refrigerator Roundup

Seem to be a decent pinch hitter
     While I normally have Mondays off to menu plan and grocery shop, today was not one of those days. After working 8 hours I drove home to to have a cup of coffee with my Mom and get my daughter off the bus and I was honestly too tired to bother going to the grocery store and putting together much of anything. Thankfully I keep a small stash of fake meat options in my fridge and other pantry staples for such occasions. So I chose the 'hot dogs' my daughter wanted to try a week ago and started staring within my fridge for a side dish.

     It didn't take too long for a bowl of leftover mashed potatoes to catch my eye. Whipped those up last night with butter, sour cream, and salt and pepper for St. Patrick's Day. Certainly a solid side dish on their own, but I decided to instead make them into potato pancakes... of a sort. I started by sauteing 1/4 of a leftover onion, about 1 stalk of celery, and 1 clove of garlic. Once sauteed, I mix into my mashed 'taters along with 2 small handfuls of flour (That's a valid for of measurement, right?), and a heaping handful of shredded pepper jack cheese. Finally I formed some patties, pan fried those suckers up, and tossed them in a 250 degree to keep warm while using the pan to fry up the hot dogs. Dinner made in under 30 minutes (for once!).
I'd venture these are not that "good for you", but they sure are good!

     Dinner was overall a success tonight. The 'hot dogs' were a bit spongier than I'm used to, but the last time I had a hot dog it was more than likely a Hebrew National or Nathan's, which tend to be denser and meatier in texture anyway. My daughter didn't seem to notice though and she's had hot dogs far more recently than me. The potato pancakes were awesome, nice crust on the outside and creamy and flavorful on the inside. All they needed was a sprinkle of salt on top, though ketchup or sour cream would certainly be tasty as well. The girl gave me two thumbs up and was sad that I cut her off after 3 potato pancakes. As for me... I'm excited for potato pancake leftovers, and while I wouldn't dread eating another one of those hot dogs, I think I'll be leaving the rest of those to her to finish off.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tacos! Olé!

     Want to start this post off with a bit of bragging, it may be minimal but I did break through my plateau from last month. Lost 2 ¼ inches overall and a fraction of body fat percent! As I close in on my “ideal” weight and fat percent progress seems to be slowing, but it is progressing at least. And in immeasurable ways I’ve seen progress as well. I fill up faster, I have more energy, my tastes are changing, I feel more confident, and I’m overall more comfortable with myself. I even managed to get myself to the gym without an appointment last night. It felt pretty good too, I may make it a Tuesday habit. We’ll have to see about that though J.

     On to the food... Tacos still remain a favorite in my household, and the spices allow me a lot of room to play around with protein options. This time around I used straight up tofu and lentils instead of going the fake beef soy protein route. Once again I pressed my tofu dry and sliced up real thin. This time I used Trader Joe’s Enchilada Sauce as a marinade.

     A few hours later my daughter came home, we spent an hour jumping on our new trampoline, and then I meandered inside to get started on dinner. I strategically had my mom and daughter stay outside so I could sneak the tofu past my daughter and the lentils past my mom.

Using these guys!
     I didn't go for the broiling option this time with my tofu, I chose to crisp these suckers up in the frying pan with a drizzle of Peruvian lime olive oil. Even sliced thin and on high heat it took longer than expected to get a good crisp on both sides. Which was fine, I just used the extra time to chop my peppers, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and lettuce. I also got our tortilla bowls ready. Handy tip, spray with Pam or brush with oil and then season your tortillas before placing in the molds... so much tastier!

     After the tofu was done pan searing, I cut each strip in thirds length wise and then 5-6 more times in the opposite direction. Just to make smaller pieces that would get lost in the taco filling mix. While cutting those down I put all my veggies (less the lettuce) in to the fry pan with some homemade taco seasoning. I used to buy the stuff in stores and packets, but I'm also trying to watch sodium intake... when I remember... so I've been mixing my own seasonings recently. Most have turned out well, this one included. But this is the only one I have a recipe for! Anyway, once everything was near done I put in half of a leftover pouch of Trader Joe's precooked lentils and half a bag of frozen roasted corn. Once those were warm, in went the tofu for a quick reheat. Just as I was finishing up, the girls came back inside looking for dinner.

     As with burgers, I've learned that taco topping are incredibly personal, so we assemble the bases at the stove top and final touches were performed at the table. We had black olives, sour cream, Mexican cheese, pepper jack cheese, and fresh tomatoes to garnish our taco salads with. We have guacamole in house too... but we forgot to get it on the table. Ooops!

I tend to skip the sour cream and fresh tomatoes

     These tacos went over without a hitch. Mom enjoyed them, my daughter enjoyed them, I enjoyed them. That's six thumbs up around Monday night's table. The smaller sized tortillas make a perfect sized salad bowl. Enough to make a meal, not so much that you are tempted to over eat. Get the whole wheat, reduced carb ones and you have a huge winner all around! 

     As for leftovers... that's what we had tonight! I did add a little salsa to the mix as I was reheating to provide some moisture. I suppose water could have worked, but why be plain when you can be flavorful? Even reheated, these tacos are a winner. I think I may see tomorrow's lunch in my fridge.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Not So Fast Fast Food

     A few weeks back, I was shopping the aisles of Trader Joe's with my mom looking at all of the, sometimes strange, offerings. One such item that caught our eyes was the Tri-Colored Quinoa. We like rice and cous-cous so why not try something else?

     Weeks went by and the bag got pushed around in the cupboard and near forgotten about. On a Monday off with my daughter she and I were grocery shopping and trying to figure out what to make for dinner. In the bakery section we found a bag of mini burger buns, so we settled on mini veggie burgers. And then instead of fries I would make oven roasted potatoes. TJ's didn't have fake beef product that I was comfortable making into burger patties, so we planned to get that at another grocery store.

     Back at the house, it was confirmed that I was going to be making diner for my parents as well. When I mentioned mini burgers, Mom got all excited and asked if I wanted to use the quinoa to make black bean burgers. Oh yeah! There was a recipe for that on the back of that bag! Dinner plans were finally set. Couple condiment purchases later and the kitchen counter looked like this:
It's not even all in the picture!
     As the quinoa boils away on the stove, I get to chopping, slicing, and sauteing. The recipe is fairly straight forward and easy to follow. I did omit the egg, since it was optional anyway, and made them slider sized instead of a full burger. Other than that I stuck with the directions for once!

     The recipe made A LOT of 'burger' mix. I made enough to fill all the burger buns, plus 6 patties to enjoy at work for lunch, and I have enough mix to make 12 more sliders hanging out in my freezer. But I'm grateful to have those extras because it took over an hour to get these suckers made! So much more labor intensive than a beef burger for sure.
Two sliders, a serving of asparagus, and roasted potatoes
     I left condiments up to personal preferences, so mine have guacamole, fried red onions, and Mexican cheese. My daughter had cheese and ketchup. Mom had hers like mine. Dad had cheese and maybe that's it? I only have one teeny tiny regret... I wish I had toasted those buns... it would have made them perfect. Other than that though, everyone really enjoyed their black bean burgers. Mom enjoyed them so much she split the final burger with me, Dad said he would eat them again, and my daughter gave them "all the thumbs up in the whole world!" The leftovers at work attracted quite a bit of positive attention, but no way was I sharing! I put the time in, I'm enjoying my burgers. Speaking of time... I'm glad everyone enjoyed these and they made so much mix... made me feel the time in the kitchen was worth it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Oh Hi....

     Where did the last month get to? Oh yeah, Girl Scout cookie sales... taking care of Mom... work... daughter... life in general. I also hit a bit of a funk I suppose. I had measurements with my trainer a few days after my last post and while not bad... they weren't what I was hoping for either. Lost a few pounds, down another percent body fat, but didn't lose any inches.... not a single one. Ouch. All that work and very little to show for it. But! I did keep up with the vegetarian diet. And with the picture taking.

We call it "Button Soup"

This was a happy sort of accident. My mom bought me a vegetarian slow cooker recipe book and I was aiming to make a French Alpine Cheese, Tomato and Onion Soup. But... I was cooking for not only my daughter and myself but my parents as well and my dad can be a picky eater. So I blended the tomatoes instead of chopping them. And it just snowballed from there. I added Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo, some mushrooms, italian seasoning, and a few odds and ends left over in my fridge. Soon it was nothing like what I had planned to make for dinner, but it was really pretty good. The soy chorizo added a bit too much of a kick for my daughter and mom, but Dad and I enjoyed it well enough. I later heard that maybe it would be good served over rice, but by then it was all gone.

     A few nights(?) later I was cooking for just us three girls, and started playing around with Phyllo dough. If you've never worked with it before, just carefully follow the instructions about keeping it covered and what not. This stuff can dry out seriously fast. To fill my phyllo cups, I made something similar to Trader Joe's guilt free spinach and kale dip and added the chicken-less strips. The dip was pretty good cold, I could have eaten it like that anytime. Once hot though... still darn tasty, but the texture wasn't exactly as I would have hoped. Still, we ate all the cups from that night and reheated the filling a few nights later as part of our quest to kill off some leftovers.

     The following week I tried my hand at making curry for the first time. I searched and search for a recipe that I thought would work for three distinct personalities. I like spicy, no one else does though so I was outvoted for a milder curry. I also went for lentils over tofu just to avoid another tofu disaster for my daughter. This dish was made simple with the addition of pre-chopped vegetables. Just sautee, season, add lentils, add coconut milk, cook down until you're ready to eat, and toss the naan into the oven in a foil packet to make it over the top awesome. The texture of the lentils was distracting at first, but over time I began to appreciate them more. The leftovers from this dish were amazing, even fresh from the fridge cold. I had a few days worth to provide me with lunch at work for a change. My coworkers were a bit jealous.
     Other than that it's been vegetarian tacos, meat-less chicken stir fry (don't tell my daughter though, she thinks it was real chicken!), waffles one night, spinach cheese pie, vegetarian sushi with my mom on Wednesdays... stuff like that.

     It's been a far more time consuming adventure than I thought it would be. Some nights take 2 hours to starting dinner to serving time. Most take about 1 though. This sort of cooking has also made so many more dishes to be washed! My time in the kitchen has easily doubled, maybe tripled. That sort of work can keep me away from the computer at times, so I apologize to those that have missed my stories into vegetarian cook, I'm working on getting caught up. But hey, check back again soon and I can tell you about the third vegetarian meal I made my my father. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pizza Pick Me Up

     After Monday and Tuesday last week I was really not in the mood to deal with a failed dinner idea. I was a bit punky, my daughter was a bit punky... we really just needed something to cheer us up. I tossed around a couple of ideas in my head but had no clear idea of what I wanted going to make when I walked into Trader Joe's after my Wednesday workout. 

     I knew I couldn't spend too much time browsing the shelves since I had to get home to Mom. Two days after surgery and I left her alone... after making sure she had her coffee, breakfast, and whatnot. Still, didn't want to leave her hanging. Anyway, I usually find my dinner ideas come together fastest if I pick out my 'protein' first, so I head to the vegetarian/vegan area and browse their selection.

     Nothing really struck a cord with me this time though. I was just... stuck. Reluctantly I pick up a pack of extra firm tofu. I have a few recipes waiting for me to try that guarantee the enjoyment of even non-tofu eaters. Okay... I guess I'll try one of those? I don't know. I was really not feeling the healthy eating thing. Tofu in hand I browse the rest of the produce section hoping to find some real inspiration and fast. Five minutes later and still not feeling anything except the need to use the restroom, I put the tofu back on the shelf  and take a quick pit stop.

     It's on the way out I finally see something that inspires me... pizza dough! Three varieties even! I briefly consider the whole wheat one, then decide on garlic herb. Pizza sauce is even conviently right next to the dough so I didn't have to waste time trying to find it. Dough and sauce in hand I look at everything in a new light. Wasn't there a ground veggie protein kinda like ground beef? Yep! Onions, peppers, and mushrooms round out my veggies. I even have three different bags of grated cheese at home that I should use up, so that's perfect. I grab a particularly beautiful bouquet of roses for Mom to cheer her up, and check out excited for dinner again. Pizza may not be exactly healthy, but for as far as pizzas go... this one is healthier than the usual pepperoni/meat lovers/what have you that I would have normally had.
All the makings for pizza and all from Trader Joe's

     Making dinner from there was a snap. I browned the 'meat', chopped my veggies then added them to the mixture, stretched my crust out, topped, baked, and enjoyed. Tell you what, having pre-made dough was awesome. I have yet to find a recipe that I'm happy with, so I didn't have to fight with that and start dinner hours ahead of time just so we could eat at a decent hour. Just pull it from the fridge a few minutes before you want to start and viola!

     My daughter was fairly thrilled to be having something so close to 'normal' food this time. It was familiar looking and she has yet to meet a pizza she hated. She was optimistic throughout the prep and cooking periods saying things like "Smells soooo good", "I can't believe I'm having pizza tonight!", and "Can I try some of that now?" I tease her a bit and tell her she has to wait until it's all done, no previews available tonight.

Can you smell the browning cheese?
     As dinner comes out of the oven she excited jumps up from the floor where she's watching tv/doing homework/coloring and sits at the table with a huge smile on her face. I cut her about an eighth of the pizza, and join her with two slices for myself. I even had a little extra sauce heated up for dipping the crust into between us. After giving it a minute to cool she takes her first bite and... doesn't like it. Puts it on the plate, shakes her head no, makes an 'unt uhh' noise, crosses her arms and learns away from the table. My heart just about sinks... I couldn't believe I made something she didn't want to eat, again.

     Perhaps a bit delusional at this point, after playing nurse, cleaning house... ya know, doing the whole responsible Mom thing, I ask her to take another bite and reconsider her opinion. She does and isn't much more thrilled. Well, it's dinner anyway so she has to finish her slice. I cut it into pieces so she can countdown how many more bites she has and (somewhat less) happily eat mine. I think it's great by the way. I had to remind myself not to eat any more than those two slices. I could have easily eaten half that pizza.

     A sneak peek over to my daughter's plate reveals that dinner is disappearing quite quickly for a girl that gave me that reaction to her first bite. Usually I have to bargain dessert options when that happens.. not this time though. She ate her whole slice without even a sigh of discontentment. And then something truly surprising comes out of her mouth, "Mom, can I have another piece?" What the what?! Wait up... hold the phone... this is out of left field. She didn't like it. She almost refused to eat it after just the first bite! Now she's asking for more? I don't even know... but I'll take it. I do deny her a second piece though. Not to be mean, but because she was asking about dessert before dinner and that question was just waiting to be asked again. I tell her I'd give her a second piece, but then she might not have room for her two cookies. Totally not true, she could easily have eaten another slice and then two cookies. But she doesn't know that ;-) silly mom trick I've picked up... make them think they need room for dessert so they don't overeat dinner and then add dessert to the calorie count.

     Anyway, her final thumb rating came in at "All the thumbs up in the whole world" so without stopping to examine too much into the change of heart, I put this down in the win column. She loved the leftovers just as much as she ended up loving the first go around.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Couple Rough Days

     Monday presented an especially tough challenge for me... It was vegetarian day, but my mom really wanted chicken casserole for dinner. On any other day my parent's dietary habits are of little concern to my own, but on Monday my Mom had outpatient surgery and I wanted to make her something comforting. So I set out to get what I needed to make Betty Crocker's Chicken Rice Casserole and to make myself something as well.
     Having made plenty of casseroles in my 26 years, I figured a simple salad for myself and a casserole for everyone else was going to be about the extent of the work I felt like doing for dinner. And maybe I was feeling a bit bummed that I wasn't having casserole too.... because I really like casserole. So pitty party salad for me. Though, I make an awesome salad in my opinion. It's made with baby greens, carrots, peppers, cucumbers (not pictured), dried cranberries, mozzarella cheese, and sweet and spicy nuts. I eat it without any dressing, I just don't think it needs it.

     The casserole was fairly easy to make, basic direction following. The biggest challenge was to not taste it as I went. I work as a chef, we're trained to taste everything. But I promise I didn't taste anything.... until Tuesday, yay for leftovers! But damn is it hard to watch everyone else eat something you wish you could. But I did it!

    Then Tuesday rolled around. I was free to eat my yummy casserole! Yay! And it was my turn to make snack for my daughter's Girl Scout troop. I like making snacks for my daughter, so this should be no big deal deal, right? I even enlisted my daughter to help. She put the berries and granola in and I piped the yogurt in.

Even good the next day for breakfast
     The big deal is, I didn't take into account how other parents feed their children. I made yogurt parfaits, a nice healthy but kid friendly sort of thing. Low fat vanilla yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, and granola are apparently not on these girls radars. To say they didn't like their snack is an understatement. I think my daughter is the only one who ate her snack. The rest didn't even try theirs. One girl even made a snide comment about the middle looking like puke, which was quickly the new funny thing for all the other girls to repeat.

     I think this whole thing bothered me for several reasons. The first is that my daughter's (and my own) feelings were hurt. She put thought and love into making these for her friends and they turned up their noses at her efforts. Secondly, as far as snacks go, while not expensive, these cost more than an off the shelf junk food item and to see them uneaten in the trash was hard. Thirdly, I'm mad that the troop leader or her assistant didn't say anything to stop the rude comments. One girl may be able to slip a rude remark in, but it certainly shouldn't be repeated by all the other girls as well. Fourthly, it turns out another troop (older) troop made a cake and brought it in for everyone. So even after misbehaving, the girls were rewarded with huge pieces of cake. My daughter on the other hand, asked for only a small piece just to feel included. And finally, I didn't get a thank you.

     But, to focus on the positives... My daughter is awesome. She insists that we bring a healthy snack again, because she likes how she feels after eating healthy food. She didn't give in to her peers and ate her snack because she liked it and wasn't going to let them tell her what to like. She also, on her own, decided that she'd probably had enough to eat that night and didn't pig out on cake. And finally, when I joked about bringing carrot sticks next time, she fires back, "Mom, I don't think those girls eat carrots. Like ever."

Monday, January 28, 2013

My First Guest Reviewer - Red Beans and Rice

     A few weeks ago I had a friend coming over to hang out on a Wednesday. He's been following my blog, so he knew he was taking a chance by coming on a vegetarian night and I was a bit nervous cooking for someone besides my daughter when I'm still obviously struggling through this vegetarian thing. I've been getting more hits than misses (in my opinion, not in my daughter's) but every once in while a dish will fail or need some tweaking. Nevertheless, I went out shopping after my training session to find something to inspire me.

     It is a very rare thing for me to go to Trader Joe's but everyone keeps telling me that I have to try their soy chorizo, so I went out to pick up a pack. After a bit of hunting around the store I leave with some soy chorizo and a new found love for that store. I'm going to have to make it a habit to bring my wallet to the gym so I can hit that place up after my workout. It's just a bit too far from my home otherwise especially with two chain stores within a mile from my house... yes I am that lazy when it come to grocery shopping.

     From TJ's I head home to figure out what the heck I'm going to make. I had no idea what kind of groceries I was sitting on at that point so I wanted to do an inventory before picking anything else up. Turns out I had a whole lot of not much. A little bit of brown rice, some risotto rice... that's about it. My cooking habits tend to leave little in the way of partial anything. So I do a quick search on vegetarian red bean recipes   and hit up my local store to get the rest of dinner.

     Turns out 'good' red beans take a day or more to make, what with soaking the beans and all. I cheated and bought a couple of cans instead. Though, come to find out a few brands add bacon without putting that information on the front. Good thing I've been a label reader for the past year plus, otherwise I might have accidentally ate bacon (mmmm... it would be a tasty accident though). Also grabbed a can of crushed tomatoes and the holy trinity of veggies (onion, green pepper, celery). Then it was some to get started on a dish that I should have started hours ago.

     I didn't follow a recipe when it came to the actual making of the red beans. Just kinda took the veggies, sauteed them up with some garlic, mixed them with the beans and tomatoes, then put the whole mix into a large casserole dish and into the oven at 300 to let it simmer until dinner. The whole point is to cook the beans until they start to break apart. Mine just didn't have that sort of time though. Next time. Maybe.

    The chorizo itself was a bit weird to work with. I've never worked with a sausage type meat that didn't either hold its shape or have an edible casing. This stuff has to be removed from its plastic casing and then just falls apart to a ground meat like appearance. As I said, strange. I was kind of hoping to have slices of meat-like goodness, oh well.

Looks like dinner to me

     As I'm cooking, my friend arrives and is quite eager to try out what I made fore dinner. Turns out he is a huge fan of chorizo and is quite curious about this impostor. With a stroke of luck (and some mad kitchen skills) my rice finishes up at the same time as the chorizo and dinner is ready. We all layer our bowls with proportions we find pleasing, toss some cheese on top, and dig in.

     Individually, everything was pretty good. As I said, maybe the red beans could have cooked longer, but they tasted pretty good. The chorizo was spicy and very meat like, I'm sure it would fool an unsuspecting taste tester. Mixed all together with a bite of everything though, and this dish was awesome. Thumbs up from me, thumbs up from my friend, and an almost up thumb from my daughter. It was a bit spicy for her. 

     This is one dish that I happily ate away at the leftovers for a few days. I even ended up sharing some with my Dad, and he liked it as well. Though, by that point the dish had morphed slightly. I had mixed everything together and added a can of crushed tomatoes to help cut down on the spice. So it was maybe a bit more chili like by that point. Which my Dad is a fan of for sure. Even though I just fished this dish off a few days ago I'm considering a similar dish for the upcoming Superbowl... even though it isn't on a Monday or Wednesday. That's how much I like this meal.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mini Veggie Lasagnas - And a Guest Cook

     Over the last few weeks it seems that vegetarian eating is taking up more days than I originally planned. I think I'm eating meat now only twice a week. And I don't miss it as much as I thought I would. Sure the bacon is always tempting me at work, but it's not unbearable. I'd wager that I've had one piece since the beginning of the year, a huge improvement from one piece a day.

     Usually days that I had planned to have off from my vegetarian diet are spent eating my vegetarian leftovers. One dish for lunch and another for dinner. I really need to work on batch sizes I think. Or maybe con my parents into eating meals with me more often. But tonight wasn't a leftover dinner. My daughter didn't have Girl Scouts and she was tired of last week's red beans and rice (that's a story I'll tell another time). So we had time to enjoy something new and I was dying to try something I found while random clicking through another blog that was suggested to me. By the way, check out Oh My Veggies sometime if you haven't already. So many ideas!

     Tonight I decided to try my hand at making Mini Veggie Lasagnas. They just look so cute! "But", a little voice warned me, "your daughter doesn't like vegetables." Then again, this poor girl has had a hard time finding much of anything she really liked since this new journey began. So I decided to try a slightly different tactic to the eat your dinner, get a cookie. 

     She is getting to the point she is very helpful in the kitchen, we bake together all the time, so maybe she could help make tonight's dinner. So I ran that idea by her and she was all for it. She helped me shop for the ingredients, to the point of picking the vegetables we were going to use. I did twist her arm a little for the zucchini, "Just a really little one?" I request. "Well, as long as it's a reeeeeeallllllly little one", she concedes. We also picked up a teeny onion, an orange pepper, four small mushrooms, and a bag of spinach to round out our veggies. She also wanted homemade alfredo sauce instead of red sauce or pesto, so we picked up those ingredients as well. Then it's back home to get to work.
Almost tastes like the real thing.
     I get to work making sauce and browning some mock sausage. I should add, this is an addition she was not happy about. She was ready to eat straight up veggie lasagna before risking another meat like product. She came around after I had her try a piece. "Pretty good!" was her verdict.
      The sauce was simple enough to make: 1 Tablespoon margarine, a small spoon of chopped garlic, 1/4 Cups flour, 3 Cups skim milk, salt and paper to taste, then about a cup of shredded Parmesan and some Romano I had laying around. Pretty tasty and lower in calories than anything from a jar. Less creamy though. But in a dish like this I don't think I would have noticed if I hadn't been tasting my sauce off the spoon.

     As I was busy on the stove, I handed my smallest chef's knife to my seven year old and had her cut all of the veggies. It's not her first time cutting anything, in case you were worried. She learned to cut with her Pop-Pop a while back. She wanted to be shown the best way to cut each veggie, but after an initial cut or two from me, the did the knife work. And a really good job of it too.

Chopping peppers
And onions

     After that we put her vegetables in the skillet with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and more fresh garlic. As those cooked down I taught her the easy way to chop spinach. She then stood at the stove and stirred everything until the veggies were al dente. Turned off the heat, added the chopped spinach, put in about half of the Italian sausage, and set our eyes on assembly.

Looks good already
Chopping spinach by rolling the leaves first

Patiently stirring, and making a small mess

Final mix
     This stage was a little difficult for her, but she helped out for a little while. But it was a simple layering procedure, won ton wrapper, tablespoon of ricotta  tablespoon of veggie mix, tablespoon of sauce, repeat. On top we sprinkled some mozzarella and tossed our muffin pan into the oven at 350 for about 15 mins.

Part of the first layer
Oven ready

     As our lasagnas were in the oven we had a good chance to discuss making dinner tonight. Turns out she really enjoyed the whole process, even if it did mean we were eating dinner later than usual. Much later in fact. She has officially requested that she gets to cut our veggies from now on, and I think it's a great idea honestly. Maybe her involvement will make this all more pleasant for her, and it's never too early to learn good knife skills.

     About then the oven beeps and the moment of truth has arrived, will cooking dinner make eating dinner more enjoyable for her? This is certainly a meal with enough vegetables that she would have protested slightly if I just gave it to her. I give her one to start and watch her take her first bite.... "Mmmmmmmm!" She exclaims. As for her thumb rating? I mistakenly took it for two thumbs up at first. She corrected me though, it's "all the thumbs up, in the whole world". This dish is a winner and then some.

Make a batch for yourself tonight!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tofu Take Two

     A few months back I had my first attempt at making tofu and it was a serious flop. I'd say that I probably didn't squeeze enough water out and maybe they could have used a bit more time crisping up. Live and learn, right? Sadly though, this incident will forever stay in my daughter's mind and effect her opinion on tofu.

Nothing fancy, but it sure works great!
     Nevertheless, I tried my hand at making a tofu dish again. This time I had some help though. Firstly, after reading this helpful guide I went out and bought a tofu press. I figure if I'm going to be making tofu more often I don't really want to have to buy a roll of paper towels every time. I also loosely followed this recipe. I left out the fruits at the end though since I was going to be putting my tofu on some veggie stir fry.

     The stir fry itself was made a bit off-the-cuff. Half an onion, half a pepper, a small bunch of broccoli, some aging but still good mushrooms, half a pack of snow peas, a can of baby corn, garlic, ginger, and a pack of Chinese style noodles found in the produce section of my grocery store. Seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce, and a little sesame garlic sauce. Yum!
My veggie mix for the night
     The tofu itself cooked up really well, nice and crispy on the edges, firm on the inside. About as meat like in texture as I think it could be. The sauce I picked had some kick, but not too much. I enjoyed it far more than my previous attempt.

     This time around the 'green things' weren't my daughter's concern, the tofu was. She ate away at the stir fry without complaint, but she consistently avoided the tofu on top. Though I didn't get an individual score from her, I'd guess it came in at not quite a thumb up, but more than a sideways thumb. When I was finally able to convince her to try the tofu... she didn't hate it. But she didn't like it either and she would have been happy to not have had to finish the mere two pieces I had given her. But she did finish it all without playing "let's make a deal". I do believe she had some cookies later on though. Mimi's are always good for cookies.

     As I said at the beginning of this post, I think her previous experience tainted her opinions. It may take a few more dishes like this to get her to have a positive view. For now I think the sideways thumb the tofu got was quite an accomplishment.
Even reheated two days later this dish is awesome in my book

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dinning Out

     As I have only recently decided to dive into the world of vegetarianism it's never occurred to me how difficult eating out may be. I was given a quick glimpse into that this past Wednesday though. I left the restaurant feeling like a bit of a failure... until I justified it. Then I was okay. Mostly.

     Normally my daughter and I have a 'Mommy & Daughter date' every Thursday night. We head to a chain  restaurant that is just over a mile from the house and have dinner. We've been there so frequently the hosts recognize us now. Anyway, this past week we had to change the day of our date night because I was scheduled to work a special function. We shuffled it up a day to make the next night more bearable for her. Unfortunately for me, this meant I was supposed to eat vegetarian.

     I didn't think it would be that hard, maybe get a veggie burger, a salad, or worst case a pasta dish. There was surely one dish, right? Unfortunately not. There was no mention of veggie burgers, plus every burger came with bacon too. Every salad had chicken. Every pasta dish came with shrimp or chicken. Even the 550  calories and under menu had meat on every dish. The only two vegetarian options came on the appetizer menu, fried green beads and bar pretzels. Great.

     I considered getting my usual dish, a salad, without the chicken. But I know (approximately) what a salad costs to make and without the chicken they would be making a really good profit margin off my dish. Everyone knows that the protein is the most expensive part of the dish. I just didn't feel right paying full price when about half the cost was missing. So... I gave up. I got my usual salad as is, with dressing on the side. My daughter happily was allowed to have her usual mini burgers and fries.

     As for my justification? I ate vegetarian Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday already. And I could do it again easily on Thursday, I would just pack my dinner for work. So surely those 'extra' days would make up for my failure on Wednesday right?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Redemption Through Revamp

     At this point I feel a bit trapped, I have a bowl of leftover tacos, a near full package of corn tortillas and  an unhappy 7 year old. I don't think any amount of bargain making could get her to eat those tortillas again. But I refuse to throw them out either, especially after reading this post. Wasting food has been a small problem in this household as well. Eating what I buy is a great goal to work towards. With these thoughts swirling in my mind I head to work Tuesday morning.

     I am lucky in a way that I work in the food industry at this point, I can easily get ideas from everyone around me. We discuss using the tortillas as 'noodles' in a taco lasagna dish. Cutting strips and frying them up to make a crunchy addition to a salad. Tortilla bowls. Tortilla soup. You name it, it was suggested.

     But, Tuesdays are a bit more crunched for time. I have to help my daughter get her homework done, get dinner on the table, and get out the door for Girl Scouts. I needed a low fuss, healthy, kid friendly solution. I finally settled on baked corn chips. No extra fat and it solves the texture issue she and I were having. And I've always been more of a crunchy taco/taco in a bowl person anyway.

     Turns out baked corn chips are really simple. Cut your tortillas into desired size, I like eighths personally. Lay them out on a couple sheet pans like so:

The spacing is the important part no chips on top of each other!

     And season as you wish. I chose two salt grinders that I got for Christmas from my brother.

A little spice for my tray, just salt and pepper for hers

     Bake in the oven at 400 until the edges are just turning brown , nine minutes in my oven, and tada!


     I pull these out of the oven just as her bus drops her off at the door. "Mmmm... what's that Mom? It smells good." Small victory already!
     "Oh, I made chips out of those tortillas you didn't like last night. I don't think you want to try these." That last sentence had her jumping up and down begging to try one. After a small show of denying her, I 'cave' and let her try "just one". As she bites into her first chip I hear a little yum noise and the quickly the rest of the chip is gone. I finally win a round!

     Dinner is a few hours later and I serve up a small scoop of last night's tacos with 12 chips, equivalent to  one a half tortilla shells, and a sprinkle of cheese. This dinner was such a hit that she didn't even ask for dessert. And it looks so good you would hardly believe it was vegetarian.

Now that's what I'm talking about!

     I did only get one thumb up, but she also said it's a meal she would happily eat again. I would too, semi-homemade chips and all. As an added note, this was a very filling dinner, so if you decided to make this yourself maybe scoop a bit less then you normally would. You can always get seconds after all.