It’s been a while…

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted.  Many crazy things have happened this year, including buying our first house!  The short sale buying process was insane, stressful, nearly heartbreaking, and cost me several bottles of Tums.  But in the end, after a year looking and a three month short sale process, we closed around June, and are incredibly happy in our new home.

We are almost at the two year mark of our diet change.  I still think about eating meat occasionally.  Sometimes when we are going to a restaurant, I think to myself that I will get some chicken or something if I can’t convince myself to like the meager vegetarian option that they offer.  Thus far, the guilt of eating meat has kept me from making such a selection.  I will occasionally order egg drop soup or some other kind of soup that I know is not strictly vegetarian.  I don’t know why that’s better in my mind, but it seems to be.

I still can’t believe how hard it is where I live to go to a restaurant and find a good Vegetarian meal selection.  How I’d love to know that I can sit down and order something fulfilling that I can eat with a knife and a fork.  For the most part, 90% of my options are some kind of sandwich or a salad.  It’s frustrating.

On the brighter side, we’ve been able to find several satisfying and delicious meal options for the holidays, which I will attempt to post shortly.

Happy Holidays!

Gnocchi with White Beans and Kale

It’s time I shared with you my favorite recipe since switching to Vegetarianism.  I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Gnocchi.  In the wrong sauce it can be pretty unappealing, but when paired correctly, it becomes a thing of wonders.

Ingredients:

1 16oz package of gnocchi

1 large onion – finely sliced

3-4 cloves of garlic – chopped

1 can of cubed tomatoes

1 can cannelini beans

1/2 cup white wine

5 cups or so of chopped kale

1/2 cup shredded mozzerella cheese

approx 2 tbsp of olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

-Heat half of the oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add the gnocchi, and saute, stirring often, until lightly browned.  Remove the gnocchi from the pan, and set aside.

-Add the rest of the oil to the pan, and add the onions and a little salt.  Saute until turning translucent, about 5 minutes.

-Add the wine and the garlic, and bring to a boil.  Let boil for about 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, beans, kale, and salt and pepper.  Let simmer for about 5 – 10 minutes until kale is wilted.  Add the gnocchi back into the pan and cook for another 5 minutes.  Sprinkle mozzarella on top and let melt, around 2 minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

This recipe is great with almost any kind of greens.  We like kale because it has a nice texture contrast with the gnocchi.  Spinach works great too!

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know I’m technically a little late, but Happy New Year nonetheless!  It has officially been over one year since we went Vegetarian.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but overall, we are still really glad to have made the change.  We discovered new ways to enjoy food, lost some weight, and actually had a really great traditionally fulfilling holiday season, even without the meat!

I look forward to posting our new recipe discoveries and having a wonderful, vegetarian, 2012!

Light Tomato Sauce – Easy and Delicious!

 

For years I tried making marinara sauce with canned tomatoes. I tried whole ones. I tried crushed ones. I tried cubed ones. I tried onions. I tried pinches of sugar. But no matter how hard I tried, I almost always ended up with a sauce that was too acidic – even after hours and hours of cooking. I think some of the problems I encountered stemmed from following bad advice, including cooking the garlic before adding the tomatoes.

Though I still haven’t perfected my marinara sauce recipe, I have come up with a really easy, fool proof recipe for fresh tomato sauce that is so delicious, I haven’t even wanted to go back to the canned stuff!

Recipe:

5-6 tomatoes – cubed (plum or vine work best)
3 cloves of garlic
1-2 leaves of basil – ripped (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

– Preheat sauce pan on medium. Add the olive oil.

– Carefully add the tomatoes into the pan, then add the garlic, basil, and salt and pepper. The salt will help the tomatoes break down.

– Cook on medium for about 30-45 minutes, or until the tomatoes have all broken down and a sauce had formed.

– Cook your favorite pasta a minute less than package directions, drain, then add to sauce and cook for another minute.

– Serve and enjoy. Makes about 4 portions (approx half lb of pasta).

Mornings

Almost every morning, I wake up to “my hungry!” (my three year old’s vernacular). I know that those two words mean that in the very near future I am going to spend at least 10 minutes listing off breakfast foods to which he will answer “No, my don’t want that, let’s just go into the kitchen.”.

We’ll move into the kitchen where he’ll open the refrigerator and stand there for minutes on end, expecting it to offer inspiration to his very discerning palate. His brother will toddle over, taking advantage of the situation by removing items from the door and carrying them all over the kitchen. Meanwhile, getting more desperate to end this debacle, I again remind my three year old how not good it is to stand there with the door open, and sometimes even start offering non-breakfast type foods to try to seal the deal. Eventually, finding nothing except vegetables in the refrigerator, I’ll finally lure him away with one of the first things I offered – usually oatmeal – but with a different topping. He usually has it with a little honey and cinnamon. Today I gave him a squirt of Hershey syrup (rescued from the clutches of his wandering brother). Not what I’d prefer he eat, but sometimes compromise is necessary. Why would I go through this day after day, instead of just taking the choice away from him, some might wonder. Well, I’ve found that if I try to do that, he just won’t eat. Thereby wasting food, time, and probably leading to him snacking the day away.

Later on, I make my green smoothie. Sometimes the kids have some, and sometimes they don’t. Generally they like them, but kids being kids, they have to make life interesting with their unpredictability.

We still eat eggs occasionally, and sometimes I still miss the taste of ham that used to go so well with them. There’s nothing I’ve found in the vegetarian world that matches the slightly sweet and salty taste that I remember. Maybe the desire will fade with time. I find though, without meat, that most breakfast foods are very sweet with no salty flavors to balance a palate. I generally prefer salty to sweet, so I guess the search continues…

Vegetable Stew – Where’s the Beef?!

Vegetable Stew

Comfort food – the phrase conjures images of high-fat, meat-laden, foods that becoming a vegetarian would place well out of reach.  A scary thought.  And also untrue!  I’ve found that a lot of comfort food recipes can be easily adapted to be just as good or better than their meaty counterpart.  Not to mention a lot less fatty with none of the guilt.  Win win!

One of my favorite comfort foods has always been beef stew.  Now, even without the meat, I am able to create the hearty, delicious, comforting and satisfying flavor that I had been enjoying for years.  Plus, without all the tough meat that needs to tenderize, cook time is cut down significantly.

Here’s my recipe, adapted from the one I grew up eating.  When I make it, I like to make enough for leftovers, so the amounts I am listing are enough to feed my family of four (two adults and two young children) for about two nights.

Vegetable Stew

– 64oz V8 Juice

– 12 red potatoes – cubed (depending on size, you might want to use more or less)

– 1 large, or 2 medium onions – sliced

– 1lb baby carrots (I like to put them in whole.  They can be cut however you like them)

– 7-10 Stalks of Celery – sliced

– 1 package of mushrooms – whole or sliced (I used button, but de-gilled portobello can be used)

– approx 16oz frozen peas

– 1-2 tbsp butter

– 4 tbsp olive oil

– approx 5 tbsp flour

– 1 vegetable bouillon cube

– Salt and pepper to taste

(Create a Roux)
-Preheat oil in large pot over medium heat.  Add onions and some salt.  Cook onions until translucent, but not brown.  Add butter.  When melted, add flour until all the butter and oil are absorbed (you might need more or less than listed).  Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3-4 minutes.  Do not brown.

– Stirring, add the entire bottle of V8 into the pot.  Add the rest of the vegetables, the bouillon cube and salt and pepper.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  Stew is almost ready when the vegetables are tender and the acidity of the V8 has reduced.  Add the peas, and cook until heated through.

– Best served with warm, crusty bread with butter if desired.

I kept the recipe traditional because that’s the way my family and I like to eat it.  Other vegetables (like parsnips or broccoli) can be added for more variety.  Also, if you like, herbs like thyme or rosemary can be added to give it a punchier flavor.

If you’ve been hesitating to make the switch to vegetarian because you fear you might miss meaty comfort food favorites like stew, or if you just want to skip the meat for a night, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try, and find out how delicious and fulfilling vegetables can be.  Enjoy!

And don’t forget to stay tuned…I’ve got lots more delicious recipes coming up!

Vegging Out – Macaroni Grill

A leftover piece of my Eggplant Parm

One of the hardest things about being a vegetarian, undoubtedly, is eating out. I have never been as aware of how meat filled almost all menus are, until I stopped eating it. Some of the restaurants that we used to visit frequently, including Applebee’s and Friday’s, are now closed to us as they have NO vegetarian options (in our area at least). Even their salads have meat! As a meat eater, I never realized that ‘American’ food is pretty much 100% meat – sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. Luckily, most ethnic foods have interesting vegetarian options to explore.

One of my favorite things to eat has always been Italian food. Since our part of Florida is about 95% chain restaurants, and 3% of the other options close after lunch, most of our dining out is limited to chains, one of those being Macaroni Grill. We had eaten there once previously, several years ago, and we weren’t impressed. I’m pretty sure I got the Chicken Parmigiana (my favorite at the time), and remember thinking that it tasted fake. While searching for someplace to eat last night, we decided to give it another try (and we had a coupon – always a plus!).

When we walked in, it smelled really good (another hard part of being a freshly turned vegetarian – meat on the grill still smells delicious). They seated us, and the kids really liked that they could draw on the table with crayons they provided. We had to sit at a table due to the highchair and their booths being elevated for some strange reason. There was about an inch between me and the person sitting behind me (most of the rest of the restaurant was empty, so this irritated me). We ordered the Crispy Fresh Mozzarella appetizer, which was very good, if a little lacking in the salt department. For an entree, I ordered Eggplant Parmesan (my new favorite) and my husband got the Eggplant Quadratini. It took them a long while, but they finally brought bread to our table. It was pretty good, but had rosemary in it, which I am not very fond of. It wasn’t overpowering, and the texture of the bread was good.

Our dinner came, and I was impressed with how it looked (I keep forgetting to take pictures – I’m working on it!). It had three pieces of fried eggplant with fresh mozzarella on top, and came with capellini pasta (thin spaghetti). The pasta was dressed in marinara sauce, and cold when it got to me (but perfectly cooked), but the eggplant was hot and crispy, if sliced a little thicker than I usually prefer. I needed to add a little salt, but in Florida, I find that most things are generally a little under-salted. My husband really liked his meal and thought that their unique square shaped pasta had a really great texture. I tasted his, and it was too herb-y for me. The kids had spaghetti and meatballs (I let my three year old have meat occasionally if he really wants it, but will steer him further away from it as time goes on. My one year old has had meat about twice in his lifetime.) which they liked.

In all, we had a good vegetarian dining experience at Macaroni Grill. There were several meatless options for us to choose from, which were more entree like (read – not a sandwich or a salad) then a lot of places have to offer. The service wasn’t great, but wasn’t terrible, and the final consensus is that we would go back. If you are looking for a meal that isn’t a piece of lettuce on a plate or some steamed broccoli, Macaroni Grill is a good place to try.

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