How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week. Read more of this post

Vegetarian Yuletide Stew

Food styling and photography by Nicholas Efran.

My brother Ben Stallings invented this meal last night, and all 8 assembled relatives liked it!  The red and green colors are appropriate to the season.  It’s healthy, inexpensive, and quick to make.

p1040088To make about 10 main-dish servings, you will need

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 45 oz. canned black beans, or 3-4 cups cooked black beans
  • 45 oz. canned diced tomatoes, or 3-4 cups fresh or frozen-and-thawed diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups shredded kale
  • salt to taste
  • granulated garlic to taste
  • oregano to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • balsamic vinegar to taste

Dice onion and brown it in olive oil in a large saucepan.  Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans.

Combine all ingredients in the saucepan.  Simmer until kale is cooked to your liking.

Serve with rice and grated cheese for each person to add as she prefers.  (The serving in the picture is mixed with a lot of rice, and no cheese.)

Visit Real Food Friday for more great things to eat at your holiday gatherings!

5 Fish-Free Family-Friendly Meals for Lent

It’s the third week of Lent, and if you observe the custom of fasting from land-animal meat on Fridays (or on all the days of Lent) but you normally eat lots of meat, by now you’re probably getting tired of fish sticks and macaroni-and-cheese!  It’s time for something different–and less expensive, too.

Here are 5 legume-based meals my family really likes.  Our kids are 11-year-old Nicholas and 21-month-old Lydia.  Most of these meals also have been eaten happily by Nick’s elementary-aged friends at some point.  If someone you’re feeding doesn’t like spicy food, though, you’ll want to be cautious with the pepper and ginger–maybe try half the amount the recipe specifies, or just leave it out, depending on your sensitivity level.

My family could eat all these meals in a week.  If you’re unaccustomed to eating legumes, don’t start out with too many as they may upset your digestion–but one meal a week should be fine.  Why not legumes on Friday instead of fish on Friday?  (Is it just because legume doesn’t start with F?)

All of these meals are gluten-free and vegan, unless you choose some of the optional embellishments or side dishes. Read more of this post

All-Natural Vegetarian Non-Refrigerated Convenience Foods

This is not a sponsored post.  This is a recommendation of products I tried and liked.

Daniel and I try to make enough real, from-scratch, healthy food that I (working in an office) can take leftovers for my lunch every day and he (working at home) can get something ready to eat within a few minutes rather than spend time cooking at lunchtime.  It works out better at some times than others.  In the past year, with the additional distractions of getting our baby daughter ready to go each day, I’ve had more days when I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, couldn’t spare the attention to figure out what leftovers were available, or wasn’t able to carry a lunch because I was bringing something to work (like dish detergent) and there’s a limit to what I can carry along with Lydia and all her gear as we commute by bus!  I was grabbing Trader Joe’s meals from our freezer sometimes and eating in restaurants much more often than normal.  I like restaurants, but at $6-$9 per lunch, that gets expensive!

One day I was buying some milk for my coffee and mixed nuts for snacking at the CVS store half a block from work when I noticed a sale on foods in pouches and noticed that many of these were vegetarian foods.  I took a closer look and saw surprisingly unobjectionable ingredients.
P1010735 P1010736 P1010737 P1010738
Read more of this post

Grildebeen Burgers (homemade veggie burgers)

Most supermarkets these days sell convenient frozen veggie burgers.  We’ve eaten a lot of these, and most of them are quite tasty and nutritious.  But they tend to cost around a dollar per patty, and they’re packed in plastic, and they’ve been shipped across the continent in a freezer truck, and many of them feature large amounts of genetically modified, isolated soy protein.

This is one recipe for homemade veggie burgers that we really like.  Four years ago, I explained how we were still calling them by the original recipe’s name even though it didn’t make sense with our modification of the cooking instructions…and how that made me think of a future animal, the Grildebeest.  In the comments, my brother asked if we’d now be calling the burgers Grildebeens.  Ultimately, yes, we modified the recipe to be a little more to our taste, and we are still making these burgers regularly and calling them Grildebeen Burgers.  So here’s our recipe! Read more of this post

Ginger Black Bean Soup (slow cooker)

Meatless MondayWe got a slow cooker a little over a year ago, and we like it a lot!  It’s a great way to make a lot of food without having to stand over it stirring, which is a relief in hot weather and convenient anytime.  So far, we’ve only made other people’s recipes, as we develop our sense of what ingredients in what proportions will become food (rather than a watery mess or a blackened sludge).

This recipe is merely a change of seasoning for the Vegan Black Bean Soup recipe from Stuffed Veggies.  We made that soup three times and liked it, but the Mexican flavor was too similar to the Bean Burritos and Mexican Pizza that are staples in our diet.  This variation turned out to be just what we wanted!

To make a big pot of soup (8-10 bowls) you will need: Read more of this post

Flexican Cornbread Pizza

Meatless MondayTasty TuesdayHearth & Soul Blog HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

This recipe has a history.  It started with my mom’s trusty recipe for Mexican Pizza.  Then came my serendipitous discoveries that (a) it can be adapted to a non-Mexican-flavored version, which my family loves just as much as the Mexican version, and (b) it can be baked in a toaster-oven.  More than a year ago, I opened a contest to name this recipe…but none of the suggestions really grabbed me.  Meanwhile, my life-partner Daniel has referred to it at least once as Flexican Cornbread Pizza, which I think is a pretty good name, and he’s been kind of depressed lately, but he really enjoyed this meal when I made it last night, so…

THE WINNER IS DAN EFRAN, CREATOR OF COOL STUFF TO BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY!!!  YAAAYYY!!!

Absolutely no nepotism was involved.  It’s really more about my fondness for words that combine two other words.  This recipe is flexible and can be Mexican in flavor, and it’s like a pizza with a cornbread crust, so Flexican Cornbread Pizza is a perfect name.  Unless we come up with something even punnier.

This recipe can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  Here is the Mexican version, and here is an Italian version I made on a hot summer day, and below is the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on last night’s cozy January dinner.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan.  From start to finish, you can make it in 30 minutes or less, even if your onions or other vegetables are frozen shredded–they’ll thaw easily in the first stage of cooking.

These instructions are for baking in a standard oven, on a cookie sheet with sides.  See the above Italian version to adjust quantities to make a 9″ square pan to bake in the toaster-oven.

To make 6 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked and rinsed beans. I used pinto beans last night; I rinsed 2 cans, set aside 1/4 cup for the baby’s dinner (she also had black olives and Cheerios), and used the rest on the pizza.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 onion, or 1 or 2 green onions.  I used the last bits left over from a sweet white onion we’d cut up for other meals.
  • vegetables.  I used 4 big leaves of kale, 8 large white button mushrooms, and a big handful of black olives.
  • herbs, fresh or dried.  I used 1 stalk dried rosemary and 2 stalks dried thyme.  (Did you know?  Most fresh herbs will turn into dried herbs if you just put them in an open-topped plastic bag in the refrigerator and forget about them.  It doesn’t work with basil or parsley because they’re too wet and will get moldy.)
  • other seasonings to taste.  I used about 1/4 tsp. each of sea salt and white pepper.
  • Optional: 1 cup marinara sauce.  We didn’t use any this time.  Another option is to leave it off the pizza but serve it on the side.
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • Grease for the baking pan. I used coconut oil.
  • 1 cup cornmeal.
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • 1 cup flour.  I used whole-wheat flour.
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder.
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, applesauce, or pumpkin puree. I used yogurt. (If applesauce is sweetened, omit syrup/honey.)
  • 1 Tbsp. sorghum syrup or honey.
  • Optional: 1 egg.  The crust holds together better if you use egg than if you don’t.
  • Optional: 1 cup grated cheese.  I used mozzarella.

Dice onion, any fresh herbs, and vegetables.  Saute them in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, in a skillet, for a few minutes, crumbling in any dried herbs and adding other seasonings.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the cookie sheet, bottom and sides, from one end to about 3 inches from the other end.  (If you want your crust really thin, you can grease the whole pan.  I prefer to make it thicker.)

Mix cornmeal, salt, flour, and baking powder in a bowl.  Make a well in the center and put yogurt, syrup, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and egg in it.  Mix them together and then mix with the dry ingredients; don’t mix too long or hard, just until combined.  (Over-mixing will pop the bubbles created by the baking powder, resulting in less fluffy cornbread.)

Pour the batter into the pan–start at one end and spread batter toward the other end, using a rubber scraper, until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2 inch deep.

If using sauce, spread it over the batter.  Sprinkle vegetable mixture and beans evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle optional cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into rectangles and serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  Leftover pieces easily reheat in the microwave or toaster-oven.

Knock Out a Cold Quickly and Naturally!

Last Wednesday, I felt like I was coming down with a cold: runny nose, itchy throat, ominous heavy feeling in the middle of my head.  The typical cold lasts 7-10 days.  Bummer.

Today is Tuesday.  I’m still having an episode of sneezing and nose-blowing every few hours, but otherwise I feel great!  I’ve been feeling pretty well since Sunday.  Even on Saturday, I got through a major grocery-shopping expedition without collapsing afterward.  So really, I was only sick for 2-3 days, and it didn’t turn into a lung or sinus infection like my colds often do.  It’s possible that this was just a weaker virus than some, but I think that my treatment of myself during this cold helped it to run its course more quickly than it might.  Here’s what I did:

Read more…

Green Ribbon Lentils

Almost two years ago, I saw this recipe for Garlicky Lentils and Tomatoes, which is very flexible.  We have tried it several different ways, and this variation has become a favorite.

This recipe is easy, cheap, and pretty quick!  It is vegan and gluten-free.  It has lots of fiber, vitamins, protein, and iron.  It can stand alone as a meal or be eaten with bread, over rice, or even on a bun like Sloppy Joe.

It’s a great way to use some of the tomatoes that are so abundant at this time of year–but it also tastes great made with canned tomatoes at any time of year.  It’s also yet another way to use kale, a vegetable that tends to be affordably priced year-round and freezes well.

Best of all, this recipe appeals to our nine-year-old son, and it gets a lot of healthy dark-green vegetable into him! Read more…

Bean Wraps with Smoked Gouda and Pineapple

Meatless MondayUPDATE: Eight months later, I’m sharing this recipe at Meatless Monday.  It’s a great quick meal at any time of year because all the ingredients are shelf-stable except for the cheese and wrapper; it doesn’t use fresh foods that are in season at a particular time of year–unless you live in pineapple country!

Don’t eat cheese?  Baked smoked tofu would be delicious in this, too.

Last Saturday, despite being extremely pregnant, I managed to attend and enjoy both a very nice birthday party at a nature reserve and the springtime celebration of the Edible Schoolyard at my son’s school–but then I was very tired.  On the way home from the school event, I asked nine-year-old Nicholas to help me think of something quick and easy we could make for dinner after I’d had some time to lie down.

He was eager to eat some of the smoked gouda cheese we had bought at Trader Joe’s on the way home from the birthday party.  (To my surprise, it cost only a little more than basic cheeses like cheddar at our supermarket.)  He also remembered that we’d bought tortillas….  “Let’s have a different flavor of bean burritos!”

I felt that cannellini beans (white kidney beans) would be the variety most likely to taste good with smoked gouda.  I thought some kind of fruit might be good with them, but we didn’t have apples or pears, hmmm…

Nicholas found a can of pineapple rings in the pantry and announced that he would grill them on the George Foreman grill.  This went well, although it was kind of smoky–we opened the window!  He used the drip tray to catch the juice that ran off, and used the sort of fingered spatula thing that comes with the grill to scrape off the blackened pineapple juice after each ring.  While he was doing that, I heated and seasoned the beans.

Our bean wraps were delicious!  Very savory, almost bacon-like flavor.  Here’s the recipe we invented!

To make 3 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 2 cans or 1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (or other mild-flavored beans)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
  • sea salt and white pepper to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp. of each)
  • about 1/5 pound smoked gouda cheese
  • 3 large flour tortillas (Alternatively, I bet this would taste great wrapped in lettuce leaves, for a low-carb/gluten-free variant.)
  • 6 pineapple rings

Peel and slice the garlic.  Saute it in olive oil in a large skillet, not too hot.  Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans.  When garlic begins to brown, add beans, tarragon, salt, and pepper to skillet.  Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, dice the cheese, and grill the pineapple (or brown it in a smaller skillet or in the toaster-oven) if desired.

Sprinkle cheese over surface of beans.  Cover pan and turn off heat.  Warm the tortillas (or wash the lettuce).  Cut each pineapple ring in half.

Divide bean mixture evenly among wraps.  Arrange 4 half-rings of pineapple atop the beans in each wrap.  Wrap them up.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more great recipes! Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for lots of useful tips!

CONTEST: Name This Recipe!

I’ve developed a main dish that my family really likes, but we can’t figure out what to call it!  “That non-Mexican-flavored Mexican Pizza that fits in the toaster-oven” or “Beans and veggies and herbs baked on cornbread” is too cumbersome.  Surely someone on the Internet will be able to think of the perfect, short, catchy name for this delicious food!

UPDATE: The winner is Dan Efran, creator of cool stuff to brighten your day!  This dish is now called Flexican Cornbread Pizza, and if you click that link you can read another variation on this versatile recipe.

This recipe is flexible and can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  I’m writing the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on what I used the last time I made it. In an appropriate pan, it will fit into a toaster-oven, allowing you to bake it using less energy and heating up your home less than the full-size oven.  The baking time is short, which makes it ideal for warm weather and busy days.  (I’ll admit, though, that when it’s 92 degrees and humid, like it is here in Pennsylvania this week, we don’t bake anything or even make toast!)  Serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan. To make 4 main-dish servings, you will need: Read more

Mexican Pizza

I mentioned in my most recent multi-week menu post making Mexican Pizza, an easy and versatile meal that my mom makes frequently.  As I wrote that, it occurred to me to ask Mom if there is a recipe for Mexican Pizza or she’s just been winging it all along!  She has no written recipe, but with her input, I’ve written some guidelines for making Mexican Pizza.

To make one pan–a meal or main dish for 4-6 people–you will need:

  • 1 batch of freshly mixed cornbread batter, the amount that normally would bake in a 9- or 10-inch square/round pan.  Use your favorite recipe, but consider decreasing the sugar.  You could add a little chili powder if you want.  If you don’t have a favorite recipe, see below.
  • 1 1/2 cups (or 15-oz. can) cooked Mexican-flavored beans.  These might be left over from another meal, prepared by your favorite Mexicanating process, or  just plain beans plus 1 cup salsa.  Mom suggests this: Drain and rinse a can of pinto or red beans; combine with 8 oz. (1 cup) tomato sauce fortified with chili powder, dried diced onion, oregano, garlic powder to taste.
  • 1-2 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese.
  • Optional ingredients: peppers, olives, etc.
  • 9″x13″ baking pan, or cookie sheet with sides.
  • Grease for the pan.  I like coconut oil.
  • Optional cold toppings to add after baking: guacamole, plain yogurt or sour cream, shredded lettuce, cilantro.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the pan.  Pour in the batter and spread it to cover the bottom of the pan.  If using a cookie sheet, start from one end and spread batter toward the other end until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2″ deep and may not fill the whole cookie sheet.

Sprinkle beans and optional ingredients evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve with optional cold toppings. Read on for the cornbread recipe!

What to Serve for Coffee Hour

Many places of worship, and a lot of non-religious organizations, have a “coffee hour” or “fellowship time” or some other name for “when we all mill around and have a little something to eat and drink.”  At our church, this is a particularly vital time.  Many interesting conversations happen, friendships are formed, and plans for activities are worked out during coffee hour.  We’re really into food, too, especially healthy and/or unusual food, and we have a lot of people in the parish who enjoy cooking–but we don’t get competitive about it.  Coffee hour is not a time to outdo each other with as-seen-in-glossy-magazines fancy cuisine, just a time to share some good food.

I’ve been to a lot of churches where the food served alongside coffee is always super-sweet stuff like cookies and donuts.  I appreciate a treat, sure, but with my metabolism, a cup of coffee plus a snack of white sugar, white flour, and vegetable oil leads to a carbohydrate/caffeine buzz that feels a little scary while it’s happening (I can lose my temper quickly in that state!) and even worse when it drops me suddenly, hungry and shaking, just about the time I get home.  A coffee hour that follows a late-morning event is being served around lunchtime, when most people’s stomachs are pretty empty, and then it may take a while to get home and cook lunch . . . so it’s better to serve food with some protein and/or fiber so it digests more slowly.  Remember that it’s not a sit-down meal, though!  You want to serve finger foods that aren’t too messy to eat off a napkin or small plate while standing.  To allow for various tastes, provide at least two kinds of food, and if you know that someone in your group is allergic to a food (or abstains from a certain food for some other reason), bring a food that is free of the allergen and label it accordingly.  Because people do like sweets and may feel annoyed if the refreshments seem “too healthy”, serve something that’s at least somewhat sweet–but it doesn’t have to be nutritionally bankrupt!–and also something savory, creating an appealing variety of foods.

My seven-year-old Nicholas and I have a lot of experience serving coffee hour!  All his life we’ve taken several turns a year to bring the food, set up, and clean up.  Nicholas gradually has become more and more helpful, and these days he does nearly half the work of choosing serving plates, arranging food on them, filling the cream pitcher and ice-water pitchers (or sometimes we make lemonade), and getting out the napkins and sugar bowl and coffee-stirring spoons and coffee cups and water glasses and, if needed, small plates and/or forks and/or serving utensils.  (We always use real dishes; it’s easy now that our church has a dishwasher, but even when I had to hand-wash, it didn’t take a whole lot of time.)

I’m going to share our menu for coffee hour this past Sunday, and then I’ll list a few other foods that have been popular at other coffee hours.  Read more…

EASY Homemade Baby Food!

This is NOT a paid endorsement.  This is my unsolicited review of a product I liked.

This is an idea that’s been around a while (both my mother and Daniel’s say they had something like this when we were babies in the early 1970s) but I hardly ever see today’s parents doing it or talking about it.

Instead of buying baby food in those little glass jars or the horrible plastic packets that have come on the market recently, instead of spending time cooking and pureeing and freezing and storing foods especially for your baby, just feed your baby some of the foods you’re eating!  If the food requires biting or chewing that your baby can’t do yet due to lack of teeth, use a convenient hand-powered grinder to turn it into baby food!  It’s very easy and allows you to make baby food anywhere, on short notice, in exactly the amount you want, without using any electricity.

Our son Nicholas did not get any teeth until he was nearly a year old and didn’t have molars for months after that, so he needed mushy foods for a long time.  We had a busy schedule–Daniel was working full-time outside the home, and I was working part-time and was a Girl Scout leader–so making healthy meals for ourselves was a bit of a struggle already, yet we needed to provide some kind of tasty nutritious mush for the babysitter to serve Nicholas at lunchtime every weekday beginning at six months old.  Luckily, we had found a KidCo food mill, very clean and in the original package, for $1 at a yard sale before he was born.

This handy gadget turns almost any food into a soft paste–but with a little bit of texture–in about one minute. It’s really wonderful! Read more…

7 Delicious Meatless Recipes from Other Sites

Food on Fridays7 Quick Takes FridayHearth & Soul Hop

We enjoy plenty of our own recipes, but I also have fun browsing recipes online and copying down recipes we might like.  Here are 7 that have earned pages in our recipe binder.  If you are vegetarian or vegan or have given up meat for Lent or are observing Meatless Mondays or meatless Lenten Fridays, you’ll appreciate that none of these recipes contains red meat or poultry, only one contains fish, and the last 4 contain no animal foods at all.

1. Lemon Creamy Salmon with Macaroni and a Salad from Crest Cottage Creations

This actually is a recipe for chicken, but we made it with salmon (and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth), and it was fabulous!!  Just open a can of salmon, take out the bones if you prefer, and use it in place of the chicken.  We also used whole-milk yogurt in place of the cream, and the sauce was delicious.  This is a recipe for a full meal: fish in creamy sauce, pasta, and greens with dressing and dried cranberries.  We used kale as our greens–lightly cooked in the oil and vinegar.  My seven-year-old assistant chef appreciated having all his meal components in separate dishes (he even ate the dried cranberries separately) while his parents mixed everything together.

2. Cheesy Walnut Burgers from Taste of Home

This is the recipe my brother found when trying to replicate a burger he’d enjoyed in a restaurant.  These are pretty high in fat but no worse than a hamburger, and boy are they scrumptious!  They are easy to make, freeze well, and after defrosting (or refrigeration) can be reheated on a George Foreman grill.  This recipe works fine with pecans instead of walnuts, if that’s what you have.

3. Creamed Kale with Caramelized Onion from Budget Saving Mom

This is intended as a side dish, but in my enthusiastic opinion, you can stuff a baked potato with it and call it a meal!  The nutmeg really makes it perfect.

4. Brown Rice Salad from My Sweet and Savory

This recipe is ideal for summer picnics or potluck dinners, but it’s also good at any time of year as a side dish or snack that you can make in advance, stash in the refrigerator for a week or so, and eat cold.  The flavor improves as it soaks.  The combination of ingredients may sound odd, but it’s really good.  I’m not a big fan of brown rice, even though I know it’s healthier than white rice, so I was thrilled to find this recipe just after I had bought brown rice on sale.

5. One-bowl Pumpkin Bread/Muffins from Kitchen Stewardship

This is easier than most pumpkin bread recipes yet is the best of any of the several recipes we’ve tried!  Katie’s post includes a “healthy remake” version (that’s the one we use, substituting sorghum syrup for molasses) and helpful suggestions for using up excess pumpkin–although my solution to that problem is just to double the recipe!

6. Garlic Kale Sweet Potato Soup from 365 Days of Kale

This soup is packed with nutritional super-foods and is hearty enough to make a meal all by itself!  (Why, yes, we do eat a lot of kale in our family.  It’s nutritious, it’s cheap, and we’re not worried about it being “goitrogenic.”)  Between the sweet potatoes and the beans, this tasty soup is starchy enough that even I feel full without eating bread or crackers.  We’ve made it several times and think it’s even better with slightly more sweet potato than suggested.  It also works with pinto beans when cannellini beans are too expensive.  It has a rich, tasty, Italian flavor.  Don’t worry about the huge quantity of garlic; it mellows with cooking.

7. Vegan Ginger Cookies from Food.com

These are the cookies we baked last fall when one of our son’s friends celebrated his birthday with a cookie competition: Each guest brought a batch of homemade cookies, we all watched as the birthday boy sampled each one and conveyed his impressions, the guests snacked on the remaining cookies while the birthday boy and his parents prepared the award certificates, and then the certificates were presented with much pomp.  Our cookies won Most Crunchy, a high compliment in this boy’s opinion.  He is vegan and allergic to corn, which ruled out several of our favorite cookie recipes, so we were thrilled when this one worked so well.  Now it has joined our favorite cookie recipes!

Instant hummus and falafels!

Meatless MondayMy mostly-vegetarian family likes to eat hummus (garbanzo bean and sesame seed dip) and falafels (garbanzo bean and pea fritters) but both of these foods take a while to make from scratch.  Practically every grocery store sells ready-to-serve hummus these days, but it is pricey and gets moldy quickly.  A few stores and restaurants sell pre-made falafels to heat up at home, but they’re expensive and not all that good.

Luckily, Fantastic Foods makes dry mixes for making both hummus and falafels.  I can’t call the falafels instant because you still have to cook them, but there is a quick and easy way to do that, too.  Neither the convenience nor the cooking method makes either food less healthy than if made from scratch!  Read more…

The Magic Bullet does NOT work for me!

That’s strange; I thought Works-for-Me Wednesday this week was supposed to be a “What’s not working for you?” edition, but the hostess has explained how to make a burlap wreath that apparently works for her, and now that I think about it, last week she explained why online calendars don’t work for her.  I must have gotten the dates confused.  Well, anyway, here is something that’s not working for me:

The Magic Bullet is a blender/chopper system that supposedly “does ANY job in 10 seconds or less.”  Seriously, any job?  Really, they mean only food-cutting jobs, like making smoothies, dicing vegetables, grating cheese, chopping nuts, crushing ice, pureeing beans, etc.  Still, that sounds good!  We bought one on special at Costco almost two years ago.

Our conclusion, after trying hard to learn its ways, is that the Magic Bullet does a few kinds of jobs in 10 minutes or less and is annoying, if not incompetent, at all the other things it claims it can do. Read more…

Masoor Dal (Indian Lentils) with Carrots

Meatless MondayThis started with a recipe I found online, but we’ve made some adjustments. The most interesting (though not authentically Indian) one is adding carrots, which turns this from just a high-protein main dish into a full meal. It’s easy and pretty quick to make.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan, it’s gluten-free and nut-free, and it tastes good (and is safe) at various temperatures, so it’s great for potlucks of people with diverse dietary needs.  It’s soft and mushy, a great baby food.  It’s one of those spicy foods that makes you feel better in the summer without requiring a long time over a hot stove, but it’s also a comforting food for winter suppers.  My mom told me she once made this recipe on a very hot day in her electric skillet on top of the central air-conditioning unit so that she could cook in her breezy back yard instead of heating up the kitchen! Read more…

Homemade Frozen Shredded Vegetables

Like reusing glass jars, this is an idea I’ve mentioned before that has increased its importance in my day-to-day life to the point that it deserves its own article!

When you have more of a vegetable than you can eat before it goes bad, clean and shred the extra all at once, put measured portions into small bags, and freeze it.  Now you have convenient quantities to use in future recipes!  Depending on the cooking technique, you may not even have to thaw them before using.  You’ll save time, compared to cutting up fresh vegetables in a bunch of separate sessions.  You’ll save money, compared to wasting fresh produce or buying more expensive pre-sliced frozen vegetables.  Read more…

Spring Sale Vegetables for Supper…and Breakfast!

The sale items in the produce departments of our local supermarkets for the last few weeks have included kale, Vidalia onions (at half the typical onion price–must be a bumper crop!), mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.  We have favorite recipes using all of these ingredients, but I came up with a new one on the spur of the moment that was so good that when I saw the leftovers in the refrigerator the next morning, I just could not convince myself to eat anything other than that! Read more…