Monday, August 29, 2011

My kid cooked tonight!

My hubby and I were busy staining our deck this evening when the kids asked, "What's for supper?"  I told them I wasn't sure and that they'd have to wait just a bit until I could get to a stopping point.  My son, Eli, says, "I'll cook!" We talked about it a little bit, I listed off a few ingredients we had around the house, and he finally just decided he would rummage around and see what looked good.

It's no secret I'm proud of my kids.  I'm in awe every day at how great they are.  So I don't know why I surprised to find such an amazing supper cooked 100% by my 9-year-old son.  That kid rocks.  Seriously.  And not just because he's mine.  He really, really, truly rocks.
He made this meal with minimal help and supervision. He did come outside a couple times to ask a few questions:

"What temperature for the garlic bread?" 
"Is it pecans or walnuts that I like with green balls?" 
 "What's that brown tomato sauce called?" 

I answered and checked in a couple times, but this was his masterpiece.  And, honestly, it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten!  

Tonight's menu was Corn on the Cob, Tomato and Basil Salad, Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts, and Garlic Bread. 

The corn was buttered (vegan, of course). The salad had tomatoes from a friend's garden with fresh basil he picked himself, salt and pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (that's the brown tomato sauce).  The Brussels sprouts were cleaned and tossed with walnuts, butter, salt and pepper.  And the garlic bread had butter, garlic, and parsley he picked himself. 

Yes, I let him use the super sharp tomato knife and I let him use the gas stove and the oven.  As my hubby says, "How else will he learn knives are sharp and fire is hot?" 
Eating vegan is not only healthy, but it really is quick and easy and very tasty.  This meals proves it.  A few simple ingredients made with a whole bunch of love makes a pretty great meal. I am so very blessed to have such a great family. And I'm so proud of my little sweet potato!  THANKS, BIG GUY!!!!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Black Bean Soup (Vegan and GF) and Apple Cake (Vegan)

Black Bean Soup in a Bread Bowl
I really thought I had posted both of these recipes previously, but I can't seem to find them on this blog.  Maybe I'm just blog blond, I don't know. 

Some of you already have a Black Bean Soup recipe from me.  I have several varieties that I make, but this is the most requested around here.  I much prefer to use dried beans that I've re hydrated overnight, but here in the real world I often times just grab a can out of the pantry.  This soup is pretty quick to put together.  Serve with chips or bread and fresh veggies on the side.  I like my soup full of hot peppers, but I usually just chop them and let everyone add their own.  I prefer it blended, but I can go both ways.

The Apple Cake is a "heart-healthy" version and is great for breakfast.  It is a dense sort of coffee cake when finished.  The brown sugar topping gives it a nice sweetness, so feel free to cut back on the sugar in the actual cake. It's best if you let it cool a bit, otherwise the texture is a little mushy.  It works well to bake this the night before and have it ready for a nice breakfast or brunch.  We had some kids sleepover last night and they devoured this cake for breakfast with some fresh oranges and mangoes.

2 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red pepper plus 1/2 green pepper (or 1 whole pepper of your choice), diced
1 small white onion
2 c. vegetable broth + 1-2 c. water
1 T. oregano
1 T. cumin
1 bay leaf
3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
Juice from 1 large orange
Salt and pepper to taste
Cornstarch for thickening (optional)
Jalapenos or green onion for topping at serving time (optional)

Soften the onion, pepper and garlic in the olive oil.  Don't let them brown. Add in the broth, seasonings and beans.  Add just enough extra water to cover the beans.  Simmer together for about 20-30 minutes and then remove the bay leaf.

Smooth version, pureed in blender
 SMOOTH texture soup:  Put small batches of the soup in a blender and puree until smooth.  Add the orange juice at the end.  Thicken if needed (may not need to be depending on texture from beans) with cornstarch and water. Re season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chunky texture, beans left whole
CHUNKY texture soup: L eave the beans whole and just squeeze in the orange juice. Thicken with 1 T. cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 c. water.  Let boil for about 2 minutes.
Top with chopped jalapenos or green onion at serving time.

2 1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
2 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
3 apples, cored and chopped finely (I leave skins on, your choice)
1/2 c. applesauce
2 servings egg substitute
1 1/2 c. sugar (I use far less if the applesauce is sweetened)

For Topping:
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 T. whole-wheat flour
1/2 c. oats
3 T. vegan butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x13" pan with cooking spray.  Mix together the flour, soda, cinnamon and salt.  In a small bowl, mix together the egg substitute, apples, applesauce and sugar.  Fold the wet into the dry until it is just moistened.  It will make a thick batter.  Pour into prepared cake pan.

For topping, cut butter into the dry ingredients until it is a crumbly mixture.  Sprinkle on top of cake. 

Bake cake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Let cool 20 minutes before serving.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Simple Sides

I often times like to make a meal out of side dishes.  For a meal, I start with a grain--good bread, brown rice, simple butter and herb pasta, quinoa, cous cous or a baked potato or baked sweet potato.  Then two or three simple veggies and it's a meal.  Depending on what we've had during the day, I may add in a side of beans or bean salad as a protein, and maybe some fresh fruit if I've got it.

None of these is particularly difficult or fancy.  But they are good because they fall in that category of "God makes good food."  I sometimes wonder if God is insulted because we take really good produce and then butcher it with too much fat and salt and mess it all up. So I try to just use a couple fresh, simple ingredients. Put together, they make for some super tasty meals.

Keep in mind that most veggies are good raw.  Just clean and cut.  Kids love to choose and munch, so add three or four different raw veggies on a plate for them to pick.  And do something besides the ol' standby of carrots and celery. Yellow cherry tomatoes, mini sweet peppers, sugar snap peas, snow peas, edamame, kohlrabi sticks, rutabaga, parsnip, turnips, colored cabbages, colored cauliflower (yellow, orange, purple), colored carrots (purple and yellow).  The list goes on and on.  My kids even like lima beans (buy frozen and just thaw).  They eat them up like nuts.

Most veggies are good with a simple steam or quick saute.  Add in a fresh herb, fresh minced garlic or ginger, crushed red pepper.  Toss with toasted pine nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts or pecans for a different flavor and some added crunch.  Just plain old salt and pepper is good, too. 

Just try to keep it simple and as close to natural as possible.  Be careful not to overcook your veggies since that causes them to lose their great color and texture. 

An example of supper at our house: Flatbread, Steamed Brussels Sprouts with Pecans, Red and Yellow Cherry Tomatoes with Sugar Snap Peas (raw), and Fresh Fruit.

Wash your potato or sweet potato.  Rub outside with olive oil and sea salt.  Bake at 450 degrees for 45-60 minutes until soft to squeeze.
Wash you potato or sweet potato and then wrap in plastic wrap.  Cook in the microwave on high for 7-10 minutes depending on the size of potato and your microwave.
I obviously prefer the baked method with that great, crispy skin.  But I do microwave occasionally for a quick meal.

Slice baby red potatoes in half and boil just until tender.  Strain, add a little melted butter (vegan) and a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley. Salt and pepper to taste.  You could also saute a little minced garlic in the butter before adding it to the potatoes just for a little more flavor.

In a fry pan with olive oil, saute together zucchini spears or slices, a little onion and/or garlic, and some rehydrated sun dried tomatoes.  Saute until zucchini is crisp tender, about 4-5 minutes. I also like to just add a spoon or two of sun dried tomato bruschetta spread instead of rehydrating the tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a fry pan with olive oil, saute snow peas and slices of red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers (sweet peppers) for just 2-4 minutes.  You want them heated through, but still crisp. Salt and pepper and chives/green onions on top.

Cut fresh carrots into spears or pennies and steam until crisp tender.  Melt a little vegan butter on top and toss in some fresh or dried dill. Salt and pepper to taste. (My daycare kids love these carrots!)

Steam fresh green beans until crisp tender.  Toss with a little melted vegan butter and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top.  Salt and pepper to taste.  You could toss with toasted almond slices, too, if you like.

Cut carrots and/or parsnips into chunks.  Saute in a fry pan in olive oil until they just start to brown. Add a little veggie broth or water (about 1/4 cup for enough parsnips to cover bottom of pan) and about 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup. Turn heat to low and cover.  Cook about 8 minutes until tender.  Remove the lid and turn heat to high.  Stir until glaze begins to thicken.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, squash or whatever you have into large, flat slices about 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  Brush with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat until just tender (time varies depending on the veggie).  Sprinkle with fresh herbs--basil, thyme, or mix of Italian seasoning.

You can use butternut, acorn, pumpkin, patty pan or any other winter squash.  I cut them in half and scoop out the seeds.  Then wrap each half in plastic wrap and microwave until soft throughout.  Half an acorn squash takes about 10 minutes, butternut takes about 15, pumpkin depends on the size.  Just go at about 4 minute intervals and keep turning it over so it heats evenly.  Then let it sit in the microwave for 5 minutes at the end of cook time.
When cool enough to handle, simply spoon the flesh out into a bowl and either fork mash or use a blender to mash.  Add a little vegan butter, brown sugar and/or maple syrup while mashing. Salt and pepper to serve.

I think a lot of people don't stir-fry because they think it takes a lot of ingredients.  What we get at restaurants is chuck full of different veggies.  But at home, I often just stir-fry one or two veggies.  I start with a little oil (olive, canola, sesame, etc.) in the pan, add 1 or 2 veggies for just a minute or two, then top with chopped garlic and crushed red pepper.  Good with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, celery, snow peas, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, cabbage, leeks, even greens like spinach. Try it with fresh grated ginger instead of the garlic for a new flavor.  Keep it simple and quick.  Usually takes longer to clean and cut a veggie than to cook it!  This one is also good for those kids that don't like their food to touch other food.  Stir-fry one at a time in the same pan for 3-4 easy veggies that the family can mix and match.  I do this and serve with brown rice or sushi rolls.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

French Toast Varieties (milk mix is GF)

French Toast made with Wheat Raisin Bread
I really thought when I went vegan I would just have to live the rest of my life without French Toast.  I have always loved French Toast and it is by far my favorite breakfast dish, but I was willing to give it up in the name of good health in an effort to influence my family.  But I was perusing Ellen DeGeneres' new website Going Vegan with Ellen,  found a recipe for Pecan Crusted French Toast and was truly inspired.

First of all, I want to thank Ellen for being an out and proud vegan.  I love to see more and more famous people come out of the closet and live true to their vegan selves.  It makes it easier on the rest of us who have been living in secret for too long.  It helps our families to see that we aren't freaks or hippies or weirdos, we are just people who want to live our lives without ingesting animal products.  And that's okay.

So where was I?  Oh yeah, I love French Toast.  My kids love French Toast.  And I love to serve up special versions of French Toast for guests or brunches.  So I started experimenting with some of the recipes I've found online and in cook books.  I admit, though, that I like Ellen's version the best.  I only tweaked it a tiny bit to create the standard milk mixture for French Toast, and then I built on her recipe for my baked versions.  I totally give credit to her website for these recipes.  Thanks again, Ellen!

KID NOTE: I use any leftover milk mixture to make boring French Toast.  Let it cool and put it in the freezer.  My kids eat it like a toaster waffle--just pull it out of the freezer, pop it in the toaster and then dip in syrup for a quick school day breakfast.  That way they get a good breakfast and I don't waste food.

GLUTEN FREE NOTE:  The milk mixture used for all of these is a Gluten-Free mix.  I have only limited experience with GF breads, but I think you could make this work if you soak it for a while first.  It may require a little more milk than other breads, too.  I'd be curious to hear from you if you've tried it. 

MAPLE SYRUP NOTE:  I buy the sugar-free syrup for my kids and daycare kids for regular boring days.  But I use the expensive REAL maple syrup for weekends and guests.  It makes a world of difference.  Well worth the price.

BUTTER NOTE:  I like the Best Life butter sticks for this one.  It doesn't actually say it's vegan on the package, but I think it is.  If not, then it has "less than 2%" of anything non-vegan and I don't really worry about that.  In my opinion, it tastes better than the Earth Balance.  We also like the Smart Balance Lite.

1 1/2 c. soy or rice milk (non flavored)
3 T. cornstarch
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. nutmeg
6 T. brown rice flour
Whisk all together until smooth and no lumps.

Dip slices of bread in milk base before cooking on a greased griddle.  Use vegan butter, canola oil, coconut oil, or whatever oil you prefer. This mixture sticks a little bit, so wait to turn it until it is browned and comes off the pan easily.  Serve with maple syrup, flavored syrup, fruit or powdered sugar on top.

Try different types of bread such as Wheat-Raisin, Apple Bread (great bread from Dutch Oven in Ames), or even quick breads like banana or pumpkin.  Try bagels or English muffins.
Also, you could add a little more flavor to the milk mixture.  Stir in 2 T. of amaretto or spiced rum, or try 1 t. almond extract or orange extract instead of the vanilla.

Dip your bread in the milk mixture and then dip just one side in finely chopped pecans to coat it.  Cook pecan side down (use plenty of vegan butter or coconut oil to prevent burning/sticking), then flip carefully and cook the other side.  Watch your nuts carefully so they don't burn!  I like this version made with the Wheat Raisin Bread.

2 T. maple syrup or corn syrup
1/2 c. vegan butter (I like Best Life)
1 c. brown sugar
About 10-12 slices bread, crusts cut off
Milk mixture (from above)

Cook syrup, butter and brown sugar over low heat just until all combined and sugar is melted completely.  Pour mixture into a 9x13" pan (or two smaller pans) that has been sprayed with Pam cooking spray. 

(You will need to flip these pans over when they are very hot, so plan accordingly with your pans! I find it's easier to flip two 8x8" pans than to try to flip a big one. I also like to make two smaller ones so I can add nuts to one and leave the other plain. Be careful since that caramel mix will stick to you and burn.)

Place bread over the top of the syrup mix, layering as needed.  Pour milk mixture over the top and cover pan with plastic wrap.  Let sit in refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, remove plastic wrap and cover with foil.  Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Remove foil and continue to cook another 5-20 minutes until bread is cooked and not totally mushy (time depends on the type of bread you use).

Once out of the oven, immediately flip pan over onto a baking sheet and let the caramel drizzle down over the top.  Cut into squares and serve immediately.

Use the same method as the Baked Caramel, except sprinkle 1 cup chopped pecans in the syrup mixture before topping with the bread.  Use good french bread with the crusts removed.  Serve with real maple syrup and a big platter of fresh fruit.  Yum!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whatev Pasta--Penne with Peppers, 'Shrooms and Cannellinis (vegan, GF if using rice pasta)

I wasn't going to post tonight's supper because it was a quick throw together kind of meal.  It was the Whatev Pasta (previous post February 16, 2011) with some leftover ingredients I had around the house.  But my family said they loved it and want me to write this one down. 

I won't write down the whole process since you can look it up on the February post.  I used the saute method (one pan) with the following list of ingredients:

Garlic, onion, red pepper, orange pepper, mushrooms, diced tomatoes (canned, drained), cannellini beans (canned, drained), fresh basil, tomato paste (about 2 T.), cooking wine (about 2 T.), not-chicken broth (about 1/4 c.), salt and pepper, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning.
Toss with whole-wheat penne pasta. Top with Veggie Shreds vegan mozzerella cheese. 
I pretty much just dumped everything but the pasta and cheese in a big saute pan and cooked it down while the pasta boiled.  Then tossed it together to serve.
We ate our pasta tonight with some warm Italian bread and some fresh grapes, orange slices and blueberries.  Nothing fancy, but the family really enjoyed it. They love those cannellini beans because they give a good, buttery creaminess to any dish without actually adding any dairy. 
Let me know if you've made any good combinations of Whatev!

KID VERSION: Teriyaki Stir Fry OR Teriyaki Kebabs (vegan and GF)

I had planned on making kebabs with the daycare kids today, but none of them wanted to help cook.  They were far too interested in the new Legos and I couldn't tear them away.  So I ended up just tossing everything together in a stir fry.  Same ingredients either way, so you choose if you want it in a pan or on a stick!

I would spice this up a whole lot more if it were for a nice dinner, but this is the 10 minute "kid-friendly" version that they help cook.  Feel free to add garlic, ginger, hot sauce, etc. if you prefer.  You may also want to add a little cornstarch to the sauce before cooking if you like it a little thicker.

2 T. oil for stir frying
1 pkg extra firm Tofu, cut into 1" chunks
1/2 white onion, cut into 1" chunks
1 green pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 yellow or red pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 pkg button mushrooms, cut in halves
1 can pineapple chunks, reserve the liquid
1/4 - 1/2 c. teriyaki sauce (your favorite store bought version)
Brown Rice

STIR FRY:  Brown the tofu and onion in oil and then add the other veggies.  Stir fry for 1-2 minutes until peppers are crisp tender.  Mix the reserved pineapple juice with the teriyaki and pour over tofu and veggies.  Toss in pineapple and heat just a minute or two until warm.  Serve over brown rice.

KEBABS:  Skewer the tofu, veggies and pineapple onto skewers.  Grill or brown in a pan with oil, turning occasionally to brown all sides.  Brush with teriyaki/pineapple juice liquid often during cooking.  Serve over brown rice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mexi-Stuffed Peppers

I had some leftover Mexican rice from supper the other night and some fresh peppers growing in our little box garden.  So, WA-LA! Stuffed peppers!  (Side note: one of the peppers is from our "super hot" plant, but we didn't remember which one it was after we got them inside.  We'll have to wait and see who the lucky winner is at supper!)

This isn't so much a recipe, so I'll just walk through it quickly with some pics. 

Step 1: Peppers
I cut the tops off the sweet peppers and sliced the banana peppers down the side, then pulled out the ribs and seeds (be careful of pepper oils on your fingers, you may want to wear gloves).  Use whatever kind of peppers you like.

Step 2: Stuffing
I used leftover rice, corn, red beans, diced tomatoes and some browned Soyrizo (fake chorizo that's actually pretty good). 

Step 3: Stuff It
(do I really need to explain this?!?)

Step 4: Top it
I used the vegan cheese substitute here because that's what I had in the house.  Use what you like.

Step 5: Bake it
I baked these at about 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Step 6: Sauce it (optional)
I made my friend Casey's hot sauce because I love it.  You could use any enchilada sauce (red or green), cheese sauce, or salsa.  Or you could just eat them without the sauce.  I like to serve the peppers on top the sauce just because it looks prettier that way.

Step 7: Eat it!

Nanette's Breakfast Cookies (scones)

I have tried many recipes for "healthy" cookies for my kids and my daycare kids.  This one works well and makes a ton.  Freezes great, so I love to make a huge batch and then just have them ready to go when I need a quick breakfast or snack.  Change up your optional additions to fit your family's tastes.  These end up much more like a scone in texture, so you can shape them into scones if you like.  I love them for dipping into my coffe or hot tea.

Breakfast cookies--some baked with cinnamon and sugar on top, some with cinnamon glaze after baking.

These are also very high in fiber and extremely low in fat.  Enjoy!

1-1 ¼  cups brown sugar
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
4 cups flour (I use whole-wheat, you can do half wheat, half white if you like)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce (or more)
2 tablespoons water (or more)
3 servings egg replacer
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 apples, finely grated
3/4 cup raisins, optional
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center and pour in the canola oil, applesauce, water, egg replacer, grated apple and vanilla. Mix until well blended. These make a chunky, somewhat dry dough. You may need to stir in a little more water or applesauce as needed just to bring it all together. Stir in the raisins, walnuts and apricots. Roll dough into golf-ball sized balls. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets and flatten to 1/2 tall with wet hands. These cookies do not flatten very much while baking. I also like to sprinkle mine with a little cinnamon and sugar on top before baking (or drizzle with glaze afterwards).

In the preheated oven, bake 8 minutes for chewier cookies (undercook and leave on the tray to cool) or 10 to 20 minutes for dry cookies (more like a scone texture the longer you cook them). Cookies will not get crisp. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.  Refrigerate or freeze.

NOTES:  I like the texture of whole-wheat flour, but it may take some getting used to if your family hasn’t had it a lot. I have also added wheat germ or flax (and add a little more applesauce).

I like these best with apples and raisins, or I’ve used dried blueberries and slivered almonds, or craisins and almonds. I really like to use the dried Fruit Bits that has a mixture of lots of fruits.  This makes a GINORMOUS batch, but they freeze very well.  I just take a few out and move them to a Ziploc at night so they are ready to grab quick in the morning. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

White Bean Cabbage Soup and Potato Veggie Soup (vegan and GF)

I needed a couple "down home" kind of ideas to feed my in-laws this weekend that also needed to be gluten-free.  I know they are a bit nervous eating at our house since they are used to some traditional Sunday dinner kinds of foods like roast and potatoes, ham and potatoes, fried chicken and potatoes, etc.

I figured I would make a few good soups and serve a salad on the side.  And I thought potatoes and cabbage sounded like a more ol' fashioned and traditional choice than curry chowder. So the menu for tonight is White Bean and Cabbage Soup and Potato Vegetable Soup, served up with some gluten-free crackers and a nice green salad made with garden greens and tomatoes.  I made enough soup to send some home with them and then to freeze a little for lunches, so these are big batches.  But soup's always better the next day, so making a lot is a good idea.

I cook with what I've got, so these amounts are estimates and you can add more or less as you like.  The cabbage soup has a little bite from the cabbage and seasoning, but the potato veggie is a bit more bland.  I like the potato veggie one the next day after the flavors meld a bit, and my day care kids seem to like the bland soup a little better.  But I have served them the cabbage soup and they eat it without complaint.  My own kids love soup of any kind with croutons or good, Italian bread toasted under the broiler for a minute or two to make it crunchy. 

They only fat in either one of these is a minute amount of olive oil, and both are chuck full of healthy veggies. Eat three bowls!

2 T. olive oil
2 cans cannelini or navy beans
1 head green cabbage, cut into 1" chunks
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 white or yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 t. Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base
8 c. water
1-2 t. dried oregano (start slow and add more if needed)
2 bay leaves
1 t. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper

Saute garlic and onion in olive oil just until softened in large soup stockpot.  Add all other ingredients and simmer over low heat 1 hour (or more) until cabbage is softened.

(Note: Dry onion soup mix is GF, but onion-mushroom soup mix is not. Be care to read labels.)
2 T. olive oil
8 white potatoes, diced
1/2 - 1 pound fresh green beans, snapped and cut into 1" pieces
1 white or yellow onion, diced
4 large carrots, diced or cut into pennies
4 ribs celery, diced
1 can diced or petite diced tomatoes
2 packets dry onion soup mix
8-9 cups water
Salt and Pepper (I used a lot of fresh cracked black pepper in this one)
1/2 bag frozen peas

Saute onion in olive oil in large stockpot.  Add all other ingredients EXCEPT peas. Bring to a slow boil, turn heat down and simmer for 45-60 minutes or until veggies are the texture you like.  Add peas and cook an additional 5 minutes just until they are heated through.  Serve hot.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Quick Pickles

Wondering what to do with all those garden cucumbers?  Quick pickles are yummy and easy.  These amounts listed are "eyeballing" amounts--meaning I use about that much.  Sometimes I like them sweeter so I add more sugar, sometimes I add onion and more garlic to give them a bite.  I used dried dill today because I didn't grow any dill this year. Use fresh if you've got it.  Make them up an hour or two before serving and chill them.

4 medium size cucumbers, sliced into rounds or at an angle
1 t. dried dill, or a nice size bunch of fresh dill
1 bay leaf
1 c. white vinegar
4 t. white sugar
2 t. mustard seed
2 t. salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed

Place sliced cucumbers, dill and bay leaf in a heat proof bowl (preferably not plastic since it picks up the vinegar smell). 

Put vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, salt and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Let simmer about 5 minutes and then carefully pour over the cucumbers.  Let cool, chill and serve.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lunch Box Ideas

I've composed a good-sized list of lunch ideas for school children and am sharing them here.  I acknowledge this is not all the options and I encourage you to post a comment here adding any good ideas that your family likes.  I debated adding some vegetarian choices as well as vegan, but I promised to stay true to the vegan blog.  So add your own cheeses, dips, etc. if you feel those are a good option for your kids.

I live in Iowa, so I've tried to make this list things that I can get here locally.  I use reusable containers, cloth napkin and real silverware in a reusable lunch bag.  It's worth a little investing up front.  I bought two or three of everything needed just in case it doesn't make it through the dishwasher some nights. I also invested in a good thermos for soups and pastas and other hot dishes. My son has a microwave available to him at school, but it's easier on him to have it all ready to go.  I also bought some good ice packs and have plenty so they can be rotated through as they freeze.

I prefer to have as much of my lunches be "no-prep" as possible, so we do a lot of fresh fruits and veggies.  If the main part of his lunch is hot, it is often times leftovers.  I usually start the week off with single ingredients (a whole apple, just green beans, etc.) and then by the end of the week I combine what's left into mix 'n' match meals.  Try not to waste any food!

Now I know that my own kids sometimes eat foods that are not listed as "child-friendly" in most people's minds. (The only thing on this list that my own son doesn't eat is oranges.  He just doesn't like oranges.  But he eats all the other "crazy" foods here and has even been a huge helper in creating this list.)  My kids are adventurous eaters and love to try new and exciting foods. My son loves that it makes all the other kids ask questions. But if you are thinking to yourself, "My kid will never eat that!" or "She'll just waste it!" then I strongly urge you to stop and think. 

Kids are STARVING by lunch time at school most days. 

It is the perfect time to try something new and exciting.  (After school is great, too, since they are wasting away into nothing by that time of day.)  I wouldn't spring new foods on them, and I don't "surprise" them with something new.  Discuss with them that you are trying new things because it's fun and exciting.  Have your kids work with you on the weekly menu plan and make one day each week a "try something new" day.  There are a lot of fun ways to introduce new foods.  Try making kebabs or a deconstructed dish (all the parts to a taco, salad, wrap, pizza and they put it together on site). Try anything tiny (everyone can eat a few bites if they are tiny), or wrap up something new in a tortilla, lettuce, or even a pancake.  Everyone loves to dip, so try new sauces and purees to introduce foods.  Try themes--lunch foods all the same color, rainbow colors, food all starting with the letter of the week, or putting in 8 of everything.  Take your kids to the grocery store and have them choose the something new for that week.

Even the same old PB&J is made special on tiny bread or a rice cake or a wheat biscuit.  Just do a little something new to get a child used to trying new things.  Then you can work up to the sushi and tofu!  If you are the crafty type of parent that has time to make fun shapes out of the food, that sometimes works to get them to eat. Shape the fruit into flowers or use cookie cutters to shape bread and tortillas. Serve cut up fruit with a toothpick (with strict intructions to NOT poke anyone at school or on the bus), or make melon balls instead of wedges. And remember that experts agree a child needs to be offered a new food 7-10 times IN A ROW before they really decide if they like it or not. (So if you're introducing kohlrabi, add a few sticks every day for a week.)  They may try it once and hate it, but keep offering for a week or so.  Then wait a couple months and do it again.  Children's taste buds change all the time as they grow, so continue to offer foods and encourage them to keep trying.

My overall, best suggestion is to create a bedtime and a morning routine and include packing the lunch on that, and definitely have a weekly meal plan so there's no arguments or running around crazy at the last minute.  Never try to force something new at the last minute!  Discuss it DAYS in advance and work up to the excitement of new food day. 
If there's anything here that sounds good but you are just not sure on how to prep and cook it, just send me a quick note and I'll get a recipe and instructions to you.

Happy Eating!!

Fruits (preferably fresh, whole or sliced, kebab, fruit salad, serve just one or mix and match)
Apples (whole or sliced)
Kiwi (cut in half and let them scoop out with a spoon)
Mango slices
Watermelon--cubed or wedged
Dried Fruits
Fruit cobblers or crisps

Veggies--Steam, sauce, dip, mix 'n' match, different seasoning, toss with nuts, sprinkle with bread crumbs
Carrots--cold, cooked, sticks, pennies/rounds, julienned for salad, etc.
Brussels Sprouts (yes, my kid loves these)
Yellow summer squash
Snow peas
Sugar snap peas
Rutabagas (steamed, mashed)
Turnips (raw or steamed, mashed)
Kohlrabi (cut into "fries" and serve raw)
Beets/Beet salad
Lettuce (salad, wrap or rolls)
Edamame (shelled or in the shell to pop out--we call these "poppy beans")
Beans--Baked beans, green, black, red, garbanzos, butter, wax, navy, cannelini, black-eyed peas, limas (mix and match, hot or cold salads)
Corn--on or off the cob
Winter squash--cubed or mashed, 1/2 an acorn squash, spaghetti squash, etc.
Sweet potato--sticks, baked, mashed
Potato--red, white, yellow, fingerlings, mashed, baked, baked fries, shake 'n' bake tators
Potato Skins
Cabbage--salad, roll, wrap, coleslaw, purple or green or a mix
Tomato--slices, grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, heirlooms
Avocado--slice in half and let spoon out, or mash as a spread or dip
Olives--black, green, Greek, stuffed, etc.
Tofu--cubes, sticks, breaded and baked/fried as "nuggets", scrambled like eggs

Rice--white, brown, wild, cold, hot, fried, mix with veggies, etc.
Granola--bars (chewy or crunchy) or cereal
Trail Mix
Pasta--cold or hot, all different shapes and sizes, sauce/no sauce, stuffed, orzo

White bread
Wheat bread
Buns (slice or cut a hole in the top and fill it up)
Italian bread
French bread
Rye bread
Raisin bread
Cinnamon bread
Corn bread
Pita bread (mini or large)
Flat bread
Rice cakes
Waffles--traditional, or flavored, apple-oat is my fav
Pancakes--flat or rolled
English Muffins
Tortillas--corn, flour, white, wheat, flavored
Bagels--mini or large, flavored or plain
Cocktail breads--tiny sandwiches
Pizza crust
Quick breads--banana bread, zucchini bread, orange bread, peanut butter bread, etc.
Bread cubes/Croutons
Pretzels--crunchy or soft
Bread sticks (for dippings, or slice them and make skinny "torpedo" sandwiches instead of subs)
Crackers--huge variety, sticks, flat, multi-grain, we love Dr. Kracker and Wasa Bread

Veganaise (vegan Mayo)
Peanut Butter
Agave Nectar
"Cream" sauce--vegan Alfredo
Pizza Sauce
Mushroom sauce
Dressings--ranch, French, Italian, etc.
Barbecue sauce
Lemon sauce/Lemon juice
Vinegars and Oils
Fruit Sauces (blueberry, orange, etc. for pancakes, etc.)
Vegan Yogurt
Vegan Cream Cheese
Vegan Sour Cream
Cinnamon/Sugar drizzle or dry to sprinkle on
Nuts to sprinkle on
Seasoning to sprinkle--basil, pepper, pizza seasoning, lemon pepper, etc.
"Special Butters"--blend 1:1 vegan butter with jelly or honey, stir brown sugar into butter, or fold herbs into softened butter
Baba ghanoush
Olive spread

Main Dish Ideas
Pitas with vegan lunch meat, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, vegan mayo
Pitas stuffed with pizza ingredients
Mini-Pitas with hummus or other dip
Chips and Guacamole
Chips and Salsa
Burritos--bean (refried, black, etc.), rice (white, brown, Mexi-rice), TVP, or combo
Taco wrap
Tofu "nuggets"
Tofu "fries"
Veggies and dips--switch it up!!  Not just the same carrots and ranch.
Rice Cake sandwiches, or Rice Cake with spreads
Kebabs--tofu, veggies, or all fruit, Asian (tofu, green pepper, pineapple)
Vegan hot dog bites, vegan corn dog bites
Salad Roll--Asian (fill with cabbage, Hoisan sauce, julienned carrots, green peppers), or wrap up vegan lunch meats and cheeses
Spring Roll/Egg Roll
Veggie potstickers/dumplings
Rice balls
Raisin and Cinnamon Biscuits
Biscuits filled with small bits of broccoli and vegan cheese
Biscuits seasoned with pizza seasoning and dipped in pizza sauce
Pasta Salad--so many possibilities combining different veggies and dressings
Bagels with peanut butter, other nut butters, honey, special butters, hummus, Baba ghanoush
Mini cocktail sandwiches
Mini cocktail cucumber, dill, vegan mayo appetizers
Calzones (start with premade pizza dough or crescent rolls and fill before cooking)
Corn Bread--mix in vegan dogs, rinsed black beans, or a little citrus before cooking for extra flavor
Beanie Weanies
Black Beans and Rice
Red Beans and Rice
Mushroom panini/sub sandwich
Sushi rolls
Various vegan "meat" balls
Waffles, Apple-Oat Waffle, Waffle with vegan bacon cooked into it, all dipped in syrup
Pancakes--shapes, fingers, rolled around fruit or vegan sausage
Crepes--filled with fruit pie filling, dusted with powdered sugar
Stuffed tomato or peppers--start with rice and season as you like (wild rice pilaf or Mexi-rice are good)
Spinach Rolls--roll spinach and vegan cream cheese into crescent rolls before baking
Stuffed pasta shells (recipe on previous blog)
Various Nuts--almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, etc.
Fancy noodles--shapes, letters, tubes, big, little, with sauce or cooked into broth and veggies as soup
Mini-pie--individual fruit or shepherd's pie or pot pie cooked in muffin tins, use tube biscuits or crescents as your dough
Mini pizza (on biscuit, pita, etc.)--either make ahead or just send the parts for them to do, try a fruit pizza!
Bean Salads
Stir-fry (rice or noodle, try soba noodles or different types of rice noodles, try various veggies)
Veggie burger or Bean burger (ton of recipes on the web, or buy Bocas)
Garlic Bread and dip
Potato cakes

Cream of Tomato
Veggie Noodle
Cream of Spinach
Cabbage Soup (with onion, navy beans, Italian seasoning and diced tomatoes in veggie broth--a fav here)
Split Pea
Taco Soup
Corn Chowder
Coconut Corn Soup
Potato Soup
Potato Leek Soup
French Onion
Cream of Mushroom
Veggie Stew