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Meatless Mondays: the Pizza Bar

This is an especially kid-friendly installment of the Meatless Monday series. (Equally kid-friendly on a meaty non-Monday, too.) Inspired by a conversation I had Saturday with a college student who’d read the sleepover party post, who alerted me that some of the kid-friendly stuff I post is young-single-person-college-student-friendly as well–and it occurred to me after that conversation that if I’d known about this 20 years ago, I would have eaten a lot less bad pizza and had more money in my pocket at the end of the month.

Bottom line, to summarize all that follows: flat grain product + sauce + cheese + whatever else you’ve got=pizza.

If the “whatever else you’ve got” involves a large number of fresh or leftover veggies, so much the better. If you can restrain yourself and just give it enough cheese to hold it together, rather than a quarter inch of goo, better still. Total control over your ingredients, you can make as much as you want or need and don’t have to worry about preservatives or other added weirdness–it’s all good here.

We rely on this pretty much weekly at our house–we either buy naan (Indian flatbread) or pita breads–you can use french bread, english muffins, bagels, even ordinary bread if you toast it first–and spread them with sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and add whatever toppings you want.  For my kids, that’s pretty much nothing.  My husband and I put all kinds of stuff on there–shrooms (They’re better cooked first, so they don’t give too much liquid off, but if you don’t use too many it’s not necessary), onions, peppers, zucchini, caponata, hey, whatever you want. We usually sprinkle a little garlic powder and oregano on top before baking; gives it just a little extra zing. And kids can help make these–they can sprinkle cheese or spread pepperoni (er…not on Meatless Monday, though) with the best of ’em. And they love it.

Best of all, everyone can have it Exactly The Way They Like It, even spouses where one knows that the toppings are supposed to go on top of the cheese, and the other comes from some bizarre universe where they go under the cheese. (How the heck do you know what’s on your pizza if it’s all under the cheese? It’s a Chicago thing, isn’t it? I bet it’s a Chicago thing.) Everyone is happy.

If you have a pizza stone, that’s perfect, preheat the oven with the stone in there and you end up with nice crispy “crust”–if not, foil on a baking sheet is fine, or if your “crust” is solid enough and you’re sure no cheese will fall onto the oven floor, they can go directly onto the rack. You can use a regular oven at maybe 400 degrees, or a toaster oven at slightly lower heat than “toast.” I can’t give exact directions for how to bake it, because it depends on what you like–if you don’t have many cold veggies on there and you like the cheese a little browned, just put it under the broiler for a few minutes.  If you like softer crust and meltier cheese, just bake normally at 400 or so. Futz with it, and see what works for you.

Happy November!

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Meatless Monday–Supernachos!

Okay, I know grownups probably aren’t even supposed to admit to eating nachos, except at superbowl parties.  (Although, any of y’all who see “nachos” and go “FAT FAT FAT I’m not even going to READ!” might dare to take a look; these are very calmed down on the fat-and-calories front.)

Remember in college and young-adult-hood, when every time you went to the local dive bar with your friends and no one had enough money (or what you had you were determined to spend on as much beer as possible) to buy real food, so you got a giant plate of those fairly horrific nachos, with tortilla chips and loads of cheese that would soak through the chips, and salsa and guacamole and sour cream, and maybe you’d dare someone to eat 8 slices of jalapeno peppers and say you’d buy her another beer if she could do it and not reach for her water glass for a whole minute afterwards, and she did it and didn’t show her agony even though her mouth was on fire, not as much for the free beer as to show she was a real bad-ass?

Er…me neither.

The thing is, that icky plate of soggy fat-laden nachos can be healthed up quite a bit with a little effort and can even become a really good vegetarian-type dinner. In a hurry.

*****

Bean and Cheese Supernachos

Cover a plate–a non-huge one, preferably–with a single layer of tortilla chips. These can be your regular ordinary chips or choice, baked (less fat) if you choose, or even homemade (baked or fried), though I’ve never tried this. (The single layer part is key for any hope at making this a healthy dinner as opposed to a dressed up snackfest. You can make a really filling dinner of supernachos with maybe 8 or 9 total chips.)

Wait, could we please digress for a moment? My favorite of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercials: Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor:

And…we’re back. We were talking about remembering that we want this to be, at least to some extent, a healthy and body-feeding whole-food dinner kind of thing.

Okay, you have your single layer of chips on the plate.

Over the chips, layer 1/2 cup (or more, it’s your dinner, your appetite, and your calorie count–but these are non-fat, high protein, and really good for you) of black or other cooked dried beans. Again, these can be out of the can (drain first) or something you’ve cooked previously and store as a regular kitchen staple.  (Black beans, by the way, seem to cause less of a problem with…let’s just say, noxious methane emissions, FWIW…)

Sprinkle beans with a little cumin and garlic powder; you can add some red pepper or chili powder to this if you’d like.  Sprinkle with chopped or sliced jalapenos if you’d like…you can actually add any veggies you want here, but I tend to prefer my nacho veggies cold in the pico de gallo instead of heated over the chips, where they risk making them soggy. (Er…if it’s not Monday, and you’re not avoiding meat, this would also be where you’d spread some of last night’s chili or Saturday night’s shredded rotisserie chicken remains around too.)

Over this, sprinkle a reasonable amount of (organic and hormone-free) grated cheese, of whatever kind you like that melts well.  Again, the more cheese, the more saturated fat, so watch that commercial again and make your choice.  (Or just because it’s funny.) And the beans with their seasoning honestly make the extra cheese not as needed for texture and flavor.

Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, check to see if the cheese is melted, and then heat additionally at 15 second increments until it looks right. (Don’t just stick it in there for a minute on high, or you’ll have burny bubbly cheese on one side and cold unmelted on the other–trust me on this!)

Serve with lots of really good veggie-laden pico de gallo–i.e. fresh salsa you can either make yourself or buy for way too much money at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or probably any grocery store, or just cut up some tomatoes and peppers and onions into small chunks and toss them with just enough jarred salsa to hold them together and some chopped cilantro–guacamole, and if you must have something creamy and sour, try a little nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

*****

Now, obviously, if you want to really make this a healthy lovely meal with nothing for anyone to complain about–you’d leave out the two worst offenders, which are of course the tortilla chips and cheese, without which this obviously wouldn’t be nachos at all.  But if you wanted, you could skip the chips and put rice on that plate instead, and have a really good black-beans-and-rice kind of thing, and it’s almost as fast as the nacho version if you have some already-cooked rice around.  Or you could compromise and put the rice-and-beans, or just the beans, into small corn tortillas for bean tacos, or larger wheat tortillas for burritos.

But there’s something about those nachos…

Pass the jalapenos, please. 😉

Meatless Monday: Acorn Squash with Apples

This is one of my husband’s absolute favorite dinners, and it’s totally meatless, and absolutely delicious.  The only problem is that it requires a pretty decent expenditure of time…

*****

Baked Acorn Squash with Apples

For two people, cut one acorn squash in half long-ways, and scoop out the seeds and goop.

Line a baking dish with foil, or just be prepared to scrub a lot.  Place squash halves, bowl-side-up, into baking dish.

Mix:

  • 1-2 cut up apples (depending on the size)
  • a handful raisins, any color, or other dried fruit
  • a handful walnuts or pecans
  • a few shakes each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and maybe cloves

Fill each squash half with this mixture.  Sprinkle a tbs. or so of brown sugar over each half (or drizzle with honey or maple syrup), place a small pat of butter on top of each half, and bake at 400 degrees (often I lightly cover it with foil if I’m afraid the apples will burn) for about 60-90 minutes or until the squash is squishy and perfect. Let cool a little and serve.

(And by the way, you know how yummy roasted pumpkin seeds are? Roasted acorn squash seeds are almost as good…salt ’em a little, and roast them in a single layer for about 25 minutes or so at maybe 325, or until they just turn light brown…delicious.)

*****

With things like this, especially, it’s hard to predict how much apple-stuff you’ll need, as well as how long to cook it–because, doh, acorn squash come in all sizes and with different pulp amounts.  But this will give you something to go on…It’s what we’re having tonight, first time this fall, and I can’t wait…

(Hey, in case you missed my poll a couple of days ago, please come over and check it out–I’d love to know what people like to read, and what I could or should change…And while you’re at it, click on one of the “subscribe” buttons at the top left! Please? Let me feel like one of the cool kids? :-))

Apple Picking! (Oh, and Meatless Monday recipe…)

My kids have been anticipating this day since about July. It’s our annual tradition, where on Columbus Day the family–all four of us, because it’s that rare thing: a holiday where the kids, the bank people, and the People Who Go To Church And Want Music all seem to take the day off and not require our presence–heads a couple hours away for the whole day to an Illinois apple orchard for a day of apple picking, hayrides, petting zoos, and other stereotypical but lovely autumn amusements.  (Unfortunately, because of the meager and early apple season this year, it looks like we may not get to pick…I hope there are not tears…) Another thing it sounds like no one has are the windfall apples, ugly beat up ones they sell for cheap to people like me who make apple butter in large quantity…oh yeah, and it’s Monday, isn’t it?

Black Beans and Rice

Our Meatless Monday dinner tonight will be very simple–make about 1.5 cups of rice (i.e. half a cup of rice and 1 cup of water), add a can of drained black beans, add a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of your favorite chili powder  and maybe 1/4 tsp cayenne  or a few shakes of chili sauce,  stir and eat. You could throw in a can of green chilis, or a jar of salsa, or you could saute some onions and peppers and throw them in, or you could dump in a can of diced tomatoes, or you could add a cup or two of broth and make it soup. Or some “all of the above” kind of thing…the possibilities are pretty endless. Bon appetit!

Veggie alternatives to Corned Beef and Cabbage

As I mentioned the other day, I am not a big Irish-y person.  “Oh Danny Boy” annoys me (especially as the words were written by an Englishman and no one really knows the origin of the tune, though popular belief has that it was penned by a blind Irish fiddler who was actually a Scot…), I don’t look good in green, and I find corned beef and cabbage to be fairly unpleasant.

Now that I’m an aspiring Greenie, I have another excuse to not eat it–beef in any form is probably the least sustainable foodstuff around, although buying locally produced grass-fed beef mitigates that a bit.  And while corned beef is an example of one of the earlier forms of food processing, i.e. brining (though the process described by many recipes requires saltpeter, which is potassium nitrate and a key ingredient in gunpowder–something I do not find reassuring in my foodstuffs!) (This one looks a little less scary…), I would bet that commercially corned beef has a lot of nasties like sodium nitrate and nitrite and other chemical stuff…

So I’m looking for alternative St. Patrick’s Day dinner ideas. (Unless we just blow it off and eat pasta that night.)  One likely candidate is this Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie recipe I found last night, using lentils as a main ingredient rather than meat.  It looks fairly yummy!  Then there’s colcannon, a sort of mashed-potatoes-and-cabbage side dish, which honestly doesn’t look all that appetizing to me, but which on the other hand looks fairly versatile–you can make patties out of the leftovers, which could be fun…and I do have a couple of potatoes on the counter than need to get eaten before they sprout.

Then again we may just skip it all, and I’ll make Irish Whiskey Cake instead… 🙂

Easiest ever veggie burgers (Attack of the Killer Zucchinis, IIa)

Okay, this barely deserves to be a separate post from yesterdays, but I discovered at lunch today that yesterday’s Easiest Ever Falafel single serving recipe is almost seamlessly adaptable to become the Easiest Ever Veggie Burger, with almost infinite substitution potential.

Easy Veggie Burger (single serving: quadruple as desired!)

Combine in a bowl; squish with fingers until well mixed:

  • 1/4 cup hummus or mashed beans (black, cannellini, great northern, kidney, lentil, whatever)
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated zucchini (or other grated vegetable)
  • 1 tsp chopped cilantro (or basil or parsley) (optional, but it really makes a difference!)
  • 1-2 cloves mashed garlic (also optional, also really difference-making)
  • powdered seasonings to taste (cumin and chili powder, or cumin and coriander, or basil and oregano, or curry powder…use your imagination!)

Stir well, then smoosh into a ball with your hands and flatten into patty shape.  Coat with more breadcrumbs if you wish, then cook over medium high heat till crispy on each side.

This was incredibly easy.  And got a little more zucchini out of the fridge.

Six more behemoths to go.

–J

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart

Actually, they say that if you soak the beans, dump that water, and then cook them in new water, you’ll avoid a lot of the…side effects.

They also say that if red kidney beans aren’t cooked really well, there’s a toxin in them that can make you pretty sick. (I don’t actually care for the red beans as much, so I don’t cook them on anything like a regular basis.)

So for me, “beans” means either black or white, and if white, usually Great Northern because they’re easier to find than cannellinis. (Cannelinis are yummy, though.)  One of my ways to try not to generate so much throwaway packaging (not to mention the cost to transport beans in metal cans full of a lot of liquid that’s going to be drained away anyway) is to mass-cook dried beans in my crockpot periodically.

I have a big 6-quart cooker, so I can do 4 cups of dried beans at a go. (Not really more than that, though. I think that’s about 2 lbs.)

I usually start in an ordinary stockpot, though, just for speed, to get the beans soaked.  To do this, put the beans in a big pot, covered with at least 2-3 inches of water.  I use my pot with the pasta insert because it makes draining them really easy.  Bring it t a boil on the stove and let it boil for a few minutes (some sources say 2 minutes, some say 10, I figure it’s a pretty inexact science!), then turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let it sit for at least an hour untouched. (Again, some sources say an hour, others say 5, others say you can leave it up to 24.)   Basically, in the soaking process you’re just shortening the amount of time actual cooking will take, although some say it also affects how soft your beans can actually get after cooking…My MO is to start the process when I get home from work, boil the beans and then let them sit in their water for a few hours.

Then  (usually after the kids have gone to bed) I drain the soaked beans and drop them in the crockpot. At this point, there’s a lot more than 4 cups of beans because of all the water they’ve picked up, so they probably fill the crockpot 2/3 or 3/4 of the way full.   Fill it the rest of the way with water (it’s honestly at this point about as full as I can get it!)  Put it on low overnight, or for 8-10 hours, or sometimes more, depending on how old the beans were and how long you soaked them.  The only way to really tell is to test them and see if they taste right.

At that point, I drain them again.  At this point I have two choices: either I can put larger quantities in quart ziploc bags in the freezer (they stack very nicely and take up not much space), or if I have more time to futz I put half cup quantities into my muffin tins, and freeze the tins for a day or so.  Then I can take the nicely pre-measured “bean muffins” out of the muffin tins and put them back in the freezer in ziplocs, and I have nice, easily thaw-able, pre-measured cooked beans.  They are easier to get out of the muffin tins if you plunge the cup parts into hot water for a couple of seconds until the “muffin” loosens.  From the original 4 cups of dried beans I ended up with 24 “muffins,” i.e. about 12 cups of beans.)   I will have to again do the cost-benefit analysis of doing it this way, but in terms of greening my footprint, it’s a fairly easy no-brainer.

So now I have a freezerful of black and white beans, waiting for salads and chilies and all that good stuff…

Nummy Lunch: black bean quesadillas

Okay, we know that one of the best ways to “green” our lives is to stop eating meat, right? (http://greenmama.dreamwidth.org/4131.html )

And I’m trying to lose 30 lbs. Okay, 20 would be fine.

So today for lunch I discovered a really quick and absolutely yummy recipe.

Black Bean Quesadillas (for one)

Ingredients
corn tortillas (2, at about 50 calories each)
black beans (2 or 3 tbs, I don’t know calorie count but can’t be too bad)
1 pepper jack cheese slice, torn in half (about 110 calories) (Okay, I used two whole slices, but you don’t have to.)
2 tsp salsa (negligable calorie count, as far as I know)

Grill the tortillas lightly, in toaster oven or if you’re us directly on your stove burner. This is a trick I learned from my husband–it works with gas burners, at least, but one needs to pay really close attention to not start a fire or char your tortillas. Turn the burner on its lowest level, and just lay the tortilla directly on the burner. When it starts to curl and crisp a little (or burn, of course), flip it over.  It takes maybe a total of 30 seconds on each side, depending on how grilly you want them.

On half of each tortilla, place half a slice of the cheese, 1 tbs black beans, and 1 tsp salsa.  Fold the tortilla over, and microwave for about 45 seconds. (30 is too little, 60 is too much.) Voila. Lunch. Surprisingly yummy and filling. And we’re talking a total of under 300 calories any way you slice it.

Variations on this could be endless–I happen to keep a container of cooked black beans around most of the time and throw them into all kinds of things–even delicious super-nachos can be pretty darn healthy if you go light on the chips and cheese and heavy on the beans and spices, and use yogurt cheese (strained or mediterranean yogurt) instead of sour cream.  Next thing you need a can of beans for, throw in a can and a half and save the rest for later.  A few strips of sauteed or grilled peppers and onions ( http://greenmama.dreamwidth.org/4441.html ) instead of or in addition to the beans.  Almost any meltable cheese would work; Chihuahua is actually by far the best, but not when one is trying to lose weight, unfortunately.  But this is EASY, and really good.

Seriously nummy.

peace,
J
waiting to see how the giant crockpot of white beans does, so I can have a freezer full of those as well as the black ones.

Lentil Taco recipe

So, after yesterday’s beef rant…below is a recipe for an “alternate” taco, with no meat at all.  Does it taste like beef? Can you tell the difference? Well…no, it doesn’t, and yes you can.  But it’s still yummy. And made in quantity and stored in the freezer, it’s pretty labor-light.

Tasty Lentil Tacos
INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 12 taco shells or lightly toasted corn tortillas (taco shells are easier; corn tortillas can be fried or grilled to a little crispy, sort of floppier than regular taco shells but in my opinion way yummier.  And at least in Chicago, no “authentic” Mexican restaurant serves the pre-shaped-Taco-Bell kind of taco shells…)

Optional garnishes: (IMO, with almost anything that’s an adapted “used to be meat” recipe, the more garnishes and seasonings you put in, the less you’ll miss the meat.)

  • Grilled or sauteed seasoned bell peppers and onions–I tend to make a lot of this and then throw it into various things. I’ll recipe this one of these days and reference back to here.
  • shredded lettuce
  • chopped fresh tomato
  • shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, pepper jack, whatever you like!) (If you live in a place where Mexican groceries are easily available,  Chihuahua cheese is the best.  It’s delicately flavored, but also really high-fat.)
  • mediterranean yogurt or yogurt cheese (or sour cream–but it doesn’t have the Good Stuff in it yogurt does.)

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, saute the onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add the lentils, chili powder, cumin and oregano; cook and stir for 1 minute. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Uncover; cook for 6-8 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Mash lentils slightly.
  2. Stir in salsa. Spoon about 1/4 cup lentil mixture into each taco shell. Top with lettuce, tomato, cheese and optional yogurt or yogurt cheese. (Or sour cream)

(recipe adapted from original version, found at allrecipes.com/Recipe/Tasty-Lentil-Tacos/Detail.aspx)