What of the greatest challenges I experienced of switching from a vegetarian to a vegan diet with kids – was replacing the fast and easy quesadilla for lunch. I didn’t think this crowd pleaser could be replaced – but I’m happy to report that I was wrong. I made them just this weekend, proving even after years of frequently appearing on the table, they are still gobbled up without complaint.
The popular bean-a-dilla lunch takes only a few minutes to make , packs a protein punch and is easy to jazz up with salsa a side salad. Personally, I prefer to sauteed some onion and peppers to add to the inside of mine, but the kids are purists. We also have been known to make this recipe using hummus instead of re-fried beans. It’s a little meh if plain or traditional hummus but roasted red pepper and spinach hummus are pretty great, and are a crispy warm addition to a simple salad.
A thousand years ago when I started a vegan diet, there weren’t many butter options out there, and the flavor was over the top fake. Today, like the rest of the vegan market, there are more sophisticated and well-developed vegan options on the scene. There are two vegan butters I generally reach for – cultured options like Miyoko’s and something a little more spread-able, like Earth Balance.
I prefer to buy organic Earth Balance, which has become nearly impossible to find in recent months. My grocery shopping is divided up between a local farm, Whole Foods, and Target (price comparison for budget shoppers like me). When Target didn’t have any organic Earth Balance when I was loading up for holiday groceries, I opted to try the Good & Gather organic plant-based buttery spread.
I expected it to have an over the top flavor depended on too much salt, so imagine my surprise when I found it had a quiet sweet and salty balance more akin to the delicate flavor profile of actual butter. I have used it for all types of cooking and baking and it’s performed well, but I still generally prefer it for toast and cooking, and reserving the pricier Miyoko’s for baking. I made ridiculous peanut butter cookies and brownie’s recently using the Miyoko’s and couldn’t have been happier with how well it creamed with the sugar giving each treat a perfect crumb. It also performs well when making butter cream frosting, where the more spreadable vegan butters to do not. The buttery spreads look great when first going onto the cake, but easily melt, soaking into the cake.
I never tire of savory breakfast, and I am making more of an effort to find more variety of flavors and textures in my diet. Here is your regular reminder that a simple, healthy breakfast is not out of reach even in the hustle of a morning dash out the door. This morning it took me about five minutes to make grits, heat up leftover shiitake and onions leftover from pizza makings earlier this weekend. To make it feel fancy, I added a wee bit of vegan butter, generous cracked pepper and sprinkle of chipotle chili.
When times are stressful I crave the cozy comfort that can only be brought by foods from childhood. In the earliest years of a vegan diet, these moments left me feeling deprived. Today I just lean into that “mostly vegan” practice and have a serving of homemade macaroni at the family gathering. Eventually I learned to make satisfying vegan versions of most things, especially veggies and dumplings, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, stuffing/dressing and so much more. While happily scrolling through Instagram months ago I saw Timothy Pakron,aka Mississippi Vegan’s photo of his take on vegan Hamburger Helper. I can’t tell you the last time I thought about Hamburger Helper, but I was overcome with memories of the funny white glove (was it supposed to be an oven mit or something?) that was on the box of Hamburger Helper and other 1980s delicacies like Rice-a-Roni, both with enough salt to cause great concern for all of our cardiovascular health, I’m sure.
Anyway, I read the vegan Hamburger Helper recipe and I even though I personally don’t super love cooking with meat substitutes, the nostalgic cravings spurred on by a stressful week got the better of me.
Timothy Pakron’s version has a little spicier than my kids approve of, so I toned things down just a little. I also moved to a stove top only version because my dutch oven is on the smaller side. It makes 6-8 servings and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day.
With that, I introduce you to Mostly Vegan Mamas Vegan Hamburger Helper!
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 small head of garlic, finely chopped
1 package of your favorite ground meat substitute, I use Beyond Meat
1 25 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
16 oz shells pasta
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
optional handful of vegan (or not vegan) cheese, I use Violife Cheddar shreds
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 -1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon sage
3-5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 shake of smokey paprika
optional: extra spices!! a shake or three of smokey paprika, one shake hot pepper, a few shakes garlic and onion powder
In a 8 quart pot, over medium heat saute onion, garlic with ground beef substitute, being sure to break apart the beef into a crumb size texture. If it doesn’t have a juicy quality about it, add a little extra olive oil.
Add all herbs and spices (except the optional extras!) and stir for until it smells amazing (1-3 minutes)
Add fire roasted tomatoes, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, cheese or cheese substitute
Stir in pasta
Add enough water to just cover the pasta
Stir well and let simmer. While the pasta cooks stir frequently (but not constantly) to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. As the pasta cooks it will get thick and creamy. You may need to add a little extra water. When the pasta is done, check out the overall texture. If the pasta falls apart from the sauce easily you may need to add a little water. Scoop-able and creamy is the way to go.
Taste test! I like strong flavors, and I shake extra everything until there is a nice balance of salt and spice. I generally add extra of garlic and onion powder, a little extra olive oil and soy sauce and just enough chipotle chili to make the kids a tiny bit made at me.
Finally a recipe that assumes your kids will eat more than one pancake!
Pancakes are a weekend treat in our house and involve team work. I make the batter, but my husband does the frying because if you know what thing about me it should be this: I can’t flip a pancake to save my life.
These pancakes balance fluff and substance. They hold up with to a variety of toppings – though I am a bit of a purist and just want some vegan butter and honey on mine. Fried apples, apple butter, chopped berries and pecans sound good too! My family loves cinnamon, so I often add several shakes to the batter to spice it up. If you’re feeling extra festive, you could go all in with some pumpkin spice mix.
2 cups of plant based milk. I used organic unsweetened soy milk.
2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
4 tablespoons melted vegan butter or canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
Whisk dry ingredients together to break up clumps in the flour.
Add plant based milk and butter (or canola oil).
Politely ask someone else to cook them for you over medium heat. Turn them over when the bubbles start to emerge on the top and don’t press them too hard with the back of your spatula – you’ll ruin the fluffy texture!
My little trip last week was last minute. I didn’t meal plan, I made a scattered trip to the grocery store and left with only random, but I had blue corn chips and spicy fresh guacamole, so I was happy. My love of cooking is not eclipsed by my passion for chips and crackers of all kinds.
The cabin had a tiny, modest kitchen. The lighting was minimal and it fit my mood- I was not inspired. But I was determined to not eat some processed convenience food (again), and I set to work. Fried chickpeas make everything better. They are my favorite protein to add to a food bowl, and sometimes they are the star of the dinner, dressed with a yummy Chinese garlic sauce.
Note: I actuallyprefer this recipe with a simple white wine, lemon and olive oil sauce, but the kids aren’t fans.
This is an easy dinner that tastes and looks like it is much harder than it actually is. Don’t tell anyone though stay in the kitchen for an extra 20 minutes and enjoy a glass of wine before sitting down.
One 15 ounce can of chickpeas
Pasta of your choice (I used organic wheat linguine, because that’s all I had)
1 small yellow onion
4-6 ounces of kalamata olives, torn/chopped
1-2 pounds of fresh kale, off the stem and roughly chopped (a bag of chopped frozen kale works too!). I prefer LOTS of greens.
olive oil or vegan butter
ground red pepper of your choice
Drain and dry one 15 ounce can of chickpeas.
Fry the chickpeas over medium/medium-high heat in little canola oil until golden – about ten minutes. Set aside on a paper towel. If everyone can agree on a level of spiciness, go ahead and dust the chickpeas with your preferred ground pepper. A smokey hot pepper would be nice!
Saute chopped onion in olive oil with a little salt until fragrant translucent.
Add the chopped kale to the onions, remove from heat and set aside. I like to kale to keep a nice texture, so I only lightly cook it in this recipe. You can saute it in the onions longer if you prefer.
Cook the pasta as directed, drain.
To the pasta add a few tablespoons of olive oil or vegan butter of your choice, a little salt, garlic and plenty of oregano. Stir in onions, garlic, olives, and kale. The kale will continue to soften in the hot pasta.
Heap onto plates and add fried chickpeas to the top of each. Spritz with fresh lemon juice to brighten the kale, and dust with a little ground hot pepper of your choice, if you want some heat.
September begins the slide toward autumn. The weather may be confused about what season it is, but I’m not. In WNC it is Apple Season.
Late summer gardens continue to gift tomatoes, peppers, and okra. The apple orchards are full families filling their baskets. Potatoes and squash from earlier this summer are cured and waiting to find their way to the table. Next week I’ll be taking a few days off and spending most of the day on a cobble beach along my favorite river, probably practicing crochet stitches ahead of a little fall stitching project to start in a week or two. I’m rusty. The century old cabin has a small but well equipped kitchen, and a large screened in porch where I have gathered on many occasions with friends and family over the years. I look forward to cooking (and eating!) without being in a constant rush toward getting the kids ready for bed, or working around the never-ending construction that is our house renovation. I’ll be making homemade bread for the first time in ages, probably some lentil stew to make the kids happy, and I’m sure some savory breakfast bowls of grits, onions and kale will make an appearance among the s’mores and fireside popcorn snacks. But the star of the cool mornings will be apples. I’ve gathered my ten favorite apple recipes for you all to add to your fall bucket lists. I hope you will make every last one of them – I certainly hope to. This little trip will include the apple crisp, apple caramel nachos, and fried apples. My mother-in-law is the Pie Queen in the family, so I will leave the pie-making to her.
Apple Hand Pies! Skip the egg wash and sub with Just Egg if you’d prefer this to be a vegan recipe. Peppridge Farm makes a vegan puff pastry that can be found at most grocery stores (but not at Whole Foods).
Caramel Apple Nachos! With loose teeth, serving up granny smith apples in nacho style instead of dripped caramel apples is an excellent alternative. I will be making vegan caramel using coconut cream, and letting the kids add from a choice of toppings: toasted coconut, sprinkles, chocolate chips, mini vegan marshmallows, peanut butter sauce and of course, cinnamon.
The other night I looked out the window to see my husband pruning two rows of bushy okra plants that aren’t setting fruit or growing in their usual tall habit. My current theory is stink bugs. I hate stink bugs, and I’m eager to blame for most late summer garden issues. He told me pruning okra is called “whipping” and encourages it to fruit – much like pinching flowers off tomato plants. It appears to be working and we finally have our first okra of the season in the fridge.
In the south fried okra reigns supreme, but to be honest I’m not great at frying things and in general I prefer not to eat fried food all that often. Besides, it makes a mess and who wants to deal with that when they are trying to make a quick dinner before the kids melt down?
It’s super easy to make and goes well with any late summer or early fall menu. Serve with a little salt or any of the following goodies: ground oregano and salt, garlic and soy sauce and sesame seeds (my personal favorite), a pile of thinly slice fried onions with garlic and maybe a shot of hot sauce sauce, or a dusting of your favorite spice mix – a Cajun blend is excellent on okra. I think this weekend I will try hot honey roasted okra with garlic kale on top grits. Stay tuned for a picture and recipe notes.
How to make it:
Pre-heat the oven to 450 for get crispy ends – 400 if your children believe anything brown is burned.
For four people I typically use one pound of okra. Avoid pieces that are more than 3 inches long – they will be not be as tender.
Trim the tops off the okra and cut it down the center. Toss it in a mixing bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and stir until the okra is evenly coated. Place one layer of okra cut-side down on the sheet pan.
Pop the plan the middle of the oven for 15-18 minutes. Scoot the okra around on the pan with a spatula or shake the pan at least one time while baking.
The kitchen has been under construction for nearly ten months. This is what happens when you gut your house and add major additions to each side during the middle of a pandemic. Zero stars, do not recommend. It’s only recently occurred to me that I will need to unpack our boxes and find a home for everything. Many post it notes have moved around the kitchen as I’ve sorted this out and determined what I needed to bring some organization to it all.
The new kitchen has only lower cabinets, maximizing the view and natural light. I designed the cabinet layout to include two deep drawers to the left of the stove, a mini roll out pantry, wide shallow drawers in two locations, and more deep drawers in the island for plates, bowls, and glasses. Feeling a little protect of the new counter tops, I ordered these cute silicone trivets. They have that cast iron vintage design, without needing to worry about scratching the stone.
The addition includes a utility room off from the kitchen. For the first time ever, I broke down and purchased a monthly calendar to hang on the side of the extra fridge. Grocery requests and pick ups, appointments, work schedules, birthdays and everything else are noted here. Like my planner, I think there is the potential for this to some sort of family artifact, providing a little glimpse into life. At the moment though, I most excited about leaving reminder notes for my evening meetings, which have littered the kitchen for years.The utility room has closet, which is big new around here. A place for a broom and cleaning supplies – it is the definition of luxury. So excited to have space, I stocked up on cleaning supplies and organized with a deep sense of joy and relief. It represented the stress of the remodel coming to an end and a new beginning for our family in our home.
The quartzite counter tops called for Lustro Italiano Stone Cleaner. I filled a new cleaning caddie and closet with my favorites from Thrive Market: tea tree toilet bowl cleaner, stainless steel spray polish, tub and tile, lemon scented all purpose cleaner, glass and mirror cleaner, laundry detergent, and dishwasher soap. I tossed cleaning rags that have accumulated from our first apartment and replaced them with a stack of terry cloth rags.
The expression so fresh, so clean has never been so true.
Just thinking about this recipe makes me want to light a candle in the kitchen when the sun has set early in the evening and dinner feels much later than it actually is. This recipe was shared with me from my mother-in-law approximately one million years ago – or more specifically just a few weeks after our first wedding anniversary as we prepared for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if it’s origin, but I suspect it is from the Moosewood Inn cookbook, but has evolved over time in her kitchen and in mine. This recipe pairs well with couscous with vegetables and chickpeas, rice with dried apricots and pine nuts, rice and lentil stuffed bell peppers, spiced potatoes.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs fresh spinach, stemmed, cooked, chopped, and squeezed dry (20 oz frozen, squeezed dry)