Nobody’s Perfect….

We’re having a sick night in my house– D went to the dentist and had some work done, and the numbing agent hasn’t quite worn off yet. I’m enjoying making him repeat things because he’s not enunciating 😉 I then came home from work with a sore throat, so things are pretty quiet here with neither of us talking much — a rarity!

I mentioned in my first post , there are some  nights we simply have to turn to our easy staples. I wouldn’t call it admitting defeat, but it’s better/healthier/cheaper than takeout!

Tonight we pulled out an old favorite–instant mac and cheese with edamame. I will be the first to admit there isn’t much nutritional value in a box of mac and cheese, but if you’re going to succumb to something unhealthy, at least perk it up a little! We add frozen (shelled) edamame into the boiling pasta water about 2-3 minutes before the pasta is done. Drain and prepare like usual—we skip the milk and just add the ‘cheese’ and some Almond Milk. The sauce coats the edamame the same way it does the pasta, and you won’t even notice the extra health benefit (other than the bright green beans hiding in your mac!) D shakes red pepper flakes on top of his for some extra punch.

What’s your go-to-meal on those nights you just can’t bring yourself to cook?

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Lettuce Turnip the Beet

D and I had a fantastic date night tonight at one of Butcher and Bee‘s Lettuce Turnip the Beet dinner. We’ve been meaning to get to one for a few months now and the timing just hasn’t worked out, so we jumped at the opportunity. One of our favorite veggie-friendly restaurants goes entirely vegetarian (with plenty of vegan options) for 1 night every few months and it’s fantastic–all of their produce and products are local, so it’s a feel good meal all around!

We didn’t exchange many words besides “mmmmm” and “did you TASTE this”, so I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

Eggplant "meat" balls

Eggplant “meat” balls

Potato and Chickpea Vindaloo with Carolina gold rice

Potato and Chickpea Vindaloo with Carolina gold rice

Roasted Zucchini with gremalota

Roasted Zucchini with gremalota

Carmelized okra with ginger tomato sauce

Carmelized okra with ginger tomato sauce

By far our favorite was the ‘meat’ balls— for you meat lovers, imagine the softest and most break-apart meatball you’ve ever had. The texture was fantastic, the flavors are incredible, and it simply smelled like the best of Italy. I could spend weeks trying to replicate these and may never, but I’ll let you know if I do! 😉

The okra was a close second–the ginger and tomato together was a tangy combo, and the sweetness of the charred and caramelized okra was an amazing contrast to that. We ate past our stomachs’ capacity just to avoid leaving any on the plate!

The zucchini was fresh and light, and knowing it came from the Lowcountry was the icing on the cake. Lowcountry produce is just bursting with the freshness from the ocean and emanates the strong SC sun the second you bite into it. With fresh herbs, it was a really bright dish.

Indian food hasn’t been the same since D and I went to Vij last summer in Vancouver so we were excited to try BB’s version of vindaloo. The second it appeared on the butcher block table it was the only thing we could smell, which is always a good sign! It was a bounty of chickpeas and potatoes over Carolina gold rice (a variety previously ‘lost’ and revitalized in the 80’s) with an incredibly flavorful sauce and fresh cilantro. By the time we got to the vindaloo we were stuffed, so we get to enjoy the leftovers again later this weekend!

D summed up the meal by saying “I challenge any person who says that they can’t have a filling and satisfying meal without meat to go and eat that.” Probably our favorite part of the dinner was that there wasn’t a single meat-substitute used– they let the vegetables be the star of the meal and it truly paid off.  Don’t be afraid to eat a meal without a traditional ‘protein’ at the center of the dish, because as proven tonight, vegetables CAN rule the plate!

The Summer of Kale

Since I didn’t grow up in the South, eating ‘greens’ doesn’t come naturally. I ate plenty of iceberg and romaine, not to mention spinach, growing up, but chard, kale, collards, and the like just didn’t cross my plate until I moved to SC. After we became vegetarian, I didn’t know how I would do greens without a hamhock or bacon, so I just kinda steered clear entirely until this summer.

This week, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs in the produce department and we ended up with an enormous bag of kale–and there’s only so many kale chips a girl can eat! We went with a version of a prior spinach salad with a combo I’ve been dying to try–pine nuts and blueberries!

Blueberry Kale Salad

Blueberry Kale Salad

Blueberry Kale Salad with BBQ Tempeh

kale, washed and deribbed

lemon juice

olive oil

dried blueberries

toasted pine nuts

shaved slices of Parmesan

blueberry dressing from our spinach salad

tempeh

BBQ sauce (your favorite brand)

Massage the cut up kale with olive oil and lemon juice to break down the fibers and soften it. Meanwhile,  cut your tempeh thinly and broil with BBQ sauce until crispy (see prior post for instructions). Let tempeh cool, then add to kale along with the blueberries, pine nuts, and parmesan- top with the blueberry dressing. The flavors combine amazingly (is that even a word) but even better, the kale holds up overnight so it’s great for lunch the next day! The saltiness of the cheese, nuttiness of the pine nuts, and sweet/tartness of the blueberries combine perfectly with the slight bitterness of the kale. MMMM

As if this wasn’t enough kale, we put it on tonight’s pizza. Bear with me—this is good 😉

pizza

Kale Pizza

whole wheat pizza dough (either store bought or homemade)

BBQ sauce (your favorite brand)

red onion, sliced thinly

green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips

broccoli cut into small florets

(optional) Buffalo chik’n nuggets, cooked about halfway through and cut into 1/4 inch pieces

mozzerella cheese

kale, washed/deribbed and chopped into small pieces (massage with a small amount of lemon juice to soften)

Spread pizza dough out on a greased cookie sheet that’s been turned UPSIDE DOWN. It goes against all logic, but makes the best crust if you don’t have a pizza stone. (Ours is patiently waiting on our BBB registry ;-)) Spread BBQ sauce on the dough evenly, then top with onions, pepper, and broccoli. Add the chik’n nuggets if you’re using. Sprinkle about 1/2 of your cheese over top and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

Pull the pizza out and top with your kale (you shouldn’t have put enough lemon juice on it to have a pool at the bottom, but if you DID, then drain so you don’t dump that on the pizza!), then the remainder of the cheese. Continue baking for another 5-8 minutes, until the crust is crispy (and sounds ‘hollow’ when you tap on it) and the cheese is lightly browned. Remove from the oven, let it cool, and serve.

OH MY GOODNESS. You wouldn’t even know there was kale on it if you weren’t told– it just kind of seemlessly melts into the other toppings. The lemon from the kale is a good acidity against the natural sweetness of the veggies and BBQ sauce, and the red onion adds a little bit of a bite. The chik’n nuggets we used contributed some heat, and the cheese is gooey and mellows things out.

Once you make homemade pizza, it’s difficult to go back to anything else–short of a few FANTASTIC local places doing thin crust, brick oven specialty pies, we don’t even bother eating pizza out anymore. It’s cheaper and healthier to do it at home and you know your ingredients are reputable. Who says pizza night has to be an ordeal or require jumping in the car/calling for takeout? Personalize your pizzas with YOUR favorite veggies for a date night or family meal that’s easy even after a full work day. You won’t regret it!

Stuffed Bell Peppers…and D bakes!

On one of our first dates, D and I stumbled our way through making stuffed bell peppers. The cooking process was awkward- that dance around the kitchen with someone you don’t quite know yet- and worst of all, stuffed peppers aren’t sexy to eat on a date. However, with brown rice, ground beef, and a few chopped veggies in the mix we thought we had it good. Two years later, we’ve topped it and THEN some—veggie style!

Vegetarian Stuffed Bell Peppers (makes 2 peppers)

2 green bell peppers with the tops cut off (only cut about 1/2 from the top)

(optional)- diced mushrooms, red bell pepper, or any other hearty veggies you wish

olive oil, salt, pepper

1/2 of an onion, diced

1 large clove of garlic, diced

tomato paste (we buy the resealable tube to prevent it going to waste when in the can)

2-3 oz of tempeh, unflavored — dice as small as possible or grate using a large box grater

2-3 oz of SoyRizo (available at Trader Joes, or your favorite fake chorizo)

3/4 cup of cooked quinoa

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Take the tops of your bell peppers and trim around the stem, discarding or putting the stem in compost. Pull the membrane and seeds out of the bottom halves and discard, washing the pepper thoroughly.  Take the pieces of pepper that remain from the top, dice into the same size pieces as your onion dice. In a large skillet, saute the onions, garlic, and bell pepper (and any other additional veggies you pick) until soft. Simultaneously, boil a large pot of water and put the ‘bottoms’ of the bell peppers in so that they’re entirely submerged. Parboiling the peppers means less time spent in the oven! Turn the water down to medium heat (not a boil, but higher than a simmer) and leave for 5-8 minutes–while the skillet is cooking.

Add in about 2 teaspoons of tomato paste, the tempeh, and the Soyrizo to your onion/pepper mixture. When everything is combined, stir in quinoa-the exact amount you need will vary based on personal preference. I like things a little less spicy, so I add more quinoa to balance out the heat of the Soyrizo. D would rather add less quinoa and a handful of red pepper flakes!

Remove the peppers from the water, drain, and set upright in a deep baking dish– my 8″by8″ works perfectly. The bumps at the bottom of the pepper should keep the peppers upright–don’t worry if the tops aren’t exactly parallel! Fill the peppers with the quinoa mix and top with some freshly shredded Parmesan. (If you’re using pre-grated stuff from the grocery store, I HIGHLY recommend the upgrade to a block of Parmesan-it’ll last a while and the flavor is well worth the pseudo-expense.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the tops of quinoa mix is toasted and the peppers are  soft.

IMAG0999 IMAG1000I have to say, the quinoa upgrade over brown rice is a significant upgrade–you get the nutty flavor of the quinoa and the tempeh, plus the added protein content since there’s no meat. The cheese is noticeable despite the small amount, and it’s veggie packed–even the serving ‘bowl’ is healthy! This is a favorite whether you have leftover quinoa or planned ahead by making the quinoa a few days before and just adding into your sauteed veggies. From start to finish this was an hour of work, but if you make a double recipe you’ve got lunch or leftovers for later in the week! I ate the leftover filling for lunch today by itself and recommend it regardless of whether you turn it into stuffed peppers!

D's blueberry blackberry crumble

D’s blueberry blackberry crumble

As a total surprise, D jumped off the couch last night around 8pm and announced he was going to make dessert. For a man who doesn’t bake this was BIG. He directed me to stay out of the kitchen, pulled out a cookbook, and got to work. What resulted was amazing:

Blueberry Blackberry Crumble

handful of blueberries, either fresh or frozen

handful of blackberries, either fresh or frozen

zest of 1/2 lemon

quick cook oats- just the oats, not turned into oatmeal

brown sugar

1 tablespoon butter

 

Toss the berries and lemon zest and put into a greased ramekin or baking dish. In a separate container, combine the oats with the sugar and butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over the berries and bake at 350 until hot, bubbling, and the top is crispy. You could top with vanilla ice cream, but why bother?

OH MY GOSH. Why the boy needed a recipe is beyond me, but it’s fantastic-I love blueberries and lemon together (my favorite blueberry muffins do so) and the thought that went into it was enough to turn even a ‘meh’ dessert into a fantastic one. This was fantastic on its own, so I don’t have words for what D’s thoughtfulness added!

Something from nothing

A good friend came over for dinner while D was out of town, but since it was the end of my ‘bachelorette week’ I hadn’t thought to stock the fridge…and that didn’t occur to me until about an hour before my guest was to arrive. Luckily he called on his way and told me he was bringing some yellow squash from his CSA bag, some farm-fresh eggs from another friend, and a huge bag of local SC kale. Despite the heat, I knew the best outcome of our combined pantries was a crustless quiche–an easy and  healthy go-to meal for those nights when the contents of your fridge seem too disparate to come together into anything!

Crustless Veggie Quiche with Kale Chips

miscellaneous vegetables of your choice–we used baby portobello mushrooms, onions, yellow squash, broccoli, and some bell pepper

eggs

cheese of your choice – we used cheddar jack

kale, washed and de-ribbed (remove the stems)

 

Dice all veggies and toss with some olive oil, salt, and pepper on a cookie sheet- put into a 400 degree oven to roast for 4-7 minutes or until soft but lightly brown. In the meantime, scramble 3-4 eggs (the amount will vary depending on how many veggies-plan for 2 eggs per person) and add a dash of milk, some salt, and some pepper. Fill individual ramekins (that have been lightly sprayed with PAM or oil) about halfway full with vegetables, then top with your cheese of choice, followed by the egg mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until firm and lightly brown on top. Alternatively, you could make this in a full pie pan for a larger group. You could do this with any combination of vegetables, cheese, or herbs.

While the quiche is in the oven, lightly season the kale with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake until the kale is wilted and crispy–it’ll start turning brown so keep an eye on these! These are incredibly addicting–we finished a cookie sheet before the quiche was even done!

Morale of the story is that even when dinner seems hopeless (and you just want to turn to the old stand-by, whatever that may be for you) you CAN make something out of nothing. I am also pleased to share that I went a full week without potatoes :-)….and we stocked up at the grocery store this weekend, so I no longer am relying on the scraps from my fridge!

Crustless quiche in the ramekin-- too cute!

Crustless quiche in the ramekin– too cute!

Light and fluffy, worth turning the oven on!

Light and fluffy, worth turning the oven on for!

Sweet summer eating and vegetarian karma

Summer in coastal SC means great produce and HOT weather. As a result, our meals get just a little bit lighter and I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid turning the oven on after a hot day!

We got some great local corn from our CSA bag last week and found a fantastic pineapple at the grocery store. One of my favorite meals growing up was steak and fresh grilled veggies, and I would be content now to just eat corn and pineapple for dinner, but D is a stickler for balance and protein 😉 We pressed some tofu last weekend and put together a dry rub for a fantastic, easy mid-week dinner.

grill-centric dinner!

grill-centric dinner!

Southwestern Tofu with Grilled Corn and Pineapple

tofu rub (or your favorite taco seasoning packet)

  • smoked paprika
  • chili powder
  • garlic powder
  • cumin

1 block of pressed tofu

1/2 a pineapple- cut into rounds

1 ear of corn per person

1 lime, cut into quarters

Mix the dry rub together and spread on the pressed tofu. Let sit for 6 hours or as long as needed–we had ours sitting for 2-3 days. Heat up a grill (or grill pan, if you’re grilling indoors) and add your tofu, pineapple, and corn. I like grilling corn husk-free because of the char you get on the kernels, but some people prefer grilling in the husk and stripping it off after–it’s a personal preference! We don’t add anything to our corn or pineapple—you just don’t need to if they’re fresh!

Flip the tofu and pineapple once to get a good char on both sides. Roll/rotate the corn until all sides are toasted. Pull off all items when fully cooked — serve with a lime wedge. I love summer corn with some fresh cilantro and lime juice (but our cilantro plant died while we were out of town for July 4!) and the lime really adds a fresh kick to the tofu.

Dry-rubbing tofu like this gives it a lot of depth to the flavor profile, and since you can marinade it as long as needed, it’s a great fall-back dinner option to have in the fridge for last minute meals. Your only prep time for dinner is cutting the pineapple, potentially shucking the corn, and the grilling time– it’s a quick, healthy, and summer-friendly meal for busy nights.

Kale Salad with broiled tempeh

When it’s truly too hot to cook, this is my new favorite meal. Most vegetarians have a reduced iron intake due to the lack of red meat in their diets, I too find it difficult to maintain my iron level-The American Red Cross is probably getting exasperated with my continued attempts to donate blood or platelets, only to find that my levels are just barely too low to be eligible. This salad is a light dinner at the end of a hot day, and when topped with tempeh, gives a great combination of vitamins and protein. It takes no more than 15 minutes to pull together and is filling and satisfying!

Crispy tempeh bites on a crisp and fresh kale bed

Crispy tempeh bites on a crisp and fresh kale bed

Kale dressing:

  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce
  • mirin
  • rice wine vinegar
  • black and white sesame seeds

kale, washed and de-veined

tempeh, cut into thin strips

tempeh ‘sauce’:

  • hoisin
  • lime juice

Rib the kale to remove the tough stems and wash thoroughly. Rip or cut into small pieces, then leave to dry. Mix together the kale dressing and pour over kale– you’ll need to sort of massage the dressing onto the kale in order for the dressing to begin to break down the fibers of the kale and soften it a bit. It feels weird at first, but spend a few minutes working your (clean) fingers around the leaves in the bowl and you’ll start to notice the volume of the kale shrinking down.

Then (or meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen helper) take your mixture of hoisin and lime juice and brush it on one side of the tempeh slices- see our prior post about these tempeh ‘jerky’ pieces. Broil for a few minutes *we used the toaster oven instead of heating up the real oven) until crispy, then flip, brush the opposite side, and broil again.

Top your lightly-wilted kale with these sweet and slightly crispy tempeh pieces for an easy, light dinner. You could add nuts to the kale, some dried berries, or some sprouts, shredded carrots, or anything else to doctor it up a bit but I like the flavors of these together without anything else. A local favorite, Butcher and Bee, does a fantastic kale salad with benne seeds that was the inspiration for this dish– if you’re anywhere near Charleston definitely check them out! Their menu changes daily and can be found on their Facebook page minutes before they open!

and finally, vegetarian karma: While attending a friend’s wedding this weekend, D and I were a bit nervous- this was the first time we’d attended such a function while vegetarian and didn’t know what to expect. We marked ‘vegetarian’ on our response card, but know that everyone’s version of vegetarian is different–I wasn’t thrilled about the potential of a big bowl of pasta with marinara! We were pleasantly surprised at the cocktail hour and were able to eat everything but 1 item– we feasted on mini bruschetta, stuffed baby portobella caps, lavish cheese plates, fresh fruit, and crustinis. When it came for the dinner, we were greeted by a great green salad with pecans, nectarines, and (what we think were) mangos, served with a balsamic dressing. By dinner things had already surpassed my expectations for my-first-wedding-as-a-vegetarian, but we happened to be seated with a vegan couple (the wonderful Sarah of WhatIVegan) and 2 couples who ordered the steak/fish options for dinner and found that even our meat-eaters at the table preferred the vegetarian option! It was a tower of a portobello mushroom, grilled red pepper, grilled yellow squash, and grilled eggplant over grits and with a side of asparagus–yum! Just goes to show that eating vegetarian doesn’t always mean sacrificing flavor, quality, or a pleasant dining experience— vegetarians have more fun! (can I get a t-shirt made with that?)

D is  out of town this coming week, so let’s see how strong my willpower is to keep creating (and posting) what I’m eating while on bachelorette mode. I have a reputation for living on various iterations of potatoes while single (even before my vegetarian days…I just love potatoes!) so if nothing else, I’ll get ONE post up to prove to D that I can cook for one and that he’s missing out while gone!

Better late than never– baba ghanoush and summer stromboli

Vacation seems to throw everything off kilter, and no matter how long I’m gone for or where I go, I seem to need a vacation from my vacation!

D and I headed up to DC for the week to visit family, and while I won’t reveal my mom’s tried-and-true recipes, I DO want to share my new favorite place in the DC metro area. Yuan Fu is a place I drove by multiple times a week growing up and never considered as an option– why would I when I had ‘regular’ Chinese options?! After eating just 3 dishes, I can honestly say I wish I had known about this place years ago– it feels healthier both consciously and dining-wise, and I tried things I never would have considered before! Check out Yuan Fu next time you’re in the area– we got the Peking Duck, Sesame Beef, and the Triple Crispy Delight. Don’t be confused by the names–they name things using meat names to keep it simple.

Before we headed out on vacation though, we experimented with 2 new ways to use up the abundance of home-grown eggplant that are taking over the back yard so we wouldn’t come back to life-sized produce!  We didn’t create any recipes for these, but check out an amazing baba ghanoush recipe (a great car snack with pita and baby carrots!) and our stromboli with fresh garden vegetables. Instead of ham we used the roasted eggplant and some fresh basil from the garden, then our homemade sauce instead of anything canned; the pizza dough was homemade. Both were fantastic and didn’t require much prep work–you could even do the eggplant in advance and prep everything else the night you’re ready to eat!

Moving forward this week we have grilled jerk tofu with grilled pineapple and corn, sauteed mushrooms and brown rice, and some extra-speedy dinners to accommodate a busy week!

Do in advance:

Slice and salt eggplant and leave to sit for a few hours

Slice and salt eggplant and leave to sit for a few hours

What your eggplant should look like after resting

What your eggplant should look like after resting, before being roasted in the oven/grill

Day-of preparations:

Use your favorite marina sauce or make it from scratch -- ours has tempeh instead of ground beef

Use your favorite marina sauce or make it from scratch — ours has tempeh instead of ground beef

Our finished stromboli-- delicious!

Our finished stromboli– delicious! Add some grated Parmesan over the top for some extra salt!