Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Meal Planning

Remember that time…

… I had a blog?


What happened? I went back to work, and part-time quickly turned into full-time, and full-time turned into all-consuming. I am experienced enough to know that with a start-up, it often does, and as the parent — and until very recently, the stay-at-home parent — of two very young children, I confess that I’m pretty conflicted about it. But, I love the work, and I love the company. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Except. In the midst of getting into my groove as a working mom, I seem to have lost my way as to pretty much everything else other than working and being a mom.

It’s nearly impossible to fit in exercise (although, YES, I certainly could make it work by sleeping less, but that is an unappealing proposition at the moment.

A back injury has made running complicated since last summer, and with work (and wanting to spend every free moment with my family), it has fallen by the wayside. I’ve gone for 2- or 3-mile jaunts here and there on the weekends with the family,* but nothing more serious. When I attempted to go on the 10-mile Moontower Run a couple of Fridays ago, I paid dearly for it — I could hardly walk for a few days after due to aggravating my back injury. I’m now in intensive physical therapy trying to get the injury repaired once and for all — this is for the birds!

*Now that Nora rides her bike, there no real need for the double stroller!

To complicate matters, eating healthily is a struggle, too. Due to my working hours and commute, I’m able to spend the mornings with the kiddos, but I’m rarely able to make it home by dinnertime, especially since Amelia vocally prefers to eat around 5:30. As a consequence, dinner has largely become a Daddy Project.** I basically haven’t cooked anything much more complicated than pancakes for months.*** Sometimes I skip dinner. Sometimes dinner is something from the microwave. It’s rarely up to the standards I had just a few months ago. Hell, I hardly ever have the inspiration to make a cocktail after a long day.

**Or one for the nanny, since he has been out of town a lot recently. Cue Extreme Mom Guilt.

***Actually, that’s not quite true; I did manage to produce a lovely vegetarian cassoulet a couple weeks ago, but it was over two days or so, and it was a pretty light time at work.

I need to do better. I have to get over the end-of-week exhaustion and start planning and prepping meals for the week. I need to drag out the crock pot again and dust off old recipes. I need to rely on others, but not entirely. I need to be involved in my family’s nutrition. I need to because it’s a part of who I am — and who I became in creating this blog.

So, this is my vow — I will get healthy again. I have obstacles to overcome, and things won’t always be ideal, but need to make a change. I’ll write about it here when I can, if you’re interested. Perhaps some new, make-ahead, crock pot or super-quick recipes will be in the works? Or chronicles on how we make it all work through (hopefull diligent) planning and prep work? Both, I hope. And I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

tl;dr: Being a working mom is hard. But, I need to stop just making it through the day and start carving out time for ME. Not just to relax, but to exercise and eat well. I have to do this for myself, and for my family. I’ll be writing about it here when I can.

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.


20-Minute Homemade Tomato Soup

The days of soup-and-grilled cheese lunches are fading fast, with temps breaking into the 90s here in Austin (already — ugh!), but we may just have a few rainy days left in April. Last week, we had a few gray, chilly-ish days, and grilled cheese and tomato soup was just what the doctor ordered. However, we didn’t have any canned tomato soup on hand, so I decided to improvise. And you know what? I’m probably never going to bother to buy canned tomato soup again. This was creamy, delicious and almost as easy as the canned kind.

20-Minute Homemade Tomato Soup ~ Gourmet Veggie Mama

Sure, you could just open a can, but this is so much better and it only takes a few minutes more. This soup also freezes well, so next time we have a rainy day, all I’ll have to do is thaw it out. Golden.

Try it on your next rainy day!

5.0 from 1 reviews
20-Minute Homemade Tomato Soup
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 1 28-oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup cream
  • parmesan rind (if available)
  • ½ tsp herbes de provence
  1. Combine the tomatoes and stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Stir in the cream and toss in the parmesan rind (if using) and the herbes de provence, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat, remove the rind, and blend using an immersion blender (or cool slightly and blend in a conventional blender).
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with a grilled cheese, and enjoy!



Chard Pasta with Ricotta

We all have those days… You know, where everyone is running late to everything, dinner doesn’t get prepped like you planned, and the easy way out is to just pick something up. I will admit having succumbed to the takeout impulse plenty of times, but a little while ago, after having one of those days, I shot down hubby’s suggestion to “just get takeout” and set about improvising.

Sometimes improvised meals turn out to be the best. We had chard growing in the backyard (it’s the gift that keeps on giving!), stuff to make a batch of homemade ricotta, and I always keep pasta in the pantry and good-quality parmesan in the fridge. That was all I really needed to make this delicious pasta with a creamy sauce happen, and, guess what? It was better than takeout, not to mention healthier. Win!

Chard Pasta with Ricotta ~ Gourmet Veggie Mama

Now, can someone please remind me of this next time we have one of those days?

Chard Pasta with Ricotta
Recipe type: pasta
Serves: 4
  • 8 oz spaghetti (preferably whole wheat)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch chard, tough stems removed, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • pinch crushed red pepper
  • ½ cup parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • homemade ricotta (recipe here)
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the pasta water.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the chard and cook until wilted but still bright green. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for a couple minutes more.
  3. Stir in the cooked pasta along with the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a nice splash of the pasta water, and add the parmesan.
  4. Lower the heat and stir until the cheese is incorporated and a thin sauce coats the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve topped with a healthy dollop of ricotta.


Linked up at:

The Peaceful Mom

Quinoa Bowl

Sometimes all you need for a great weeknight meal is a solid formula. Here’s my new favorite:

Grain + Greens + Root Vegetable + Sauce + Protein = Yum

quinoa bowl

You’re welcome.

This formula was inspired by the Buddha bowl, which is my favorite dish at The Steeping Room. Not too long ago, I made a bowl with red quinoa, sautéed kale, roasted sweet potatoes and fried halloumi, all topped off with some sriracha and soy sauce. Perhaps tofu would have gone better with the Asian-style saucing here, but I had to work with what we had in the fridge. Plus halloumi is delicious!

Any grain will do (I prefer quinoa or farro myself), and you can go with tofu, a fried or poached egg and/or beans to add protein. In the summer, add baby greens or sliced avocado in lieu of the cooked greens and sweet potato. Get creative with sauces to mix up the flavors — think a tangy vinaigrette, or maybe a copycat of The Steeping Room’s famous cashew sauce. Have fun! I know I’ll be experimenting with this formula for a while.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Cracked Pepper and Parmesan

Spaghetti with cracked pepper and parmesan is one of my go-to weeknight meals when everything else falls through and I need to get dinner together in 20 minutes. I can throw it together with stuff I have on hand, and it’s always delicious.

pasta with cracked pepper

Make sure to use good-quality parmesan, since that’s where the flavor comes from. I like whole wheat pasta not only because of the nutritional content, but also because it has a heartier, nuttier flavor that holds its own in this dish. I served it the other night with a quick salad of wilted spinach, avocado and some balsamic vinaigrette.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Avocado and Balsamic Vinaigrette

And that was that! It was a delicious weeknight meal with a minimum of fuss. That’s just how I roll.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Cracked Pepper and Parmesan
Serves: 4
  • ½ lb whole wheat spaghetti
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the pasta water.
  2. Toss the warm pasta with the parmesan, olive oil, a generous dose of pepper and salt and a splash of the pasta water.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more pasta water if needed. Serve and enjoy!

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!

Brie Napoleon with Pomegranate Compote

Need a fancy appetizer for your Valentine’s evening in? Have I got a dish for you!

Brie Napoleon with Pomegranate Compote

Hop on over and check out my guest post on Cooking Planit’s blog today. I was able to make a delicious savory-sweet Brie Napoleon with Pomegranate Compote and a simple pasta dinner all in about 45 minutes. I’m not saying it was a fun and relaxing 45 minutes, but it can be done.

My adapted recipe for the pomegranate compote is below, but check out the recipe on Cooking Planit for the Napoleon itself, and for some adept help at planning your Valentine’s Day dinner. There’s a delicious ricotta and pea ravioli with creamy tomato sauce that I am also yearning to try!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Pomegranate Compote
Recipe type: sauce
  • Seeds of one ripe pomegranate
  • 3 Tbs brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp pomegranate juice (or substitute water)
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 whole allspice
  1. Mix the pomegranate seeds, brown sugar and pomegranate juice in a small saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved, then reduce the heat to low.
  2. Add the clove and allspice and simmer, stirring often, until the mixture thickens.
  3. Spoon the warm compote over freshly-baked Brie Napoleon, or spread it on a warm croissant.


Exciting News: A Collaboration with Cooking Planit!

So, remember back around Thanksgiving when I tried a few recipes from the meal-planning site Cooking Planit? I mean, who could forget Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes? Or Creamy Green Beans with Mushrooms? It’s making me a little nostalgic for our Thanksgiving feast just thinking about it…

Since then, I’ve been working with Cooking Planit to create several vegetarian menus, and they went live today! It has been such a pleasure working with Chef Emily Wilson and the Cooking Planit team to perfect my recipes. There are several new ones in the mix, as well as a few old favorites, and I think you’ll love them all.

Cooking Planit meals

Whether you’re a beginning cook or an experienced chef who needs a little order to your meal planning, shopping and cooking schedule to make it all fit into the day (and who doesn’t?), Cooking Planit is a great tool. With a huge database of meals, the site allows you to plan, shop and cook with precision. Use their menus to plan yours, or build your own, mix-and-match-style, with their recipes. You’ll get a customized shopping list and step-by-step, choreographed cooking instructions designed to have dinner on the table in no time with little fuss.

Please go check out my menus, and let me know what you think. There’s mac and cheese! And homemade tortillas! Not in the same menu. I’m not that crazy.

Thanksgiving Dress Rehearsal: Part 1

Thanksgiving is kind of the Super Bowl of the foodie world. I’m only hosting a small dinner this year (the three of us plus my dad and his wife), but that certainly will not stop me from planning a fabulous menu. Enter Cooking Planit, a new online tool for home cooks that started up right here in Austin.

Cooking Planit has a wide variety of meals and sides in its database, but there’s a twist that makes it better than any old recipe site. Once you pick your recipes, it generates a grocery list for you, and then helps you organize what to do when, so that your meal gets ready right on time. I love the grocery list feature, but I will say that I am far too entrenched in my haphazard ways in the kitchen to change now. I like my haphazard style. It works for me… but that’s just me.

But, onto the real deal: the side dishes. Over the next few days, I’ll be cooking my way through several of Cooking Planit’s chef-created sides as a trial for the main event. Who will make the cut? Can you feel the tension in the air? I’ll also be providing a few of my own tried-and-true Thanksgiving recipes in the hope that they may find their way to your Thanksgiving table. So, without further ado, let’s get this party started!

1. Kale Salad with Parmesan and Balsamic Syrup

With our kale going like gangbusters out in the garden, it was a no-brainer to try this deliciously simple kale salad recipe first. I cooked it up with ingredients I already had on hand, and it was ready in about 5 minutes flat, no joke.

Kale Salad with Parmesan and Balsamic Syrup


I served it alongside a quinoa-stuffed acorn squash for dinner one night this week, and it was delightful. I didn’t have pine nuts on hand, so I substituted walnuts, and it was fine (though I do think the pine nuts would be better).

Does it make the cut for Thanksgiving? The jury is still out. I love the idea of using our garden’s bounty on our Thanksgiving table, but a salad just seems a little non-Thanksgiving-ish for some reason. We shall see.

2. Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes

Next I decided to try out a recipe for cream cheese mashed potatoes. Hey, I like cream cheese, I like potatoes — what could go wrong? Turns out, not much.

Cream cheese mashed potatoes


These are fluffiest, creamiest, richest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Plus they’re a snap to throw together. Hey, if I can pull it off while my kid is watching Signing Time, anyone can do it. Speaking of kids, Nora couldn’t get enough of these potatoes. She kept stealing them off my plate.

I think the picture says it all, really.

Do they make the cut? Absolutely.

Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 3-4 green onions, chopped
  • 6 oz cream cheese, cut into pieces
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs sour cream
  • ⅓ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Scrub the potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cover with cold water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Drain the water and place the saucepan back on the stove for a couple of minutes to cook off any excess water, stirring frequently. Remove the potatoes from the heat and mash them in the pan.
  3. Return the saucepan with the potatoes to the stove over low heat and add the green onions, cream cheese, butter, sour cream and parmesan cheese, stirring to combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste.


As for turkey? Yes, there will be one. I won’t be eating it, of course, but the hubby ordered one from Rudy’s. We’ll just have to send our guests home with lots of leftovers.

I’ll be having my holiday standby, quinoa-stuffed acorn squash, as a main course. Check out my post on LiveMom for details and the recipe!

Note: I received a small grocery stipend from Cooking Planit in exchange for reviewing these meals, but I was not otherwise compensated, and my opinions are my own.

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