Silly Faces for Lunch

I think all of us are could benefit from getting more veggies in our diets. Yes, even you, T-Rexes. Lots of people have to find ways to “trick” their kids into eating vegetables, which I’m totally on board with. Trick your kids as long as you can get away with it! Personally, I end up having to trick myself into eating more veggies, not because I don’t like them, but because I just kind of forget there are foods other than coffee and cheese.

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The other day, we were all hungry, I had too much produce in the house, and the 3 year old needed an activity. I stood him on a chair in the kitchen to help me make silly faces for lunch. I saw this in one of his Elmo books, so it’s clearly a good idea.

I cut up cheese for teeth, cucumbers and tomatoes for eyes, and used cucumber and carrot peels for hair. You can use whatever you have in the house. And let the kid be creative! Don’t get hung up on it being a face, necessarily. I’m here to tell you, LOTS of those pictures on pinterest are plain old lies. No, random blogger, I don’t believe your 18 month old perfectly decorated that Christmas tree craft you’re guilting me into doing. So here’s what my 3 year old made:

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See? Perfect three year old artwork. And he ate ALL OF IT, which was the important part. I made this one for myself, and it’s far more terrifying:

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I’m not sure why it came out like a nightmare clown, but whatever, it still tasted good.

Some ingredient ideas:
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Snap peas
Rinsed, canned beans
Carrots
Cherry tomatoes
Cheese cubes
Radishes
Cucumbers
Olives
Hard-boiled eggs
Peas
Avocado
Spinach or salad for hair
Cottage cheese
Whatever needs to get used up in the fridge

This was a fun way to “cook” with my kiddo, let him do something creative, and get all of us fed at the same time. So clean out the produce drawer and have at it!

January 11, 2017. Tags: , , , , , . Cooking, Kid Stuff, Thriftiness is Cool. 1 comment.

Vegetarian Moussaka

My friend Sara-of-the-long-red-hair made this recipe for us once, and it TOTALLY changed my view of eggplant. I had never been much of a fan before, but in this dish I can’t get enough. In fact, I have some of this as leftovers for lunch today! This dish is tomato-y, a little sweet, and creamy, and has great flavor complexity.

This recipe is the one I used, but that one is vegan and mine is vegetarian. Basically, I used regular cream cheese and milk instead of the soy versions. Sara makes it vegan, and I honestly can’t tell a difference, flavor-wise, so it’s your choice. If you’re trying to introduce someone to either eggplant or vegan foods, this is a good recipe to use. Sara also throws in some pre-cooked lentils to thicken the sauce and add protein.

I’m going to be incredibly lazy and just let you use the link above for the details of the recipe. I want to share some blog hits with someone whose website I find very useful! So I’m really being lazy out of the goodness of my heart.

True to form, I did not follow the recipe exactly. For some reason, I seem incapable of that. So use the above recipe for reference, and here are my changes:

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I didn’t actually broil the eggplant. I know my oven has a broiler, but I have no idea how it works. I just put the slices in the oven at 400 until they looked like this:

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I believe I left out the red wine, because I didn’t have any in the house. I have also used fresh tomatoes when I had too many in the fridge.

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Sara serves this over pasta, but I just eat it straight. It can be a little saucy, so some rice, lentils, or textured vegetable protein would work in it. If you wanted to add extra of the creamy topping it would taste amazing, but of course make it much less healthy. This recipe also freezes well. I’m going to eat my leftovers right now!

March 15, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Cooking. 1 comment.

Fresh Veggies with Quinoa

Back when I was still pregnant, I wanted some really fresh, flavorful veggies. Well I certainly wasn’t going to deny that craving, so here’s what I made:

I used the mandolin slicer attachment for my cheese grater, and damned if it didn’t slice up that zucchini real nice. I also cut up (the boring, old-fashioned way) about 1/2 a cauliflower and one broccoli crown. I sauteed all of this in olive oil, and used a ton of dried basil and a little garlic salt to flavor it. I cooked everything very lightly so that the veggies were still crisp. 

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I cut some grape tomatoes in half and threw them in just long enough to warm up. If you cook them too long they turn to mush, and you basically made a tomato sauce on accident.

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I put this over some quinoa, but you could also use any kind of rice or pasta. You could also add some Parmesan or feta cheese if you like.

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This was so healthy and satisfying, I wish I had a big bowlful right now! 

March 7, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Cooking. 4 comments.

Quinoa Casserole

I straight up love quinoa, and I don’t care who knows it! I could eat it every day, and here’s an easy way to accomplish that. Cook 2 cups of quinoa, and about half a bunch of kale (I used a whole bunch (literally) and it was a bit too much).

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Mix the cooked quinoa with the kale, and some diced onion, if you want. I used about 1/2 and onion cut in big chunks, because I like to live dangerously. I mixed in a half cup of plain yogurt, but you could go as high as 3/4 to make everything nice and moist. I also use a metric ton of cheese in casseroles, so it’s really hard for me to tell you how much I used. I probably mixed 1 – 1 1/2 cups into the casserole, then scattered at least another 1/2 – 1 cup on top. I know! But it tastes so good!!!!

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I mean, look how delicious that is. Can you really fault the amount of cheese I put in there?

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A couple things I learned while making this that I should have known already: stir it all THOROUGHLY. Nothing ruins a casserole like a dry spot. Also, if you add a little salt you can use less cheese, but would you really want to?? You can also substitute broccoli for kale if you want, and it would still be fantastic. Hell, with as much cheese as I used you can probably substitute old kitchen sponges and it would still taste great!

March 1, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , . Cooking. 1 comment.

Crock Pot Split Pea Soup

I accidentally made the greatest split pea soup EVER. Be warned, I used a TON of herbs because I get them super cheap in bulk. Basically I was sick with zombiedeathplague, so I threw a bunch of stuff in the crock pot, then went to sleep for a few hours. Because I was in a Nyquil-induced fog, I didn’t really make good measurements, but this is pretty close. You need:

1 16 oz. bag of split peas
2 tbspn dried basil
5 bay leaves
2 tbspn dried parsley
1 tbspn chopped garlic
10 cups of water and 4 bullion cubes, or 6 cups water, 4 of broth
1 cup textured vegetable protein

To make it vegan use veggie broth, and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil.
To make it meaty, add a cup of chopped ham or sausage.

Throw everything in the crock pot, and set it to cook for 4 hours. Mine ended up being too brothy, so I added a cup of textured vegetable protein. If you don’t want to do that, reduce the water by at least 2 cups. When it’s done cooking, add salt and pepper to taste.

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This stuff was so thick, hearty and nutritious, I couldn’t get enough. It’s great for this cold, rainy weather, and it’s VERY filling, with a ton of fiber and protein. You could throw in even more of the spices I used, or even add cumin, or chipotle. My favorite part of this recipe is how easy it is. You can also keep all the ingredients in the pantry to make in an illness emergency. I just finished the last of it today, and I might make more tomorrow. IT’S THAT GOOD.

January 11, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Cooking. 5 comments.

Veggie Rolls

I love sushi, but as everyone knows, it can get expensive. I’ve wanted to try and make it myself, but the process seems prohibitively difficult, and the ingredients are expensive. Add to that the fact that I’m scared if I use raw fish I’ll kill myself and Hubby, and it seems like a recipe for disaster. I have possibly invented a solution, however. There’s no rice or fish, but it is sushi-like enough to make my mouth happy, and that’s the only thing that matters. I basically stuffed some seaweed full of vegetables and sauce, and ate it, and it was great!

This is what you’ll need:

Nori seaweed: my normal grocery store has this in the “International” section. It’s $2.50 for ten sheets. It was a little cheaper at the Asian grocery store.
Veggies: I used sweet potato, avocado, carrot, raw cabbage, and cucumber. You could also use sprouts, tempura vegetables, or anything else your little heart desires. If you’re going to use green onions, I would chop them up and use them sparingly so they don’t overwhelm everything else.
Sauce: I used the Thai Hot Chili Mayo pictured above. It is simply mayonnaise mixed with Sriracha, so you can easily make your own. I found eel sauce at my Asian grocery store also, which would be amazing. I used teriyaki sauce for dipping. You can easily make this a vegan recipe by using Nayonnaise (soy mayo), and it’s almost raw vegan, although I don’t know enough about that particular diet to recommend a sauce.
Optional fillings: If you want you can add some chopped up scrambled eggs, cooked brown rice, fake crab legs, or sesame seeds. Hell, add cooked shrimp, I don’t care. Experiment, because this is much easier (to me) than making real sushi, so just try whatever.

In order to use sweet potatoes, you should cook them first. I attempted to cut one into long strips, and the knife got stuck. I persevered however, and it was still a big hassle. I have experimented since, and discovered a few tricks: 1) Buy long, skinny sweet potatoes, that are kind of small. 2) Bake them most of the way first, like in the microwave so it doesn’t take too long. 3) Now peel and cut them into strips. 4) A little goes a long way. I used one small sweet potato about the size of a banana, and that was enough for 3 of these rolls. What I actually did is cut this potato up as though I was making sweet potato fries, and bake them all in the oven on a cookie sheet. You can use either method, I just found the first method listed here to be easier, and it didn’t heat up the whole kitchen.

There are a few options for how to prepare your vegetables, but I think this is the easiest. I have this handy-dandy cheese grater that comes with different blades, but it turned out the basic cheese grater with the large round holes worked the best, so you can just use your normal cheese grater. I chose one big, fat carrot, washed it (rather than peeling, because that’s where a lot of the vitamins are), and grated it to nothing. This was way easier than I thought it would be, even with my weak, useless, T-Rex arms. I grated the cucumber as well, but this released a LOT of water. It was very fast, but then I had to drain the veggies on several paper towels to remove the water. If you don’t drain them the water will mix with the sauce in the roll and start to leak out creating a HUGE mess. Chopping the cucumber into long matchsticks seemed to eliminate this problem. I chopped up a little raw cabbage and cut the avocado into strips also.

Once you have everything chopped up, you can lay out your seaweed. I happen to have a sushi mat, but this is not a necessity. I did a few by hand and it worked fine. I spread the mayo onto the seaweed, leaving one edge blank for about an inch and a half. Keep your fillings in the mayo square so you can roll it easily.

I laid out my shredded veggies and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. If I had any eel sauce I would have squirted it on right here. Try to keep the veggies low, and evenly spread. We’re basically substituting raw veggies for cooked rice here. That’s good nutritionally, but then the whole thing doesn’t stick together the way regular sushi does. That only means you don’t slice it up in the end; just eat it like a burrito!

I have now added my avocado and sweet potato chucks. I tried to keep them relatively centered. I did a few tests of the rolling process to make sure I was not over-stuffing them. To roll this up, the first thing you need to do is rub some water on the blank 1 1/2 inch section. It needs to be damp to stick to the other seaweed. I just got my fingers wet and rubbed it (That’s what she said!!!). When you’re ready to roll, start with the side that’s away from the camera, the side where the mayo goes almost to the very edge. Roll that over the toppings. Try to make it pretty tight, but not so tight that things are squishing out everywhere. I rolled the far edge down so that the edge just touched the spot where the blank area of seaweed started. I then rolled the damp edge over top of this, pulling everything together snugly. I rolled it pretty much by hand, then used the sushi mat to firmly squeeze the whole thing together, but that didn’t seem that necessary. I have no clue if  I am using that thing how I’m supposed to or not, but now it’s covered in mayo, and I have to figure out how to clean it.

I did cut this one in half, but after this first one I just started eating them. I made one that was only seaweed, sweet potatoes, and spicy mayo and it was awesome. I also made a few where I tried to seal one end of the roll by folding the seaweed over itself, and those were a little bit successful. These things taste amazing, are easy and cheap to prepare, but my rolling technique will take some practice. If you want to add some scrambled eggs to yours for additional protein, I would scrambled 2 eggs with a tablespoon of water and some teriyaki or other sauce you like to give them flavor. You then cook them like an omelet, just letting it sit in the pan and cook into one solid piece. Let it cool, then cut into strips.

I want to experiment with more sauces, but I am currently completely enamored with this spicy mayo. Tempura flakes in there would also be great, but of course adds fat and empty calories. I used very cheap vegetables for mine, so I think my cost came out to around 50 cents per roll. Considering most sushi rolls are $4-5, that’s pretty cheap! Plus you don’t have all the carbs from white rice. There are tons of possibilities for these, and I can’t wait to try more.

July 15, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , . Cooking, Thriftiness is Cool. 1 comment.

Fried Green Tomatoes

This is not a movie review. You can actually make fried green tomatoes and they are friggin’ delicious! When I find the rare few green tomatoes at the store, mixed in with the red ones, I snap them up right away. This last time, I realized I was digging frantically like a squirrel looking for acorns, and looking around furtively to make sure no one was trying to steal them from me. I realized what I was doing, but that didn’t stop me from being grossly over-protective of my soon-to-be treats.

The greener they are, the better. You can see a couple of these are starting to ripen a bit, which is fine, but they just don’t stay as crispy when you fry them. When I bought these, the cashier actually thought they were apples, which I found amusing. I then had to explain to her and the bagger how to make fried green tomatoes. You will need:

in addition to the tomatoes, of course. Also one egg, and about 1/4 cup of milk. It doesn’t take much to coat these. Slice ’em up real nice, maybe 1/4 to a half inch thick.

Put enough vegetable oil in the pan to come about halfway up the tomatoes while they’re frying.

This is your basic frying set up: one bowl with an egg beaten with the milk, and a second one with some flour mixed with garlic salt and pepper. I set it up like an assembly line, so it goes cutting board, egg dip, flour dip, frying pan, plate with paper towels, from left to right.

Be careful setting them in the oil, so you don’t fling it everywhere. When they start to look golden on the edges, flip them over.

Dip #1:

Dip #2:

These are getting a little more done, and as I’m cooking, some of the breading inevitably falls off into the oil, and keeps cooking, making everything in the pan get coated with the darkly brown stuff. I have no idea how to fix this, but maybe it’s just part of the frying process?

You can see here that 6 tomatoes gave me four layers worth of tomatoes, even after my frequent “testing”.

Fried green tomatoes are one of those foods that somehow defy logic and taste so good it causes instant addiction. These things are way more than the sum of their parts. That’s the only way I can really describe it. If you stumble across a green tomato at the store, it’s very easy to make a small batch and try them for yourself. I may have to go watch that movie now, just to say I have.

March 31, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . Cooking. Leave a comment.

How to Cook Bulghur Wheat

Bulghur wheat is kind of a weird food. It’s basically wheat kernels that have been barely broken up into smaller chunks. Here’s what it looks like from my grocery store’s bulk section:

It has lots of protein and fiber, and it’s a whole grain. There are lots of ways to prepare it, and here’s the basics to get you started. Whatever amount you want to cook, you need twice as much water as bulghur wheat. Boil the water, throw in the bulghur, and simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes, and make sure all the water is absorbed.

This is what it looks like cooked, but plain:

You can add olive oil, parmesan, garlic salt, and dill, or any kinds of cheese. It is great when you add a little garlic salt, and mix in some cooked vegetables. You can also throw it into soup, add cooked bulghur to meat loaf, or any number of things. I love to make it for breakfast with margerine, splenda, and a touch of brown sugar.

This stuff is basically a blank canvas, so you can do almost anything with it.

March 27, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . Cooking. 2 comments.

What’s a Vegan Anyway?

I’ve realized I reference vegetarian and vegan pretty frequently in this blog, and yet lots of people I know don’t know the difference, or possibly even the definitions. I have friends in all ranges of the spectrum, from avid hunters to serious vegans, and some who fluctuate.

Basically, a vegetarian doesn’t eat meat. Sometimes that means they avoid only obvious meat, like a hamburger, and sometimes they won’t eat certain cheeses because a part of the cow’s stomach can be used in the manufacturing process. They will have to be careful of soups that may use beef or chicken broth, refried beans or tortilla chips that can be made with lard, and any candy that might contain gelatin, which is made from animal bones. People that don’t eat pork will have to be vigilant about those types of things as well, because pig and cow bones are used to make gelatin.

Vegans will generally avoid anything that comes out of an animal, so no dairy or eggs, and often no honey, depending on their views. Some may even avoid anything made with bee’s wax, since it is a product of the bees. Some may feel that free roaming chicken eggs are fine, or eat eggs from their own chickens. No eggs precludes most baked goods, as well. There are all kinds of weird places that animal products turn up in our highly processed foods nowadays, so vegans have to be super vigilant. It’s probably easier to make all your own food, just to avoid animal products.

Some vegetarians and vegans avoid animal products in their lives as well as their diets. Many won’t wear leather clothing or shoes, silk, or fur, or burn bee’s wax candles. Some won’t use products that are tested on animals, but you don’t have to be vegetarian for that to be important to you.

There are a couple other categories, but no one I know fits into these categories. There are fruititarians, who will only eat fruits and vegetables that don’t kill the plant that grows them. For example, they’d eat tomatoes, because the vine still lives after you remove the tomato, but they wouldn’t eat broccoli, because that is the whole plant you’re eating. Raw vegans eat mostly fresh, raw produce, but can food can be heated up to a certain temperature.

People can have a variety of reasons for following these types of diets from ethical to health considerations. There are no set rules, and everyone I know varies widely in their diets and idealogy. If anyone reading this is vegetarian or vegan, I would love some feedback in the comments. Do any of these describe you? What are your reasons for following your particular diet? What tips do you have for someone attempting to transition to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle? Did I miss anything, or am I completely awesome? Awesome? I knew it.

January 5, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Random typing. 2 comments.

Stuffed Squash

During the time of year where veggies are fresh and cheap, I try to cram as many of them into my diet as possible. I use this method to rationalize Ramen noodles and hot dogs the rest of the year. Yellow squash was on sale the other day, and they were nice big ones, so I decided to make stuffed squash, a recipe from my dear sister, Beans.

Wash the squash, cut the tips off both ends, then cut them in half long ways. Hollow them out with a spoon. I then lay them out on a cookie sheet to be filled in a minute.

To make the filling, I browned a half pound of ground beef, and drained it. I then added some raw, diced onions and let them brown. I then mixed in a drained can of corn, and about a cup of cooked (from frozen) peas. I mixed in somewhere between a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of tomato soup, and added some garlic salt. At this point it tasted fantastic, so I was done. I then filled the squash (3 squash total for 6 halves), and sprinkled some cheese on top. I made sure to get cheese onto the necks of the squash so they wouldn’t be flavorless. I baked the whole tray of them in the oven at 350 for maybe 45 minutes. Just cook them until the squash are soft.

Ta da! Super delicious! I’m still trying for a variation of this recipe that is vegetarian, but also tastes good and not weird. I tried quinoa once, and it did NOT work out. You can substitute all kinds of things in this recipe though, just as long as it tastes good with squash. Happy nomming!

October 5, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Cooking. 2 comments.

Eggplant Casserole

I had an idea for a casserole the other day, and it set my mouth to watering just thinking about it. I envisioned lasagna, with veggies replacing the noodles, so I could eat it without the guilt of carbs. I decided thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini would be perfect, but I don’t like marinara on squash-like vegetables, so I decided to substitute cheese. I almost want to call it veggie lasagna, but there’s already something called that, which I don’t like, so for now we’re calling it eggplant casserole.

I wish I could brag about this one, the way I do about most of my recipes, Sadly, I do not like eggplant, and this recipe did not change that. Hubby LOOOVES eggplant, and he loved the casserole, so there you go. Next time I will use zucchini and I’m sure I’ll like it better.

Ingredients (for how I made it. Variations will be listed below): 3 large eggplants, some Italian herbs (I used garlic and basil), 1 package mozzarella (I used about 9 oz, but more is always good), 1 diced onion, 6 strips bacon (turkey bacon works great, gets really crispy), bulb garlic, about 7 or 8 sliced mushroom, some olive oil, bread crumbs, and probably around 24 oz of riccota cheese (I used 1 1/2 containers). It seems like a lot of ingredients, but they are all pretty basic, and some I already had on hand.

The key to making eggplant, is to get as much of the water out as possible. I did this by slicing it up, and sprinkling salt on both sides, and letting it sit out for almost 2 hours (learned that from Alton Brown on Food Network). This reduces the sliminess factor a lot. I also sauteed the pieces in my frying pan a little, but I don’t think it made much difference. As these were sitting out, I sprayed cooking spray into my 13×9 pan, and cut up the onions and mushrooms. As the eggplant was getting done, I made one layer in the bottom of the glass pan. I then spread the all riccota cheese on top, and added my spices. It looked like this:

Remember that the eggplant has been salted, so don’t go crazy adding more salt. The next step is to fry the bacon in a pan until it is super crispy. For turkey bacon I had to use some olive oil to cook it in, because it’s super lean. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the mushroom and onions. You can cook them in a little white wine if you have it also. Once the bacon is cool, crumble it into the pan. Spread this mixture on top of the riccota cheese. Here’s what it looks like:

I then sauteed more eggplant, but you can avoid that time-waster and just layer it on top, like so:

I scattered the whole package of mozzarella on top. There was still some oil in my pan, and home-made bread crumbs in my freezer (have I not mentioned that before? Good idea for a post), so I fried the bread crumbs in olive oil with some garlic salt, and used this to top the whole thing.

It came out looking and smelling really good, and Hubby loved it. I couldn’t get past the eggplant flavor. I am just not a fan. If you are, this is the recipe for you.

Variations: crumbled Italian sausage instead of bacon, or no bacon at all to make it vegetarian, zucchini instead of eggplant, if you want it to taste good. Haha! It was fine, just not my thing. Once I make it again we’ll see if I like it. You could probably throw in some white beans, spinach, kale, and/or chard and I bet that would be good too. This is not the cheapest recipe I have, and that’s mostly because of all the cheese involved.

September 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Cooking. Leave a comment.