Monthly Archives: November 2011

So Much Quinoa

Do you have those meals that you really love to eat, but you would NEVER serve to someone else?  Maybe you like them because they’re healthy, or cheap, or easy, but they’re not pretty or fancy enough to give to guests.  I totally have those meals.  Most of them are some combination of quinoa and vegetables…I LOVE quinoa.  I guess I just really like big mixed up bowls of food.  When I was a kid I always cut up my broccoli and chicken (yes, chicken – I wasn’t always a vegetarian.  Just for the past 13 years) and mix them with my mashed potatoes.  You people who don’t like your food touching…you’re weird.

But I digress.  I’m going to tell you some of my favorite so-good-but-no-serve meals.  Most of them are big pots of veggies and proteins that you can make on Monday and eat for the rest of the work week.  They’re all super flexible ways to use up random vegetables in the fridge. Healthy, budget-friendly…totally not sexy.  Who cares?


My first post was about quinoa.  Quinoa is awesome because it’s easy to cook, really filling and a complete protein.  Boil two times as much vegetable stock or water as you have quinoa (so, for example, two cups of stock to one cup of dry quinoa); when the pot is boiling, reduce the heat and add the quinoa.  Simmer, covered, for 15-25 minutes depending on how much you’re making (basically until the liquid is absorbed).  So what  can you do with it?

Classic quinoa veggie salad: quinoa, plus garlic, onion, red pepper, carrots, zucchini or summer squash, spinach and cherry tomatoes.  Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, cumin and a little chili.

Southwestern quinoa: add onion, green and red peppers, canned adobo or jalapeno chilis, carrots, squash and black beans.  Season with salt, lime, cilantro and chili.

Autumn quinoa: I just made this tonight and it’s soooo good.  Roast a butternut squash, caramelize onions and mushrooms (see this caramelized onion jam for a starting point) and sautee spinach, garlic and fresh sage.  Mix and finish with salt and pepper and maybe a little oregano.

Vegetable Curry

This is the same principle as my quinoa: sautee some veggies, add to a pot and season.  Voila.  I like this with any combination of onions, red pepper, carrots, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cauliflower (a must – sometimes I just make the cauliflower with curry sauce for lunch), green beans, peas and/or spinach.  When they’re done, add chickpeas to the pot and take off the heat.  Stir in a 6-ounce container of plain non-fat yogurt, along with copious amounts of curry and some pepper, salt, chili powder, cumin and cinnamon.  It’s best to let the flavors marry for a while – this dish tastes even better as leftovers.

Doctored-Up Soups

I kind of already touched on this one, but I really love to take a good can of soup and add whatever is about to go bad in my fridge.  Tomato soup, split pea, lentil, butternut squash…all of it is better with a little zucchini, onion or carrot tossed in.  And a super easy way to healthify your canned loveliness is to add leftover pumpkin or squash puree.  Spices are always good too, especially if you’re like me and you get low-sodium soups: chili, red pepper flakes, curry, basil, lots of pepper and maybe some paprika (my newest obsession with winter squash – and I don’t have any in my cupboard!).


I like oven roasting.  I like my toaster oven because it’s perfect for single servings.  I roast everything with salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe garlic: cauliflower, tomatoes, broccoli, squash, you name it.  A perfect side dish, unless you’re like me and you consider a big plate of roasted broccoli to be dinner.  Hey, sometimes it happens.

Kale Salad

Kale is another one of those winning foods that’s really good for you and goes with anything.  Like any other veggie, sometimes I’ll sautee kale with some garlic and call it lunch.  But you can steam or sautee some kale and top it with anything, from caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes to cannelini beans and mushrooms.  Tracy from Shutterbean baked some with coconut! Croutons and parmesan make a light version of a caesar, while tofu and vegetables can give it a heartier twist.  Add apples, oranges or dried cranberries for a sweet fruit salad.  Top it with sweet chili sauce or sesame oil and soy for Asian flavor.  Do whatever.  Kale is a superfood.

And there are more.  Other salads, for instance.  Slaws (I have a really good honey-dijon dressing I put on everything in the summer).  But these are good, wintery dinner foods.  Just don’t let your roommate/friend/mother/boyfriend see you eat it.


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A Vegetarian Thanksgiving: Stuffed Squash and Mushroom Dressing

I know it’s a cliche, but seriously…what are you thankful for?  Whenever I’m feeling particularly sad or angry I always remember that my life is so good compared to so many people in the world, and no problems of mine are ever going to rival hunger, poverty, illness or oppression.  So, yes, it’s a cliche, but gratitude – and perspective – are indispensable to a happy life.

My Thanksgiving holiday was awesome, and my two vegetarian contributions to my non-veg family were really delicious, if I do say so myself.  What did I make?  Farro-stuffed acorn squash and herb-mushroom stuffing.  Sweet and spicy on the one hand, rich and savory on the other.  And the best part is they were both my original creations.  Who needs turkey??

Farro-Stuffed Acorn Squash

  • 1 small-medium acorn squash
  • 3/4 cup farro
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 apple (on the sweeter side, such as a gala)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • 2 1/2 ounces baby spinach (about half a 5 oz. container)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • olive oil
  • maple syrup
  • 1- 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees.  Carefully cut your acorn squash in half lengthwise, and scrape the inside with a spoon.  Save the seeds for later use and rub the inside flesh with olive oil and maple syrup (many people let the syrup pool in the center, but this is too sweet for me – I just use my fingers to make sure it’s coated.)

Then place the squash cut-side up in a glass baking dish with about a half inch of water in the bottom to prevent the skins from scorching.  Bake for about 45-55 minutes, until soft when poked with a fork.

For the seeds, put them in a bowl of cold water and remove all the stringy fleshy bits, then dry thoroughly.  Toss the seeds with about a teaspoon of butter, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of maple syrup, then spread on foil on a baking sheet – DO NOT forget the foil!  Bake until golden-brown, about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.

In the meantime, bring your two cups of vegetable broth to a boil in a pot.  Once the broth is boiling, add the 3/4 cup of farro and simmer, covered, on low heat for 25-35 minutes, or until the broth is absorbed and the farro is chewy but not hard.

While the farro is cooking (multitasking is a Thanksgiving necessity, right?), chop your half onion and apple and finely mince the clove of garlic.  Sautee the onion with olive oil, and when it begins to soften add the garlic and apple.  When the onions become translucent, add the spinach and cranberries and fold the ingredients to wilt the spinach.  When the spinach is just wilted, remove the pan from heat.

Ideally your farro and acorn squash would also be done at this time, but it’s not really a perfect world we live in.  When the farro is done, stir in the veggies along with the liquid collected in the acorn squash and a tiny drizzle more of maple syrup, if you’d like.  Mix with the curry, chili powder, pinch of cinnamon, and generous dash of salt and pepper.

Let the flavors marry for a bit, then stuff the squash with the farro mixture and garnish with the roasted seeds.  If you’re not serving these immediately or if they need to travel, simply wrap them in tin foil and warm in the oven before serving!

So that takes care of the sweet/spicy main course, chock full of veggies and protein.  But for me, nothing quite says Thanksgiving like the savory, rich, earthy taste of mushrooms – a vegetarian’s best friend in place of meat!

Herb Mushroom Stuffing

  • 6 ounces (about a half a small round loaf) rustic wheat bread
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 pound each white and crimini mushrooms*
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • heaping 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage (about a dozen whole leaves), chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • heaping 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil
*I must confess I didn’t actually pay attention to the weight of the mushrooms when I bought them, but each type filled a 4-cup pyrex bowl when whole.

Your oven might already be on from previous baking, but if not, turn it to 400 degrees.  Chop your bread in 1-inch cubes, then toss with the melted butter and spread on a baking sheet.  Toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once, until the bread is golden brown.

While the bread is toasting, you can toast your walnuts in either the oven or toaster oven.  Either way, keep a VERY close eye on them – walnuts are high in oil and will burn quickly.  It should only take a few minutes for them to turn goldenbrown on top, then remove them from the heat and set aside.  Next start sauteeing the onion and celery with olive oil.  Add the garlic and chopped mushrooms when the onion and celery begin to soften, and cook until all ingredients are soft and the mushrooms begin to release their juices.  To stop them from burning, I added a splash of vegetable broth to the pan as well.  When almost done, stir in the sage, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.

When the veggies are done, remove them from the heat and toss well with the toasted bread and walnuts (I did this in the pan so I wouldn’t dirty another dish). Transfer the mixture into a greased/oiled 9×9 glass baking dish.  Whisk together the vegetable broth and egg, and pour over the stuffing mixture.

I actually made the stuffing before the stuffed squash, so I covered the mixture in foil and let it rest in the fridge for about an hour while I roasted my squash and seeds.  When I was done with my needs at 400 degrees, I turned the oven down to 350 and baked the mushroom stuffing for 25 minutes (covered for about 20 minutes, uncovered for about 5).  When the egg mixture was set and the top was golden, remove it from the oven and let rest, covered, until time to serve.

And there you have it: two amazing vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes.  Or whenever recipes – they’ll be good all winter, I promise!  My meat-eating family didn’t get to try the squash, but they really loved the stuffing – you could probably add some veggie sausage too and no one would be the wiser.  And for the record, this was my Thanksgiving plate before…

And after…

(Not pictured: pumpkin pie.  Mmmm…)  Happy holidays!


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Pumpkin Gingerbread

Guess who just ate half a loaf of pumpkin gingerbread.  I’ll give you a hint:  it was me.  Cat’s out of the bag!

My good friend Ashley was in town yesterday after two years away in Texas with hubby and baby.  After eating brunch, trying on ugly dresses at the mall, and discussing Greek philosophy, we decided to bake this gingerbread.  I only managed to eat half the loaf because Ashley took home the other half.  This is her chopping candied ginger in my un-photogenic kitchen.  Mmmm, candied ginger…

I wasn’t sure if I even liked this gingerbread right out of the oven.  However, after dubiously letting it sit on my counter for a day, I found it really came into its own and it was delicious on the second day.  Dense, moist and full of vitamin A. (Fun fact: polar bear livers are also very high in vitamin A, so much so that if you eat one you could overdose.  Lesson?  Eat winter squash and not polar bears.)

Pumpkin Gingerbread (adapted from Simply Recipes)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 (heaping) teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted*
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped candied ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, raisins and/or cranberries
*I bet you could even mess with the butter and applesauce more (the original recipe just called for a half cup of butter).  You could up the applesauce, but I’d actually try just two tablespoons of butter and a quarter cup of applesauce.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a standard loaf pan.  Mix together your flour, salt, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the pumpkin, butter/applesauce, sugar, molasses, candied ginger, eggs and water.  Once combined, stir together the wet and dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Add in the nuts and/or fruits, if you want.

Pour into the greased bread pan, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let it rest for about 15 minutes in the pan, then remove and let cool completely. And remember, it tastes better the next day.

I had about a half cup or so of leftover pumpkin puree.  I’m definitely going to be baking more pumpkin treats (and sweet potato treats!), but I actually used these leftovers mixed in with a can of lentil soup (Amy’s low-sodium lentil vegetable soup, to be specific) and it was ridiculously amazing.  I also threw in some leftover veggies (onion, carrot and zucchini) I chopped and sauteed in the soup pan, and spiced it up with garlic salt, red pepper flakes and a ton of paprika.  And can I say: budgeting/healthy eating/creative sort-of-homemade indie improvisation WIN.  The smoky paprika went so well with the pumpkin I think I might have to play with these flavors in a savory dish later.

So you might have that to look forward to.  I’ll also be posting about some holiday crafts and holiday parties, easy breakfast ideas, sweet potato cookies, and, of course, THANKSGIVING (for vegetarians…duh).  Stay tuned!

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Animal-Figure Art

Did you know there’s a show called Project Accessory?  It’s like Project Runway, but instead of designing clothes the contestants design jewelry and other accessories.  I can’t tell if I hate the idea or not…

Speaking of accessories, though, as I was cruising my favorite art sites on the web I came across these peacock sculptures, which were mentioned on both Etsy’s News from the Craft and Style Blogosphere and This is Colossal (one of my very favorite art blogs).

Artist Laurel Roth created these sculptures using very unconventional materials – fake fingernails, hair barrettes, jewelry and false eyelashes, among other things.

She says she wanted to “examine mankind’s  drive to modify itself as well as its environment [and]…question the social constructions of need, design and individual desire.”

I really love her use of nontraditional materials to create a sort of classically-inspired sculpture (I, at least, am reminded both of folk art and Chinese sculpture) – it lights a fire under my butt to re-examine objects in my own life within an artistic context.  Transformation and resourcefulness are always inspiring.  I also really love her concept; by juxtaposing these artificial beauty elements with a natural object – which exemplifies the need for attention and beauty in itself – really accomplishes her goal of making an interesting point about desire, aesthetics and our need for…what’s the word I want?  Social victory?  Acceptance?  The only word that (aptly) keeps popping into my mind is “peacocking,” which is an obvious choice but so accurately describes the whole idea in both a human and animal context.

The next bit of animal art that caught my attention also came from Colossal, and is a series of taxidermied animals wrapped in layers of intricately strung beadwork by French artist Julien Salaud.

The series is called Les Animaux Stellaires (the Stellar Animals) and you really must visit his website to look at the scroll of Flash images that I can’t download here.  Salaud says he wants to tell the stories of the changing loves of animals, people and the stars, and like Roth, the works juxtapose the aesthetics of nature with a sort of artificiality of man-made beauty.

The deer images are a bit tense and overwhelming with the beadwork, but some of Salaud’s other animals are adorned in delicate, flowing strands of glittering beads and sequins, giving them an almost royal appeal.  I suppose what attracts me to this work most is that, a) I think it’s a truly NEW idea – I’ve never seen anything quite like this before; and  b) it’s a bit macabre, with the dead taxidermy animals, but there’s also a distinct element of romance and beauty that brings the natural and human worlds together.  A nice partner for Roth’s peacocks – similar goals, but a completely different starting point and end result.


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Vegan Maple-Pecan Cookies…Almost

So here’s a not-so-secret fact of life: sometimes things don’t turn out like you planned.  Now here’s a top-secret fact of life: that’s okay.  Breathe.  Everything will be okay.  You can make a new batch of cookies, you can fix the stain in the carpet, sometimes you can even change jobs or move back home or start physical therapy.  Big or small, nothing is permanent. Remember that.

Now about those cookies.  Lately I’ve been totally obsessed with the vegan maple-pecan cookies at Whole Foods, which only have like six or seven ingredients.  Flour, oats, pecans, maple syrup, salt, canola oil, vanilla.  Something like that.  Shouldn’t be too hard to recreate, right?  Except, silly me, I tried to make the recipe healthy and instead of crumbly, nutty, autumnal cookies I wound up with awkward, chewy (but still delicious) little nuggets.  Trial and error, people, trial and error.

At least they look good, right?  I know I can play with the recipe a little and turn them into a.) killer cookies or b.) delicious chewy granola bars.  My recipe, in case you want it, is this:

Weirdly Chewy Maple-Pecan Cookies

  • 1 cup flour (I did half whole wheat and half white)
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup chopped raw pecans
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix the flour, oats, pecans and flax meal in a bowl.  In another bowl mix the remaining ingredients, and blend the two.  Press tablespoons-full onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes.  Makes about 20 cookies at 110 calories apiece…they’re healthy, but undeniably strange to eat.
So there you have it.  I’m going to perfect it, mind you.  My greatest mistake was substituting applesauce for the oil, and possibly using wheat flours instead of spelt.  But to tweak it into granola bars, I’m going to add raisins or dates, maybe millet, maybe switch in some pumpkin, and bake it in a dish.  I’ll keep you updated.  In the meantime, remember that you don’t need to take things too seriously – all is well!


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Halloween, Finally

Oh hai.  Happy Very-Late-Halloween.  And happy November.  Today was absolutely beautiful in Denver, with leaves falling and snow melting and crows crowing.  All I could think about was Thanksgiving and making maple pecan scones and butternut squash galettes.  The shift from spooky nights to holiday joy has officially begun (because, you know, I’m the one with the final say in all that).

But about Halloween.  That happened.  I was there.  I wasn’t a cat wearing Kitten Mittens, like I planned…it turns out leotards are terrifyingly unflattering and should never be worn by me EVER.  Instead I was the Son of Man by Magritte, which is fitting since I’m a big ol’ art history nerd.










Of course I also carved the pumpkin I got from the pumpkin patch.  And everyone knows that when you carve a pumpkin, that means you also get to roast pumpkin seeds.

I drew that pattern myself!  As for the seeds, I made two kinds: one salty-sweet, and the other savory.  As usual, these recipes are to taste and the amounts can be easily varied.

Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds

  • 2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
Savory Pumpkin Seeds
  • 2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili powder
  • salt to taste
For each of these, rinse your pumpkin seeds well and remove all the stringy pumpkin bits you can.  Toss all the ingredients together well, and spread on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for about a half hour or until the seeds start turning toasty brown, stirring occasionally.
And…that’s about it!  I’m sorry I’m not more of a meticulous, exact recipe-giver, but I really believe there’s a lot of wiggle room in cooking.  Also you may have noticed a head of actual garlic in my ingredients photo.  DO NOT use garlic.  I didn’t have any garlic powder so I minced some real garlic, which turned out to be a mistake – it cooked a lot more quickly than the pumpkin seeds and gave everything a kind of burnt flavor.  Yuck.  But see?  You try and sometimes you fail but that’s how you learn.

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