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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mmmm...Banana Brownies

Whew, it has been a busy week and I realize I haven’t posted since Monday. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun. This week has been filled with book club, dinners and lunches, happy hours, a conference and wrapping up the busy week was an 80’s rock party. I went as Jem (Jem and the Holograms - anyone, anyone?) and found my entire costume at regular stores. I didn’t need to go to any fancy costume shop or comb the racks of Goodwill. It’s quite crazy how easy it was to find 80’s wear because the 80’s are back baby!

I’ve also been really busy doing something that I don’t usually do, which is making the same thing over and over again. I picked up huge bag of ripe bananas for only 99 cents and became obsessed with tinkering around with the recipe for banana brownie bars. The first time I made it exactly as it was stated in Vegan with a Vengeance. The second time I reduced the sugar and added chocolate chips. The third time I reduced the sugar a bit more, kept the chocolate chips and swirled in the banana topping instead of layering it on top.

These brownies were such a hit and it makes me feel good that they are chock full of bananas. Luckily I had plenty of friends and family to share them with so my waistline didn't feel such a hit.

I plan to pick up another giant bag of bananas next week…any suggestions on what I should do with it?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thinking Outside the [Bento] Box

I’ve always been intrigued by bento box lunches ever since I started reading Vegan Lunch Box about three or four years ago. However, I can’t say I’ve actually ever owned a bento box. Sure, I have tons picked out if I were to ever buy one (example 1, example 2, and example 3) but instead I continue to use our old peanut butter containers to pack lunches.

When I saw an article on bento lunches, I jumped at the chance to make Soy-Lime Tofu & Rice. It would be the perfect lunch for Ryan, who is working 14-hour days and needs something he can just grab and eat while still working.

I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by the rice part. Most people know that although I’m a great cook, I just cannot seem to cook a good batch of rice. I blame it on my electric stovetop, but hey, maybe it’s just me. Sure enough, my rice was hard and crunchy when the timer went off, so I added some more water and steamed it until it was edible. Seems that it all turned out quite well; Ryan said it passed the “fork test” where he stabbed one of balls with his fork and it stayed together while being dipped into the peanut sauce. Go me!

The tofu turned out great too. I enjoyed stealing a couple pieces from the fridge as a snack throughout the day. It wasn’t too salty which is one of my biggest fears in working with soy sauce even though I use the low-sodium kind. Although I don’t do a lot of repeat meals, I think this one must live on and be made again! Now if only I had a bento box to up the cuteness factor…

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Night Appetizer - Spiced Beans & Chutney

I recently bought a giant jar of Major Grey’s Chutney for only $4.99 at Sage Market, so I brainstormed on possibilities for its use - what could I do with 2 pounds of chutney?

I don’t know about you, but when Friday rolls around, I like to make party food and take a break from normal meal preparation. Plus, party food goes better with alcoholic beverages! I found a dish that can serve as a tasty Friday night meal or can be easily brought to a party for sharing.

Originally, the recipe called for ground beef. Years ago, I adapted it to use ground turkey instead and even further adapted it for a vegetarian lifestyle since we just don’t buy ground beef or turkey in our house nowadays. A can of black beans or even a mix of beans will serve you well here.

I love the contrast of the spicy beans with the sweet chutney topping. Believe it or not, the cloves and cinnamon bring some heat. You can serve this with pitas, pita chips, tortilla chips or even cut veggies.

Now I just need to figure out how to use the rest of that chutney...any suggestions?

Spiced Beans on Pita Triangles

4 pita breads
¾ tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tsp olive oil
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 large red onion, diced small, divided
Salt and pepper
1 cup Major Grey’s Chutney, divided
1 medium mango, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 325°. Wrap pitas in aluminum foil and bake for about 10 minutes or until warm. Cut into triangles.

In a small dish, mix cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together ½ cup chutney, diced mango, chopped cilantro, 1/3 cup of red onion, and ¼ teaspoon of spice mix.

Heat a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and remaining onion; sauté until onion has softened. Add drained black beans, remaining spice mix, and ½ cup of chutney; stir to combine. Cook until mixture has warmed and season with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, spoon a portion of beans on each pita triangle, top with mango salsa and serve.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mushrooms! Cheese! Spinach!

Hope you all had an enjoyable weekend. I was lucky enough to steal a few hours with my accountant husband and go to a movie. We haven’t been to a movie together in years, so it was a fun date. We are both fans of Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock” back from his WWF days, so I surprised him with a matinee showing of Race to Witch Mountain. It was a fun movie with a lot of car chases and shots of Las Vegas….ah, Sin City…

Another great thing about this weekend was the weather! Yes, I’m being Minnesotan again, but seriously folks, who can deny that 40+ degrees can make you so happy? We were able to go on a few walks and truly enjoy the smell of spring.

Although spring is right around the corner, we still have to wait a little while for fresh and local veggies. I get through it by still making tasty recipes such as this dish for Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms from the latest issue of Eating Well.

I was lucky enough to find huge mushroom caps at Valley Natural Foods along with some great looking spinach. While the mushroom caps were roasting in the oven, I was able to chop and mix together the other stuffing quite easily. I made the marinara sauce from scratch.

Ever since we ran out of spaghetti sauce unexpectedly a few weeks ago, we’ve been obsessed with making our own marinara. It’s so easy and I used the Veganomicon recipe for reference.

Here’s what you do:

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a saucepan.
Mince a few cloves of garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add herbs of your choice (basil, oregano, whatever you have) along with a 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (or diced tomatoes to make it chunkier).
Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
After simmering, I add some garlic powder, a couple pinches of sugar, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Well, I’m off to enjoy the nice weather again and go for a quick jog (need to burn some calories to compensate for a happy hour tonight!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Purple Smoothie - I Swear It's Green!

When you need a little boost of fruit servings, it's a good idea to whip up a smoothie. They are so easy to make and customizable to whatever you have on hand. Since we have a huge stock of frozen fruit in our freezer from our various picking ventures over the summer, we always have a variety to choose from.

This morning I wanted to make a "green" smoothie. That usually consists of throwing in some sort of green leafy vegetable along with the fruits. For this smoothie, I threw in spinach along with blueberries, pineapple, strawberries and soy milk. I also love spirulina (dried sea algae) in my smoothies - although it's known for it's health benefits, I add it for the taste.

So, while this is supposed to be a "green" smoothie, why is it so purple? Did the blueberries overtake the spinach and spirulina? Should I be adding more spinach (I used a handful)? I guess it doesn't really matter what color it turned out because it was an awesome smoothie.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wii Bowling Tourney & Healthier Eating

Is it just me, or is the Nintendo Wii one of the best forms of entertainment out there right now? In an effort to celebrate Ryan’s 30th with family and friends without having to spend too much money, we hosted a Wii bowling tournament complete with pizza and drinks. Surprisingly, the folks with little to no experience with the Wii fared the best and won the tournament, but a good time was had by all.

Here’s the birthday boy (along with 2 of my super cute nephews):

After a late night of pizza and beer, we try to steer towards some healthier options in the following days while still maintaining a casual weekend feel. Portobello mushroom burgers are one of my favorites.

The portobello mushroom burgers are so easy to make. I dice some shallot, add balsamic vinegar and any herbs I have on hand and pour this over the inside of lightly oiled portobello mushrooms. The mushrooms get roasted on a baking sheet at the same time as a couple heads of garlic in foil. Total roasting time is about 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Spread the roasted garlic over buns, add the mushrooms and melt some Monterey jack cheese on top. Yum!

Although Ryan’s favorite vegetable is broccoli, mine is green beans. I love to try new ways of making green beans and this one using radicchio was definitely a tasty one. Here’s the recipe.

This cooks up quite quickly and the radicchio gives the dish a uniquely nutty taste. I topped it with some asiago shavings that look oddly like pieces of paper in the above picture :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Time for Shrimp & Grits Y’all!

No, I’m not southern. I’m completely Minnesotan right down to the core. Yes, I say Minnesoooota, ya you betcha, and talk about the weather quite often. I can’t help it; it’s in my blood. However, I have this natural ability to pick up a couple other accents when I’m around them. I turned Canadian when I was in Vancouver for our honeymoon and I turn southern when I’m around a southern accent. Case in point, I had a visitor from Mississippi this past weekend and sure enough, I had started with the drawl within hours. Does this happen to anyone else?

In honor of my southern visitor, I tried my hand at Shrimp and Grits. We went through a grits phase a year or so ago where I made grits (mixed with jelly and butter) for breakfast on a regular basis, so I still had about half of a canister left. We also had some leftover shrimp from a seafood feast which would work perfectly in this dish. Shrimp and Grits it was!

This dish was inspired by a few recipes I’ve seen lately, but I tried to reduce the fat content and used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

Shrimp and Grits
(4 servings)

2 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup half-and-half
¼ cup skim milk
¼ tsp salt
1 cup grits
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp butter
½ tsp Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
½ lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup sliced green onion
¾ cup vegetable broth
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
lemon wedges, for serving

Combine water, 2 cups vegetable broth, half and half, skim milk and salt in a saucepan over medium heat; gradually whisk in grits; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until thickened. Add cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, butter, Tabasco sauce, and white pepper; set aside but keep warm.

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms for approximately 5 minutes, or until tender. Add peeled shrimp and garlic and sauté until shrimp are cooked and lightly browned, approximately 3 minutes. Add green onions, ¾ cup vegetable broth, lemon juice, and Tabasco and cook until slightly reduced.

Divide grits amongst 4 plates and spoon shrimp mixture over the top. Garnish with lemon wedges, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Although this recipe has a lot of ingredients, it was really easy to make. With the exception of shrimp, I usually have a lot of this on hand or can substitute ingredients quite easily. You could easily make this without the shrimp by using a combo of veggies like asparagus, green beans and okra.


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