Gourmet Veggie Mama

Having Our Cake and Eating It Too

Last Friday was my first full day home alone with two kids. Yikes.

The hubby was able to take about a month off for Amelia’s birth, which was wonderful — but it also means that we have some more adjusting to do now that he’s back at work. Nora is in preschool four days a week, which makes it considerably easier on me, but on Fridays, it’s all Mommy, all the time. I was pretty anxious about how it would go, given that Nora tends to get bored with just me, especially hanging around the house, and with a new baby — especially in cold and flu season — there is necessarily a lot of hanging around the house involved.

We all survived, so I count that as a victory. And, honestly, it went just fine. Trying to brainstorm fun indoor ideas (since, of course, it was rainy on top of everything else), I had asked Nora the night before if she’d like to bake cookies the next day. Nope. “I want to bake a cake,” she countered. “A vanilla cake. With vanilla frosting. And chocolate inside.”

Thankfully,* the chocolate inside idea got dropped somewhere along the way, but we did bake a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. And it was, per her specifications, very vanilla.


*For simplicity’s sake only. A chocolate ganache filling would have been delicious!

I love that Nora is getting to an age where she really likes to help out in the kitchen, and she can actually help (slightly) more than hinder. And I am pretty darn proud of myself for managing to bake a cake with a 3-year-old sous chef and a one-month-old sleeping in the Moby wrap. Skillz.

It was not a beautiful cake, which is why I don’t have a glossy, magazine-ready photo of it. It turned out little bit dry, since I left it in the oven for a couple of minutes too long while we finished up a book we were reading, and I let it cool for too long in the pan, rather than turning it out onto a rack, since it was time to put Nora down for her nap, so the bottom sunk in a little bit. But it was still delicious, and we had fun making it, which is really what counts.

Very Vanilla Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 16
For cake:
  • 1¾ cups (7 oz) cake flour, plus more for pans
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 3 tsp good-quality vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into small pieces
For frosting:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tsp good-quality vanilla
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
For cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and fit the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper. Grease the parchment and then flour the pans.
  2. Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low speed until combined. With the mixer still running, add the butter a few pieces at a time and mix until beginning to clump, with the largest pieces about the size of peas.
  4. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and add about half of the egg mixture, beating until light and fluffy. Add the remaining egg mixture in a stream with the mixer still running. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and then beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is well combined and beginning to look slightly curdled.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, smoothing with a spatula, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly in the pan on a wire rack and then turn out onto the rack to cool completely before frosting.
For frosting:
  1. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time, beating until combined.
  2. Add the milk, vanilla, salt and lemon juice and beat until well combined and smooth.


Happy New Year!

… a day late and a dollar short, I know, I know. But I have a good excuse! Her name is Amelia.


This little cutie arrived on December 10, and let me tell you, this whole mom-of-two thing is not for sissies! We are all doing fine, though, and settling into our new routine (such as it is).

That said, I plan to be around more in the coming weeks… and I’m reinstating Cocktail Thursday!* I’m not really up to cooking much just yet — thank goodness for friends and family and frozen meals — but we’re getting there… so we’ll start with drinks and simple, make-ahead meals, yes? Alright then.

*Yep, a cocktail now and then is fine while breastfeeding.

All of that said, I am honored and pleasantly surprised to again be on the Austin Chronicle’s list of the Top 10 Austin Food Blogs. Check out the list — there are some great finds on there! There are several of my old favorites on there, and a couple of new ones that I’m eager to check out.

I’ll be back next week with a fun new cocktail — promise!


It’s that time of year again! You know, the time of year when I get in way over my head making a bunch of Christmas candy for neighbors, teachers, friends and co-workers.

A candy-maker I am not. I really should stick to cookies and such,* but every year I get a wild hair to break out the candy thermometer and do something complicated. Sometimes the results are great; other times, they are a frustrating failure.

* Like, for instance, the eggnog cookies with bourbon glaze I shared for Local Savour’s 12 Days of Holiday Cookies this year. Check them out!

I have had a couple of big successes this year, though, so I’ll share them with you this year in hopes that you may be as fortunate.**

** Yes, I am a little early making Christmas candy this year. I do have a baby due this month after all!

First up: Sea Salt Caramels.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

These. Are. So. Good. And, as far as caramels go, they actually are very easy. The hard parts are: (1) Making sure to really let the sugar mixture brown before adding the cream, (2) Using a candy thermometer to make sure your caramel reaches the right temperature so that it sets up right (don’t skip the thermometer!), and (3) Cutting it in a non-ugly way. Honestly, #3 gave me the most trouble — the other two are just a matter of being patient and following instructions. My not-so-pro tip: Let the caramel soften out of the fridge a little bit (honestly, more than you might think) before attempting to cut it. Otherwise, you might end up breaking it into shards instead of cutting into neat little squares.***

*** Ahem, speaking from experience. I ate the ugly ones myself.

Click on over to Sugar and Grace for the recipe. You won’t be sorry!

Next: Dark Chocolate Pecan Turtles.

I forgot to even take a picture of these, but they weren’t as pretty as the originals. They were really delicious, though, and quite easy to pull off. I omitted the salt on top, since I was already doing salted caramels, but they’d be lovely with or without.

Head on over to Alaska from Scratch for the recipe.

Last but not least: Hello Dollies.

hello dollies

These are a page straight from my Grandmommy’s recipe book. I needed something super-simple to make with Nora for a LiveMom piece about making Christmas candy with your kids, and these yummy 5-layer bars really did the trick.

Head on over to LiveMom for the recipe, plus my tips for candy-making with the littles!

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

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Chili Sauce

You know what’s good? Brussels sprouts. I know, I know — they’re all the rage right now, but I have to say, I’m so glad they’ve been re-discovered and that people are actually doing them right!

Roasting is the way to go, hands-down. You’re not still cutting those little Xs in the bottom of your Brussels sprouts and boiling them are you? Roasting is so much easier, and so much tastier, too.

The hubby and I went out to dinner at Uchiko a little while ago, and, among the many dishes they wowed us with was a side of crispy roasted Brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce. Since I love Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving and wanted to include them in our feast, I decided to try my hand at a similar recipe. Although ours didn’t come out as crispy (or, truth be told, as greasy*) as Uchiko’s, they were still awesome.

Roasted Brussels Spouts with Sweet Chili Sauce

* Not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing — they were utterly delicious.

I love the combination of soy sauce and sweet chili sauce on these, for a slightly Asian spin that was still perfectly at home with more traditional Thanksgiving foods. We had the rest of the sprouts (recipe testing, round 2) with a dinner of caramelized tofu with ramen noodles a couple nights ago, and it went great with that, too. Definitely a must-try!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Chili Sauce
Cuisine: Asian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 Tbs tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs sweet chili sauce**
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Toss the Brussels sprouts in a bowl with the oil and soy sauce to coat them, and then spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes, or until partially tender.
  3. Toss the sprouts and then raise the oven temperature to 400. Continue to roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until tender, crisp and browed, tossing every few minutes to ensure even browning.
  4. Remove the Brussels sprouts from the oven and toss in a bowl with the sweet chili sauce. Serve immediately.
** Available at Asian groceries or the Asian foods section of some grocery stores.


Thanksgiving Pre-Game

Thanksgiving is just two days away! It has really snuck up on me this year, but we’re keeping it pretty quiet. It’ll just be our family of three, plus my mom, and Mom is bringing the turkey (for the omnivores), dressing and a chocolate bourbon pecan pie, so I’m just in charge of sides. Just as well — that’s my favorite part anyway!

Here’s what’s on our menu this year:

Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions from Smitten Kitchen
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Chili Sauce (copycat of a dish we had at Uchiko not long ago, which was to die for — I’ll report back if the results are good!)
Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes from Cooking Planit
Spiced Cranberry Sauce from the Kitchn
Sausage Balls (both veggie and non-veggie versions)
Sweet potatoes with pecans and honey
Cream cheese-stuffed jalapeños (a family favorite)

Here are a few other favorites that might strike your fancy (or check out my Pinterest board for more inspiration):

Green Beans with Creamy Mushrooms

Green Beans with Creamy Mushrooms

Bourbon Sweet Potato Casserole from Ginny’s Austin

Bourbon Sweet Potato Casserole

Kale Salad with Parmesan and Balsamic Syrup from Cooking Planit

Pumpkin Pie with Graham Cracker Crust

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

White and Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding with Irish Cream Sauce (my favorite alternative Thanksgiving dessert)

And, thinking ahead, here are some uses for all of those Thanksgiving leftovers you’re sure to have. You’re welcome in advance!

Although our celebration is low-key this year, coordination can be a big challenge if you are planning for a crowd. Getting everything to the table warm and on time, without any major disasters, can be quite a feat. Now is the time to start thinking about it. If you’re totally into the organization thing (and I get that — it’s my tendency), it’s never too late to make a spreadsheet! Think especially about what you can do ahead (cranberry sauce actually tastes better after a day in the fridge, and pies can be made the night before) and what has to be a real-time event. And, last but not least, make use of other people’s work to make Thanksgiving planning much, much easier. A couple of my favorite tools this year are Cooking Planit and Slate’s Thanksgiving planner.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope your year has been filled with reasons for giving thanks (mine sure has), and that you get to spend it surrounded by loved ones and good food.

Roasted Vegetable Flatbread with Goat Cheese (from Edible Austin)

A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Jen and Alex Jackson for a profile in Edible Austin. The couple has since moved on to San Francisco (Bay Area friends, our loss is your gain!), but they were delightful to meet and chat with. I hope you’ll check out the profile here.

I was also privileged to recipe-test the flatbread that Jen and Alex shared with us for the magazine. That was the best part!

Roasted Vegetable Flatbread with Goat Cheese (Edible Austin)

I did this when eggplant, peppers and tomatoes were still bounteous, as was that peppery summer arugula, but luckily Jen and Alex provided us with a few seasonal variations that would be perfect for right about now (butternut squash, with sage and caramelized leeks, plus a great sheep’s milk cheese, anyone?).

This version, though, with summer veggies, creamy goat cheese and eggs cracked right over the pizza, is to die for, and will definitely be back on our table next summertime!

Roasted Vegetable Flatbread with Goat Cheese (from Edible Austin)

I will tell you that, although the dough is a little time-consuming to make, it is hands-down the best I’ve made in my own kitchen (and I’ve tried quite a few!). Head over to Edible Austin to read the profile and grab the recipe, and I do hope you’ll try it out yourself!

Still Running

I’ve been absent for a bit, and I apologize. Food just isn’t doing it for me these days… not like it used to. It will again, and I actually have a few great recipes in the queue to share with you, but I’ve been suffering from the dreaded writer’s block (aka lack of motivation). Someone wise once told me that if I couldn’t get motivated to write, I should just write about what I’m excited about or invested in at the time, so I’m going to do just that, and hope that it gets the creative juices flowing again.

So, all of that is a rather roundabout way of saying that this post has nothing to do with food. Instead, it’s a digression into my running life, which I haven’t really talked about much since my latest round of marathon training.

running for 2

How’s it going? Well, I’m 35 weeks pregnant and still running, and pretty darn proud of that. I ran throughout my pregnancy with Nora, and I aim to do the same thing this time around. It has been much harder this time, though, for a bunch of reasons. First, I already have an active kid to run around after, and I don’t get to sleep as much as I did the first go-round, so I’m starting out from a place of greater exhaustion. Getting up before Nora does in the morning to go running? Yeah, that’s not happening. Second, this pregnancy (as I’m finding is common) has been more difficult than my first. Physically, I just don’t feel as well. It’s hard to want to go for a run when you’re just trying not to puke (hello, first trimester and a part of the second), or when it’s a choice between a sorely-needed nap and a run. I’ve also had a ton of hip issues, and lately I’ve having trouble getting my legs to cooperate — they feel super-heavy after running about a mile, the way they might toward the end of a marathon. (My chiropractor thinks it’s a nerve issue caused by tight muscles, and I’m working the foam roller to try to alleviate it.) Finally, weather has been a significant factor, at least until recently. I lived in Northern California when I was pregnant with Nora. Running through the summer was no big deal. Here, in the land of 100-degree temperatures from May through September (not to mention insane humidity), it is a big deal, even when one isn’t carrying an extra little heater with one at all times. So, to put it mildly, the heat has made it difficult. Thank goodness for fall, which is finally — finally — here.

But why am I still running? I get asked this question a lot, and I ask it of myself constantly. When it comes right down to it, I’m stubborn. I don’t want to quit running, because I like it, it makes me feel good, and I don’t want to have to start back up from scratch after recovering from pregnancy and birth. I’m worried that I just wouldn’t do it, since there are too many factors pushing against it — sleep deprivation with a newborn, the pressures or everyday life and being able to find rhythm that includes time for running — and that would be sad, because I love being a runner. Running is “me” time, and I need that in my life. And, running is good for me and good for the baby I’m growing. Regular exercise during pregnancy helps build a stronger placenta, may make for an easier labor, and tends to produce, leaner, healthier newborns. And, just recently, a study found a link between exercise during pregnancy and smarter babies. So I feel good about that.

Am I running a lot? No. I try to get out twice a week, and sometimes that doesn’t happen. I also try to do a lot of walking, and I ride my bike (inside on a trainer), both of which are more comfortable for me now. I’m also really slow. Like, about two minutes a mile slower than my pre-pregnancy pace, on a good day. And I rarely crack 3 miles nowadays — in fact, sometimes I don’t even crack 2. I enjoy it sometimes — the other day I had a spectacular 2-mile run in the rain just as a cold front was coming in, during which I felt great — but more often, I’m just trudging through. It’s a means to an end now, and I’m in the home stretch.

If you’re interested in reading more about running and exercise during pregnancy, I highly recommend the book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (though it looks old-school, the information is still entirely current) and The Runner’s World Guide to Running and Pregnancy. I also have to put in a good word for the maternity workout gear available on fitmaternity.com, and, if you’re planning to run during pregnancy, I personally could not have survived this far without the Gabrialla maternity support belt — it’s a lifesaver in the late second and third trimesters, and I swear no one can tell you’re wearing it under clothes. Happy running, everyone!

Easy Margherita Pizza + No-Knead Dough

I’ve been experimenting a lot with pizza lately. Although there is a special place in my heart for grilled pizzas, with the weather turning cooler (at least in theory), and with my pregnancy-fueled love of all things carb-y, I am turning more toward a thicker crust and an oven preparation. I’ve tried several recipes recently — Chicago-style deep dish pizza (recipe to come, once I’ve perfected it), a flatbread recipe that’s to die for (more on that soon) — but this one just may be my favorite.

Easy Margherita Pizza (with No-Knead Dough)

I was so excited when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “lazy pizza dough” — it’s a no-knead dough that you basically mix and forget about until it’s time to stretch, top and bake. She gives options for an overnight, all-day or part-day rise, but I’m going to give you the part-day rise here, since it’s the only one I’ve tried (and it worked beautifully). We also seem to have lost our pizza stone and peel somewhere in the cross-country move (18 months or so ago… which goes to show you how often it got used), so, with some trepidation, I baked this pizza on a well-oiled baking sheet. Guess what? It still tuned out crispy and delicious. So, no special equipment required!

nora pizza

Plus, it’s Nora-approved.

Easy Margherita Pizza
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
For the dough:
  • 3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp (slightly heaped) active dry yeast
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups warm water
For the pizza:
  • olive oil for greasing pan
  • 1 14.5-oz can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz mozzarella (aged, not fresh), grated
  • 2 oz parmesan, grated
  • several fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
For the dough:
  1. In a large non-reactive bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt and water. The dough will be craggy, but should come together pretty well. If necessary, you can add another tablespoon or so of water.
  2. Once all ingredients are incorporated, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 6 hours, until more than doubled in size. (See the original recipe for overnight and all-day rise options, if that timing works better for you.)
For the pizza:
  1. When the dough is almost ready, make the sauce and prepare your toppings. Preheat the oven to 500°. Oil a rimmed baking sheet generously with olive oil.
  2. Combine the crushed tomatoes, garlic cloves, salt and crushed red pepper in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and shape it into a ball.
  4. Flour the top of the dough ball and, using well-floured hands, grab one side of the dough and let it stretch down, repeating several times.
  5. Place the stretched dough onto the prepared baking sheet and stretch and spread it with your hands until it is roughly 9 x 13 inches in size (stretching almost to the edges of the pan).
  6. Top with approximately ½ cup of the sauce, spreading evenly (reserve the rest for another use). Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sauce, and top with the parmesan.
  7. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is puffed and the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, turning once to ensure even cooking.
  8. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the basil leaves. Cool slightly, then slide onto a cutting board and cut into pieces. Serve warm with a salad, and enjoy!


Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread. Who doesn’t love it? And it’s the perfect time of year for it, too.

Spiced pumpkin bread

Head on over to LiveMom and check out my latest post, with a great, versatile recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Bread. I’ve been tweaking it, and now I think it’s just perfect!

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