Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Special Time

The boy who made me a mama is growing up. Fast. Now 6 and quickly approaching the end of his kindergarten year, I cherish each tender hug, sweet "I love you mom," and little boy moment from this growing big boy.

I am acutely aware that next year R will embark on full-day school and my one-on-one time with him will be greatly diminished. And while that is just a part of life, and I am okay with it, I created a fun tradition this school year that has become one of my favorite parts of the week.

Each Monday and Wednesday morning, while G is at his Mom's Morning Out program for a couple of hours, R and I have what we have deemed "Special Mommy/R_____ Time." This is when R and I do things that are, quite frankly, just easier to do without a 3 year old helper. (And for the record, G and I have "Special Mommy/G_____ Time" every afternoon when R is at kindergarten)

Yesterday while G was at school, R and I decorated some Easter Cookies. For the first time, I tried a new Royal Icing recipe, and I was thrilled with the results:

I am not sure why, but I had never tried making Royal Icing prior to Monday.

But making Royal Icing couldn't be easier (one egg white's worth will give you enough icing for about 3 dozen cookies):

1. Crack an egg white into a bowl*.
2. Add a cup or two of powdered sugar.
3. Mix well with a hand mixer or stand mixer.
4. Add more powdered sugar until you get a thick, but not too thick mixture.
5. Oops. You added too much powdered sugar. Now what? Add a few teaspoons of water. Thin it out until you get a the right consistency, (you can alternatively add more sugar if needed).
6. Take a plastic bag and place it in a small cup and pull the bag over the sides of the cup:

7. Add the food coloring to a small part of your icing, and fill in the cup with a portion of the icing.
8. Close the plastic bag and cut a small (think 1/8" or less) hole in a corner:

9. Give a bag to your sweet pea, and let the creative juices flow:

10. Voila! Cookie Time:

A memorable Special Mommy/R_____ Time to be sure-

*Raw eggs--yeah, I know, you aren't supposed to eat them. You can either get pasteurized eggs, heat the egg whites over a double boiler until they reach 160 degrees or use meringue powder instead of raw eggs.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Week, New Meals

After an emotionally tiring week last week, the Sweet Peas regrouped this weekend with some fun family time and...kielbasa making on Saturday.

Kielbasa making is a family tradition on my mom's side of the family, whose patriarch was the owner of a small butcher shop in Cleveland. Grandpa Kay passed his kielbasa-making equipment (circa, hmmm...probably 1940s) on to my Uncle Frank, who each year at Easter time prepares dozens of pounds of kielbasa.

You know what they say about watching sausage being made? Not true of small-batch kielbasa, even to a Lenten vegetarian like me. The boys got in on the action, which I would have loved to have captured on my camera, except that I forgot the memory card in my laptop, which was home on my desk.

This is our last week of strict vegetarian living. Next week at his time we could have a hamburger slider with a hot dog chaser. But for now, we are still really enjoying our run at vegetarianism. Truly.

Here's our meals for the week:

Refried Black Bean Tacos, Cilantro Rice and Jicama, Orange and Avocado Salad
Meatless Meatloaf, Braised Red Cabbage, Cauliflower Mash
Sesame Orange Tofu and Broccoli Stir-fry
Spring Risotto, Carmelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Goat Cheese Toasts
Poached Eggs and Marinara Pasta

Have a sweet week all-

PS--Remember the Thai Veggie Wraps I recently posted? Well, I tried the peanut sauce on some Asian noodles and the result was sublime. Find the recipe at this FamilyEducation.com post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Asian Quinoa

(Before I post the Asian Quinoa recipe, a quick update: R's surgery went well, he is doing great and recovering quite nicely. G goes in for a quick surgical procedure tomorrow morning, but it should be a walk in the park compared to R's hernia surgery. Yes, quite a week for the Sweet Pea family, but at least we will have this all behind us by week's end)

If you haven't tried quinoa by now, it is time to reconsider. A newbie to quinoa myself, I am loving it's versatility (think of it as a variation of couscous) and simplicity. But here's the cool thing: it is a complete protein. Yep, soy and quinoa are the only two plant based complete proteins. Maybe this fact alone doesn't exactly get your fire started, but just know that if you include quinoa in your diet, you are doing your body a favor.

This recipe for quinoa is a great balance of salty, sweet and umami in one dish.
What's umami you ask? Click here.

Asian Quinoa

1/4 cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper

Quinoa Mixture:
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup shelled edamame, cooked until tender
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup roasted slivered almonds

In a medium bowl, mix the sauce.

In a medium pan that has a lid, bring the 2 cups of water and quinoa to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the water has fully evaporated. Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix the quinoa and sauce together, stirring well to fully incorporate the sauce. *Add the edamame, cilantro and almonds, tossing well.

Serves 6.

*I added only the edamame and almonds to R and G's quinoa, since they are still learning to love green bits in their food.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Under the Knife

Perhaps my title is a bit irreverent, trying to have a food-ish tie-in to our day, but we're headed out shortly so my sweet, sweet R can have surgery to have his umbilical hernia fixed. This surgery is not a surprise, as we've known about it since he was a wee one and while it is not a major surgery, is there anything as a "minor" surgery when it comes to your own child?

So while I wish I was writing merely about our meals for the week, food is not my prime concern this morning.

I know R is in good hands with the wonderful chief surgeon we have performing the surgery, and I know this whole situation is in God's perfect hands too. For this I am thankful.

I'll be back blogging about food as soon as possible...


Friday, March 19, 2010

Rookie Cookie's Thai Veggie Wraps

When I was little I had three imaginary friends, "Kiki," "Kisa" and "Puna." What I hope began as an opportunity for my mom to witness her daughter's creativity, no doubt quickly became irritating when I would scold my mom for closing the door before one of them had ventured into the car or come inside the house. I can only imagine. Thanks Mom, for your patience.

Today I consider some of my blogger and Facebook friends imaginary too. There are people with whom I have never talked face to face, but I figure if we met in person, aka "for real," we would be fast friends. People like Jersey Baby, Fearless Chef and Rookie Cookie.

I wish I knew Rookie Cookie in person, because I would give her a huge hug for this recipe. Oh-my-goodness, this Thai Veggie Wrap is good. I pilfered it from her website a couple weeks ago and made minor changes for us. Even R and G gobbled it up, albeit with a few tweaks to fit their tastes.

The sauce for this wrap is so tasty, it prompted SPH to note, "you could put this on horse meat and it would taste good."

Rookie Cookie's Thai Veggie Wrap

For the peanut sauce:
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For the filling:
1-2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 red or yellow bell pepper
1 cup chopped peanuts
optional: seared tempeh, tofu, or other protein
6 burrito-sized tortillas or wrap bread

Prepare the sauce: Mix all ingredients in a bowl, stir, set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cabbage and cucumber. Pour 1/2 the peanut sauce over the cabbage mixture, tossing well to combine.

(*I used this mixture with some tofu for the boys' wraps, and it worked great)

Add the cilantro, pepper and peanuts and mix in remaining peanut sauce.

Place a large scoop of the mixture at the end of each tortilla and wrap well. Cut in half crosswise and serve.

*This is a perfect "as you like it" wrap. Don't like peppers? Omit 'em. Really love carrot? Pile 'em on. I added sauteed tempeh to mine. You can alter things, but in my humble opinion you don't want to mess with the cabbage or peanut, and for-the-love-of-God don't mess with the peanut sauce.

Makes 6 large wraps.

Have a sweet weekend,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Quick and Easy Lemon Caper Pasta

After a winter of cooking and baking away my winter doldrums, when the weather looks like it does this morning (bright, sunny day) who can blame me for wanting to stay outside and play with the boys rather than cooking inside?

This pasta dish is a new twist on a quick (read: less time in the kitchen, more time outside) no-cook pasta sauce that is quite tasty. Fresh lemon, briny capers and olives and creamy feta combine to create a really wonderful tasting, quick and easy, healthful pasta. As an extra touch, you can toast up some breadcrumbs for the top...an unconventional but contemporary way to finish off your pasta.

Just look at how tasty it looks:

For SPH and I, we included steamed asparagus, the boys had green peas with their pasta. Want a quick and easy multi-tasking way to steam your asparagus and/or peas while the pasta cooks?

Cook them in a strainer while the pasta cooks, and by the time your pasta is cooked, your sauce will be complete!

Lemon Caper Pasta

1 pound penne or other small or medium size pasta, preferably whole wheat
1/2 cup drained and rinsed capers
1/2 cup chopped olives
1 - 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup olive oil
zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
optional: steamed asparagus, sweet peas, green beans
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Cook the penne or pasta according to the package instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, steam the asparagus, peas or beans, if using until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the capers, olives, artichoke hearts, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, feta cheese and ground pepper.

If desired, toast the breadcrumbs under your broiler for a minute or two, or until slightly browned.

Drain the pasta, but allow a tablespoon or two of the cooking water to remain. Add the caper mixture to the pasta and toss lightly. Add the asparagus, peas or beans, if using and toss lightly.

Serve immediately, topping with 1-2 tablespoons breadcrumbs.

Serves 4-6.


PS--Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Supper Club, oh how I missed thee...

Have I shared about our new Supper Club? After leaving DC, we lost one of our favorite friend get-togethers, our DC Supper Club. SPH and I, along with 3 couples gathered regularly to choose a cuisine or theme and then cook the heck out of it.

Then SPH and I moved to Columbus and we took a Supper Club hiatus, but last autumn, we began again in earnest. This weekend we gathered with our SC friends and did an Indian feast (thanks Dan for photo).

The main dish from last night's supper club on Twitpic

(That's the Mango Dal recipe from last week, a new Mater Paneer recipe (to be shared soon), Cumin-scented rice (ditto) and some okra fried in a chickpea batter)

Speaking of menus, I have had a couple friends ask me "what are you eating all week on this vegetarian diet?" That, coupled with the fact that I feel a bit slack in that I haven't posted our weekly menus in months, sparked the return of...(drum roll please)...our Sweet Pea family weekly meals:

Frittatas, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus
Mushroom (Carne Asada style) Tacos, Green Chili Rice, Frijoles Refritos
New Recipe: Thai Veggie Wraps, Quinoa Salad
Eggplant and Zucchini Parmesan, Pasta
New Recipe: Homemade Falafel Pitas, Hummus and Greek Salad

Have a sweet week-

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tortellini Soup

Spring paid us an early visit this week. The snow mounds have been replaced with snow drop flowers:

And while the calendar still says "winter," it won't be but a week before spring is officially here. I love the juxtaposition of this time of year summed up in this picture of R riding his bike last Tuesday, the day our weather went from cold to 65 degrees in the blink of an eye:

Alas, today is gray and rainy, but exciting nonetheless, because all of the warm rain from yesterday and today has fully melted the snow. I cannot spot a flake.

As spring and its welcome friend summer, approach, my soup days begin to wane. Sure, soup is good any ole' time, but do you really crave a soup or stew in the dog days of summer?

But as I look out my back kitchen window to the rain steadily falling, this would be a perfect day for this Tortellini Soup. Simple and classic, I have yet to find the person who doesn't find comfort in a bowl of this soup.

Tortellini Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
10 cups water
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Optional: 1 cup thinly sliced hearty greens (ie, spinach, bok choy, kale, argula)
Optional: 2 egg whites, beaten
1/2 pound fresh or dried tortellini

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil to medium high. Add the carrot, celery, and onion. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the bottom of the pan begins to brown.

Add the water, salt to taste and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let simmer for 10 minutes.

While the broth simmers, add the greens, if desired. Stir and allow to wilt. For a thicker broth, slowly pour the egg whites into the broth as it simmers. Stir well, and allow the egg whites to fully incorporate. Alternatively, you may omit this step.

After the broth has simmered, increase the heat to high and return to a slow boil. Add the tortellini and cook according to the package directions. Cover the pot while cooking the tortellini.

Once the tortellini is finished cooking, remove from heat and serve.

Serves 6.


Thursday, March 11, 2010


After a (gasp) 10 month lapse, I finally took a good chunk of time and completely updated the Sweet Peas and Pumpkins Recipe Index.

Hope you find some good inspiration...


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Northstar Cafe Veggie Burger

When we moved to Columbus a few years ago, one of the first new friends I met suggested we meet for lunch one day at the Northstar Cafe. When we ordered, she said, "You *have* to try the black bean veggie burger. It is the best veggie burger you have ever tasted."

Little did I know how good a veggie burger could taste. But don't just take my word for it...

--Eating-SF.com, a San Francisco food blog says, "this is the place I'd take every out of town visitor if I lived in Columbus. But what has given this place almost cult-like status is its vegetarian burger, appropriately deserving of its name: The Northstar Burger."

--Thekitchn.com calls it the best-ever veggie burger, stating, "They are unlike any other veggie burger you've ever had."

--Even PETA awarded the Northstar Burger its "Golden Bun Award" for best veggie burger in the nation.

So when I decided to go vegetarian for Lent, in the back of my mind I started plotting how to replicate this out-of-the-world burger at home. I started finding other versions of the burger on other websites, but no true Northstar recipe.

This recipe is my attempt at veggie burger nirvana. Northstar clearly uses beets in their burger, because not only do they taste like a regular burger, they look like one too, with the red beets substituting for red meat. Black beans and brown rice also are evident, but beyond that, it took a few times to come up with this version (thanks to the above websites for their input on the matter too).

Serve on a toasted bun with pickles, shredded lettuce and ketchup. Oh so good.

(Almost) Northstar Cafe Burger

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup cooked, sliced beets (you can used canned, just don't use pickled beets)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 - 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
3-4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
toasted buns
pickles, etc

In a medium size skillet, heat the olive oil to medium high heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 5-6 minutes or until the onions are translucent and begin to brown a bit. Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, cooking for another minute or two or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture, beets, brown rice, black beans, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. With a pastry blender or potato masher, begin to mash the mixture. Mash well until most of the black beans are no longer whole.

Once the mixture is very well combined, add a couple tablespoons of flour. Test the mixture. If it holds together fairly well, then do not add anymore flour. But it may need a tablespoon or two extra flour until you can form patties.

Form 6 patties. If you wish, you can throw them in the fridge until you are ready to use them.

Heat a large skillet to high heat. Once hot, reduce to medium high, and add the vegetable oil. Cook the patties, about 3-5 minutes per side.

(don't they even look like regular burgers cooking?)

Serve on toasted buns.

I'm getting hungry for these just writing this post...and it's 9AM. Good thing I have some patties all ready to cook for lunch today!


Friday, March 5, 2010

Dal-ed Up

We're a full three weeks and counting into our vegetarian Lenten challenge, and I have to tell you, it feels great. I am loving the new cooking adventures and new approach to seeking out healthy foods. And I don't know if it is my slightly ramped-up exercise routine, or the vegetarian food, but I have more energy, feel more upbeat (even in this end-of-winter "blah" stage of the year) and have been sleeping better too.

All of this has me really considering how we will continue to eat after Easter. In other words, will I be eating ham on Easter? Or just my Uncle Paul's wonderful potato pierogies? Time will tell...

Whether we return to our pre-Lent diet or not, this recipe has a firm place in our future dinner repertoire. "Dal," (pronounced "doll") is a sort of Indian chili if I had to break it down. It means a dish that contains lentil beans, but beyond the lentils, you can serve it any ole' way you wish. This particular dal uses mango, and is light enough on the Indian spices that it is a good starter dal for someone unsure of whether they like Indian food.

We love Indian food and this recipe is a great example why. Complex flavors married with a touch of sweetness and savory all in one dish.

Mango Dal (adapted from an Eating Well recipe--I'm not quite brave enough yet to develop my own Indian recipes and magazine's recipes rock!)

1 cup lentils, preferably yellow lentils
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt, divided use
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup diced mango (I use frozen mango)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 cups cooked couscous

In a medium stock pot, combine the lentils, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and turmeric. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a dry skillet (no oil), place the cumin seeds and heat to medium. Let the seeds brown for a minute or two, being careful to not let them burn. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook over medium heat or until the onions become a bit translucent, about 3-5 minutes..

Add the coriander, cayenne and mango to the onion mixture and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Once the lentils have cooked for 20 minutes, add the onion/mango mixture to the lentils. Cook the lentils for another 10 minutes or until the mango is very tender and the lentils are your desired consistency.

Serve over couscous and top with cilantro, if desired.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side.

Have a sweet weekend all-

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Peanut Butter Energy Bars

I can't get enough of these bars. I posted them on my blog at familyeducation.com, but I had to share here too. They are super yummy and keep me going on a busy day of carting/chasing around my two active boys.

(Note: you can omit the honey and replace it with light corn syrup)

Peanut Butter Energy Bars

2 cups whole oats, toasted
2 cups honey nut Os
1 cup roasted and salted peanuts
½ cup sesame seeds (alternatively, you could use dried fruit)
½ cup chocolate chips
¼ cup ground flax seed (alternatively, you could use wheat germ or just more oats)
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar

In a large microwave safe dish, place the oats and cook on high in the microwave for one minute. Stir, repeat two times.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, Os, peanuts, sesame seeds, chocolate chips and flax seed.

In a microwave safe bowl, mix the peanut butter, honey and brown sugar. Microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until bubbly. Pour over the oat mixture and stir well.

Pour into a 9x13 dish or in a rectangle shape on top of a cookie sheet, lined with either a Silpat liner or parchment paper.

Let cool and enjoy!

Makes 16 bars.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Caramelized Onion Calzones

If it is true that March comes in like a lion, these calzones will have you roaring for more.

(ok, bad joke)

Seriously though, I had the idea to replace most, or in my case, all of the cheese in a calzone with some well-caramelized onions. True, my Lenten vegetarian diet allows for cheese, but I just wanted to see if the ooey-gooey goodness of caramelized onions could stand-in for the cheese.

I like the cheese-less caramelized onion calzones better than the cheese calzones I made for the boys. And I *love* cheese.

Something about the sweetness of the onions, mixed with a bit of marinara, more than adequately makes up for the usual ricotta. Doesn't it look good?

Now, here's a caveat: really good caramelized onions take some time to go from this:

to this:

But trust me, it is time well spent, and can easily be done on the weekend or in advance. You simply keep the heat low to medium, and stir them every few minutes. Once the bottom of the pan gets good and brown, throw in a splash of balsamic vinegar to deglaze and continue cooking until the vinegar is fully evaporated.

Once cooked, either use them immediately or refrigerate or freeze for future use. Note that about 4 cups of onions will yield about 3/4 cup caramelized onions.

Caramelized Onion Calzones

Pizza/Calzone Dough for 4 calzones
1 cup marinara
3/4 cups caramelized onions
sauteed mushrooms
sliced olives
sauteed spinach
ricotta cheese, seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano to taste
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out 1/4 of your dough in a circle. Repeat 3 times. Let dough rise under a towel while you prepare the filling.

Mix marinara and caramelized onions in a bowl. Place 1/4 of the mixture on half of each dough circle.

Top with preferred toppings (I used mushrooms, olives, and spinach). Fold other half of the dough on top of the toppings, and pinch the seams closed. Gently poke the top of the calzone with a fork. Brush the top with a bit of olive oil.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until brown on top.

Makes 4 calzones.

(Note: when you seal the calzone, make sure there are no toppings between the top and bottom dough pieces when you pinch it closed. Toppings will make the two pieces of dough separate while baking).

Here's one last bonus with this recipe: no cheese = wayyyyy less fat and calories!