Monday, June 30, 2014

Tomato Rice Soup and Grilled Cheese à la Melanie

What makes the grilled cheese special? Well, first it's on the best kind of bread - thick, caraway-laced rye. It also uses Daiya cheese and dill pickles. Yes, pickles! I don't know why I started doing this, but I started adding pickles to my grilled cheeses when I was a picky child who considered grilled cheese to be a food group. Add them when you add the cheese  - it's good, I promise! Do not use bread and butter pickles or any other sweet pickle; I have tried it and it's not something I would repeat.

Hey look, it's another recipe with tomatoes! 

This tomato rice soup is very good - it was rated a 5/5!


2 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 stalk of celery, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
4 large tomatoes (about 2 lbs) peeled*, cored, and chopped
1 tsp Parisien Bonnes Herbes
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups of broth (I used 6 cups of water,  1 cube of mushroom bouillon and 1.5 cubes of not-beef bouillon, but pretty much anything should work)
1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice

*Peeling tomatoes is easy! Boil enough water to cover them, make a little X on the bottom, put them in the water for 90 seconds, then drop them into an ice water bath. The skins peel off very easily!

Heat the oil and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook on medium for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.  Add the garlic, spices, and tomatoes and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring regularly. Add the broth, stir well, and cook for 20 minutes on low, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take an immersion blender and blend the soup briefly (you can also add about 2 cups to a blender if you don't have an immersion blender). You want to leave most of the texture, but blending it a little makes it thick. I served with black pepper and a sprinkle of dill weed.

Makes 6 1-cup servings

Nutrition (per cup):

Calories 131
Calories from Fat 46
Total Fat 5.1 g
Potassium 395 mg
Carbohydrates 20 g
Dietary Fiber 4.8 g
Sugars 4.9 g
Protein 6.2 g
Vitamin A 77%  
Vitamin C 36%
Calcium 1%
Iron 12%

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spicy Oven Roasted Tomato Scones

My daughter hates tomatoes, so I only cook with them when she's not around (or I use tomato paste/sauce which she doesn't mind). Since she's at camp, the idea for this savory tomato-laden scone came to mind as I was thinking about what to make for breakfast this morning.

This one is SUPER good!! I asked Aaron how it was and he said "It was excellent. You should sell those." :) They're not terribly healthy - they're scones - but they're so satisfying that when paired with a serving of veggie sausages, one is enough! The list of ingredients is long, but it really comes together quickly!

1 TBS flax meal + 3 TBS warm water, whisked together in a small bowl and set aside
2 cups flour
1 TBS baking powder
1 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1.5 tsp red pepper flakes (use less if you're not into spice)
1 tsp jalapeno flakes (optional - adjust for preferred level of spice)
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp dried basil
1 pinch ground fennel or pizza seasoning
5 TBS Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
1/2 cup Kirkland Oven Roasted Tomatoes (from Costco - this is what I used) or sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped into little pieces
1/2 cup plain soymilk

Preheat your oven to 400 and get a baking sheet ready (I use parchment for anything that goes in the oven under 420 degrees).

In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and all of the herbs and spices (garlic to fennel). Mix it well, then cut in the margarine using a pastry blender or forks until it looks pebbly. Add in the tomatoes, the flax/water combo, and the soymilk and mix - you'll probably need to use your hands to get it to mix fully. Then knead it for a minute. Form into a circle on the baking sheet, then cut it like it's an 8-slice pizza. Put it into the oven for 15-18 minutes, then serve hot.

per scone
Calories: 204
Fat: 9.4 g
Carbs: 26 g
Fiber: 2.1 g
Sugars: 3.6 g
Protein: 4.3 g
Vitamin A: 2%
Vitamin C: 5%
Calcium: 4%
Iron: 8%

Friday, June 27, 2014

Gobi Matar Palak Masala (Spiced Cauliflower, Peas & Spinach)

I came home with the idea of making something of the baby bok choy in my fridge, but then I spotted the cauliflower and I knew I needed to use it soon. I didn't eat much during the day, so I wanted something that would really fill me up. I decided to make a spicy cauliflower, peas, and spinach concoction. It was very flavorful and made 4 large, vitamin-rich, low-cal portions. It would be just as good without the spinach, so if you don't have any on-hand, you can easily skip it.

2 TBS canola or coconut oil
3 small onions (or 2 medium onions), diced
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1.5 tsp garam masala
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, grated/minced
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
.5 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste - if you don't love spice, start at 1/4 tsp and work your way up!)
1 tsp turmeric
1.5 cups vegetable broth
1 (15 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 cup green peas (I used frozen)
3 oz baby spinach
salt to taste (taste it first; I barely needed any)

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cauliflower and cook for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Add in all of the spices and mix it up. It's going to be all pretty and yellow and dotted with seeds! Add the tomatoes and the broth and simmer for about 30 minutes, covered. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Then add the peas and cook for 5 more minutes and toss in the spinach for a final 5 minutes. You know it's ready when the cauliflower is falling apart or is at least easy to smash with a spoon.

Makes 4 satisfying servings (about 1.5 cups each!) and is tasty over basmati rice.

Nutritional Information (for 1/4 of recipe)

Calories: 198
Fat: 7.3 g
Carbs: 27.6 g
Fiber: 9.5g
Sugars: 11.3 g
Protein: 6.7 g
Vitamin A: 81%
Vitamin C: 171%
Calcium: 9%
Iron: 17%

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Banana Muffins for Everyone

So many of my weekend brunch recipes contain banana. This is largely due to the fact that bananas have only a brief time in the zone of perfection and then they become way too ripe overnight. I buy them fairly regularly and wind up with brown mushy bananas pretty often. So what to do?

Banana pancakes are good for when you only have 1-2 ripe bananas and not much time, banana muffins are good for when you have 3 to 4 and more time, and banana bread is for when you have 3-4 and plenty of time. Smoothies are also a good option, if you're feeling like not turning on the oven at all! You can peel and slice the bananas, then stick them in a bag and put them in the freezer for later use in smoothies, too, if you're not in a banana mood.

So nutty! Just right for me, perfectly repulsive to the rest of my household!

Today, I made banana muffins for everyone. Why are they muffins for everyone? Because you can pick the toppings at the end to customize for your own preferences! I live in a house full of nut haters, but I LOVE banana bread with walnuts or pecans, so I can sprinkle nuts on top and have it my way. My boyfriend and my daughter are really into chocolate with everything, so I add chips to the tops of theirs. I usually make a few Switzerland muffins with no toppings so everyone can enjoy them! 

2 tablespoons flax meal + 6 tablespoons water, mixed together in a small bowl and set aside
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups well-mashed bananas (about 3 or 4 bananas)
1/2 cup applesauce (you can add a 1:1 ratio to make up 1/4 cup of the banana if you don't quite have enough)
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

Grab another mixing bowl and mash the banana in it. I used to use a fork, but it's easier to use a potato masher if you have one. If you can't get it to a pureed sort of state, you'll want to get a fork and make it so.  Add in the flax stuff (should be thick), apple sauce, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla, stirring well.

Pour  the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the flour and mix until totally incorporated (don't over-mix!)

Grease a muffin tin - you don't want to use the paper liners for this one.

Then place a little more than 1/4 cup of batter in each (this fills my medium muffin cups to the top).

Top with walnuts, pecans, or chocolate chips (if desired), then put into the oven for about 20 minutes (start checking around 17 minutes, especially if your oven runs hot). They're done when a knife stuck into the middle of the tallest muffin comes out clean and they're very slightly browned on top. Let them sit for a few minutes so they don't fall apart when you try to get them out of the muffin tin.

Nutrition (not so healthy, but hey, it's brunch and 2 will definitely fill a person up!)
Per 12th of the recipe without optional toppings:
167 calories
6.3 g fat
25.8 g carbohydrates
2 g fiber
7 g sugar
3.5 g protein
6% vitamin C
1% calcium
5% iron

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tropical Black Beans

I waited too long to start dinner, so I decided to make something really quick and easy. This fits the bill!

I served it over pressure cooker polenta. If you have a pressure cooker, start it before you even cut a vegetable. Just add 4 cups water or broth (broth is more flavorful, but water keeps it totally neutral if you want to make a big batch for other uses) to 1 cup dry polenta, stir, and cook for 9 minutes on high pressure. Let the pressure release naturally while you're cooking the rest of the meal.

1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 TBS olive oil
1 cup mango chunks (I used frozen, but fresh would be wonderful)
1 cup pineapple tidbits (I used frozen, but canned or fresh would work well)
1 can (~16 oz) of black beans, drained
2 teaspoons minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp lime zest
1 pinch saffron
1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional - to taste)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice

Pan fry the pepper and onion in the olive oil until softened. Add in the mango and pineapple and cook for a few minutes over medium-high heat. Add in the rest of the ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced and the flavors start to come together (about 10 minutes). Serve on polenta, rice, or quinoa and dinner is done!  

I sprinkled extra lime zest and crushed pepper on top and added a generous bit of hot sauce (Pukka scotch bonnet sauce is REALLY nice here if you like spicy stuff). 

Nutritional Information for 1/4 of the recipe of tropical beans:

186 calories
36 g carbs
7 g protein
4.1 g fat
7.4 g fiber
13 g sugar
9% Vitamin A
168% Vitamin C
5% Calcium
14% Iron

1/4 of the polenta adds:

130 calories
 27 g carbs
 3 g protein
 0 g fat
 2 g fiber
7% Iron

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Stuffed Shells

My mom made stuffed shells while I was growing up and they were a favorite dinner of mine! This is really different since it's not stuffed with dairy products, but it definitely hits the spot for me!!

Preheat the oven to 350. Grab a jar of your favorite pasta sauce (or 3 cups of good homemade stuff) and pour about a cup and a half into the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish. Set that aside. Note: If you like spicy things, a fra diavolo or arrabbiata sauce is super good here, because it really stands out next to the creaminess of the shells. I love Delallo Pomodoro Fresco Arrabbiata. It's a bit pricey, so I always pick up several jars when I find it on sale. It's SO flavorful and most people think it's VERY spicy.  

For the filling:

1 block of extra firm tofu, liquid drained off
1/2 cup of raw, unsalted cashews
1/2 TBS lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt (do not use salt if your cashews are salted!)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 TBS olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp basil (optional)
1/2 tsp oregano (optional)

Put cashews in a pan with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, allowing them to soften. Boil for 5 minutes, then cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes (you want the cashews to soften). Now's a good time to boil the pasta!

Once the cashews have gotten softer, put them in a high-powered blender (Vitamix, Blendtec, etc) along with the water that you boiled them in. Blend until smooth and creamy. If you don't have a strong blender, they may need to soak much longer, even overnight. You'll want to add water if this happens - the result should be a thick, creamy, and totally smooth puree. To that puree, add the tofu, lemon juice, salt, nutritional yeast, olive oil, and garlic, plus the spices if you're using them. Get this all nice and smooth too. It'll be very thick - you want that!

For the pasta: 

This makes enough for 20 shells (usually labeled as jumbo shells), so boil 24 shells. There will always be a few that self-destruct and this helps so you don't have to worry about that. If you've been a known destroyer of noodles, maybe make 26. Or heck, make the whole box and save the extra noodles for something else! Once they're done cooking (15 minutes, usually) you can drain them and set them aside.

For the finished product:

If the shells are hot, run cool water over them. Grab either an 1/8 cup measuring cup or a tablespoon, get the shells, filling, and the baking dish nearby, and pick up your first shell. You'll put 1/8 of a cup (or 2 TBS) of filling in each shell, then set it aside seam-up in the sauced baking dish. Keep doing this until you have a tight little bundle of 20, then cover with the rest of the sauce. If you're better at scraping out your blender than I am, you might have a little filling left over, and if you do, I recommend topping the shells with dollops of that excess. If you like Daiya or another vegan mozzarella, you can add it to the top now. It's not necessary, though, but it kicks the decadence level up a notch.

Bake for 30 minutes, then serve! If you added cheese to the top, you may want to broil it briefly to get it melted in nicely.

Nutritional Information:
This whole recipe makes 20 shells and I usually go for 3 for myself. The nutritional info is for 3 shells in their portion of the sauce!

Calories: 334
Carbs: 31 g
Protein: 13.3 g
Fat: 16.3 g
Cholesterol: 0
Sodium: 443 mg
Fiber: 3.5 g
Sugar: 5.4 g
Vitamin A: 21%
Vitamin C: 52%
Calcium: 10%
Iron: 17%

Monday, June 9, 2014

Strawberry Shortcakes With Coconut Whipped Cream

One of my favorite desserts growing up was my mom's strawberry shortcakes. Here's a tasty vegan version. I advise you to make sure others are around when you make this or you are likely to eat a great deal more than one serving. It's so rich, I don't recommend that!

This recipe has 3 components. You'll want to do step 1 the night before you want to make this. Really, I promise this matters. Step 2 requires an hour of waiting. In other words, this recipe isn't the right thing to make if company is about to come over on short notice. 

1. Refrigerate an unshaken can of full-fat Thai Kitchen brand coconut milk overnight. 
2. Wash, hull, and slice a quart of ripe strawberries. The redder, the better! Add them to a bowl, then add 1/3 cup of sugar. Mix it up and set it aside for an hour. 
3. Make the shortcakes!
4. Serve!


1 can of full fat Thai Kitchen coconut milk (no shaking!)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBS powdered sugar

1 quart of ripe strawberries
1/3 cup sugar

2 cups of all purpose flour
2 TBS sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening (I use Spectrum)
3/4 cup non-dairy milk of your choice (I picked vanilla soy)

Heat oven to 450. 

Mix flour, 2 TBS sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
Cut in the shortening until the mixture looks like little pebbles.
Add the soy milk until just blended, then turn out onto a floured surface.
Knead it for a few minutes, then roll to about 1/2" thick and cut with a 3" cookie cutter (or just use a glass like I do). I often make mine a bit thinner and smaller so I can get more cakes, but it's all in what you like! 
Place the disks on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes (they'll be lightly golden)

While that's cooking, turn the can of coconut milk upside down slowly and gently, then open the can from that end. Gently pour off the easy-to-pour fluid, leaving behind very firm coconut milk goodness to scrape out. Scrape that into a medium-large bowl and beat it with a hand mixer until it starts to look a little whipped. Add in the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar and keep beating until it looks right. DO NOT TASTE IT because you will EAT IT and then you won't have any left for the shortcakes!

As long as it's been an hour since you started the strawberries on their journey toward awesomeness, you can now serve your treat! Split open a shortcake, take a tablespoon or two of the coconut whipped cream and slather it on there, then cover in about 1/3 cup of strawberries and the sweet liquid they made! 

If you make them flatter, you can get 12, but if you make them big and fluffy, you'll get fewer cakes, obviously.

Springy Orzo

This orzo was a huge hit! It's hearty and flavorful.

(makes 9 1-cup servings)
12 oz orzo
1 bunch of asparagus, cut into small pieces
1 TBS olive oil
1 small onion
1 leek, cleaned carefully (they get dirt in the layers somehow) and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup of mushrooms, diced
14 oz can of artichoke hearts in brine (drained and rinsed, then torn into smaller bits)
1 lemon, zested and juiced (you'll need about 1.5 teaspoons of zest and about 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice)
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil (separated into two 1/4 cup portions)
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional, but it adds a nice cheesiness)
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Salt to taste (if you have mushroom salt, I HIGHLY recommend using it here)
Pepper to taste

Cook the orzo and steam the asparagus while you prepare the other vegetables. When the orzo is fully cooked, stir in 1/4 cup of sun dried tomatoes in oil. This keeps the orzo from clumping.

Place the olive oil in the pan, then add the leek, onion, and pepper. Cook until softened, about 8 minutes, then add the mushrooms, artichokes, garlic, and 1/4 cup of the sun dried tomatoes. Once the asparagus has softened from the steaming, add the asparagus to the pan. Add the cooked orzo to the pan along with the parsley, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1.5 teaspoons of zest. Let the flavors blend. Add in nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper, and top with a portion of the pine nuts (scant one tablespoon).

I served with a fun new (to me) green called mache. It's nice and nutty and flavorful. I used a little olive oil, a little of the lemon juice, and a bit of garlic to make a very simple dressing for it, and it turned out great.

Nutrition Facts (for the orzo)
Serving Size 1/9 of the recipe (1 cup)
Calories 249
Total Fat 7.5g
Sodium 496mg
Potassium 156.2mg
Carbohydrates 38.2g
Dietary Fiber 5.5g
Sugars 5.8g
Protein 7.3g
Vitamin A 7% • Vitamin C 56% Calcium 4% • Iron 24%

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Unpretty Uncheese Unsteak

My daughter encouraged me to pick this blog back up, so I'm making an effort!

This meal is so very simple and so very ugly, but MAN is it tasty!

I am not sure why the idea of cheesesteak popped into my mind when planning the week's meals, but that was the inspiration for this dish. I know this is nothing close to traditional, but this fixed my craving.

(makes 4)

1 package Gardein Beef Tips
2 bell peppers, diced (I used yellow, red, and green because I had them, but any color will do)
1 large onion, diced
1 package Teese cheddar sauce (any vegan cheese will do, but if it's in shred or block form, you'll need to add some soy milk to thin it a little)
1 TBS olive oil
A few dashes of cayenne - optional
4 Buns! Traditionally, you'll want a hoagie bun, but I used pretzel buns and this was tasty

Cook the beef tips in a pan with a few drops of the olive oil (reserve the rest of the tablespoon).

When it's done (about 6 minutes), set it aside, then use the same pan to heat up the rest of the olive oil, the onion, and the peppers. While they're cooking, dice up the cooked beef tips.

Once the onions and peppers are soft and caramelized, add 1 cup of the Teese sauce (or 1 cup of other vegan cheese plus a tablespoon or two of plain soy milk), then add in the diced beef tips. Toss on a little cayenne if you like things spicy, then serve atop toasted rolls.