Gourmet Veggie Mama

Split pea soup with pumpernickel croutons

My old favorite (pre-vegetarian days) recipe for split pea soup was this one from Gourmet.  Obviously, since it calls for ham hocks, it wouldn’t work for me nowadays, so when I had a craving for split pea soup the other day, I had to improvise a little. I wanted to get a similar smoky flavor to what you get by using ham hocks, so I used smoked paprika instead.* That, along with the herbs and veggie broth, made it a richly flavorful soup.

Good stuff.

* The smoky flavor of bacon and other pork products is one of the few things I miss about eating meat, hence my intense love of smoked paprika!

The pumpernickel croutons, which are probably the best part of that old favorite recipe, made it complete. They pair perfectly with the soup, giving it just the right crunchiness, bite, and saltiness.

Split Pea Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons
Based on a blend of this recipe from Gourmet, January 2004, and one from Soup Yourself: 50 Simple Yet Sublime Soup Recipes from the Eastside Cafe

3 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 small carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups split peas, rinsed well
8 cups vegetable stock or water**
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp fresh (or 1/4 tsp dried) oregano, minced
1/4 tsp marjoram
1 tsp minced parsley
1/2 tsp fresh (or 1/4 tsp dried) thyme leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp kosher salt, divided
several slices of pumpernickel rye, cubed

Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, and add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook until well softened, about 15 minutes. Add the split peas, stock or water, spices, and 1 tsp of the salt. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until split peas are tender.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the pumpernickel with the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Spread in one layer in a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack.

Sprinkle a few croutons on top of each serving of soup, and enjoy!

** I had less veggie stock than I thought, so I used 5 cups of stock and 3 cups of water, which worked fine.

Tofu you’ll actually want to eat

I have never loved tofu. It’s bland, and I’m not crazy about the texture. Of course, its blandness is a virtue, in that it takes on pretty much any flavor, and it does serve as a good vegetarian source of protein. As for the texture issue, I have found that firm sprouted tofu is best for my particular tastes. Although (fortunately for me!) Nora loves her tofu simply cubed and coated with wheat germ, I need to do a little more prep work for my grown-up palate.

When I do eat tofu, it’s usually in a stir fry. After trying many different methods, I’ve discovered the best way to cook it so that it comes out crispy, golden brown, and perfect: pan-frying. I’m pretty sure I’ll never try another way of cooking tofu again, so I’m happy to share the recipe in hopes that I can convert some other non-tofu eaters.

I never really use a recipe for stir fry, since I just throw in whatever appropriate veggies I have around, make a quick sauce using soy sauce, vinegar, and maybe a couple of other ingredients, serve it on top of rice and call it a day. My last stir fry was comprised exclusively of vegetables from Full Circle Farm, a fact of which I am pretty proud!

I'm a locavore.

My basic method for stir fry these days is to fry the tofu using the recipe below, take it out to drain on paper towels, and then stir fry my veggies, throwing the tofu and sauce in at the end. This time, I used mizuna, kohlrabi, bok choy, leeks, carrots, and (of course) fried tofu, with a sauce of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a touch of toasted sesame oil, and a pinch of brown sugar.

Veggie-licious.

It made a lovely, quick dinner. I love stir fry because once the veggies are chopped, it takes only a few minutes to have a meal on the table.

Sure, tofu prepared this way is not exactly health food, but a little extra oil is fine when added to such a healthy dish, in my humble opinion, especially when it improves the taste so much. Try it — you’ll like it!

Fried Tofu

1 14-oz package of firm tofu, drained
2 Tbs canola oil

Cut the tofu crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, then cut each slice in half. Arrange cut pieces on a thick layer of paper towels, and cover with another couple of layers of paper towels. To press the moisture out, place a heavy object on top* and let it sit for 20-30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the tofu and cook on one side without moving until browned, 3-5 minutes. Flip with tongs and cook on the other side. Remove to new paper towels to drain. Add to your favorite stir-fry at the end of cooking, along with the sauce, and enjoy!

* An old law school textbook is ideal, if you have one lying around. My favorite choice is Contracts.

10 things I learned in the first year of parenting

I’m feeling a little nostalgic lately. Going through baby clothes tends to have that effect on me. So, as Nora turns from a baby into a toddler,* I’m reflecting on the big lessons I learned during her first year.

*As much as I’d like to deny it, I can’t — she’s not really a baby anymore!

The learning curve as a new parent is huge. I thought I learned a ton during my first year as a lawyer, but this has been even more dramatic. I’ve boiled it down to a Top 10 list, and I’m betting most of these items will look familiar to those of you who are parents!

1. Everything changes. Babies grow and change so fast, it’s unbelievable. In the beginning, when you figure out some magic thing that always works to comfort your baby, it’s golden… and it lasts for a week, tops. Then you have to figure something else out. It gets a little better as time goes on, but the constant change is hard to wrap your mind around. You just have to go with the flow and keep changing, too.

2. It’s not that gross when it’s your kid. This could apply to any number of things: spit-up, poop, chewed food… I could go on. It’s still gross when someone else’s kid does it, but not yours. Okay, maybe it’s just not as gross, because sometimes it is a little icky. I cannot rationally explain why this is, but it’s a fact. It must be a biological thing.

3. They really are born with their own little personalities. It is amazing how early you can start to see the person your baby will grow into. I’ve said it before, but right from the first few weeks, the hubby and I both knew Nora was going to be stubborn and independent. The toddler years are bearing that out so far!

4. There are 3 things you can’t make a child do: eat, sleep, or be quiet. This one is courtesy of my friend Emma, who is wise in the ways of motherhood. It’s true. No matter how much you beg, plead, cajole, trick, ignore, or bribe, you cannot make your child eat. They have to want to, at least a little bit. Same thing with sleeping or being quiet — it just doesn’t happen. You just have to do what you can and then let it go.

5. You couldn’t have imagined how much you’d love them. It took me a few months to really feel the full force of my love for Nora. I loved her from the moment she was born, but it did take me a little while to fall head-over-heels in love with her. But, I did, and it’s a love people often try to describe, but I think it’s impossible to really understand until you are a parent.

6. You also couldn’t have imagined how much they’d annoy the crap out of you sometimes. It’s not all puppies and rainbows. Sometimes kids are a pain — it’s just a fact. Sometimes they’re whiny or stubborn and nothing you do helps, and you get frustrated with them. It happens to everyone. I ran across this post the other day, which I think describes it perfectly. Some days, it’s just about making it through until bedtime. That doesn’t make you a bad parent, and it doesn’t mean you love them any less. It’s just part of the deal. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about that.

7. You couldn’t have imagined how much your life would change. No matter how much (or how little) planning you did, you simply cannot imagine the magnitude of the change this tiny person will bring to your life. Everything is different. Your world revolves around a constantly changing, moody, adorable little person with entirely unreasonable expectations. But you’d never want it any other way.

8. Bumps and bruises go with the gig. Especially once you have a mobile child, a few injuries are unavoidable. That’s just how the learning process works. Of course, you try to prevent bad things from happening, but I think it’s important to give your child some room to explore on his own. That means his noggin might get bonked sometimes. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad parent. Not that that will stop you from feeling guilty.

9. Just because you have a good kid doesn’t mean you’re a good parent. I have an easy baby. She sleeps well, eats like a champ, (usually) travels well, and is almost always pleasant and good-natured. However, that’s just luck of the draw, with a little bit of genetics thrown in. I think you can make marginal improvements based on your parenting style, but, when all is said and done, they pretty much are who they are. I try not to take credit for Nora’s good behavior for fear that I’ll end up with a hellion if we have another child.

10. Kids are smarter than you think. Nora has had my number for a good while now… it just took me a long time to figure it out. She knows just how to manipulate me, and it’s hard not to play right into her hands, the tricky little one. Sometimes you have to view your child as… not the enemy, exactly, but rather a skilled adversary in a long game of chess. You always have to be on the lookout for a trap. Presumably it only gets worse as they get older.

The thing about parenting is, anyone can do it. It’s all based on instincts. No matter how much ink has been spilled on a particular subject, sometimes you have to lay down the parenting books and just go with your gut. Of course, that made the learning curve all the more frustrating for a Very Type A personality like me… but I survived it. Well, at least the first year of it! I’m sure there are plenty more adventures to come.

Farro, green olive, and feta salad

In looking for new grains to feed Nora, I stumbled across this recipe for farro, green olive, and feta salad. Not only did it look like a meal that might expand her taste buds a bit, it also looked like a tasty lunch for me! I made it for lunch the other day, and it was great.

Lunch time!

This salad has a lightness to it that’s hard to find in winter cuisine, and the feta, olives, and lemon combine to give it a kick.

While I was pleased, Nora wasn’t too thrilled. She had a few chunks of the feta and seemed to like the farro, but she spit out the parsley and gave me a horrible look. I didn’t see her try an olive, and I think the lemon flavor might have been a bit too acidic for her. Of course, this is the same girl who has grabbed and bitten into a lemon on more than one occasion (they make great teethers, apparently) and not been phased, so who knows.

Regardless, the salad made a great lunch for me, with plenty leftover for this weekend, too. I think I may try just plain farro with the kiddo as a side dish, but apparently this was a little much for her… or she was just in an obstinate mood. Hard to say!

Farro, Green Olive, and Feta Salad
Original recipe from Sunset, January 2012

1 cup farro wheat
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 Meyer lemon
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2/3 cup green olives, pitted and halved

Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil and stir in the farro. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool and dry a bit, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the oil, zest and juice of the lemon, pepper, and parsley together in a medium bowl. Stir in the feta, olives, and cooked farro.

Squash Cheese Soup

Remember that pumpkin purée I froze awhile back? I put it to good use the other day as part of my squash cheese soup. This makes for a really easy weeknight dinner, especially if you’ve made the purée in advance.

Cheesy, squash-y deliciousness.

Add a salad and a nice slice of crusty bread, and it’s the perfect meal for a winter evening.

Squash Cheese Soup
Based on this recipe, originally from The Vegetarian Lunch Basket

3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs whole wheat flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 1/2 cups winter squash purée*
smoked paprika

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Whisk in the flour and stir for 3 minutes. Gradually stir in milk and vegetable stock. Simmer until thickened. Stir in cheese, squash puree and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in a generous pinch of smoked paprika. Serve with a delicate sprinkle of smoked paprika on top, and a pinch of fleur de sel, if you like.

* If you are not as fortunate as I was to have purée already on hand, you can make it from pretty much any variety of winter squash. Halve, seed and cook about 3 pounds of squash at 375° for 30-40 minutes, or until easily pierced by a fork. Cool and scoop the flesh away from the skin and pulse in a food processor until puréed.

Blood orange cocktail

With blood oranges in season (hurray!) I figured it was a perfect opportunity to concoct a new cocktail. I tried out a blood orange variation of the famous Mexican Martini earlier this week, but it was a fail (well, at least according to the hubby… I liked it). So, while I continue to fiddle with that recipe, I decided to try something else with my leftover blood orange purée. Thus was born the generically-named, but very tasty, blood orange cocktail.

Sophisticated and tasty.

It was a hit with both the hubby and me, so I call it a winner.

Blood Orange Cocktail
Based on this recipe

1 oz vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau
2 oz blood orange purée*
1 oz simple syrup
dash of blood orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker over plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass.

* Peel, segment, and seed 2 blood oranges. Add 1 Tbs simple syrup and a dash of lemon juice and purée in a blender. I found the basic recipe here in a recipe for blood orange margaritas, which is also on my must-try list soon.

Eggplant parmesan

I stumbled upon this lighter version of classic eggplant parmesan when I was pregnant and had gestational diabetes.* I had to carefully balance carbs and protein, and this meal fit the bill. We had it a lot, since it also happens to be one of my favorite dinners. I made it again recently after a hiatus, and it definitely deserves a place in the rotation. It’s simple to put together, tasty, and balanced, so it’s the whole package!

* This is not necessarily a “fat person’s disease” or something you get from eating unhealthily. In my case, my family history of diabetes did me in, and I’m likely to have it again if I have another pregnancy. Sorry for the not-strictly-necessary PSA, but this got under my skin when I was dealing with it, and it still does now!

The meal that has it all.

Even the hubby, who is a bit squeamish about eggplant, loves it. I think it’s a texture thing — a lot of times, the eggplant comes out stringy and mushy, but that is definitely not the case in this recipe. The trick is in the preparation.

Eggplant 101.

I slice the eggplant thin, let it stand to dry out, and broil it first, which browns it a bit and gives it a little “crust” without breading. I’ll definitely never go back to the traditional way again, not because of the extra calories, but because it just tastes better this way!

I really like to use my own frozen or canned tomato sauce in this recipe, but sadly I didn’t get around to canning any last summer (boo!) and all of my frozen stuff has already been used, so I had to resort to jarred sauce.

Pinch hitter.

It was actually pretty good… just not as good as the “real” stuff, and more expensive to boot. So put canning tomatoes and tomato sauce on my “to do” list for this summer!

Eggplant Parmesan

1 1/2 pounds eggplant (about 2 medium)
1 to 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 to 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Slice eggplant into 1/3-inch thick rounds. Lay rounds on paper towels and sprinkle with salt, letting them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Blot with paper towels to absorb moisture and brush or spray both sides with olive oil. Preheat the broiler and broil about 6 inches from the heat until rounds begin to brown. Flip and repeat on the other side, then remove. Rounds should look a bit dried out.

Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly oil a 2-quart casserole dish. Heat the tomato sauce and spread about 1/3 on the bottom of the casserole. Layer half of the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, overlapping a bit as necessary. Spread a thick layer of mozzarella over the eggplant, retaining a 1/4 cup or so. Sprinkle the parmesan on top of the mozzarella. Layer the remaining eggplant slices over the top of the cheese and spread the remaining tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella over the top. Bake until bubbly and melted, about 30 minutes.

Cut into slices and serve on top of a bed of whole wheat spaghetti.

Vegetarian Cassoulet

I had some spare time this weekend, and an urge to cook, so I decided to finally take a stab at the vegetarian cassoulet recipe I had been saving for almost a year. Yes, for real. The San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine section did a spread with a bunch of different variations on cassoulet last January, including a vegetarian one that looked fantastic. I saved it, since I knew I would have neither the time nor the will to cook such a thing with a newborn to care for.

I’m glad I saved the clipping for this long! The cassoulet wasn’t difficult, but it was time-consuming. I probably put a total of 4 hours into it, when all was said and done, but at least it wasn’t all active time. Most of it was just waiting for the beans to cook. The result was well worth the waiting, though.

Yum.

This is definitely a keeper!

Vegetarian Cassoulet
From the San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 2011, with my modifications

2 large yellow onions
7 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 bay leaf
1 pound dried Great Northern beans*
2 small sprigs thyme, plus 3 1/2 tsp minced thyme
1 small sprig rosemary, plus 1/2 tsp chopped rosemary
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 generous pinch smoked paprika
1 14.5-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 Tbs minced sun-dried tomatoes
1 tsp dry sherry**
1 tsp champagne vinegar
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Peel the onions, halve lengthwise, slice thinly, and then chop. In a large frying pan, melt 3 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil. Add the onions, salt, and bay leaf and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the onions have softened and reduced in volume. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown and caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Pick over and rinse beans. Place in a large pot and add water to cover by one inch, plus the thyme and rosemary sprigs and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to very low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender but not falling apart, about 2 to 3 hours. Remove from the heat and drain, reserving 1 cup of the broth.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and add the garlic and paprika, stirring until the garlic softens, about one minute. Add the crushed and sun-dried tomatoes, sherry, vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, parsley, and 1 1/2 tsp minced thyme. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Once you’re ready to assemble the cassoulet, preheat the oven to 350°. Add about 1/4 cup of the onions to the tomato sauce, stirring over medium heat to warm. Add 1 tsp salt, 1 1/2 tsp thyme, and 1/2 tsp rosemary. Stir in 3/4 cup of the reserved bean broth. Remove the pan from the heat and fold in half of the beans and half of the remaining onions with a soft spatula, being careful not to crush the beans. Gently fold in the rest of the beans and onions. If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit more of the bean broth.

Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish. Melt the remaining 4 Tbs butter. Toss the bread crumbs with the melted butter, the remaining 1/2 tsp thyme, and 1/4 tsp rosemary. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the beans. Bake until the topping has formed a golden crust and the juices are bubbling around the edge, about 30 minutes.

* Don’t soak the beans. You’ll cook them from dried, which takes a long time, but produces a great result. I only mention it because I did a double-take when I first read the recipe.

** If you don’t have sherry on hand (I didn’t), you can substitute a pinch of brown sugar along with a little more vinegar.

Greener, cheaper… and cuter!

I love cloth diapering, and I tend to evangelize about it anyway (not in an annoying way… I hope), so I was excited when I ran across this contest. It only asks me to do one thing: tell you all about cloth diapers and how much I love them!

So why do I cloth diaper? I do it because it’s greener, cheaper, and, let’s face it, cloth diapered bums are just way too cute to resist.

Am I right, or am I right?

Plus, it’s easier than you think… I promise!

I first looked into cloth diapering because the idea of throwing so many diapers into a landfill (an estimated 6,000 in the first two years) just didn’t sit well with me. If you use disposable diapers, that’s close to 3 tons of non-biodegradable waste you’ll be throwing away per child, from birth to potty training. From that standpoint, cloth diapers are certainly the greener way to go. Even factoring in the water and energy used to launder cloth diapers, I don’t think it’s really a contest.

Aside from being the greener choice, it’s also the cheaper one, especially if you do your own laundry. Rather than spending $2,500 on disposable diapers per child, you can spend just $400 to $1,000 on cloth diapers, which can even be used for more than one child. Even if you use a diaper service, you’ll basically come out even, and think of all the landfill space you will have saved!

Cloth diapering is also a lot easier than you think. My philosophy is that babies come with so much laundry anyway, so what’s one more load? I don’t mind washing and stuffing diapers, since laundry around here is never-ending anyway, and the Bum Genius diapers I use** are just as easy to put on and take off as disposables. Plus they’re more comfortable for baby (would you want to run around with chemical-laden paper undies on?), and some sources suggest there is a lower rate of diaper rash for cloth diapered babies.

** My stash consists of mostly 4.0s, a few 3.0s I picked up on clearance, and one Freetime all-in-one that I won in a contest. The Freetime is awesome and I am tempted to unload some of my older stash to replace them with these.

Not your mama's cloth diapers.

I started cloth diapering Nora when she was about 3 months old. I had hoped to start from birth or shortly thereafter, but she was such a tiny peanut (4 lbs 15 oz**) that she didn’t fit into the one-size diapers in my stash until she was a bit bigger.

** A lot of people are surprised when they hear she was this little, but fear not, she was perfectly healthy. Just a wee bit early and small… but powerful! That’s just who she is.

Once I switched over, there was no going back. We got into a laundry routine, and I really started hating to use disposable diapers. After visiting family in Texas over the holidays recently, I was so glad to get back to cloth diapering full-time when we returned home. We traveled with cloth diapers for nighttime, since they just work better for us than anything else, but next time we may just see if we can travel with a small stash of cloth diapers and wash every day.

I was so psyched when my sister-in-law called me with questions about cloth diapering not too long ago. She is expecting her first baby in April, and I think I’ve got her on the bandwagon. I raided the holiday sale at my favorite site, Cotton Babies, and got her a trial pack of Econobum (since she is mostly interested in saving money), plus a few Bum Genius 4.0s in Artist Series patterns. She was thrilled, and I really hope it helps her start her stash for a happy and successful cloth diapering adventure with her new little one.

Besides, how could you resist this?

You can't.

I’m not receiving any compensation for this post, but if I win the contest, I’ll be ecstatic to share the prize (two awesome stashes of cloth diapers) with my sister-in-law. I hope I’ve piqued your interest a little bit, and, if so, here are some resources on getting started with cloth diapering to peruse:

Whys and hows from Cotton Babies
Cloth Diapering 101
All About Cloth Diapers
Types of Cloth Diapers
What do I need to start cloth diapering?

Happy diapering! I’ll be back with your regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

The easiest gourmet meal you’ll ever make

We had a fairly action-packed evening around these parts (by recent standards) yesterday. After a quick run by the farm stand after Nora woke up from her afternoon nap, we picked up the hubby and headed straight to Ridge for their First Friday tasting. After enjoying some lovely wines and tasty nosh and chasing a toddler around the grounds, we headed home in time for baby dinner (baked tofu, peas, and pears baked with vanilla and cinnamon). Add in some pre-bedtime crankies due to teething (molars, ugh), and we were all spent.

After all that, we needed something quick and easy for grown-up dinner tonight. Normally we’d probably turn to take-out, but, as luck would have it, I had some ravioli in the freezer.

Score.

I figured out awhile back that, instead of just pairing store-bought ravioli with store-bought sauce, it’s way better to toss the pasta in some olive oil or butter and top it with some combination of veggies, nuts, and/or cheese. It takes only a little more effort, and the result is a much better (and healthier) dinner.

Yum.

This time around, I tossed the ravioli with a little olive oil and a dash of black truffle oil (purchased at Trader Joe’s for insanely cheap), sautéed some baby spinach to top it off, and finished the dish with toasted walnut pieces and a sprinkle of fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper. It was definitely a winner, and the most time-consuming part of the whole meal was waiting for the pasta water to boil!

I have to say, this is a pretty good trick to have up my sleeve on a hectic day. What’s your favorite no-fuss meal, fancy or not?

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