chilli

Quick and Easy Meatless Chili with MorningStar Farms Crumbles

It’s March in New Hampshire, which means I am both dying for spring, but also completely aware that it’s going to snow at least two more times before I see my first crocus, daffodil, or tulip. Thank heavens for chili — namely, my favorite meatless vegetarian chili with Morningstar Farms Crumbles.

Chunky and just spicy enough, this recipe makes enough for a meal and then several days of leftovers.

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easy homemade minestrone soup

Easy Homemade Minestrone Soup

Summer just came and went, didn’t it? One minute I was breathing in the ocean air at Rye with my family and escaping the heat at a beer garden with my girlfriends in Brooklyn, and the next, I’m using the entire length of my arm to wipe the fallen leaves off my car in the morning and choosing this year’s pumpkin carving design.

My first foliage season away from Boston has been, in a word, glorious. My ride to work takes me by a pasture with grazing cows, now framed with color, and the postcard-perfect church next door to Yankee HQ has a beauty of a tree next to it. I love the fall — the rich colors, spicy smells, and the return to knee socks and soft sweaters. The holidays are coming up. The soup kettle is ready. Let’s do this!

I’ve already been making lots of soups and stews now that the evenings have turned cold (if not downright freezing) and this easy homemade minestrone soup is always an early favorite.

Convenience comes in the form of canned beans, seasoned tomatoes, and veggie broth, while garlic, onion, pepper, and baby spinach still give you plenty of fresh ingredients to work with. Italian herbs (fresh or dried) lend robust flavor, and a generous handful of Parmesan brings it all home.

It’s everything you want in a soup — hearty, filling, and packed with flavor. Of course, I also insist on a hunk of bread or a toasted English muffin or bagel on the side. Who wouldn’t?

Feel free to halve the recipe, but I like making a big batch so I can freeze several servings for later.

Happy fall and happy soup weather!

Easy Homemade Minestrone Soup
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Ingredients
2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes with Italian herbs
1 14- to 15-oz. can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 14- to 15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 tsps. Italian seasoning
2 cups dry pasta (rigatoni, penne, or shells)
3-4 cups baby spinach
Shaved Parmesan for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent.
  2. Add the tomatoes, beans, broth, water, seasoning, and pasta. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, then cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until pasta is barely tender. Add more water if necessary.
  3. Stir in spinach, then ladle into bowls and top with fresh grated Parmesan.

Yield: 8 servings.

Click to view and print the recipe for Easy Homemade Minestrone Soup.

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Baked Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Yes, it’s zucchini season, and these things are everywhere, calling to us from the garden or with their rock-bottom prices from the farm stand and local markets. Are you currently being buried alive with summer’s most prolific green veggie? Here’s how I’ve been eating them.

Slightly hollowed out and stuffed with savory goodness, then baked to perfection. Let’s make baked stuffed zucchini boats.

I use a melon baller to scoop out a shallow well in each zucchini. If you do this you’ll want to angle the melon baller or spoon tip along the sides of the center strip rather than straight down the middle.

Hello, gondola zucchini.

Once they’ve pre-baked for a few minutes dressed only in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, stuff the zucchini boats with whatever you want before a return trip to the oven. Here I stuffed mine with diced red pepper and onion, cherry tomatoes, halved balls of fresh mozzarella, and slivers of fresh basil. A little extra olive oil and salt and pepper, and they’re ready for their second trip to the oven.

The first time I made these I cut off the ends of the zucchini before baking them, but I quickly realized I needed the ends to “hold in” the melted filling and cheese, so just ignore the knobby ends until they come out of the oven, then cut them off and dig in.

Fresh, delicious, flavorful summer eating!

Be creative with your fillings. The original recipe linked below called for olives and breadcrumbs, but you can also add meat, mushrooms…anything you want. Happy zucchini eating. Good luck keeping up with it!

Baked Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients
2 medium zucchini of equal size
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 fresh small mozzarella balls, halved
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced red pepper
Fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cut zucchini length–wise and scoop out about 1/2 inch of the very center. Don’t worry about it being too deep — just enough to eventually hold the fillings. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake on the prepared sheet for about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and fill the zucchini with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and mozzarella. Drizzle with more olive oil, then sprinkle fresh sliced basil over the top. Add a little more salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Increase the oven heat to 450°F and cook for another 10-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. When the cheese is melted, it’s time to eat.

Serves 2

View and print the recipe for Baked Stuffed Zucchini Boats

homemade veggie 3

The Best Homemade Veggie Bean Burgers

Like many vegetarians, I spent the first 5 years of my new lifestyle buying boxes of meatless burgers from the grocery store, clumsily figuring out how to cook them without them falling apart or tasting like a tasteless old sofa cushion. Then I started buying them in the “prepared food” and deli section of Whole Foods, but those also weren’t by dream burger. They were too mushy and thick with vegetables I didn’t like, things like carrots and sprouts (yes, we’ve covered this…I am the world’s worst vegetarian).

Progress came when I started eating the homemade Black Bean Burger at the Highland Kitchen in Somerville, MA. Thick and chunky with black beans and topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, and jack cheese, it had all the flavors I craved, but it was a mess. Part of eating it was picking up your fork at the end of the meal to scoop up the dozen generous bites that had plopped onto the plate while you were trying to keep the bun closed by fusing all ten of your fingers together around it. Trying and failing.

Knowing I wanted a burger that was beany and spicy, but also durable, I got into the kitchen and started experimenting. Like soup, veggie burgers are very adaptable, so I don’t think I’ve ever made a matching batch since I got the basics of my recipe down, but they have all been delicious.

Here’s what I do.

I pulse together black beans, corn, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and jalapeno (sometimes also cilantro, but not in this photo) a few times in a food processor until it looks like this:

Then I add some oatmeal and an egg to help bind the mixture together. You could get creative with the oatmeal part and experiment with other swaps…like rice or quinoa.

I pulse the oatmeal and egg with the veggies and beans until the mixture is the consistency I want. How long you pulse it here will determine how “chunky” your final burger is.

I’ll admit it ain’t pretty, but stick with it.

The mixture is transferred to a bowl, where more beans, corn, seasonings, and breadcrumbs are added. You can make your own breadcrumbs or use a traditional version, but I like Panko-style breadcrumbs because they are crispier which gives the burger a better texture. You can also go wild with the seasonings here. I usually do a few dashes each of garlic powder and red pepper flakes, then more (maybe 8 each?) dashes of chilli powder and cumin. Sometimes I add some smoky chipotle seasoning I have.

After it’s all mixed together you can shape it into balls, then lightly flatten them with your palm into patties.  I use a plastic-lined ramekin (or custard cup) as a mold so I get a perfect, uniform shape and size every time.

The best way (in my opinion) to cook a veggie bean burger is on a skillet drizzled with olive oil. Because these babies don’t have any of the natural “grease” found in meat, you’ve got to add a little of your own to get a nice sear. You could still cook them on the grill, but they will need a little more care to make sure they don’t fall apart, and the texture will be drier.

On this day a whole-wheat bun, bed of greens, squirt of ketchup and generous handful of sliced red onions turned my veggie bean burger into a meal.

Pick up and dig in.

I love these things. I make a batch, eat one, then individually wrap the rest on plastic wrap and store them in an old breadcrumbs canister in the freezer (they fit perfectly) so a delicious, healthy, spicy, beany, burger is never far away.

What kind of veggie burgers do you like?

The Best Homemade Veggie Bean Burgers

Ingredients
1 can black beans (15.5 oz), drained and rinsed
1 can corn (8.5 oz), drained
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced (keep the seeds and ribs for more heat)
3 small Portabella mushrooms, diced
Handful of cilantro
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup Panko-style breadcrumbs
Chili powder
Cumin
Garlic powder
Crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Put 2/3 of the black beans, 2/3 of the corn, and all of the onion, pepper, jalapeno, and mushrooms into a food processor or blender. Add the handful of cilantro leaves.
  2. Pulse a few times until the mixture is combined, then add the oatmeal and egg.  Pulse again until it’s the consistency you want – more for a smoother texture, less for a chunkier texture.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the remaining 1/3 each of the beans and corn, breadcrumbs, and seasonings to taste.  If the mixture seems too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
  4. Place a skillet over medium heat and drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Form the mixture into patties by using your hands or a plastic-lined ramekin mold.  (For the latter, place plastic wrap over a ramekin, then add a few heaping spoonfuls of the mixture and press into the ramekin.  Lift the plastic up and gently remove the patty from the plastic.)
  6. When the pan is ready, cook the burgers, being careful to turn them gently with a spatula.  Make sure they have a good “seared” bottom before you flip them to help them keep their shape.

Makes 6 burgers.

Individually wrap uncooked leftovers burgers tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.

View and print the recipe for The Best Homemade Veggie Bean Burgers.

vegetarian chicken and dumplings

Vegetarian Chicken and Dumplings

No matter where I turn this time of year, I encounter recipes for Chicken and Dumplings that taunt me with their thick, chicken-y goodness.  They’re a classic comfort food – right there next to the macaroni and cheese and beef stew – and now I can finally enjoy my own version with all of the hearty flavor and fluffy dumplings, but none of the meat.

This is what I call a “meatless miracle.”

The flavor comes from a hardworking combination of mushrooms, veggies, and fresh herbs.  To show the detail, I took these photos before adding on more broth.

I think even chicken lovers could appreciate this version, because really, isn’t Chicken and Dumplings mostly about the dumplings?

We’ve still got a lot of weeks of winter ahead, so make time for this dish!  It goes great with sweatpants and reruns of Law & Order.  Trust me…

Vegetarian Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from fresh365

Ingredients
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup lowfat milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 cups chopped mushrooms (10 oz)
2 cups chopped celery (6 stalks)
1 cup chopped carrots
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

For the Dumplings

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup minced fresh herb (I just used the thyme and chives)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup lowfat milk

Method

  • In a large stockpot, melt butter over medium-high heat.
  • Add onion, and sautee just until it begins to brown.
  • Vigorously whisk in the flour.
  • Add the vegetable broth, milk, salt, pepper, bay leaves and thyme.
  • Bring to a boil, and add mushrooms, celery, carrots, and chives.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and herbs.  Gently add the melted butter and milk, mixing until just barely combined.  It’s okay to still see flour!
  • Drop spoonfuls of batter into the pot.  Cover and simmer until the dumplings are cooked, about 15 minutes.  They are going to look wet on the outside, so if you aren’t sure, transfer a dumpling to a cutting board and cut into it, but DO NOT lift the lid before the 15 minutes.  The trapped steam is what’s cooking those babies!

Click to view and print the recipe for Vegetarian Chicken and Dumplings.

sweet potato fries

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

baked sweet potato fries

Unless you’re talking about pizza or an enormous bowl of pasta (and aren’t all bowls of pasta enormous?), I don’t think one item covers it as a complete meal.

It’s like in sugar cereal commercials where at the end of the spot you see a brief flash of the cereal bowl alongside a pitcher of milk, toast, a glass of juice, and some fruit while a rushed voice says “part of this complete breakfast”.

Of course, in that example the extra things are there for “complete nutrition” purposes, but it’s a concept I am on board with.  A sandwich can’t be a meal unless it has something on the side to round it out.  A handful of baked chips, cut up fruit, or three-bean salad works well for me.  So do these baked sweet potato fries.

baked sweet potato fries

Hot, salty, and full of flavor – they partner with the sandwich to convince me that yes, I have a complete meal in front of me, and I shouldn’t let my mind wander to the possibility of a “second supper” a few hours later.

I let it wander to dessert instead.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients
2 sweet potatoes, average size
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. seasoning of your choice (I used cumin and smoked chipotle powder)
1 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
Sea salt

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.  Put the baking sheet into the oven to heat up while you get the sweet potatoes ready.
  • Peel and cut sweet potatoes into wedges or sticks.  Try to keep the shapes relatively the same size so they will cook evenly.
  • Place sweet potatoes in shallow bowl (or if you’re like me, in a skillet) and add olive oil, seasoning, and a few dashes of sea salt.  Toss to coat, making sure all of the pieces are seasoned.  If you add sugar, it should help the fries get extra brown and crisp when they are in the oven.
  • Carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and arrange the potatoes on it in an even layer, leaving space between each piece.
  • Return the baking sheet to the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Flip all of the pieces and return to the oven for another few minutes until they are lovely and browned.

Makes 2 side servings.

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Zucchini “Mock Crab” Cakes

We all know my vegetarian heart weeps for the seafood I do not eat.  There are a lot of good meat substitutes out there (fake hamburger, bacon, sausage, chicken strips, and hot dogs to name a few) but there just isn’t a seafood stand-in.  The best cure for the seafood-sick heart seems to lie in substitutions rather than swaps.  For example, instead of a fake tuna sandwich, you replace the tuna with chickpeas.

And instead of fake crab cakes, you replace the crab meat with shredded zucchini and carry on.  I know it sounds doubtful, but the combination of traditional seasonings and the texture of zucchini really do create a resulting dish that looks and tastes a lot like crab cakes. 

Along with a side salad and some tartar sauce for dipping, you’ve got a light, flavorful supper perfect for summer.

This post was inspired by the whale watch I went on last weekend with my family.  Also, please note that I decided to cut off most of my hair.  Welcome back, 2001 Aimee.

Zucchini “Mock Crab” Cakes
Adapted from The Washington Post

Ingredients
2 medium zucchini (2 cups when shredded)
1 cup bread crumbs (Panko work best)
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

Instructions

  • Coarsely grate the zucchini and place in a colander over a bowl.  Sprinkle with a few shakes of salt, and allow the zucchini to drain for 30 minutes.  Press the zucchini down to remove excess water, and pat dry with paper towels.  It should be damp, but not dripping.  Discard the water.
  • In a medium bowl, mix together zucchini and breadcrumbs.  In a small bowl, mix together egg, mayonnaise, Old Bay, mustard, lemon juice, and parsley.  Add egg mixture to zucchini mixture and combine.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, place portions of the mixture in your hands and form into a ball.  Press down lightly on the ball to form a cake.  Using the scoop will ensure that all of your cakes are equal size, so they will cook at the same speed.  Place the cakes on a piece of parchment paper until ready to cook.
  • In a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, splash some olive oil, then gently transfer the cakes to the skillet using a spatula.  Turn the cakes after a few moments, then turn again, until they are golden brown and crispy.
  • Serve while hot with tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and a side salad.

Yield: 6-8 cakes.

Note:  Any cakes that you don’t cook right away can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours.  I just wrapped the parchment paper up around the extras and kept them in the fridge until ready to use.

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Mock-Tuna Chickpea Salad Sandwich

As a longtime vegetarian, people sometimes ask me what I miss the most about my meat-eating days.  It’s an easy answer.  I miss turkey sandwiches…and seafood.  All seafood.  Shrimp, lobster, clam strips, scallops, swordfish, steamers, haddock, salmon…and yes,  tuna fish. 

A few years ago I heard about a “mock” tuna salad recipe using mashed chickpeas.  It’s eerie, but the chickpeas do have a bit of a tuna taste and aroma.  You wouldn’t mistake it for the real thing, but it’s still delicious.  I have updated the recipe over the years to suit my taste based on the way I used to make tuna salad.

The basics are chickpeas (aka garbanzos), mayo, spicy mustard, celery, and red onion.

Mix everything together and then get out the potato masher to break down the chickpeas.  You can mash them first if you want, or pulse them a few times in a food processor, but I like mashing everything together the old-fashioned way.

Once the consistency is to your liking, get your bread of choice, lettuce, and potato chips ready.

Yes, I said potato chips.  For saltiness and crunchy texture, I love a few kettle-cooked potato chips on this kind of “salad” sandwich.

Not too many, mind you, and make sure you press down on the top slice of bread a bit to break the chips before you bite.

Then, my friends, you are ready to eat a mock-tuna salad sandwich.  The chickpeas lend a hearty, nutty flavor while the mustard gives it a kick.  The celery, onions, and potato chips provide the crunch.  You bring the appetite.

Mock-Tuna Chickpea Salad

1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas/garbanzos, drained
2 celery ribs, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise (I use a light version)
2 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard

Combine all ingredients and mash the chickpeas with a potato masher or fork.

I suggest enjoying chickpea salad on a bed of lettuce, topped with potato chips.  I am sure, however, that it would taste just as great if you made substitutions based on however you normally enjoy tuna salad.

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Edamame Bean Salad

During my time in Edinburgh I learned about many new-to-me foods.  The cafe I worked at got in a fair amount of them, like Irn-Bru, florentines, flapjacks, the ploughman’s sandwich, and three bean salad.

It was also where I saw my first carrot and raisin salad, but you will never see me revisiting that particular dish.  I truly don’t think anything tastes as bad as raw carrots.  Especially when they are shredded and mixed with mayonnaise and raisins.

The three bean salad was one of my favorites.  The cafe version was probably just a mixture of black, kidney, and garbanzo (chickpeas) beans tossed in a vinaigrette with diced peppers and red onions, but it was a cold, crunchy companion to my cheese toastie at lunch, and I loved it.

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Aloo Gobhi

I am a big fan of British chef Jamie Oliver, who carved out a niche for himself as the man calling for a “Food Revolution” in the UK and US.  Jamie’s goal is to change the way we think about what we eat, as we continue to rely more and more on processed foods or takeout meals.  He is especially concerned with how many children today are growing up far less healthy than their parents, with higher obesity rates and early onset diabetes than ever before.  His efforts have included shining a light on some of the unplesant truths of school lunch programs across the UK and the US (can you believe the US government classifies french fries as a vegetable?), but he has also shown that packed lunches from home can be just as bad (if not worse) nutritionally. 

In the first season of his show “Food Revolution” set in Huntington, WV, he walked around an elementary school cafeteria so the kids could show him their home packed lunches.  Only one girl in the room had apples…and she was ignoring them to eat a neon-colored gelatin snack!  In another episode a class of six-year olds couldn’t correctly identify common fruits and vegetables.  That is just not right!

Learning about nutrition and getting comfortable with cooking tasty, healthy, affordable meals using fresh produce, meats, grains, and spices is the first step for all children, adults, and families in leading a much healthier lifestyle.  With dessert and cheese in moderation, of course.

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