Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Make-ahead Meals

Summer Farro Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Feta

Things have been crazy around here. All in the past two weeks, I got a new part-time consulting gig, hired a part-time nanny and launched myself back into the working world. Oh, and Amelia got two teeth. So that’s been fun!

The point is, we have all been feeling the changes. So, instead of sitting down for leftovers or something frozen for lunch yet again, I took my first “real” weekend seriously and slowed it down a bit. I made a delightfully simple summer farro salad using tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden.

tomato cucumber farro salad

We all enjoyed it — even Nora, once she settled down enough to sit down and actually try it. And she’s professing to like both tomatoes and cucumbers these days — music to my ears, and a darn good reason to have your own garden, if you ask me! She’s much more into food she gets to help harvest.

This salad is so easy to make, and it really showcases the flavor of the tomatoes and cucumbers — so use the freshest ones you can get! If you don’t grow your own, get thee to the farmer’s market.

Summer Farro Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Feta
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups farro, uncooked
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • ½ large cucumber, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled feta or goat cheese to finish
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until fragrant, about a minute.
  2. Add the farro and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the farro is softened but still retains a bite, about 10 minutes.
  3. Drain out any leftover stock and transfer the farro to a large bowl to cool to room temperature. Add the tomatoes, cucumber and red wine vinegar and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper (along with more vinegar if needed). Serve topped with crumbled feta or goat cheese.


Creamy Parmesan and Spinach Orzo

Here’s the deal with dinner lately: I don’t really cook it. It’s not that we don’t eat dinner at home… it’s just that the way our family life works right now sort of preludes me from being the primary chef at dinnertime.

Amelia has an early bedtime, so I have to start her bath at 5:45, do her bedtime routine (which includes nursing, so it’s my job) and then she’s down by 6:30 most nights. Nora, however, doesn’t go to bed until around 8 pm. We used to eat dinner at 6 and then play outside for a little while afterward, but since we like to eat together as a family,* we had to switch it up a bit. At first, we tried eating before I started Amelia’s bath, but it ended up being too early for everyone but her… and she was always on the verge of meltdown that close to bedtime, so it wasn’t working out. Our current solution is to eat at about 6:45, so I have time to put Amelia to bed and everyone can sit down together without throwing off Nora’s bath-and-bedtime routine.

*Well, minus the not-yet-eating-solids member of our crew.

Of course, if you do the math, that usually means someone other than me has to cook dinner, or at the very least do the final steps and get dinner ready to go on the table. And that means that the hubby has been primarily in charge of dinner lately. Sometimes I make the meal plan for the week, and other times we just wing it. Truth be told, I am still a little sleep deprived and unmotivated, so winging it wins out more often than it probably should. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s freezer meals!

Anyhow, blah, blah, blah, get to the good stuff. I made a delicious dinner the other night (on one of my more motivated days) — and I accomplished it by prepping everything ahead of time (while the babe was napping), and then having the hubby finish it off right before we sat down to eat. This recipe for parmesan and spinach orzo has been floating around Pinterest, and I decided it sounded like a perfect weeknight meal — with some slight modifications, of course. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be me.

spinach and parm orzo-001


I had high hopes for this one, and it did not disappoint. My only regret is that I really thought Nora would love it — and she did, for a few minutes. She chowed down until she realized that there was green stuff in it, and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t like “the kale.” Everything green is kale nowadays, and despite the fact that I have photographic evidence of her former love of actual kale, nothing can convince her that it isn’t gross. Plus, there were onions. Although basically undetectable to the adult palate (except for the lovely flavor they add), there were in fact onions in this dish, and that was apparently unacceptable. Sigh.

Regardless, the hubby and I scarfed ours down, and finished off her leftovers, too. Her loss, our gain!

Creamy Parmesan and Spinach Orzo
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 cups spinach, packed, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, according to package directions (around 8 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in another saucepan.* Saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
  4. Stir in the parmesan and spinach and heat until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce and the spinach is wilted.
  5. Add the orzo to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
* Or, if you're like me and prefer to minimize the mess, cook the pasta first, drain it in a colander, and then wipe out the same pan to use for the sauce.

** If you're making this ahead, you can stop at this step, and refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately (keeping the sauce in the saucepan for simplicity's sake). When you're ready for dinner, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop, and then proceed with the recipe.


Stocking the (Vegetarian) Freezer

With a baby due this month (!), we’ve been working on stocking our freezer with delicious, healthy meals for those hazy newborn days when cooking just isn’t a priority… or sometimes even a possibility. Since Nora made her appearance a little early, we didn’t do as much freezer stocking last time around, but we made it through just fine with a mixture of family and friends cooking and bringing meals for us, prepared foods, and takeout. This time around, we are pretty well prepared, I think. We’ll see soon!

For a couple of months, I’ve been making larger batches of some freezer-friendly meals and putting the extra in the freezer. I’ve actually done very little cooking exclusively for the freezer, but we’ve been building up our stock bit by bit.*

Stocking the (Vegetarian) Freezer

* Yes, there are some prepared meals in there, too. Michael Angelo’s is good stuff, yo. And don’t knock Amy’s either.

There are tons of resources out there for stocking the freezer for omnivores, but, I found, relatively few for vegetarians. A lot of freezer meals tend to be crockpot-ready meals, and those tend to be pretty meat-centric. However, that doesn’t mean that vegetarian meals can’t be freezer-friendly, too! So, I thought I’d share some of the recipes we’ve used to stock the freezer, as well as a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

In general, soups freeze really well, as do non-cream-based pasta sauces (just make fresh pasta to go with it), lasagna and enchiladas (freeze the sauce separately, or use good-quality packaged sauce). Beans are also good freezer candidates, and you can either freeze them cooked plain (so you can throw them into other dishes) or prepared, as in a soup or chili. Don’t forget bread (it’s nice to have a homemade loaf to go with that soup) and a few treats you can bake at a moment’s notice, like chocolate chip cookies. Yep, I think we will eat just fine for those few weeks after the baby arrives.

C’mon Baby Girl! We’re ready to meet you!

Tips for Freezing:

  • Use disposable baking dishes. Normally I’m not a fan, but not having dishes to clean up when you are dealing with a newborn (or recovering from surgery, or what have you) is priceless. Foil baking pans with lids are the bomb for things like enchiladas, pasta or lasagna.
  • Use freezer bags, and lay them flat to freeze. This saves a lot of space, and they’ll thaw a lot faster when you’re ready to use them, too.
  • Be sure to print meal names, dates and reheating instructions on every container. Make it idiot-proof so you don’t have to think too much about it. Some of us are pretty dumb when sleep-deprived.
  • Make sure to leave plenty of time to thaw your meal before you’re ready to eat it! This seems like a no-brainer, but some things take longer than just a day in the fridge to completely unfreeze, and you don’t want your dinner plans upset when you realize your mac and cheese is still a mac-and-cheese-sicle after an hour in the oven. Not that that has ever happened to me. *ahem*
  • Start early. If you freeze a few meals here and there, it won’t seem like such a huge undertaking, and before you know it — voila, you have a freezer stash!

What’s in Our Freezer:

Roasted Fennel Tomato Sauce (just add pasta and parmesan)

Crock Pot Potato Soup

Sweet Potato and Chard Enchiladas

Veggie Chili

Various beans  — including crock pot pinto beans, borlotti beans and cooked chickpeas

Black-Eyed Peas

Veggie lasagna (I made a big pan and froze half of it, wrapped in freezer Press ‘n’ Seal)

Garlic-artichoke pasta sauce (frozen without the cream)

White Bean Soup with Mushrooms, Spinach and Quinoa

Split Pea Soup

Cloverleaf French Bread

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza


Other Freezer-Friendly Meals:

Mexican White Bean Soup

Creamy Roasted Tomato and Orzo Soup (freeze prior to adding the cream)

Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant

Kale and White Bean Soup

Spiced Red Lentil Soup with Kale

Black Bean Soup

Lentil-Spinach Soup

Lentil Soup

Tunisian Vegetable Stew

Black Bean Chili

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens with Leeks

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine

Chard and Sweet Potato Stew

Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas

Chard Enchiladas

Macaroni and Cheese

Chard Lasagna

Chard and Mushroom Lasagna

Hearty Vegetable Lasagna

Crock Pot Potato Soup

You guys. It is still so hot. But, I have it on good authority that fall has come to other parts of the country, and that it may soon make an appearance here! If Starbucks has pumpkins spice lattes, it must be true — right?

Anyway, if you’re ready for soup weather (and boy am I ever), hop on over to LiveMom and check out my latest post with a delicious recipe for crock pot potato soup.

potato soup

It’s easy to throw together, delicious and comforting — perfect for fall. Enjoy!

A Mediterranean Feast

Okay… so I’ve been on a bit of an unscheduled blog-cation. I’ve been busy with other deadlines (yay for being busy!), and with the heat and the inevitable crankiness that comes along with it,* especially when one is pregnant, I just haven’t been feeling like cooking much… or writing.

* I really think there should be a diagnosable disorder, a la SAD, for people who live in hot climates during July and August. Heat-induced irritability is all too common!

The cooking came back first — and honestly, I’ve been feeling pretty inspired and have some fun stuff to share — so now I just have to get over the writer’s block. I’ll start with a fun one — a Mediterranean feast that the hubby whipped up not too long ago.

Mediterranean feast ~ Gourmet Veggie Mama
None of it took too terribly long to make, and it’s all very do-able in advance, so this make the perfect (cool) lunch for us a couple of days in a row. The cucumber salad was my favorite — with cucumbers from our own garden, which are coming in like gangbusters nowadays — and the feta-yogurt dip was sublime. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the flavors together were just awesome (and it had a strange spiciness to it that I still can’t quite account for). Store-bought pita, cut into triangles, and some pitted kalamata olives completed the meal. We’re working on perfecting the recipe for roasted-pepper hummus (we’ve got plenty of peppers coming in from our garden right now too) — so stay tuned for that in the near future.
All in all, it was a delicious, protein-filled meal that left us feeling full, but not icky — and that’s a big plus in these dog days of summer. Enjoy!
Cucumber and Mint Salad
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ cup red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2½ tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint (or less, to taste)
  1. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut into thin slices.
  2. Toss the cucumber with the salt in a colander and allow to drain in the sink for 30 minutes. Tap to remove any remaining water, and then dump the cucumbers onto a clean dish towel spread on the counter, using its edges to blot any excess moisture.
  3. While the cucumbers are draining, soak the onions in a small bowl of ice water for 10 minutes (this tames their bite a little bit), then drain using a fine mesh sieve.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, onions, white wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, pepper and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Feta-Yogurt Dip
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1⅓ cup feta cheese, crumbled (about 8 oz)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • ¼ tsp lemon juice
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp za'atar spice mix, plus more (to garnish)*
  1. Add the garlic, feta and olive oil to the food processor and process until the cheese is roughly crumbled. Remove half of the cheese to a bowl.
  2. Add the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, pepper and za'atar seasoning to the food processor with the remaining feta. Process until smooth.
  3. Add the Greek yogurt mixture to the bowl with the crumbled feta and mix well. Garnish with a sprinkle of za'atar seasoning and serve.
* Za’atar seasoning can be purchased in Middle-Eastern markets, or substitute 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds and 1/4 tsp each dried oregano and thyme.

Cool Noodles for Hot Temps

Are you sensing a theme, here? It’s hot. Not that I’m complaining… yet. But I also welcome any recipe that allows me to put a delicious meal on the table without heating up the kitchen too much. Enter soba noodle salad.

soba noodles

Go check out my latest post on LiveMom for the full scoop, and the recipe. Nora’s take?

head in bowl

Yeah, it’s good. Try it!

Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes

I am starting to love twice-baked potatoes. Not the smallest reason is that they are easy to make ahead and then finish off right before dinner time. When I saw Kitchen Treaty’s recipe for Greek yogurt and chive twice-baked potatoes, I wanted to try them ASAP, and then I stumbled on a baked potato casserole recipe on Pinterest, and the rest is history. I made my very own Frankenstein version combining these dishes, and it was perfect.

Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes

The Greek yogurt, aside from adding creaminess to the filling, also packs a protein punch, and it’s tasty to boot. Add some sharp cheddar (I used Dubliner cheese leftover from my last twice-baked potato adventure, but any good sharp cheese will do), sautéed mushrooms and onions, and broccoli, and we’re in business. I would love to say that I served this as a put-together meal with a side salad or some roasted kale, but, alas, it was a busy night, and the fact that the potatoes already had veggies in the filling won out, and I just called it a complete meal in itself.

4.5 from 2 reviews
Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 4 baking potatoes
  • 3 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, plus additional for oiling pan
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, chopped
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1½ cups sharp cheddar, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly oil a large casserole dish, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and arrange then cut-side down in the dish. Bake for 15 minutes.
  2. Flip the potatoes, pierce them with a fork and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 350°.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, caramelize the onion. In a large sauté pan, melt 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil and cook the onion over medium heat for until soft and translucent. Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.
  4. Return the heat to medium and add the garlic and mushrooms. Sauté for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broccoli and saute for a minute or two more.
  5. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop most of the flesh out, leaving about ¼ inch so that the potato skin holds its shape, and place the insides in a large bowl. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp butter and the Greek yogurt and mash well.
  6. Stir in 1 cup of the cheddar and the onion-mushroom-broccoli mixture and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Scoop the potato mixture back into the potato skins, mounding over. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar and arrange the potatoes in the same casserole dish.*
  8. Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through and the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve warm.
* If you want to make these ahead and finish baking them right before dinner, stop here and refrigerate the potatoes. Simply add about 5 minutes to the cooking time.


Potatoes Stuffed with Caramelized Onions and Dubliner Cheese

I haven’t made twice-baked potatoes in ages. I remembered them taking lots of time, even if the results are tasty. If I’m in a potatoes-for-dinner kind of mood, I save myself the work and just make fill-your-own baked potatoes instead. But then I tried Potatoes Stuffed with Caramelized Onions and Dubliner Cheese, and I was glad I didn’t just make plain ol’ baked potatoes.

Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Dubliner Cheese

These potatoes marry a sharp Irish cheese (just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!) with sweet caramelized onions, and the results are delicious and even kid-approved! Plus they aren’t nearly as time-intensive as I remembered. Hop on over to LiveMom and check out my Thursday’s Dish post for the recipe (and for a chance to win a set of two Not Your Mother’s cookbooks).

I received a review copy of Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook to review for the LiveMom piece. I was a little skeptical that freezer meals could be actually, you know, good, but we all know how much I like make-ahead meals to avoid the dinnertime rush. I have to say, I have discovered a few gems in this book (my family spent the better part of this week eating from it) and now I’m a believer.

I think I’ll start trying to cook one extra freezer meal each weekend, just so I have a stash of healthy and delicious homemade meals in the freezer for a rainy day. I’ll be sure to share more of my favorite recipes, perhaps in round-up form, as I discover them!

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