meal planning for the easily bored

three methods of meal planning for the easily bored.

I used to live a block from the grocery store. I never had to plan our meals further than an hour or two before dinner time, because I treated the store like my own personal pantry, running over to grab whatever I needed for that day’s meals. Now that my grocery outings involve at least one, sometimes two children in tow (depending on if Etta and I go while Claire’s at preschool), I just can’t go to the store that often. Now, I plan at least a week’s worth of meals at a time. But, since I also feel that cooking is a fun, creative outlet for me (and I like to eat good food), I try really hard not to get into a meal-planning rut– I like to rotate between a few methods and try lots of new recipes. I figured I’d share my methods, and also solicit yours.

A few key pieces of info: we are largely meat-free but not vegetarian, instead choosing to eat less meat and when we do eat meat, to eat locally/sustainably/ethically raised meat whenever we can. We do eat eggs, fish, and dairy. Also, we’re not super adventurous in the breakfast department, so I don’t have to think about that much. Cereal, almond milk, yogurt, eggs scrambled with leftover veggies and cheese, and fruit are about as varied as we get most mornings. Lunches are leftovers for adults, toddler tapas for the kiddos– they have crackers or bread, cheese, raw veggies, hummus, fruit, boiled eggs, beans, etc. that I keep in the fridge and mix up regularly. So, I’m mostly planning dinners, about 5 dinners per week with at least one leftover night and one meal out.

Method One: Tour de Pinterest

pinterest pin boards for recipe organization

I love Pinterest. For me, it’s not just some sort of aspirational fantasyland full of outfits I’ll never try and DIY’s I could never master, but an actual, useful tool. Before it came around, I, an avid food blog reader, had tons of folders of bookmarked recipes to try. The problem with that method was, no matter how descriptively I titled the bookmarks, it was hard to tell what was what. Pinterest solves that, because it’s visual, and makes scrolling through bookmarked recipes like flipping through a cookbook looking for a picture of something tasty.

The key to this method is to hyperorganize your pin boards. I have them divided into categories like: Mexican, Asian/Indian/Middle Eastern, Soups and Stews, Vegetarian, Seafood, Pasta, and Chicken. Then it becomes a matter of choosing 5 recipes from several different boards, so in one week we’ll have a pasta dish, a taco/enchilada/burrito type dish, maybe a homemade pizza, a stir fry, and a soup and salad night. I open up each recipe in my browser, make my grocery list on my phone and write the names of the dishes at the top of the list so I can easily find them when it’s time to cook. Then, for my own future reference, after we’ve had a meal, I go back and leave myself comments on the recipe pins letting me know if we liked it and what I would do differently if I made it again. If a recipe flat out didn’t work, I delete the pin.

Method Two: There’s an App for That

20140312-122006.jpgThis is a new thing I’ve only been trying recently. I have a couple different cooking apps on my phone, including Real Simple’s No Time To Cook and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. I did a week of recipes from the Real Simple app over the last week. I opened the app, chose Vegetarian and 30 minutes or less, scrolled through, and picked out several dishes.

Our meals for the last week and a half included: salmon and green beans with brown butter and almonds, red bean and spinach burritos, polenta with blue cheese and garlicky chard, and pierogi with sauteed red cabbage. Our last meal of the week was a use-up-the-leftover-veggies dish of veggie fried rice. Things I liked about this method: It was easy to find and choose recipes, none of them had a ton of weird ingredients, and they all truly did come together quickly. What I didn’t like: several of the meals just didn’t seem hearty enough, so I had to doctor them a little. The salmon and green beans were delicious, but to me, the meal needed a carb/starch, so I added lemon-y risotto. The red bean and spinach burritos were delicious, but I added cumin and chili powder to the beans and grilled my burritos in a panini pan to make them more special. The polenta with blue cheese and garlicky chard was a great starting point, but needed protein, so I added white beans and soft-boiled eggs– now I can’t imagine having that recipe without the “sauce” of a soft egg on top.

Overall, I will try this method again, but I will definitely keep in mind that I may need to add to or spice up the recipes.

Method 3: Pick a Cookbook, Any Cookbook 

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Several of our favorite Bittman meals.

I usually use this method with my Mark Bittman cookbooks, either The Food Matters Cookbook or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I’ll page through the book, pick a handful that look tasty, maybe a snack or dip or two, too, and make my meal plan that way. I love Bittman’s less-meatarian philosophy, and his recipes are simple, delicious, and always very adaptable to any number of variations. I’m sure this method could work well with whatever your favorite cookbooks are. A perk to the Bittman books: you can get the complete How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian as apps on the iPhone for $10ish, much cheaper than the books themselves.

There are other methods I haven’t tried, like, oh, actually looking at circulars and deciding a menu based around that, largely because I’m driven by the recipes themselves, and because I’ve already cut our grocery bill substantially by cutting most of our meat and processed foods. One of the nice things about having the Pinterest, cooking and cookbook apps, though, is that if I get to the store and notice say, avocados are 99 cents, I can call an audible and pull up a taco recipe or something and swap out one of the others.

What about you? Do you meal plan? Where do you get your menus?

MMMMonday

To all the folks who may be new around here thanks to yesterday’s Freshly Pressed feature: welcome! You may notice I’m writing about food today and not current events: that happens a lot. Day to day you might find food, parenting, DIY, current events, pop culture, feminism, politics, literature…something for almost everyone, I guess!

Now back to your regularly scheduled MMMMonday, a weekly roundup of all things tasty in my world.

LIES.
LIES.

Can I start by admitting a Pinterest FAIL? Have you seen all those “never grow green onions again!” pins that advise just putting the root ends in a glass of water and letting them regrow? WASTE OF TIME. I tried it. I mean, I grow veggies and herbs. We used to run an urban garden. I put my green onions in a glass of water on my windowsill. Two weeks of my kitchen smelling vaguely of onions and swamp water (that water got FUNKY), and only two of the bunch had grown at all. I think I’ll just keep spending the 75 cents for green onions when I need them.

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I wanted a roasted chicken but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen. Enter: slow cooker. I filled the bottom with red potatoes and a few cloves of garlic, put a chicken on top, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Cavender’s, added a few lemon slices, and created deliciousness that didn’t require a 400 degree oven. The Pinterest component is the side dish. I used oregano instead of basil, because my basil has died/fried, but the oregano is still kicking. Really tasty!

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I did not expect to love this dish like I did. It’s basically an Asian noodle bowl, but the “noodles” are spaghetti squash. It’s also full of kale and broccoli, so it’s super healthy. The one thing I did differently was use peanut oil instead of grapeseed oil in the spicy peanut sauce, because I don’t keep grapeseed oil on hand.

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I sometimes joke that my Colorado-native hubby had to marry a Southern girl just for the okra, which is one of his favorite foods. This recipe was different than my usual fried okra, because they’re sliced sorta like fries, and are just fried in the oil solo, no batter or cornmeal or anything. They’ve got an Indian sort of spice thanks to garam masala, and I really liked it for a change of pace. I might experiment with the same flavor profile in an oven-roasted version.

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I’m a pickle fanatic, and I definitely prefer the ones you can only get in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. These come as close to those as any homemade version I’ve tried, and since they’re a refrigerator version, you don’t have to worry about canning or sealing or botulism or anything. So good!

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This recipe isn’t a new one, but it’s a fave. Tarts seem fancy to me for some reason, but this one isn’t too complicated, I swear. The interesting details: you spread a layer of dijon mustard before layering in the tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, and a drizzle of honey. The flavors are amazing together. You should try it!

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OK, no recipe for this one. I basically just made a mint julep, and since I had some strawberries on the verge of going bad, I muddled some in along with the mint. A nice combo!

So: what’s cookin’ for you this week?

MMMMonday (on a Tuesday)

Welcome to MMMMonday…on a Tuesday.

You see, what had happened was… Claire was sick yesterday, and while hanging out in the ER (no worries, just an infection, she’ll be ok), I tried to post my MMMMonday post from my WordPress phone app. And somehow all the pictures posted, but none of the text. What follows is my recreation of that text, though surely it was better the first time.

I didn’t actually cook much “new” stuff this week because I couldn’t be arsed to go to the grocery store. Which means I did a lot of pantry-staple cooking. My pantry stocking borders on Doomsday Prepper. I feel antsy if I don’t have plenty of dried pasta, rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, onions, garlic, butter, and olive oil. Those ingredients plus odds and end vegetables can be combined to create veggie fried rice, pasta with simple red sauce, and black beans with coconut rice, all of which made an appearance on our table this week.

Eventually I made it to the Farmer’s Market and restocked us a bit, and I still managed to try a few new things I had pinned. Check it out:

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These lime bars from the A Beautiful Mess blog were delicious. Can’t wait to try the grapefruit version.
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I make a lot of hummus, but after finding some beautiful eggplants at the farmer’s market, I decided to try my hand at baba ghanouj. It’s a little more labor intensive than hummus, because you have to roast the eggplant, but it’s very tasty. I made homemade pitas to go with it, and even Etta was a big fan.
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I used some of the aforementioned farmer’s market eggplants along with local squash and zucchini to make a gorgeous layered ratatouille, which I served over whole wheat pearl couscous alongside some leftover local hanger steak from a cookout with friends. A very tasty way to eat some of the summer’s best veggies. Would be delicious with a poached egg or some goat cheese on top.
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I wanted something special to serve with my odds-and-ends veggie fried rice, and was inspired by this salmon recipe. For my version, I just brushed some thawed frozen salmon with a beaten egg, sprinkled with salt and pepper, covered in black sesame seeds, and baked for about 15 minutes at 400. It was flavorful and had a nice crunch!

What about you? Tried any recipes (or other projects) from Pinterest lately? Have any pantry-staple recipes you use when you need to grocery shop to share? What ARE your pantry staples?

MMMMonday

I’d say I’m addicted to Pinterest, but that would imply a problem. Really, Pinterest is a big solution for me. I used to have folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes, but I only ever used less than half of the saved sites, because scrolling through filenames isn’t very inspiring or appetizing. Pinterest has changed all that, because I can scroll through pictures instead of filenames. I have 17 food-related pinboards alone, each representing a “genre” of food, like “TexMex/Mexican/Latin,” “Pasta,” and “Breakfast.” I usually loosely plan menus weekly, which for me means picking out 4-5 dinner recipes, a lunch or two, some sort of snack, and maybe a special cocktail or popsicle recipe. I’ll sit down in front of my computer, open up my boards, and pick say, one “Pasta,” one “TexMex,” one “Asian/Middle Eastern” and one “Vegetarian” dinner, scrolling through the pictures to see what looks tasty to me. Then I’ll pick one or two recipes from “Salads and Sides” to have for my lunches, and something from “Appetizers and Snacks” to munch throughout the week. My husband isn’t home for dinner one or two nights a week, and on those nights I eat leftovers, and we usually go out at least once a week. I usually don’t eat breakfast, or if I do, I make some sort of scrambled eggs or a homemade Egg McMuffin.

Many criticize Pinterest for being all inspiration, but very little action. While I do have some purely aspirational Pinboards (I mean, I don’t wear most of the outfits I pin), most of my food-related pins are actually in the queue to try someday soon. I thought it might be fun to actually share the things I cook from my pinboards, and give you the links and let you know how things turned out. I’m calling this feature MMMMonday.

Here’s what I’ve tried recently:

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This salad served as my lunch a couple of times this week. I made a few changes to the recipe, namely leaving out the peanuts, adding sesame seeds, and adding a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil to the dressing. Next time I might cut down the dressing a little bit, as the salad was slightly swimming. I’ll definitely be making it again.

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I wanted to make a special meal to mark my husband’s first day in his new job, so I turned to classic Southern cuisine. The fried chicken is a recipe from one of my favorite Charleston restaurants, The Glass Onion, and even though it only sat in the buttermilk brine for a few hours instead of overnight, it was still flavorful and juicy. The okra was inspired by this recipe, except I sliced it, tossed it with olive oil, cornmeal, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning before roasting. A flavorful, healthier alternative to full on fried okra. The tomato salad was served with a Southern Living recipe for a cucumber basil ranch-type dressing, which was a definite keeper. I even ate the cucumbers in the dressing by themselves for a snack later. Omitting the cucumbers altogether would yield a tasty dressing for other salads, too.

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This green hummus is a super healthy snack, chock full of protein-filled chickpeas and nutrient-rich greens like arugula, spinach, and cilantro. I didn’t change a thing about the recipe, and even Etta loved it smeared on a tortilla. I prefer to dip veggies, myself.

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This dinner was inspired by a sausage and spinach stuffed shells recipe. When my grocery store didn’t have shells, I decided to turn it into manicotti. My changes were adding a little tomato sauce poured over the manicotti before topping with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

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This meal was amazing. I followed the instructions to bake my squash instead of frying it, and it was still crispy and delicious. For the salsa, I used a whole jalapeno, added more cilantro than called for, and added a diced sweet pepper. I also don’t think charring the corn really added all that much to the taste, and would think canned or thawed frozen corn would serve just as well. Another thought: if you don’t want to use panko crumbs, cracker crumbs would be a good substitute. I served the tacos with black beans cooked from dried beans in the crock pot for the first time, which was so easy and cheap, I’ll be ditching my canned beans habit very soon! In the future, I may use this panko-crusted oven-frying method to make veggie “fries,” while playing around with seasonings.

No Pinterest Fails this week! What about you? Have you tried anything you saw on Pinterest lately? How did it turn out?

Bourbon Blackberry Cobbler (with cornmeal crust!)

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Last night I wanted to make an extra special dinner to celebrate my husband’s first shift in his new job. While I often joke that my Colorado mountain man had to marry a Southern girl for the cookin’, the truth is, I didn’t cook that much until about a year after our marriage. Since then it’s become a major hobby, and I can now improvise my own recipes, which is super fun, like my own imaginary iron chef challenge. I improvised this cobbler recipe based on several recipes that I know and love, and it would work well with peaches or mixed berries, too. Bourbon and peach are actually a favorite flavor combo of mine– one I use in my famous summer boozy popsicles. Feel free to skip the bourbon portion of the recipe altogether, if booze isn’t your thing, but do know that it’s really just a warm, sweet accent to the warm, sweet fruit, not a boozy punch in the mouth.

Bourbon Blackberry Cobbler (with cornmeal crust!)

Filling:

  • 2 qts Blackberries (or fruit of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 T butter

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 9 T (one stick plus one tablespoon) butter, very cold
  • Several tablespoons ice water

Preheat oven to 425.

To make the filling, combine all ingredients but the butter in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.

To make the crust, using a food processor, pulse together flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar. Then add the pats of butter and pulse until the butter pieces are pea-sized. Then drizzle the ice water through the spout of the processor while pulsing until the dough begins to form a ball. I tend to overdo it with the water because I’m scared the dough won’t hold together, so I find it works better to pulse a few times in between drizzles to give it a chance to really mix.

Now, here you have an option. Some folks might like this more like a pie, with a bottom crust, rolled out and folded over. If you want to roll out your crust, form dough into a disc and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before rolling out on a floured surface to 1/4 in. thickness, draping over a 2-qt pie pan or baking dish, filling with the fruit mixture which is then topped with the reserved 4 tablespoons of butter, and then folding over the edges of the crust over top of the fruit.

Other folks (ahem, yours truly) prefer the quickest route to Cobbler Town. What I do is pour my fruit mixture into my baking dish (I used a square Pyrex, but sometimes I do individual mini cobblers in ramekins), topping it with the butter, and then taking handfuls of my dough, flattening them with my hands to about 1/4 in. thickness, and cobbling together a crust to cover the filling. No refrigerating the dough necessary.

Whichever crust method you choose, place the now full of cobbler baking dish on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow, and bake at 425 until bubbling and golden brown, 45 minutes or so. Serve warm with ice cream on top.

 

homemade yogurt: one step closer to hippiedom

I know blogging’s been sparse around here lately. I fell off the vegan wagon and the blogging wagon at about the same time. It’s a good thing though: I’m studying feverishly to try and pass the last step between me and an MA in English Literature: the dreaded comps exam. So, expect blogging to resume something resembling regularity sometime after the first week of April, at which point I’m sure I’ll have cute Bufflo Gals’ 1st Birthday photos.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new routine going in my kitchen, and it involves living organisms.

No, I’m not raising goats or something out in our rented back yard. I started making my own yogurt and now I don’t even know who I am anymore. I distinctly remember a friend saying she made her own yogurt one time, and thinking to myself, “that’s nutty. Just buy the yogurt, ya weirdo.”

But then I got my almost-one-year-olds off formula, discovered they love whole milk, and discovered further that they REALLY REALLY love whole milk yogurt. And that YoBaby shiz ain’t cheap.

Yogurt faces.
Yogurt faces.

Another problem: though Claire loves to be spoon fed (she lives on purees, after all), Little Miss Feeds Herself wants no part of me lovingly spooning yogurt into her mouth. If I let her try to spoon feed herself, every end but the end with the yogurt gets in her mouth, and it’s an epic mess. If I try to feed her myself, it’s an insane battle of waving arms and yelling at me as she tries to grab the spoon while I’m trying to stick it in her mouth. About every 5th bite gets in there, which is nuts.

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So, to solve the “my kids eat 8-16 oz of yogurt per day” problem and the Etta loves yogurt but eating it with her hands is difficult problem, I have discovered two solutions.

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The first, as I mentioned before, is making my own yogurt. I basically follow this process from Annie’s Eats. I heat half a gallon of milk to 180 degrees to denature the proteins in it (which is apparently important). Then, I pour it into a Pyrex glass bowl and cool it to between 110 and 120 degrees. Then I add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt (at this point, I use the last bit of my homemade yogurt, but my first batch used plain Stonyfield Farm whole milk yogurt), and stir. Then, I preheat my oven for one minute (which gets it to about 120 degrees) turn it off, and turn on the light. Meanwhile I put a lid on the Pyrex and swaddle the whole thing with a few kitchen towels.

I leave the Pyrex in the oven with the light on overnight, for about 12 hours. In the morning, when I wake up, I go in, take off the lid, and it’s yogurt. Well, yogurt swimming in whey. So, I line a colander with either a couple layers of cheesecloth or a thin dishtowel like a flour sack towel, and set it in a bowl (you could just do the sink, but I’m saving the whey because I’m crazy and want to try making whey ricotta cheese), and strain the yogurt until it’s nice and thick and creamy. Half a gallon of milk left overnight yields 1.5 quarts of yogurt and 2 cups of whey. Scraping it off the towel with a spatula is really as tough as the work gets here.

What the yogurt looks like when I take it out in the morning, pre-straining.
What the yogurt looks like when I take it out in the morning, pre-straining.
Straining yogurt through a colander lined with a flour sack towel.
Straining yogurt through a colander lined with a flour sack towel.
Resultant strained yogurt and whey.
Resultant strained yogurt and whey.

Taste-wise, the homemade yogurt is just as good as the plain whole milk yogurt I was buying. It works great as a sour cream substitute, too. To serve it to the girls, I usually mix it with some pureed fruit and some oatmeal baby cereal so they get a complete breakfast. For snacks or when they need a little something after dinner, I just stir in a smidge of agave syrup for sweetness (because they can’t have honey yet).

This brings me to: how do I get the yogurt into the girl who won’t be spoon fed?

I had seen on Pinterest some reusable baby food pouches that are basically the same as those Plum baby food pouches, except the spout is on the side and the top is like a Ziploc bag. So, after searching on Amazon and reading some reviews, I decided to go with the Yummi Pouch (consider this a mini-review, I guess) because they were cheaper than the Little Green Pouch, which I was also considering. They are awesome, y’all. I just fill them with 4 oz. of yogurt, zip up the top, hand it to Etta, and she knows exactly how to hold it and suck the yogurt out of the spout, a feat she figured out within seconds of having the first drops squeezed onto her tongue and realizing that sweet yogurty goodness was inside that thing.

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The Yummi Pouches claim to be dishwasher safe, but I’m not sure I trust my dishwasher to hold it open enough to get clean. So, I’ve been washing them by hand using a bottle brush, and drying them on my bottle rack. Works fine. One tip I did read in one of the reviews: the lids are easy to lose, but are the same diameter as the disposable baby food pouches, so if you use those, just save the lids in case you lose the lids to your pouches. I’ve tried the lids from a GoGoSqueez applesauce pouch and they worked just fine!

Overall, my newfound yogurt-making hobby is saving me money– a 32 oz. container of Stonyfield Farm plain whole milk yogurt costs me $4ish, while an entire gallon of milk, which yields 64 oz. of yogurt, costs the same. So the homemade is literally half the price, with none of the trash of the packaging. And since I also mix it with fruit purees, we can compare the cost to the YoBaby yogurt, which would be almost $11 for the amount a gallon of milk yields in homemade yogurt! Maybe I’m not as crazy as I once thought my yogurt-making friend was!

beans for breakfast? heck yes

I know I said in my last post on Vegan for Lent that I was having issues with breakfast. Until this weekend, when I somehow concocted the BEST BREAKFAST EVER. Yes: a breakfast worthy of all caps. I didn’t even wish it had a runny yolked egg on top, which means you *know* it’s good.

It started, like some of my best dishes, with trying to make something with the weird odds and ends we had left a week after my last grocery trip. In this case, I had 4 small potatoes starting to go soft, and thus an amazing breakfast was born:

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Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:
4 palm-sized potatoes
1 onion, halved, one half quartered and sliced thinly, the other half diced
1 jalapeno, diced
1 can pinto beans
3 cloves garlic, minced (we reallllly like garlic, so if you don’t, maybe start with one clove and see what you think)
Cumin
Paprika
Chipotle chile powder
Creole seasoning (even I admit this is weird, so skip it if you want)
Oregano
Red wine vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Oil of your choosing (I used vegetable oil for the hash browns and coconut oil for the beans)
Salsa
Corn tortillas

The thing about a no-recipe recipe is that I sort of threw this together while feeding breakfast to my babies. When cooking on my own, I rarely measure things. I just pour spices out into my palm or sprinkle them over a dish and go with what feels good. So, if you need exact spice measurements, this recipe may not be for you, but I say go with your gut and taste along the way.

I shredded the potatoes using a food processor, then pressed them in a fine mesh strainer to dry them out a bit. Meanwhile I heated up enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of my skillet. I added the shredded potatoes, jalapenos, and sliced onion once the oil was hot. Then I seasoned with salt, pepper, and yes, Creole seasoning. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I saw the shaker sitting there and went for it. It tasted delicious. Fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until to your desired crispyness. I totally believe that frozen hash browns would work here, but I needed to use the potatoes.

In another skillet, I melted a couple tablespoons of coconut oil, because I like the subtle coconut flavor with the beans. Then I added the diced onion and garlic and sauteed til softened. Then I added cumin, paprika, and some chipotle chile powder to the mix, stirring for about a minute. Then I drained the can of pintos and added them to the skillet with the garlic and onions. Then I remembered a favorite rice and beans recipe and added some oregano and a few dashes of red wine vinegar, along with salt and pepper. Cook until the hash browns are done.

Layer the beans over the hash browns, pour some salsa over the top (we used a roasted garlic and cilantro salsa), and serve with a couple of corn tortillas on the side.

Variations: I’m sure any kind of beans would work here, except maybe garbanzos. And yes, it would be excellent with a fried egg or some pepperjack cheese or a dollop of sour cream on top, but it’s perfectly tasty by its own vegan self.

Vegan for Lent, Week 2

20130220-105942.jpgThis week in my lenten discipline has taught me something about my psychology: I don’t like being told what to do. The minute there is a rule about something, all I want is to break that rule. I may go weeks without eating meat naturally, but the minute I make a rule that I have to be vegan, all I want are runny yolked eggs, things covered in cheese, and bacon cheeseburgers. I may have taken advantage of Sunday to have both a cheeseburger and cheesy pizza. I could spiritualize this into a nice post about how sinful I am, or something, but the reality is, from the very beginning, people don’t like being told not to eat (of the fruit of that tree, or of the fruit of Five Guys). I may be a bad Christian, but it seems to just be the way people are, and I’m people too. I can’t imagine God not knowing that we’d be this way from the start. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with cheese, really, but doing without it has definitely required me to think harder than I would otherwise think about my food.

Breakfasts are especially difficult. I tend toward the hypoglycemic in the mornings and have always preferred protein to carbs or fruit to start my day. Before, my go-to was homemade Egg McMuffins, or a cheese stick. Rarely I’ll have a KIND nut and grain bar. Now, I find myself having an extra cup of coffee to tide me over, because I don’t want to eat cereal or oatmeal or fruit. So, easy vegan breakfast solutions that are not cereal with almond milk would be appreciated.

Another thing I’ve noticed with being a vegan is: I get bored with the leftovers really fast. Even if a meal was really great the first time, I don’t really want to eat it again very often. This has led to some weird ass dinners when I am avoiding leftovers. The other night I seriously ate a baked potato with green goddess salad dressing on it because I couldn’t face any of the zillions of tupperwears in my fridge. Usually, I’ll put a poached egg on leftovers, or turn them into a frittata, to shake it up a bit, but I can’t do that with this diet.

This week I tried to use some of the online recipes I’d collected on my Pinterest board so you guys can try them too. Here’s what we ate in the last week (it’s so few meals because they always seem to make a ton of leftovers, and because I was home alone for several days, so I did less cooking):

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This gumbo was really tasty served over brown rice, and the friends we had over for dinner who aren’t vegan seemed to think so too! The key, to me, to make up for the lack of sausage is the addition of some liquid smoke seasoning.

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These cookies use coconut oil instead of butter, and I veganized them by using applesauce and a little baking powder and soda to replace the egg. The texture was slightly different than the average cookie, but they were decidedly cookie-like and very tasty. They basically taste like a slightly coconutty sugar cookie.

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I wanted to try a cheese substitute, just for the experience, so I largely gave this casserole a try just to use the Daiya cheese. While I couldn’t get the cheese to melt like it claims it will, I found it to have a good flavor, and will buy their products after Lent is over for my lactose-intolerant husband. The casserole itself was a little dry, so I added salsa to my plate. If I made it in the future, I might just pour some enchilada sauce in with the veggie mix to make it saucier.

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This squash and kale bowl had a great flavor but wasn’t quite filling enough to be a whole meal. I might add bulgur or quinoa to make it more filling next time.

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OK, so I didn’t really cook this tofu banh mi. Consider this a plug for The Root Cafe here in Little Rock. All of their food is local and delicious. It was great to know there was a place I could go and have something yummy for a lunch out with a friend.

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This tagine was a dish I had made and liked even before my Vegan Lent, so I knew we’d like it this time around. I was short on zucchini, so I subbed in some frozen green beans, and they worked beautifully. I also didn’t have preserved lemons, so I used lemon infused olive oil, lemon zest, and some extra lemon juice.

2 weeks down, one month to go!

farmer’s market meals

Last Saturday I actually made it to the Farmer’s Market. This was my haul:

Don’t you love how I subconsciously arranged everything in ROYGBIV order? I swear it wasn’t intentional.

I figured it might be fun to turn my Farmer’s Market trips into posts about how we eat for a week on our delicious local produce.

The cukes and the yellow squash immediately became pickles, the squash joining some zucchinis we had grown to become summer squash bread and butter pickles (seriously, such a good recipe, though I skip the whole ice bath part and they still turn out just dandy), and the cukes becoming my absolute favorite, I swear they’re as good as Claussen’s, dill refrigerator pickles.

pickles in progress

The gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and the Japanese eggplant joined some mozzarella and some home-grown basil to become a delicious margherita pizza.

Look at that tomato flesh. So red, it's almost black.

The pattypan squash was sauteed in olive oil with home-grown herbs and served alongside a red lentil salad with heirloom tomatoes, and some tilapia.

And the remainder of the squash, eggplant, and tomato were turned into a sort of ratatouille which we ate with goat cheese over pearl couscous:

This was eaten alongside some tomato and onion focaccia I made using some tomatoes we grew in our community garden:

Truly the most beautiful bread I have ever baked, and also one of the tastiest.

Finally, the blackberries were mixed with honey, lemon zest, and corn starch and topped with a few pats of butter and a cornmeal crust to become personal-pan cobblers:

All in all, a delicious week of largely local food!

the view from my table

So, food blogging. It’s something I have definitely fallen down on, what with being busy with learning about literature and generally falling out of regular blogging in the post-a-day way I used to do. But, I’m still a total foodie, and have been meaning to get back into geeking out about food.

Add to that, I was recently chatting with a friend about our less-meatarian diet, and she was asking me questions about what our meals actually look like. It’s definitely hard, when first transitioning to a less-meat diet, to figure out what to put on a plate that isn’t a meat and two sides. Mark Bittman addresses this in his book (an AMAZING resource) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:

Even those people who do cook at home reckon that the easiest way to anchor a meal is to throw a steak or a chicken breast on the grill or under the broiler and scatter a few nominal vegetables around it…But a vegetarian meal is more commonly a table with a few dishes on it, all of them of equal importance…The grain is not less valuable than the cooked vegetable, the salad, or the bread: they’re all there to compliment one another. Pickles you made yourself, a nice piece of cheese, or a bowl of nuts–all are valid courses in the vegetarian meal.

Now, Bittman is certainly not a vegan (note the cheese reference), and neither am I. I choose to eat much less meat than the average American for environmental, humanitarian, and health reasons. I try to follow the dictates of Michael Pollan’s famous maxim: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I try to eat food, by which he means whole ingredients, rather than food products or processed foods. And I try to eat more plant-based foods. But I still eat fish, eggs, and cheese, and the occasional ethically-raised meat when I can afford it.

Anyway, I figured that a weekly roundup of what we actually eat might help friends looking to transition to a less-meat diet get some ideas about what less-meat meals actually look like. These posts will be characterized by most-likely iPhone photography of our meals, which, I confess, more often than not are eaten on TV trays in our living room while we watch something from our DVR. I’ll share links to recipes when I can, or share which cookbooks the recipes came from. My two most frequently used cookbooks are both by Bittman– the aforementioned How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and The Food Matters Cookbook.

So, what did our meals this week look like?

This meal was definitely the most veggie-licious of our week. I tossed a bunch of sliced veggies (red bell pepper, zucchini, squash, onion, grape tomatoes) with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and some Herbes de Provence. I broiled them for about 15 minutes while I made some pearl couscous and cooked a couple of pieces of fish in a skillet. Such a tasty and colorful meal. The fish was really not even necessary. Might have poached an egg and served it on top or just tossed in some chickpeas for a fish-free version.

This is a common meal for us. Cuban-style black beans (I skip the radishes) over coconut rice (the idea for the rice came from this recipe). Almost always eaten with a Cuba Libre (rum and Coke with a lime).

Do those veggies look familiar? They’re leftover from meal #1. I cut them into bite sized pieces, sauteed them til warm, and then added some eggs and gruyere cheese to the mix, for a sort of veggie scramble. I do some variation of this a lot when I have leftover veggies that need to be used up.

Our other meals this week: cheese dip and margaritas and guacamole at a fave Mexican restaurant. Cheese dip and salsa another night too. Chicken and veggie pizza from another fave place. And Mexican night at our church. Might be avoiding anything with a Mexican flavor for this next week!