Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Vegetarian

I’m back! (with some amazing French cheeses)

Oh, hi there! I do still exist, after all.

I’ve been digging out from under a pile of unfinished projects around the house and resume re-tooling/networking/hustling, but here I am. And my creative juices are flowing again!

Long story short, I’ve left my job (all good feelings, but it was time) and am looking for something new, this time back in the legal world. I know! So crazy.

But, I know why we’re all here: Let’s talk food. And, more specifically, cheese. A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation, as I sometimes do, for a cheese tasting. A French cheese tasting. With four different producers, all eager to share their wares with me and talk about how they produce the best cheeses in the world. I thought, why on earth not? It’s time to jump back in, and there’s nothing like some amazing cheese and the people who love it to inspire me. So, I said yes. And thus began the great renaissance of my cooking and blogging mojo (or so I hope!).

I walked in at 11:30, and was promptly offered a glass of red wine. Now, I don’t normally drink that early in the morning, but who am I to reject such hospitality? I mean, when in France (or at least, when among French cheese producers)…


So, I had some wine, and I sampled some amazing cheeses, and I met a group of the nicest European foodies you could ever hope to meet, one of whom was considering a move to Austin (I gave him some good restaurant tips). And then I came away with literally pounds of amazingly good French cheese and butter to experiment with. Nothing like that for inspiration! Everyone was so excited about my haul — the kids dug into the Mimolette Vieille from Isigny Ste Mère first, eating it by the chunk. Likely they were attracted by the cheese’s bright orange color (imparted with annatto, I’m told), but they loved the nutty flavor and kept coming back for more. They know good cheese, my girls! IMG_8371

I had more brie than anything else, so that’s where I started. I made an impromptu brie omelette for the kiddos that very evening, using farm-fresh eggs, a little cream, a pinch of salt, a hearty dollop of unsalted butter from Isigny Ste Mère for the pan, and a few generous slices of Brie L’Indulgent (a triple-cream brie) from President.

Simple is best, especially when you’re working with quality ingredients. I did sneak* a couple of small bites and the omelette was melt-in-your mouth amazing. Turns out I have some retained skills with a spatula!

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*Okay, I straight-up stole them. Je ne regrette rein. 

The next night, I had a little more time to plan, but I still needed something that would come together quickly, since Amelia has swim class on Wednesday evening, and we would need to eat directly after that. Pasta with Brie and Tomatoes did the trick, and it was a hit all around.

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It’s a bit rich to call this a recipe, as it really is just some stuff I threw together to make a quick meal, but it was so good that I will definitely make it again! Plus, it includes my new favorite secret weapon for spicing up a meal without much effort: dried shallots.** Think of it as a template.

**So versatile! Add them to salad dressings, sauces, etc. for a pop of flavor. I get mine from Penzeys, and make sure to always have them on hand.

Pasta with Brie and Tomatoes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6 servings
  • 8 oz pasta (preferably short pasta with texture to grab the sauce; I used casarecce)
  • 4 oz Brie, rind removed, cut into slices bite-size chunks
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
  • 1 tsp dried shallots
  • pinch salt
  1. Cook the pasta in generously salted water, according to package directions, until al dente. Drain, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water.
  2. Pour the hot pasta directly into a heavy, heat-proof bowl, and add the Brie, tomatoes, shallots and salt. Add a splash of pasta water and cover the bowl with a plate or lid to retain the heat. Let it sit for a few minutes so the cheese becomes nice and melty.
  3. Remove the plate or lid and give the pasta a good stir, so that the melted Brie thoroughly coats the pasta and the tomatoes are divided evenly, adding another splash of pasta water if needed. Adjust seasoning and add a nice crank of pepper (that is, if your kids don't object to such things as strenuously as my oldest does these days.
  4. Serve immediately with a nice salad. Voila le dîner!

Stay tuned for more cheesy deliciousness, as I work my way through all these goodies!

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Tart (and a Personal Note)

The thing about Texas in October… well, it’s still hot. Cooler, yes (if one can truly call highs in the upper 80s cooler), perhaps with intermittent bursts of actual autumnal weather (like this weekend(, but it certainly doesn’t feel like fall most of the time.

The other thing, though, is that we get a second crop of tomatoes in Texas, in October. For real. And when the cherry tomatoes started rolling in from our CSA, I was ready, with this amazing roasted tomato and garlic tart recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen.

tomato and roasted garlic tart

I simplified it greatly, and it turned out amazing — even, dare I say, better than my old standby tomato tart recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

So, if you are as lucky as we are to have fall tomatoes at your disposal, give this one a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed. The rest of you — well, enjoy your cozy sweaters and infinity scarves and such (not that I’m at all jealous), and you can try it next summer.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Tart
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 servings
  • one head garlic
  • 1 tsp + 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry (one package), thawed overnight in the fridge
  • ½ cup parmesan, grated
  • 2 lbs cherry tomatoes (2 pints)
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbs chopped parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the head of garlic in half crosswise, drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil and wrap each half in foil. Roast directly on the oven rack for 45 minutes, or until soft and golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. On a baking sheet, overlap the two puff pastry sheets by about an inch, and press together with your fingers to seal. Fold each edge over on itself by about one inch, and press to seal. Poke holes in the bottom of the tart all over with a fork, and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges begin to turn golden. Remove from oven and cool slightly. If the bottom of the tart has inflated in places, poke with a sharp knife point to deflate.
  3. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out into a bowl and mash with a fork. Spread like butter over the bottom of the tart crust. Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes, until the tart is golden brown. Set aside on a rack to cool.
  4. Next, prepare the tomatoes. Preheat the broiler and toss the tomatoes with the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread the prepared tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet or in a large metal baking pan and broil for 10-12 minutes, tossing once or twice to ensure even cooking, until blistered and beginning to release their juices.
  5. Remove the tomatoes and increase the oven temperature to 425. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the bottom of the tart crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle over the mozzerella and the parsley. Bake until the cheese is melted and the tart is hot, 10-15 minutes.
  6. Cool slightly before cutting into the tart. Serve warm or closer to room temperature.


On a more personal note, I am officially going back to work tomorrow — in a real, non-freelance-style job. It’s for a client I’ve been working for over the past few months — very happily, I might add — and I am thrilled about the opportunity. It will not mean drastic change for my family, since I will be still be working from home (though I will be out and about for meetings more often), but Amelia will have a full-time nanny (who, thankfully, is her current part-time nanny), and Nora will spend a bit more time at farm school most days.

I am nothing less than completely psyched — but I can’t help but feel wistful that my time as a primarily stay-at-home mom is coming to a close. Don’t get me wrong — there are things I certainly won’t miss about it, and I am very much looking forward to consorting with actual grown-ups and working on things that don’t involve play-dough more often — but I will miss the sweet time with my babies. Giggly baby on the changing table, sweet reading time snuggled up with my kiddo… we will still have those moments, but the pace of life will be faster, and we will have just as much to cram into fewer hours together.

So, that will mean a change in my cooking habits, too. I’m not sure exactly how things will change yet, but I know they will, at least a bit. I look forward to sharing the journey with you, toward fresh, healthy weeknight meals for a modern family pressed for time. Oh, and cocktails. Of course.

Pasta with Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

So. I have to tell you. This blogging thing — if you don’t make a schedule and stick to it, you tend to go a month in between posts without even noticing it.

Mea culpa. If you want excuses, I’ve got ’em. Work. Kids. The baby crawls and pulls up and cruises and is into everything now! A child-who-shall-not-be-named has done something with my camera’s memory card and I cannot for the life of me find it.* But, for the most part, it’s just that I only have 8 hours a week of nanny time, which means I work during every other free moment, including my former blogging time. Sigh.

* I suspect there is a black hole in our house somewhere. Don’t worry, I sucked it up and bought a new one, but I’m still holding out hope!

sundried tomato and mushroom pasta

But I miss writing, and I miss you guys, and I find myself composing posts in my head that I never actually commit to paper (screen?). So here I am. And I’m going to try to do better — with a schedule and everything. In fact, it was around this time three years ago** that I really launched my blog by doing a 30-day post challenge. I am contemplating doing the same thing again to throw myself back into it, and get back into the habit of coming here and giving this blog the attention it deserves — especially now that we’ve joined a new CSA and I’m cooking regularly again.

** Damn, time flies, doesn’t it? Also, do you like how I used three big writing no-nos all in a row there — starting sentences consecutively with “but,” “so” and “and.” Win!

To the matter at hand, though — pasta! My kids love pasta. Love.

pasta kids

I have never seen a baby nosh as pleasurably (or as heartily!) as Amelia did the other night on spaghetti at an Italian restaurant. That was the stuff. Even my picky 3-year-old*** hardly every turns her nose up at pasta… though she may pick out any “green stuff” I put in it.

*** Remember how she used to eat everything I put in front of her? Me too. 

I ran across a recipe somewhere for pasta with sun-dried tomato cream sauce a while back. I apparently didn’t save it anywhere, since I still haven’t been able to find it again, but I did remember that it called for non-oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes of good quality, and some happened to jump out of the shelf at me while I was at Whole Foods the very next day.

Those tomatoes languished in my pantry, since I hadn’t saved the recipe, and then we got a brown paper bag of locally cultivated mushrooms in our weekly Farmhouse Delivery box. In brainstorming ideas for the mushrooms, my mind wandered back to that sun-dried tomato pasta — and this delicious, umami-rich dinner was born.

sundried tomato and mushroom pasta

I mean — sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, cream sauce, pasta — how can you go wrong? Even my mushroom-hating hubby loved it. Plus, it’s super-easy to prepare, and ready in minutes. Now that’s my idea of a great weeknight meal! Add a salad (which certain members of your family may or may not eat) and call it dinner.

Pasta with Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • 8 oz casarecce or other short pasta (like rotini or shells)
  • 4 oz sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
  • 6 oz mushrooms
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup cream
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the sun-dried tomatoes roughly and put them in a small bowl with water to soak. Chop the mushrooms, slicing ¼ of them, and chopping the rest roughly.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and saute them with the mushrooms until the mushrooms release their juices and begin to brown slightly.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over and stir to coat. Add the vegetable stock and cream and lower the heat to medium. Simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens slightly (enough to coat the back of a spoon).
  5. Drain the pasta when done, and add it to the skillet with the sauce, stirring to coat.
  6. Remove from the heat and add the parmesan, stirring until incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with additional parmesan, if desired.


Veggie BLTs (aka PLATs)


You guys. So good.


I’m super-excited, because, after a long dry spell with very little cooking inspiration, we have just started up with a new CSA. This is how I always used to cook — get the fresh, in-season, local veggies, and go from there. Waste not, want not (especially for dinner inspiration).

Then we had a new baby. And we decided to cancel our CSA for a bit, since we knew we wouldn’t be cooking that much for the early weeks, and well… we’ve been planning dinner in a less organic, more what-can-we-make-happen-in-the-next-few-minutes-before-meltdowns-occur sort of way for a while now. Yeah.

But we’re back in the groove! Last week was out first delivery from Farmhouse Delivery, which is kind of a local aggregate CSA for the Austin area. I love it already. In our first box, we got sweet corn on the cob, avocados, limes, giant slicing tomatoes and a beautiful head of butter lettuce, roots and all.


I also sprung for a weekly staples package, complete with organic, low-temp pasteurized milk from Mill King, fresh-baked multigrain bread and local free range eggs. Yes yes yes. Back.

We made a mixed grill with the corn and some tomatoes and peppers from our garden this weekend for dinner, served alongside a salad with red quinoa, feta, kalamata olives, red onions and some of that avocado, cubed. It was good stuff.

And, well, with such beautiful lettuce and tomatoes, I could think of only one thing: BLTs.

I am, of course, a vegetarian. But I live in a mixed household, and the omnivorous members of the family enjoy bacon. Naturally. Well, I remembered a staple from my childhood that I hadn’t had in a while — fried provolone. Yep, the cheese. If you fry deli slices of provolone on the stovetop, they bubble up, brown and become crispy, just like bacon, and they slide right out of the pan after you cool them slightly, with no need to add oil. Fried provolone is a fabulous substitute for bacon in a sandwich, and it did just the trick here. Plus I couldn’t resist adding some of that delicious avocado, because, let’s face it, just about everything is made better with a few slices of avocado. So, rather than a veggie BLT, perhaps we should call this sandwich a PLAT — provolone, lettuce, avocado and tomato.

I think sandwich recipes are kind of silly, since you basically just throw everything together according to your own taste, but here’s a good starting point for you, because this sandwich is just too delicious not to share!

Veggie BLTs (aka PLATs)
Recipe type: sandwich
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
  • 2 slices provolone cheese
  • 2 slices sandwich bread (preferably freshly-made sourdough)
  • mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper
  • butter lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried with paper towels
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced
  1. Put a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium high heat and add the cheese slices in a single layer. Allow to fry, turning the pan to ensure even heating as necessary, until bubbly and golden brown on bottom. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain and then tear into strips or large pieces.
  2. Meanwhile, toast the bread and slather one side with mayo. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the bread with lettuce leaves, and layer the tomato slices on top, using as many of each as suits your taste. Top with the provolone, and add avocado slices.
  4. Assemble, cut in half and chow down!


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.


Black Bean and Avocado Tacos

Scrolling through this page over the last few weeks, you’d be excused for thinking it was just a cocktail blog. I mean, I have my reasons (two little ones, actually), and the sleep deprivation inherent in parenting a small baby does make it much easier (and more enticing) to come up with a cocktail recipe on the fly, after the littles are in bed, than it is to come up with a recipe for a delicious and nutritious meal — something beyond, let’s say, ordering pizza or thawing something from Trader Joe’s.

So, mea culpa. I have been cooking on occasion, and we do not subsist on pizza and frozen food alone around here. Occasionally our meals are even well-balanced and somewhat original. Sure, cooking them tends to be a team effort (see: two kids), but that’s alright. It is what it is for right now, and I’m good with that. Parenting small children is all about ebb and flow, I’m learning. There will be another season soon, not too far off, in which more involved gourmet cooking is possible. Let’s all hang on for that season. For now, I’ve got a recipe for a tasty and healthy weeknight meal you can whip up on the fly with pantry staples.

Black Bean and Avocado Tacos // Gourmet Veggie Mama

How’s that for working with what you’ve got?

One of the things I love about Nora’s preschool is that they really pay attention to feeding a healthy, varied menu to the kids, and somehow they get them to try (and like!) all kinds of things they just won’t at home. Nora came home from school one day recently talking about the black bean tacos they’d had for lunch, and I was intrigued, so I pumped her for details.* She said they had black beans and avocado, and they were really, really good.

* As it turns out, she was actually talking about black bean nachos, but no matter. Tacos are just as good an idea.

Of course, the wheels in my head started turning, since I am ever on the lookout for a quick and easy meal that my picky princess will actually enjoy. I scraped together a few things we already had in the pantry and fridge, ordered a couple of avocados through Greenling (no one actually goes to the grocery store nowadays, do they?), and got cookin’ — well, barely. Honestly, this meal involves little more than grating up some cheese, rinsing and heating canned black beans and warming tortillas. And, let me tell you — it’s good. Even Nora, who has come to surprising me by declaring a new food she doesn’t like every day,** approved.

** Today it was cheese. What?! Who doesn’t like cheese? Especially this child, who until recently was mainly sustained on cheese, yogurt and Cheddar Bunnies (also cheese-related, no?).

So, if you want lazy, tasty, healthy food, this one’s for you. Enjoy!

Black Bean and Avocado Tacos
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (optional)
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed well and drained
  • 8 flour tortillas***
  • 1-2 avocados (depending on size), peeled and cubed
  • grated cheese, sour cream and salsa for garnish
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cumin, and then add the black beans along with a splash of water or veggie broth. Stir until heated through.****
  2. Heat the flour tortillas one by one on a hot, dry griddle, flipping each once to ensure even heating, and transfer to a tortilla warmer (or a plate with another inverted plate on top, as a "lid") to keep warm until you're ready to eat.
  3. Fill each tortilla with a spoonful or two of the bean mixture, soft taco-style. Garnish with cubed avocado, cheese, sour cream and salsa, as desired. Chow down!
*** Get them freshly made, if you're lucky enough to live near someplace that offers that option. Otherwise if you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own using a recipe from my very own hubby.
**** If you are really in a hurry, you can just rinse the black beans, cover them and microwave them until warm with a little sprinkle of cumin and garlic powder. No one has to know.



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.


Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with Fresh Ricotta

Not long ago, I made a meal (this fantastic baked ziti) for a friend who just had a baby. Several people did this for me when Amelia was born, and I like to pay it forward. Having a newborn is a hard gig! However, I am still a little sleep deprived myself, so while I was making the ricotta cheese for two batches of baked ziti, I had a math fail. Long story short, I ended up with twice as much ricotta as I actually needed.

But, hey, that’s definitely not a bad problem to have. I pondered what to do with the extra, and landed on a quick and easy meal of spinach and artichoke pasta. Since we have plenty of spinach growing in our garden these days, it was easy to pop outside and pick some, sauté it, combine it with some chopped marinated artichoke hearts, the ricotta and a little cream, and toss it with pasta. Voila! Dinner is served.

spinach ricotta pasta

I do like my pasta pretty saucy, and this is no exception — so if you like yours with more pasta than other stuff, well, just make more pasta.

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with Fresh Ricotta
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 8 oz spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped roughly
  • 1 12-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese, preferably homemade (recipe follows)
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted.
  3. Lower the heat and add the artichoke hearts, ricotta cheese (breaking into smaller chunks with spoon) and cream. Stir over low heat until warm, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir in the pasta. Serve warm topped with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Homemade Ricotta
  • 4 cups whole milk (preferably organic, pastured milk)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  1. Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it's four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
  2. Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you've got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
  3. Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.


Risi e Bisi

Ladies and gentlemen, the Naptime Chef is back. I thought, after a couple of years of being limited to meal prep during naptime, that I was past all that. With a child in preschool and plenty of time around the house by myself, I thought I could start to prepare meals like a normal person. Then along came Amelia.

Babies certainly have their own ideas about meal prep — namely that it’s not their favorite thing, and that there are a number of other endeavors on which their waking hours should be spent. So, I am, once again, limited to prepping dinner during naptime, however sporadic and undependable that may be.

And here I am, the Naptime Chef again. I guess that’s how it’s going to be for a while, at least. But, that’s okay, because I do have a few of my old tricks memorized, and I’m sure to discover some new ones along the way.

The difference is, this time, we’re starting out with a young palate to please as well — and yes, Nora has turned out to be quite the picky 3-year-old, despite my best efforts.* But, one thing she does like is rice. The kid will shovel handful after handful of the stuff into her mouth. And peas are one of her favorite veggies, too.

* I guess it happens to most kids eventually, at least to some degree. I just try not to cater to it too much, and hope it’ll pass sooner rather than later!

So, imagine my delight when I ran across this Slate article about the best thing to make with arborio rice that isn’t risotto, complete with a recipe for Risi e Bisi — an Italian rice and pea dish.

risi e bisi

Of course, I wouldn’t be touting it if it weren’t also pleasing to adult palates as well. It has many of the same ingredients as risotto — arborio rice, broth, butter, parmesan — but it’s far less time consuming. Even better, it’s something I can easily make ahead (during naptime, naturally) and finish quickly at dinnertime. Now that’s something I can get behind — particularly as our freezer stash is running low and I have to start cooking real food again on a regular basis.

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Risi e Bisi
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable stock, divided
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 14-oz bag frozen peas
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus additional for serving
  • salt to taste
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until light golden brown and beginning to caramelize.
  2. Add 4 cups of the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the rice and peas.
  3. Add a generous pinch of salt, cover and cook at a low boil until the rice is just tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.** Thin with additional stock if needed. The consistency should be thick, but not quite as thick as risotto.
  4. Stir in the parmesan and taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with additional parmesan cheese.
** If you are making the rice ahead, simply stop a couple of minutes before the rice is done to your liking and refrigerate; reheat later, adding some of the reserved broth and finishing with the parmesan.


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

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