When I was a little kid, the list of foods I found downright revolting was long: bananas, apricots, squash, peas, lima beans, kidney beans, mustard, green olives, hard-boiled eggs, chili, cooked carrots, sweet pickles, hash of any kind, salmon, chicken on the bone (except for Gramma Rhetta’s legendary fried chicken), meat loaf, any casserole containing hot tuna fish, the dreaded Shipwreck Casserole, and anything containing mushrooms. To name a few.

Some of those aversions have stayed into adulthood, but luckily, as a card-carrying grown up, I don’t have to endure Shipwreck Casserole or cooked carrots any more because the one doing the cooking/food purchasing/meal planning is good old moi.

Some food aversions I just grew out of, and while they’re still not my favorite thing on the planet (apricots, I’m talking to you), the sight of them no longer makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Some of my former enemies I absolutely grew to love, like mustard, salmon and mushrooms. To be fair, we never really ate salmon at home and the only mushrooms I encountered were of the canned variety, so I didn’t really know what I was missing. Fresh mushrooms are altogether different from their tinned brethren, thank goodness.

I’ve been relying so heavily on fresh mushrooms (of all varieties) during these past few weeks of quasi-vegetarian eating that I’m ready to declare myself The Goddess of All Mushroomy Things. I am waiting for my crown and my laminated certificate.

In fact, we’ve been eating so many mushrooms that my husband asked, as we were tucking into another weekend lunch of portobello parmesan, “You know, these mushrooms are really tasty, but is there any kind of health risk associated with eating this many mushrooms?”

We laughed, but honestly, I had no idea. I Googled it because I’m weird like that and viola! We are in the clear. We are unlikely to be scarfing down 5 pounds of morel mushrooms at a time, so we can rest easy.

Mushrooms are a natural thing to turn to when you’re trying to eliminate your reliance on furred and feathered creatures because they taste…meaty. And their texture is substantial and…meaty. It’s almost uncanny how meaty something totally un-meaty can taste. Mushrooms, you have saved our butts the last few weeks, so I thank you.

The recipe I’m sharing today is just the ticket if you want something comforting and hearty (and vegetarian).  The mushrooms are braised in beer, almost like you’d do with beef for stew, although they cook in a fraction of the time. Paired with a generous shmear of garlic, some caramelized onions and fresh rosemary, you’ve got something special.

You can serve the mushrooms as is, over something like noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta–anything that will soak up that yummy, beer-spiked sauce. Alternatively, you can do what we did and slice the mushrooms, plop them on a crusty ciabatta roll, top with the braised onions and melt some gooey, buttery fontina cheese over the whole shebang. It makes for a spectacular sandwich. Really. You can even serve it for the football crowd.

Speaking of football, I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus this week, because my husband and I are hopping on a plane with Daddy-o to Pennsylvania. We’ll prowl around Pittsburgh for a few days and then drive down to Happy Valley, where we will hopefully witness my husband’s beloved Nittany Lions beat the tar out of Michigan. Go Penn State!

This will really be a special week for us. We’re celebrating the birthdays of two of the best, most steadfast and genuine men I’ve ever known. I feel very lucky to be able to do that. Daddy’s always wanted to see a game in State College, and my husband hasn’t been back in decades. I’m anxious to see where he spent his college years and visit his old haunts. Plus, my father cannot stand Michigan, so there’s going to be a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ going on. I love some good hootin’ and hollerin’.

Not sure how strict we’re going to follow our vegetable-centered eating plan in Pennsylvania; we’ll be at the mercy of restaurants and brewpubs, so we might play a little wild and loose this week. Wish us luck, and I’ll have some fun things to tell you when I get back!

 

 

Beer Roasted Portobello Mushrooms

serves 4

slightly adapted from Chris Bianco

 

8 large portobello mushrooms

1 small onion, cut into wedges

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, or more as needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

6 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce (use tamari if you want a strictly vegetarian recipe)

One 12-ounce bottle beer, such as brown ale, stout or porter

 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Brush the mushrooms with a slightly damp towel to remove any dirt. Remove stems. Use a small spoon to gently scrape away the gills from the mushroom caps.

Lay the mushrooms and the onions in a roasting pan or in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, gill side up. Drizzle with the oil, using your hands to coat the mushrooms/onions evenly. Season with salt and pepper, then scatter the garlic and the rosemary around the mushrooms. Pour about 3/4 of the beer and the tamari around the mushrooms (reserve the rest for de-glazing).

Roast on the middle rack for 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are starting to collapse. Using tongs, gently flip the mushrooms over and push them around a bit to coat the gill sides in the roasting liquid.

Flip the mushrooms back to gill-side up.

Put back in the oven and roast for 10 more minutes until caramelized and the juices are reduced to about 1/2- 1/4 cup. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Remove the skillet or pan from the oven and arrange the mushrooms and garlic on a serving platter. Set skillet or roasting pan on the stove burners over medium-high heat. Pour in the remaining beer and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once liquid has reduced a little, drizzle the liquid over the mushrooms.

Serve mushrooms with something to soak up the sauce, like mashed potatoes, rice or soft polenta. Alternatively, you can slice the mushrooms and serve them on crusty sandwich rolls.

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Colorado was shamelessly showing off for us this weekend, as it’s apt to do in October. The leaves were a stunning palette of yellow, orange and crimson and with the snow-topped mountains in the backdrop, it was hard to stay inside for more than a few minutes.  I kept heading outside just to gawk at it all. Our weekend was packed with activity; long walks, an outdoor wedding, a post-birthday pizza party for Miss M., the arrival of new living room furniture, and lunch with Daddy-O. Whew. By Sunday evening, I felt about 162 years old.

The beauty of this weekend came with a bit of regret, because the forecast called for a wallop of biting, arctic air to slam in Sunday night. Mother Nature, how dare you?! It is far too soon to lose all of Autumn’s bounty! Boulder county is expected to get 6-12 inches of snow Monday-Tuesday, so those jewel-colored leaves are toast.

I’m pouting. Change hurts.

Turns out, I’m not the only one in the family who has trouble with change.

The arrival of the new furniture meant the departure of our old, behemoth sectional couch–which happens to be the favorite napping spot of our crotchety kitty, Aria. She was quite displeased with the loss of it, and our new couch is leather; she tried to jump up on it many times, only to slip, slide and tumble off the end of it. Mozzy and I thought it was wildly entertaining, but our aging grand dame was pissed. I can only imagine how she’s going to “voice” her displeasure in the coming days. I’d better check my shoes in the morning before putting my feet in them.

After much pacing and howling and fumbling, Aria finally had to resort to chair-snoozing on a pillow next to this guy:

                                                                      ^Neither one looks particularly pleased, eh?

 

I guess we all have some adjusting to do.

After the busy weekend and with news of cold weather coming, I rolled up my sleeves Sunday afternoon and dug out the soup pot. I guess my only solace regarding the snow is that there’s a comforting vessel of creamy potato soup bubbling on the stove.

This potato soup is sure to take the chill out of your bones, and it’s deceptively healthy, too. I know that sounds counterintuitive…didn’t I just say “creamy potato soup?” How can that be good for you?

Sneaky little tricks, that’s how. There are a few little hacks employed in this recipe to ensure success, and I’m happy to share them with you, so you can have bowlfuls of creamy, dreamy, good-for-you potato soup, too:

~ using a combination of baking potatoes and Yukon golds (which are naturally buttery-tasting) gives this soup a more complex flavor and texture

~ leaving the skins on the Yukon gold potatoes is a natural, fat-free way to add heft and thicken the soup without using a butter/flour roux

~ simmering the potatoes in mostly stock, with only a modest amount of milk lowers the calorie count without sacrificing flavor

~ sneaking in a bit of cauliflower in lieu of some of the potatoes keeps things on the skinny side, and you’ll never notice it’s in there (truth)

~ pureeing most of the soup in a blender (or using a hand-held stick blender) = creamy mouth-feel…which in this case is not a dirty thing. Ahem.

~ finishing the soup with a smidge of fromage blanc or low-fat sour cream adds lusciousness and tang

and finally

~ sprinkling on a couple of good things, like scallion, fresh herbs, a leeetle bit of cheese and perhaps bacon (if you aren’t going hard core vegetarian) adds a little fun to your bowl, and don’t we all need a little fun?

Served in warm bowls with a salad and some crusty bread, this is the perfect antidote to the inevitable arrival of Le White Crud. I swear, I’m trying not to be bitter. Soup helps. It does.

 

 

Sneaky Potato Soup

serves 8

slightly adapted from Cooking Light

 

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 pound cubed, peeled baking potato

1 pound cubed Yukon gold potato, skins left on

5-6 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or you can use vegetable broth to make this totally vegetarian)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

dash of cayenne pepper

1 pound cauliflower, cut into florets

1 1/2 cups milk

3/4 cup green onions, sliced

1/2 cup fromage blanc or light sour cream

For garnish:

chopped parsley

shredded cheddar cheese or smoked gouda cheese

cooked crumbled bacon (optional but oh-so good)

 

Preheat oven to 450.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil to pan. Add onion, thyme and garlic and saute for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, 5 cups of chicken stock, 1/2 teaspoon salt and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 40 minutes or until potatoes are very tender. Remove from heat; discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, cauliflower, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until browned, turning once.

Place the cauliflower mixture and milk in a blender. Remove the center piece of the blender lid to allow steam to escape. Place a clean towel over the top of the blender (to avoid splatter). Blend until smooth. Pour cauliflower mixture into a large bowl.

Add half of potato mixture to blender and pulse 5-6 times or until coarsely blended. Repeat with other half of potato mixture.*

Place cauliflower and potato mixture back into the Dutch oven. Cook until heated through over medium heat. Stir in remaining salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. Stir in 1/2 cup of the green onions. If mixture seems overly thick, thin with additional chicken broth. Add the sour cream or fromage blanc and stir until heated through.

Ladle soup into warm bowls and top with little fun garnishes–whichever ones you choose.

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We have a week and a half of The Great Meal Plan Shake Up under the belt, and it’s been going pretty well, if I might say so myself. There have been some adjustments and some lessons here and there, but so far, there hasn’t been too much pain. I will say that I have been trying hard to make really interesting, tasty meat-free meals, and as time goes by, I can see that going by the wayside.

When an eating plan is new and fresh, it’s pretty easy to motivate yourself to put time and effort into feeding yourself (and in my case, significant other). I have been spending lots of time these past few days researching recipes and hitting up the market daily for fresh produce when inspiration strikes. I’m enjoying it–for now–but let’s face it, that kind of time expenditure isn’t sustainable. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

A few things I’ve learned this first week-plus:

~ it takes lots of herbs, spices, vinaigrettes and seasonings to make vegetables really tasty. Having a stocked pantry in that regard is a must. Having access to super fresh, organic produce is a necessity too. And throwing cheese on stuff never hurts.

~ it’s not necessarily easier to eat vegetarian at breakfast and lunch, and then eating meat at dinner. That was the original plan but it was kind of short-sighted of me, actually, because a lot of the vegetarian meals I want to cook make much more sense for the hot evening meal. That’s the meal I have the most time (and motivation) to prepare. Thus, I can pack Sandwich Man a nice roast beef or turkey sandwich several times a week if I’m planning something like Portobello Parmesan or Mushroom Bourgignonne or Indian Veggie Curry for dinner. Hey, flexiblity is nice! Who’d have thought?

~ eating less meat definitely improves the grocery bill. For years, my husband and I have been following a mostly high protein, low carb eating style. It’s worked for us, but it’s costly. Since we eat local, organic, grass-fed protein as much as possible, it’s been no small investment. Vegetables are certainly easier on the pocketbook, although I’ve been splurging on really good, high quality cheese…so there’s that.

~ both my husband and I are finding ourselves hungrier between meals. I’m normally not much of a snacker but this past week, I’ve been needing at least one snack and sometimes two during the day. It would be pretty easy to sabotage myself with sweets or salty chips or my beloved cheese and crackers. I’m trying not to do that. Happily, Honeycrisp apples are back in the stores now but a girl can only eat apples so long. I’m on the lookout for tasty, protein-filled, healthy snack ideas. Feel free to let me know if you’ve got some good ones up your sleeve!

 

On days when I’m particularly hungry, I’ve been relying on this Herbed Cottage Cheese Dip to get me through until mealtime. It’s the perfect dip for sliced veggies or whole grain crackers. Note: Don’t balk about the cottage cheese! I know cottage cheese is a very divisive thing for people, but hear me out.

Hear me out!

The thing that freaks most people out about cottage cheese is the texture of it, not the taste. Because truly, cottage cheese doesn’t really taste like much of anything, does it? Well, haters, I’ve solved the texture problem here, because I whip the bejeezus out of the cottage cheese to make it completely creamy. When you blend the devil out of it, cottage cheese mimics the taste and texture of sour cream. Seriously! I’m not a-lyin’. Especially if you use whole milk cottage cheese (the 4% milkfat kind. Not the 2% and not the abomination that is fat free cottage cheese because the fat free kind isn’t even fit for stray dogs).

When you whip the cottage cheese, it becomes a blank canvas for any flavorings you wish. It’s actually kind of genius.

You can use this little hack to make all of your dips healthier and higher in protein. I dare you to try it with your favorite (cold) dip recipe. Sub in 2/3 of the sour cream called for with whipped cottage cheese. I guarantee that nobody will even notice. The only one the wiser will be you, you sly dog.

This dip is also AMAZING on top of a piping hot baked potato. I should know, because 3 of my lunches this week consisted of a baked potato topped with this yummy stuff and I almost didn’t miss having bacon on top. Truth.

I’ve been nibbling on this dip whenever the 3pm hunger pangs set in and I don’t feel like munching on another apple. I also brought it out on game day this weekend and nobody guessed that it wasn’t the same junky old dip recipe. And yes, Virginia, it is terrific when you dip potato chips in it. A girl’s got to have a little fun in her life.

If you’re looking to healthy-up your snack routine, give this a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and won’t you feel smug, knowing that you can have your dip and eat it, too?

 

 

Herbed Cheese Dip

 

1 pound (4%, please) cottage cheese

1/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (not non-fat)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

1 tablespoon finely minced chives or scallion

1 tablespoon chopped capers

3 tablespoons minced bell pepper (red, orange, yellow)

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

 

Blend cottage cheese in a food processor until completely smooth. Combine with all other ingredients and refrigerate at least an hour to allow flavors to combine. Serve with crackers, toasted baguette or sliced vegetables.

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