It’s almost the end of July, and that means the long hot days of humidity smelling like wet grass are followed by roaring thunderstorms and heavy rains all through the night. And if you garden, this is most certainly your garden’s favorite time of year!
This summer I set up two planters on our back patio and pretty much threw in whatever plants and seeds I could fit. Along with some festive patio lighting, a clean-up of our table and chairs, and a shrub trimming, the space is finally livable again. It also smells wonderful with a fresh lavender plant, a bountiful herb garden and two very healthy and fast-growing cherry tomato plants beside a lettuce bed and assortment of vegetables that are currently fighting for nutrients and light!
If, like me, your herb garden and zucchini plants are ready to burst forth, this herb garden ratatouille is the perfect summer dish to showcase your summer harvest. I’ve made a few variations of this sliced vegetable ratatouille over the years, but this version from Tasty has a rich sweet tomato sauce base to help soften the vegetable slices as they bake, and is topped with an incredibly robust herb sauce that really celebrated my home-grown herbs. It’s also a beautiful display and can easily be shared for a potluck. My adaptation from the original recipe was to remove the eggplant (not my husband’s favorite vegetable), double up on zucchini and add one sliced potato, but you can easily eliminate that for a simple low-carb summer dish.
- 3 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 2 large yellow squash, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 1 Idaho potato, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 6 roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 yellow pepper, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 2 TB olive oil
- 8-10 fresh basil leaves, diced
- 2 TB fresh parsley, diced
- 2 tb fresh thyme, diced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pan, add olive oil, garlic, onions and peppers and cook on medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, then stir in crushed tomatoes. Transfer this sauce base to bottom of a large casserole dish. Arrange sliced vegetables in alternating patterns on top, however you like! I prefer rows in a rectangular dish, but you can also arrange in a circular pattern in a round baking dish. Mix herb sauce and add to top of ratatouille. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover and for additional 20 minutes. Serve while hot, but also tastes great cold the next day!
Final version bubbling up right out of the oven…
Last week my friend Or’Shaundra and I took our 8-year-old sons to my local library for movie night featuring “Ant-Man and the Wasp”. When we arrived, the librarian was visibly perplexed and shaken by our appearance, especially as our two young boys took front row seats grabbing bags of candy and chips, munching happily away. Nowhere in their marketing materials did they say the PG-13 movie was restricted to “teens”. Our boys had already seen the film but she made it clear the night was reserved for young adults, and I felt both annoyed and ashamed. Are we bad moms?! The movie was set to begin in 5 minutes and, not wanting conflict, she quietly promised that if the older hoards didn’t turn out then we could stay, but only if the other young adults approved. Well, the neighborhood was deserted for spring break and as suspected only two other kids showed up so the librarian begrudgingly took their pizza orders and my friend and I were promptly kicked out. Because NO PARENTS ALLOWED.
Long story short, we spent a glorious two hours browsing the recipe book section and sitting by a fire where I came across a delightful new Palestinian cookbook “Zaitoun” by Yasmin Khan. As a crossroads of multiple countries, the Middle East is a region rich with grain and vegetable harvests, with meats like fish, chicken and lamb reserved more for select meals rather than daily consumption, so the local cuisine can be seen as inherently vegetarian. Kibbeh is a simple yet staple dish traditionally made as a hearty pie with meat and a crunchy grain crust, and is fragrant with spicy cinnamon, sweet onions, pine nuts, and fresh chopped parsley. For this dish, I used textured soy proteins and lentils to replace minced lamb and it paired beautifully with an acidic diced Jerusalem salad.
For the Crust
- 1 3/4 cups fine bulgur wheat
- 1/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- chopped parsley, to serve
For the Filling
- 1 1/2 cup steamed lentils
- 2/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
- 1/3 cup vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 3 TB olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 3 garlic cloves, diced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl and pour over enough boiled water to cover, then set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Heat 2 TB olive oil in a large pan and fry up the onion for the filling just until translucent. Add the spices and garlic for the filling,then fold in the lentils and meatless meat crumbles and stir in the vegetable broth and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. In a separate pan, toast the pine nuts on low heat for 3-4 minutes then set aside. In a small food processor or bowl using a hand blender, add the chopped onion for the crust along with the crust spices and meatless meat crumbles and blend until you have a smooth paste. Add this to the bulgar once the water has been soaked up and mix together. In large 12×10 baking dish, press half the crust mixture into the base. Top with the cooked filling and pine nuts, then finish the remaining crush mixture. Score the surface diagonally in a cross-hatch fashion with a knife, then bake for 45 minutes. Once baked, serve with fresh chopped parsley.
I also had the opportunity to spend a few days in San Diego for a work conference this week and enjoyed some beautiful ocean views.
Well it’s January, which means we all eat healthy about 50% of the week but with better intentions. To kick off the new year, I was searching for something crave-able and satisfying that didn’t feel like diet food. I’ve been reading about and this butternut squash mac n cheese for a while now and decided to give it a try. It’s a clever riff on a classic comfort food that’s low on calories and high on fiber, and completely guilt-free!
I learned a few things on my first go here. I cut out the butter and flour from the original recipe and substituted fat free cream and low fat shredded cheese. My sauce to pasta ratio was a bit off and it came out a bit dry so I would add pasta slowly until you have a thick base, almost like a stew-like consistency. I also used a whole wheat rotini instead of the traditional macaroni. Big mistake! Everybody asked “Where’s the mac?!” Finally, I added a vegetarian spicy sausage which I have to say is a DEFINITE KEEPER. The puréed squash provides a surprisingly sweet and luxurious sauce paired with sage flavors of the sausage.
- 1 large butternut squash, cubed
- 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 cup fat free cream
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup aged low fat cheese, shredded
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 package Lightlife vegetarian sausage
- 2 TBs olive oil (for frying and roasting)
Pan fry the entire package of sausage until the chunks are nice and browned. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and drizzle butternut squash chunks with olive oil on baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until tender. While the squash is roasting, cook the macaroni according to package directions then drain well and set aside. In a medium sauce pot, add the cooked squash, cream, nutmeg and vegetable broth then use a hand blender to purée to a smooth texture, like a thick soup. Add the sausage, cheese and pasta to mixture and fold together. Pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Some pasta dishes are best served room temperature on a cold day when you just wanna stress eat like a pro with little prep, AKA Thanksgiving.
This year we avoided airports and opted for an overnight stay at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge waterpark with friends followed by a lovely dinner with family. I love the simplicity and versatility of this fresh lemony, chard recipe combined with the sweet caramelized onions from 101 Cookbooks. I skipped the fresh pasta prep and used fresh, ready to eat ravioli from Trader Joe’s which means lunch was ready in about 20 minutes total — not bad!
- 1 container Trader Joe’s butternut squash ravioli
- 2-3 TB olive oil
- 2 small onions, thinly sliced
- 2-3 cups chopped Swiss chard, deveined and chopped
- 2 TB fresh lemon juice
- 2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (I purchased whole toasted at Trader Joe’s)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Prepare ravioli as directed, about 3 minutes in boiling water and cooled in colander then tossed gently with about a teaspoon of olive oil to prevent sticking. In pan, caramelize the onions over medium high heat with 1 TB olive in a pan, turning constantly for about 10 minutes and then cooled. Meanwhile, squeeze the lemon juice over the Swiss chard and top with salt, then massage the leaves gently for 2 minutes in a mixing bowl and set aside. When you are ready to serve, combine Swiss chard salad with ravioli on serving dish then top with crunchy hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. My version was heavy on the Swiss chard and looked more like salad but next time I would serve on a long, flat dish to really make the ravioli shine.
My amazing friend Shaun once again had dessert covered and prepared the most amazing Coconut Cream Pie – and I don’t even like coconut! Recipe found here.
With the recent elections and shift to crisp, fall weather, our family jumped right into hot soup season and what better dish than this hearty and healthy Senate Bean Soup!
One popular story claims the history of this dish goes back to World War II when the country was under rationing and the US government kitchen staff had to come up with creative ways to bulk up their lunch options. But another story contends it goes back at least 100 years and was simply a favorite amongst senators. Whatever the origination, it is a popular dish and has been served in the dining room of the Senate every day since, hence its name. The original recipe used a mashed potato base with ham, which I replaced with leeks and topped it off at the end with some crispy, pan-fried vegan Benevolent Bacon which added a nice smoky flavor to the soup once stirred through.
Made with just a few easy ingredients, this thick and buttery dish was scrumptious served with some toasted sourdough and was a big hit with kids and adults alike. The key elements in the prep were using dry navy beans and puréeing about 1/3 of the soup after it was all cooked down to create a thick soup base while still retaining much of the chunky beans and vegetables.
- 2 cups dry navy beans
- 2 leeks, trimmed and slivered
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Benevolent Bacon, diced and pan fried
Soak navy beans 6-8 hours, then drain and rinse. In large soup pot heat up olive oil then cook garlic and leeks until translucent, about 3-5minutes. Add carrots, celery, beans, thyme and vegetable broth and cook on medium for 45 minutes, stirring constantly, until beans are soft. Remove 1/3 of soup and purée in blender then add back to soup. Or use a hand blender and purée briefly enough to thicken the broth but not break down all the beans. In a separate pan, add additional 1-2 TB olive oil and fry the bacon until it starts to darken. Set aside for 1 minute to cool, then serve fresh with each serving of soup. Salt and pepper to taste.
This week I stumbled upon a term that has really stuck in my mind: AWARENESS.
I’ve been on a bit of a journey of mental and physical health this summer. I hesitate to call it diet and fitness, because those are industry terms that really don’t resonate with me. But I’ve come to learn that when you are in tune with your body, really living every moment of every day, getting back in touch with nature and remembering you exist in a bigger space than your living room and all the while learning to eat and drink in moderation, you go to bed with some sense of inner peace and you wake up with energy. Wow. I don’t require a glass of wine to put my kids to bed every night! Not eating chips makes me feel less shame! What a revelation! At least, I attain this goal about 30% of the time… but now that I know the journey ahead I’ve made it my goal to get to 100%.
I guess my inner hippie got the best of me this week as I was really focused on Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are essentially hearty grain-based dishes topped with an assortment of roasted or cooked vegetables and tossed with a vegetarian protein usually along with nuts or seeds. Their flavors can be soulful and complex, with unexpected items thrown together much like a garbage salad. They are really a vegans’ dream because they are filling entrees, rich in nutrient-dense foods, and they are easy to throw together and fun to eat! One my favorites to make at home is a barley bowl topped with sautéed kale, sauerkraut, tofu, sunflower seeds and avocado. Weird? No. But today I really wanted some red wine so I went for a Tuscan italian theme. I’d say this is comparable to a bruschetta bean salad mixed in with the nutty, chewy texture of Farro and tossed in a vibrant fresh herb vinegar dressing. It’s very versatile so you can also substitute other beans like chickpeas or white beans.
- 1 can large butter beans, drained
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 1/2 cup Farro
- 1 container firm tofu
- 1 TB fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- 1/8 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1 TB whole grain mustard
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/8 cup olive oil
Boil 4 cups of water in medium sauce pot then add Farro. Turn down to medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Once complete, pour through strainer and set aside to cool. To prepare your tofu, this can be eaten raw, pan-fried or my preference Roasted. In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients and toss with dressing!
Nothing says summer more than street food and beer – but it’s even better when you can make it at home! I was looking for a reason to use the fresh basil, mint and cucumbers picked from our neighbors Dory and Andy’s garden who thankfully have quite the green thumb and are so generous with the neighborhood kids tramping through their carefully tended vegetables and raspberry bushes.
This tofu and veggie Banh Mi with pickled daikon and carrots is fresh, bright and crunchy with a hint of spice and is totally crave-able. Sadly, it doesn’t compare to the outstanding lemongrass tofu Banh Mi we used to buy at Nhu Lan Bakery in Chicago but hey it definitely hit the spot. I also experimented with adding the same ingredients to lower calorie Vietnamese rice paper wraps which was also a big hit.
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced
- 1 English cucumber, julienned
- 1 tofu block of your choice (I would recommend Trader Joe’s baked sriracha tofu)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1 bunch free Thai basil
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- French bread roll or Vietnamese bread roll, both toasted slightly in oven or toaster oven until crunchy
- 2 TB mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
- 1 TB sriracha
- Juice of 1/2 lime
Pickled Daikon and Carrots
- 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 medium daikon, peeled and julienned
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
Bring the pickle mixture to a boil in medium sauce pot, then sit and let cool. Pour over carrots and daikon in a mason jar or glass Tupperware container, then seal and let marinate at least 1 hour in fridge but up to 12 hours overnight is ideal. To make sriracha mayo just combine mayo, sriracha and lime juice in small bowl. If you want it thicker to smear on bread base just leave out lime juice and squeeze on top of sandwich once assembled instead. Assemble sandwich with all ingredients and gulp down with beer!