Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quick and Easy Lifesaver

Ugh...the weather was awful today. LOTS of rain and HIGH wind. Broken umbrellas everywhere. Down power lines. The power went out while I was doing my homework this morning before class... It was so dismal outside that I had to light candles everywhere just so I could get ready, my house was so dark! Any-who...after dashing to the groomers to pick up my dogs (aren't they cute?!):

I raced to the school campus, driving through mini-ponds, whipping rain and lots of tree debris just so I could circle the huge parking lot like a vulture for 20-30 minutes looking for a parking spot (the beginning of the semester is the worst!). By the time I had parked and hiked the 35 miles or so from the parking lot to my building, I was soaking wet. And I was using a large umbrella - to no avail since the wind just whipped the rain up and under! For the next 3+ hours, I sat shivering and drip drying. Do you know how uncomfortable very wet denim is?? Finally dry and warm, I headed back out to my much for dry and warm! If it sounds like I'm complaining, I am. You can't imagine how happy I was to be back behind the wheel.

As I began to feel human again, I realized how hungry I was. Have you ever had one of those days? So busy that you only think about food once the day is over? I just hate that! And to make it worse, I was headed to Safeway by my daughter's request. I'm not going to say how much I bought because it's just silly and embarrassing...however, I did buy a cheese pizza from the deli - and discovered the quickest, easiest way to eat veggie and relatively healthy:

Go home, kick your shoes off (that's an important step). Turn the oven on to 400 degrees, start pulling out whatever you have (mushrooms, peppers, onion, olives, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, pineapple chunks, baby spinach, garlic, whatever..). Chop it up and toss on pizza. Sprinkle a little cheese on top (I keep bags of shredded italian blend, cheddar and mozzarella handy). Throw it in the oven, grab something to drink, and relax for 15 minutes. This is a good time to drink a big glass of water.

Ding-ding! Dinner's ready. And there's leftover for tomorrow. Woo hoo!

Another super-easy and satisfying lunch/dinner: get one of the veggie soups from the Safeway deli department (I bought Broccoli & Cheesy Cheddar) and a warm loaf of French bread. Don't forget the Pellegrino's (or for an occasional treat, try Blood Orange Italian soda - mostly carbonated water w/juice - but there is some sugar so remember this is a treat only!). Soup and fresh baked bread are great on those cold, rainy days!

Here's another picture of my sweetheart, Irish. She's just so pretty (smile). I would show you my finished pizza, but alas, I got distracted on my computer (homework - I swear!) that it cooked a little too long. Still edible, but more than a little "golden brown", lol. Note to self: set a timer when cooking pizza!!

P.S. I got into all my classes - no more waitlist!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Veggie on the Run...

Well, today was my first school day of the 2010 spring semester. My first day at school as a veggie - how exciting. This semester I've opted for shorter class times and multiple class days - which means I'm at school pretty much all day. Honestly, I was a tiny bit nervous this morning because I knew my 2nd class was in waitlist status and I really needed it this semester. Which means: I didn't eat breakfast. Such a bad idea! I grabbed a banana on the way out the door, but didn't eat it until around 12:30. However, I did breeze through the cafeteria and scoop up a slice of veggie pizza. Not exactly health food, but definitely veggie.

OMG - I just realized that I had root beer with my pizza! Until this very moment, I wasn't even aware I had broken one of my rules!! Talk about subliminal programming...I'm really gonna have to pay attention to that from now on!

Oh well, lesson learned! In case you aren't aware, Sacramento is in the middle of a crazy rainstorm right now with high winds - kind of makes you forget about food! When I finally got home, I made a quick peanut butter sandwich using some small, very brown and nutty, super-healthy bread. It made me feel like one of those health food nuts in the movies, lol. No more soda - Pellegrino's instead :) Also, threw together a quick cole slaw salad to rest in the fridge - maybe I'll toss the butternut squash in the oven tonight and have the warm butternut and cold cole slaw. Hmmm...

Honestly, I was a little worried about eating during school (and on the run in general), but after today I'm reassured. Although I did walk past a food stand making hamburgers and will admit to half-closing my eyes for a moment and turning my head toward the aroma. Fortunately, I quickly came to my senses, reminded myself exactly WHY I have chosen a veggie lifestyle (perhaps the topic of a future post), and sauntered on past without a care. many temptations!!

Now, I'm full, tired and really starting to think about that butternut...I've never cooked or eaten it before so I'm very curious - everyone says it's wonderful, including Mrs. Chic! Also thinking about quick snacks I can toss in my bag such as raw almonds (love 'em), baggie of granola, baggie of baby carrots, pretzels, apple, small container of yogurt, dried fruit, sugar peas - and I guess I could actually make a sandwich (PB&J, tomato, cheese & avocado), lol. Now that I think about it, I have a cupboard full of Atkins food (shakes and bars) from a few months ago when I thought I'd try that path to health. Too much meat for me - even then. However, the shakes and bars have a lot of great nutrition and are high in protein. So that may be a good use for them. The only downside is the ingredients include sucralose as a sweetener which I am trying to avoid. So perhaps I'll use up those dietary supplements over the next few weeks while getting my new veggie rythm down.

Woohoo! I'm so glad to be back in school! I'm a total dork - but I don't care!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Girls Night, Vol. I

As I glance over my newly created blog, I can feel the excitement fairly crackling off my laptop screen. Who, other than no-life having losers, get excited about going veggie? Apparently me. I feel like I've just discovered some secret - how silly is that? I was in Safeway the other day (I'll admit, it's my favorite grocery store) in the produce section and found a great little spinning recipe card holder - full of almost entirely veggie recipes. I walked away with 17 cards, lol. Much to my amazement, there is a whole world out there dedicated to veggie eaters! These recipes got me so excited, I was almost embarrassed. My kids were definitely embarrassed.

When I got home, I started reading through the list of ingredients and comparing to what I have in the fridge and cupboards. I was pleased to find over half of the standard ingredients I already had. Now, as stated before, I am a college student again - which of course means that I'm broke. Did I mention I also have an 18 year-old daughter who is now a sophomore in college? So I'm super-broke. And she now has her own apartment, which mean she comes by regularly for cash, food, laundry soap, etc. So...I'm actually super-super broke! How in the world can I afford to buy such things as Avocado Oil, Marsala Cooking wine, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, etc. etc.? Aha! In my part of the world, it's called Grocery Outlet (sometimes called Food Rainbow) where I can find a very large bottle of excellent extra virgin olive oil for $7.99. And jars of artichoke hearts for $1.49. Let's not forget the wildly popular 99 cent Store - a haven for us bargain gourmets!

I'll admit to being a little worried that becoming a veggie might mean boring, tasteless and mundane. To my great surprise and relief, the opposite has happened. In the last few weeks, I've made some of the most interesting, flavorful food of my entire life. And I re-discovered brown rice (I tried some years ago and decided YUCK) which has miraculously become quite tasty! Go figure.

A few days ago I had one of my regular "girl nights" with my best-friend Mrs. Chic (chiclittlehouse.blogspot). These evening usually involve great food -always something new and different - lots of girl talk, and a movie or two. I was hosting and had just discovered the Safeway recipe cards; you can guess what my meal plan was. Mrs. Chic was in total veggie agreement so I scampered to the store for some vital ingredients. Our menu read as follows:

Cucumber Salad
Cold Greek pasta salad
Cucumber-Feta dip
sliced french baguette rounds

Grilled Squash and Ravioli
Fried tomatoes

Spiced Asian Pear Salad

As I was driving home, it suddenly occurred to me, "I feel like Julie in the recent movie Julie/Julia!" I couldn't wait to get home and start preparing. Understand, I rarely cook anymore (I CAN cook, I simply don't) so this was a bit unusual for me! I called Mrs. Chic and she must have caught my excitement because she said she was on her way over - to help! Now the way this usually works is the person hosting does the cooking and the guest might bring a side-dish, beverage, etc. We were about to break the 'girl-night' rule.

A few hours later, Mrs. Chic and I were well sated, toasting each other with gorgeous cobalt glasses full of Perrier and feeling terribly proud of ourselves. With the exception of the Pear Salad, everything was great. The pears weren't ripe (neither of us are pear eaters, sooo NOT our fault, lol). Of course that didn't matter because we were too full anyway! I had a lot of leftovers which quickly disappeared the next day.

As I sit here writing this, I'm thinking ahead to our next girls night...which may involve some butternut squash (haven't had it yet), risotto, stuffed portobello mushrooms, ???


Grilled Squash and Ravioli (serve warm)

YUMMY! That's all I can say about this recipe. So good, in fact, that my daughters were in the kitchen sneaking bites while checking to make sure I couldn't see them - since they are huge believers in meat and staging an on-going protest! When I first read this recipe, I thought "yeah sure, I'll just preheat my grill - since I have a gourmet kitchen, just call me Julia...". Then, I remembered I DID have a grill - a Foreman grill! Guess what? It works perfectly - for everything: squash, mushrooms, garlic - you name it! So without further ado, lets cook!
  • 1 lb. frozen cheese ravioli (I used fresh from the deli)
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed yellow summer squash
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Italian dressing (I used light Sicilian Roasted Garlic Balsamic Vinaigrette)
  • 1/3 cup of thinly sliced FRESH basil
  • shredded Parmesan cheese - optional

1. Cook ravioli according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.

2. Place large sections of squash on a Foreman Grill, along with whole mushrooms and garlic cloves until tender (4-7 minutes). Remove and cut accordingly.

3. In a large bowl, combine grilled veggies, cooked ravioli, fresh basil and Italian dressing. Toss to coat and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serves 4.

Roasted/grilled garlic, fresh basil and good ravioli are the most important ingredients here. The original recipe said to grill the veggies in aluminium foil with the dressing for 20-30 minutes. If you, like me, do not have either the patience or the time for this - a Foreman Grill is your answer. Also, make sure you use a good tomato - very flavorful and ripe (if it doesn't smell like a tomato - it's not a good one!). Any Italian-type dressing will work. My recipe was on the sweet side because of the basil and balsamic vinaigrette I chose to use. Be creative. Also, I served this with Fried Tomatoes - a first for me that left me wanting to watch the movie, lol. I'll post that recipe another time, after I have made it again. Unfortunately, it was only mediorce since the tomato was somewhat bland. I can't emphasis enough the importance of fresh, ripe "smelly" tomatoes. As far as the ravioli, my personal preference is fresh ravioli - the frozen seems so "cold" lol. Also, next time I'm thinking of using a spinach-cheese blend.

Fast, tasty and easy...what more could anyone ask for?

Greek Pasta Salad (cold)

Zucchini is the featured veggie in this recipe. There are many ways to adjust this, which is why I really like it - and it can be made the day before. I personally don't like garbanzo beans (at least I didn't) but figured I should try a recipe exactly the way it reads before adding my own flavor. Turns out, garbanzo beans aren't so bad!

3 oz. small farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
1 can (15 oz., drained) garbanzo beans
1 can (8-14 oz., drained) artichoke hearts, quartered
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese (or gorgonzola)

1. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water. Drain again. In large bowl combine pasta, beans, artichoke hearts, zucchini and onion. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, oil, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Drizzle over pasta mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with feta. Serves 8.

This recipe seems best if chilled for at least one hour (or overnight). Also, try cutting the onion in half and cutting very thin slices instead of chopped pieces. I found the onion a bit overwhelming so next time I will use green onion or less red onion. The feta and artichoke hearts really make this a winner - and it's very satisfying! Great served with sliced baguette rounds. I may change the beans next time to kidney, for both flavor and color. Also playing with the idea of adding some sun-dried tomatoes...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Along Came a Veggie...

So, what would you do if you woke up one fine December, post-Christmas morning and decided that meat just no longer fit into your preferred lifestyle? yourself a vegetarian and start a blog, lol!

When I say this was a random, cold turkey decision, I really mean it. I don't wear Birkenstocks, don't drive a Subaru, I do shave my underarms on a regular basis, absolutely LOVE chocolate and have no plan to give it up, HATE Clif Nutrition Bars (otherwise known as processed cardboard), and wouldn't be caught dead with any Kashi product in my cabinet!

So how, you ask, did I arrive at this decision to "go veggie"? Well, all I can say is my dogs made me do it. This is my Lhasa Apso 'Irish' (on right) and her companion Shih Tzu 'Riley' (on left). These guys are spoiled and their health is one of my top priorities - which resulted in my doing some in-depth research into dog food. Suffice it to say I was completely GROSSED OUT by what I learned and suddenly found myself repulsed by meat. Thats it. No great story, no horrible experience, no convenient epiphany regarding my health, and not yet another New Year's resolution to start "eating right".

This is now my third week of being a veggie. Strangely enough, I don't have the slightest craving for meat of any kind! I had originally thought that I would give up all meats except seafood, but after eating a teaspoon of tuna fish on a baguette slice today - I'm reconsidering. I found I didn't like eating meat.

You may be wondering what 'going veggie' means to me. Well, I'm not following any pre-determined philosophy or strict 'official' rules. These are my personal veggie guidelines:

  • NO MEAT, including broth and boullion
  • lots of fresh, whole fruit and vegetables
  • whole grain bread (with the exception of french bread baguettes!)
  • no soda or sugar sweetened beverages (100% juice only)
  • as much whole foods as possible
  • limited processed food
  • eggs and cheese in moderation
  • no refined sugar or artificial sweeteners
  • real butter and olive oil - no more margarine
  • absolutely NO fast food! (not a new decision)
  • variety, variety, variety :)

I have to confess, since changing my personal eating habits, I've had the most varied, interesting and tasty meals ever. It's important to mention here that I'm a single mom with 3 teenage girls living in the house. Fortunately, one of them is also an aspiring veggie and is totally on board with me. However, the other two girls...well this quote says it best, "Mom! Where is the MEAT! Just cuz you're eating healthy doesn't mean we have to!!"... You can see my dilema. To cook, or not to cook...that is the question. Oh yeah, and I'm not exactly Mrs. Cleaver - cooking a lovely meal for my darling daughters each evening while dusting, singing and generally catering to their every need. I'm more of a "make it yourself, you know how to cook!" kind of mom these days (I'm a full time college student again) and sit down meals tend to be limited to holidays and my occasional generous moods. My schedule is, putting it mildly, a little hectic and meals are generally on-the-run.

Stay tuned for interesting facts (did you know Baba Ghanoush is made from eggplant?), great recipies, awful recipes to NEVER try, tips to making life easier, and updates on how this change affects my life.