Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

What’s a Green Bean?

A funny thing happened at the grocery store this weekend.  Our cashier held up a bag of green beans and asked me what they were.  Really?  She may have only been a teenager, but she really didn’t know what green beans were?  I get it, some of those produce items can be more obscure, and it’s understandable that someone may need to ask for help.  For example, how many of you know what what Jicama looks like?  Or the difference between Collards, Kale or Mustard Greens?  Steve and I walked out both thinking the same thing, even Gavin knows what green beans are.   That’s when I realized that I think that I might be doing something right.

Grocery shopping with kids is not always a great experience, especially when your kids are no longer content to sit in the cart and people-watch.  Gavin is 3 now and Skylar is 17 months.  My usual approach is to put Skylar in the top of the cart and throw Gavin in the back.  As we get near the end of the shopping trip, that area gets smaller and smaller with our purchases and understandably, Gavin wants to get out and walk.  I usually let him.  In anticipation that this will happen, I try to plan shopping trips for times of day where there will be less people at the store.  Gavin is starting to listen pretty well and understands that he needs to stay close to me, but the urge to run down that open aisle is sometimes just too much to resist.  I try and keep him occupied by having him help me pick out food to buy.

He is especially excited to help in the produce section.  We buy a lot of fresh produce, especially in the summer months, and Gavin has developed some strong opinions on what we should put in our carts.  He never seems to like my picks for blueberries or bananas, but I have been successful in steering him in the right direction.   In the last couple of shopping trips, he has actually made requests for certain produce.  This past week, he was very upset that we did not buy any grapes, in the starting-to-cry upset kind of way.  It’s because of him that we got the green beans in the first place.  He thought that I forgot to get them.  He was also very particular about which heads of broccoli to bag.  I’ve been using his assistance in my produce selections purely to keep him occupied and close by me.  It’s hard to pick out the perfect potatoes when you have a 3 year old running towards the carrots, but it dawned on me that I’m offering an education of sorts that I never realized. 

He is learning about all the different types of fruits and veggies that are available.  He loves to ask what certain items are and wonders why we aren’t buying them.  Prior to this phase, we used the produce section to practice naming colors.  We also talk about preferences.  For example, it’s ok that Mommy only likes the red grapes, but it’s great that I’ve tried the other colors too. It’s because of Gavin’s curiosity that we bought a broccoflower a few weeks ago.  I do have to be careful because he likes to sample things before they are bought and washed.  A few weeks ago, I bent towards him to hear what he was saying to me and got a huge whiff of cilantro on his breath.  He was snacking on cilantro leaves!  (He also loves basil and mint.)  Most importantly, buying produce is a regular part of our shopping trip, and he is engaged and aware of these purchases on a weekly basis.  He is learning that fruits and vegetables are a standard and expected part of our diets.  Hopefully, these early lessons will not only teach my kids what the different produce items are but that it is the norm to include them in your weekly shopping trips.  Now, if only I could get Skylar to understand that the ear of corn needs to be cooked before she can eat it, everything would be perfect.


Making Italian Bread

It’s been a while since I posted any cooking ventures, so I thought that I would share a recipe for homemade Italian bread.  Bread making is easy as long as you follow the directions.   In most of my bread-making, I use All-Purpose flour and/or wheat flour.  For this recipe, I use bread flour.  Bread flour has a higher protein content than other flours, which is useful in bread-making because it creates longer and strong chains of gluten.  High gluten content helps to make bread that is airy and light.  Bread flour is bad for baking because it can make baked goods that are chewy and dense.  

Italian Bread

1 cup of hot water (between 100-110 degrees)
1 tablespoon of yeast (or 1 package of yeast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp butter, melted

Add the yeast to the hot water and let it sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Most hot water heaters are set to 120 degrees, so just letting your faucet heat up is sufficient for getting the correct temperature of water. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. Too cool water will not trigger any yeast growth. Mix together remaining ingredients (except butter) and add yeast mixture when it is ready.

Once mixed turn on to a floured surface and begin kneading. Knead dough for about 10 minutes. The kneading process is what builds the gluten strands. If you cheat and knead for less time, your bread will be dense.

Once you’re finished kneading, you should have a ball of smooth dough. Put into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

After it has doubled, punch down the dough and turn it on to a floured surface. Cover the dough ball with the bowl and let it rest of 15 minutes. Then shape the dough ball into a 12″ baguette shape. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

After it has doubled in size again, melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush it on top of the loaf. Bake it for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees until bread seems hollow when tapped.

My bread could have used a little more flour to hold its shape. When it rose the last time, it seemed to spread out rather than get higher.  Regardless, it was still light and flavorful and enjoyed by everyone in my family.  Bread making is interesting because the same recipe can turn out differently from one attempt to the next.  The most important thing to remember is to knead, knead, and knead your dough.  The first couple of times of kneading for 10 minutes can seem like forever, but it is crucial to make light and airy breads. Enjoy!

Potato Casserole – He Had 2 Helpings!

I frequently try new recipes, and they are all geared towards my food interests.  That means they are all vegetarian.  Lately, I have concluded that Steve is either grateful that I am willing to cook or genuinely likes my new cooking adventures because he always tries everything.  Sometimes he isn’t too crazy about what is sitting on the plate before him, but he still tries it.  Everything is edible, and I don’t think that he has ever refused to eat anything.   Noticing this willingness to try new things,  I’ve been entering dangerous waters and throwing in some foods that I know that he isn’t crazy about.  Last night was a good example.

Steve doesn’t like potatoes.  Besides French fries, he’ll eat roasted potatoes but only if they are cut up really small and roasted so long that their insides taste like French fries.  I don’t like baked potatoes either, but I’m a little more flexible in my potato consumption.  I found a recipe on and decided to make a few modifications and give it a go.  I like making dinners that enable me to do early prep work (chopping when a kid doesn’t need to be held), have a short assembly time, and then it bakes in the oven while I go back to playing with the kids.  Casseroles work really well for me.

I call this Potato Casserole despite listing it as Potato Pizza because I cooked it in a 13×9 baking dish, and the end result was that it looked like a casserole.  This dish is fantastic because it has loads of veggies in it, protein from the tofu and eggs, complex carbs from the potatoes, and dairy from cheese.  I used CalorieKing to get an approximate calorie count and was happy to discover that the entire casserole has approximately 2308 calories, which means that 1/9th or 1 serving is only 256 calories!   For all you locals out there, now is the time to make it because it has zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes.  Tis the season for zucchini!

Potato Casserole adapted from Potato Pizza

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: Total 35 minutes

3 potatoes, shredded (used food processor)
1 onion, finely chopped (used food processor)
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
2 small zucchinis, thinly sliced (used food processor)
2 small yellow squashes, thinly sliced ((used food processor)
1/2 med onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves (or ample dash of garlic powder if you don’t have fresh garlic)
7 oz extra firm tofu, crumbled (1/2 a block)
1 jar marinara sauce
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup mozzarella, optional (couldn’t really taste the cheese while eating)

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 13×9 dish with cooking spray.

2. Mix the shredded potato, chopped onion, flour, and eggs together. Press into the bottom of the pan and Bake for 20 minutes. Spray top with olive oil (or cooking spray) and broil for 5 minutes.

3. Saute squash, zucchini, sliced onion, garlic, and tofu in 1 tbsp of olive oil until tender.
4. Pour mixture on to top of cooked potato, pour jar of sauce over top, sprinkle cheese over surface and then add the sliced tomatoes. Bake for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Sorry for the lack of and not so great pictures.  Trying to feed myself, Steve, the baby, and trying to convince my son that yes, he really does like all the food on his plate makes taking pictures low priority!  BTW – he did end up eating everything on his plate.

Calling All Mac & Cheese Lovers!

My commute to work is 45 minutes with traffic and 30 minutes without.  That may not seem so bad when I tell you that I work at a company with true flex time.  What does that mean?  It means that I can come to work and leave whenever I want as long as I work my 40 hours a week (actually, for me that’s only 24 hours a week because I’m part-time).  In my Pre-K (pre-kids) life, I frequently worked 7-3:30pm.  My commute was always without traffic.  Life Post-K isn’t that easy.

The problem is that the later I leave for work, the later I get home.  We start getting our kids ready for bed around 7:15pm and my husband gets home at 6:30pm, so we need to be eating dinner as soon as he walks in the door to give our kids some time between dinner and bedtime.  This means that I need to prepare a healthy dinner while watching 2 little kids that haven’t seen me all day.  My son is all over me and the baby cries unless I hold her. 

How in the world can I get dinner on the table by 6:30 and give my kids all the love and attention that they need? I ask this question every day.  Yesterday, I planned some meals for the week and decided that one of them would be Veggie Mac & Cheese.  While this meal is easy to make, as any vegetarian knows, it takes time to chop all those vegetables (ion non-work days, I usually do my chopping at nap time).  Last night, I had the brilliant idea to make it before I went to bed so I had nothing to do when I got home today except pop it in the oven.  Even better, I made 2 of them and froze one for another crazy and chaotic night.

What I love about this recipe is that it is homemade (none of that processed, powdered cheese) and there are more veggies in it than pasta.  The original recipe was listed in Taste of Home magazine years ago.  I’ve made my own modifications to accommodate my family.   It tastes as good as it looks.

Veggie Mac & Cheese

2 cups whole grain elbow macaroni
3 cups chopped broccoli
3 cups chopped cauliflower
4 carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup flour
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup milk
3 cups sharp cheddar
salt & pepper

Saute the onion in olive oil.


Bring a pot of water to a boil and then add your macaroni.  Cook according to the package directions.  When there are 6 minutes of cooking remaining, add the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots to the boiling water.  When finished cooking, drain and return to the pot.

 When the onion is softened, add the flour and mix well. 

After about 30 seconds, add the milk and vegetable broth.  Bring to boiling, stirring frequently until it starts to thicken.

Add in cheese and stir until cheese is melted.  Season with salt and pepper.

Once the cheese is melted, pour into pot with pasta and vegetables and mix well.

You can either make one large serving of this dish by pouring the mixture into a 13×9 dish or break it up into 2 smaller serving dishes.  I have a 9×9 and an 8×8 dish that I used.  Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

The Vegan Experiment: Day 26

Day 26

Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, banana
Lunch: Farro salad, potato, corn, dinner roll
Snack: Animal crackers
Dinner: Brown rice salad, green beans

Today, I finally used that farro that I had such hard time finding, and it did not disappoint. I was expecting something more along the lines or brown rice. It’s chewier and denser than rice. It’s heartier and more filling. It isn’t surprising that a farro has more protein and fiber than brown rice.

I made a farro salad. It was meant as a side dish at a family dinner but could easily have been served as an entrée. I wish that I could remember where I found this recipe so that I can give you proper to credit to its creator. It was delicious.

Farro Salad

4 cups vegetarian broth
1 ½ cups farro
1 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 large garlic clove
½ tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil

  1. Combine broth and farro in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Drain.
  2. Mix garlic, seasoning, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add to farro with tomatoes, onion and basil. Mix well.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 25

Day 25

Breakfast: Kashi Golden Sunshine cereal with soy milk, banana
Lunch: Brown rice salad, crackers and hummus, mandarin orange
Snack: Almonds and cashews
Dinner: Tacos with refried beans, mango salsa and guacamole, tortilla chips

When you think of the typical American diet, you definitely don’t think vegan. Most people make dinners consisting of a meat, vegetable and starch. Vegan meal ideas can come from variety of sources, but one approach is to start thinking of other ethnicities. Chinese food doesn’t have to be provided only by takeout. Whip out your wok and throw together your own stir-fry or you can try my number one ethnic food choice – Mexican.

I certainly don’t remember all of our family dinners all that well but some stick out. My dad did a lot of the cooking, and he was very good at it (except for that time he made tuna noodle casserole – ewww). I remember his parmesan cheese sauce over homemade pasta. That was a good one. He made great soups too, all from his own homemade broths. We ate well, but one meal that I always loved was taco night. My parents would put out the fillings in different bowls on the table, and we would grab our tacos and start assembling. It was fun and delicious. To this day, I still love tacos and Mexican food in general. In my poor college days, I would enjoy an $.89 bean burrito from Taco Bell. My culinary inclinations have improved, and we frequently have homemade Mexican fare or a quick meal at Baja Fresh (they have the best Baja salsa!).

Fortunately, my husband is on board with the whole Mexican food as a staple in our house and has perfected homemade guacamole. Two reasons that I love guacamole are cumin and fresh cilantro. These are my two favorite spices. Each has a unique individual flavor and when combined together, they can enrich a simple combination of beans and veggies in no way you can imagine. Using these spices gives so a full flavor that you won’t ever miss the cheese if you’re eating Mexican vegan-style.

Here’s a tip on fresh cilantro that I just got from a friend. Buy it, wash it, let it dry and then freeze it. When you need some fresh cilantro, just pull a bunch from the freezer and add it to your dishes. I’ve been doing this for the past month, and it tastes just as fresh as when you bought it.

Guacamole is one of those things that everyone loves but how often do people really think about making it. I consider guacamole a health food. Avocados have tremendous health benefits. They are full of good fats that help maintain and even lower your cholesterol, and they are high in potassium which helps to regulate blood pressure. Guacamole is also a very popular food with kids. I think that it is the combination of the green color and a dip. What kid doesn’t like to dip foods? Of course, my son just eats it by the handful. Since I love guacamole so much, I’m going to share our recipe so that everyone can try it.

Making your own guacamole is about personal taste. There aren’t any measurements here, so just throw everything into a bowl and add more spices until you find your preferred flavor.

2 Avocados, mashed with a fork or use a mixer if you want it really smooth
Garlic powder (can use fresh garlic but garlic powder isn’t as potent)
Onion powder (same argument as garlic powder)
Hot Sauce (Chalupa is the best!)
Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Fresh tomatoes, chopped (not necessary to still have good guacamole)

Mix together and enjoy!

The Vegan Experiment: Day 24

Day 24

Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts and banana
Lunch: Baja Fresh Baja Burrito – no cheese or meat with pinto beans
Snack: Animal crackers
Dinner: Gardein Mandarin Chick’n, Brown rice salad

I gave faux meat yet another try and was again disappointed. It looks like meat, but it does not taste like meat. In fact, I think that substituting faux meat for real meat for a new vegetarian might result in a big failure in that person’s attempt to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. It just doesn’t taste good. You might be thinking that it is just my opinion, but you should know that I like most foods except for anything with dill in it and lima beans. No more faux meat for me. I’m sticking with beans, tempeh and I will keep working on tofu.

I have a complaint about yet another ingredient substitute. The citrus vinaigrette recipe came from It calls for 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese. I found a vegan version of parmesan at the grocery store. The first time I made this vinaigrette, I added the cheese per the recipe. I was skeptical because the cheese didn’t smell all that good and the taste was a little sketchy, but I was optimistic that combined with other ingredients you would never know it wasn’t real parmesan. Let’s just say that the vinaigrette was made a second time without the faux parmesan cheese and the cheese went in the garbage. Another strikeout for fake food.

Brown Rice Salad

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 sweet onion, chopped into big chunks
1 yellow pepper
1 cup cooked peas
1 cup chopped green leaf lettuce
citrus vinaigrette

1. Toss onion and pepper with olive oil, salt and pepper
2. Roast onion and pepper for 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Chop into smaller pieces.
3. Add all ingredients together.
4. Toss with citrus vinaigrette to taste.

Citrus Vinaigrette

1 finely chopped shallot
zest of 1 mandarin orange
juice of 2 mandarin oranges
2/3 cup of olive oil
1 tbsp of white wine vinegar

Mix all ingredients together.