Gourmet Veggie Mama

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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.


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.

Beet salad with farro and orange-ginger dressing

When we get beets in the CSA box around here, they almost always get roasted and then tossed into a soup or salad in some form. I’m cool with that pattern. It works, so why change it? So, when a few golden beets showed up in our box last week, I decided to try a twist on the summer beet and mâche salad that is normally my go-to.

We already had some leftover cooked farro chilling in the fridge, and since adding farro is my new favorite way to make a salad a little heartier, in it went. I intended to add some toasted pine nuts, too, but, as it turned out, I was out of them (blast!). No bother, though — the farro provided a bit of nuttiness, and the salad was delicious without the pine nuts.


I’m on a bit of a ginger kick, and the hubby doesn’t mind it in small quantities, so I whipped up an orange-ginger dressing, which just made the whole thing. Add a little extra protein in the form of a hard boiled egg and/or some crumbled goat cheese, and it’s a meal!

Beet Salad with Farro

2-4 beets, depending on size
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs orange juice
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp champagne vinegar
2-3 small chunks crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
12 oz salad greens
1 cup prepared farro
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 400°. Trim and scrub the beets, reserving the greens for another use, and wrap in foil. Place in a baking dish and roast for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on size), or until tender. Cool, remove from foil, and rub with paper towels to remove skins. Slice thinly.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar, ginger, and shallots in a small bowl, whisking  until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss the salad mix with dressing to taste and divide among plates. Arrange the sliced beets on top of the salad and drizzle with a bit more dressing. Center a mound of farro on top of the beets and green, and top with goat cheese and hard-boiled egg.


Panzanella (bread and tomato salad) is a great way to use up stale bread and tomatoes that are just this side of overripe. Who knew two things that were otherwise destined to feed the compost pile could make such a delicious meal?

I used half a large loaf of rustic Italian bread, a couple of beautiful red heirloom tomatoes that had gone a little too soft, and a large handful of bright red cherry tomatoes that my neighbor kindly sent over. Add a handful of capers, some peppers and basil from our garden, and some olive oil and red wine vinegar, let it marinate, and the flavor was just amazing.

So delicious.

I really wanted to add some extra protein to this meal, since I went without a real lunch yesterday, so I fried up some halloumi to go with it.

Protein-y goodness.

That, plus a nice glass of wine, and I was a happy camper. We enjoyed the meal out on the back porch in the unseasonably cool evening air. It was 74 degrees, people. 74 degrees! Fall is coming. I’m sure Indian summer is going to smack me back to reality soon, but I’m enjoying it while I can.

Adapted from a recipe published in Bon Appétit, August 2012

2 lbs tomatoes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf stale bread (such as country, Pullman, or ciabatta), cut into 1″-thick slices
3-4 mixed sweet peppers
1/4 cup capers
1 bunch basil, leaves trimmed and roughly torn

Using a vegetable peeler, peel and core the tomatoes.* Use your hands to crush them into a large bowl and break up any larger pieces. Whisk in the olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper, and adjust the seasoning to taste. Add the bread and toss. Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the juices.

Meanwhile, roast the peppers over a gas flame or under the broiler until their skins blister. Seal them in a paper bag for 10-15 minutes and then remove the stems, seeds, and skins, and slice into thin strips.

Add the pepper strips, capers, and torn basil leaves to the bread and tomato mixture, massaging with your hands until the ingredients are well-combined and the bread is broken down. Set aside for an additional 30 minutes to an hour. Taste for seasoning and serve.

* You can also score the tomatoes, immerse them in boiling water, put them in an ice bath, and then peel them, but, frankly, that’s too much hassle and to many dishes for me these days.

Happy blogiversary to me!

It has been a year since my first post. How time flies! But, at the same time, it seems like I’ve been writing this blog forever. Funny, that’s just about how I felt on Nora’s first birthday. I simultaneously couldn’t believe she was already a year old, and felt like I had been her mommy forever and couldn’t imagine life without her.

Not that I’m likening my child to my blog… Well, maybe just a little bit. Taking care of both of them has become a labor of love. Nora, and writing about food and life with Nora and other miscellany, have both brought richer meaning to my life.

In honor of my first blogiversary, I am making a list, in no particular order, of my 10 favorite posts from the past year. Enjoy, and please let me know if you’ve tried any of the recipes out — I’m always looking for creative feedback.

1. Black bean burgers — finally!

I have to include this one, solely because it took so long to puzzle out what I think is the perfect recipe. Who needs frozen Gardenburgers when you’ve got these babies… and even quinoa burgers for a change of pace now and then.

2. 10 Easy Salad Ideas. This has been a really popular post, and I’m happy that people seem to have found inspiration for lunches here. Kudos to my friend Melissa for making a special request for this post, and for test-driving several of the recipes.

3. Pasta with Sun Gold tomatoes.

I don’t know what it is about this pasta, but it is just about my favorite tomato dish ever. The Sun Gold tomatoes (which grow like crazy in our back yard) have the sweetest, mildest flavor, and the sauce is so silky and delicious.

4. Grilled pizzas.

I’m psyched that my whole wheat dough came out well, and I love being creative with toppings. Grilled pizzas just may be my favorite meal!

5. Vanilla jasmine martini.Of all the drinks I’ve tried over the past year (and with Cocktail Thursday, there have been a lot!) this is my favorite. It’s such a lovely, elegant flavor.

6. Vegetarian cassoulet.

I just like that this is a classic dish, vegetarianized… and not in a way that leaves you missing the meat. I also love that it’s winter comfort food, and that it takes a long time (but most of it non-active time) to make.

7. On Choosing. I have to include this one for sentimental reasons. I spoke from the heart, and I’m glad that my daughter will someday be able to look back and know how I came to live this particular part of my life the way I have.

8. Pumpkin pancakes.

So good. Such excellent, excellent breakfast-y goodness. I can’t wait until it’s fall again.

9. Grown-up mac and cheese.

I am a noted mac-and-cheese enthusiast, and this is my favorite. It’s all grown up… and delicious. I have to mention, as an aside, that Nora has started asking for “mac” by name, at least a couple of times a day. She truly is my daughter.

10. Broccoli cheddar bites.

I haven’t made a batch of these in a while, but I really should. Nora loves them, and I love to sneak a couple off her plate, too! They’re super-simple, freezeable, and one of my most popular recipes.

It has been quite a year, and going back through these posts has really brought it all back. Thanks for coming on this journey with me, and here’s to more years to come!

10 Easy Salad Ideas

I love a good salad for lunch. I’m not much of a sandwich person, and leftovers are great, but we’re not that lucky every day — sometimes dinner gets gobbled right up! So when a friend of mine recently made a special request for a round-up of great salad recipes to make ahead and take for lunch, I was definitely game.

I’ve scoured the internets and my own favorite recipes and come up with a list of 10 great make-ahead salads that would make a wonderful lunch. Enjoy!

1. Tomato and mozzarella salad. This is the easiest thing to put together, especially now that beautiful, ripe tomatoes are in abundance. Just throw a bunch of cherry tomatoes (halved if they’re big) and/or chunky chopped tomatoes (freshness is essential) in a bowl with bite-sized chunks of fresh mozzarella (either tiny perlini or traditional-sized mozzarella balls cut into bite size cubes. Throw in a good glug of olive oil, a splash of nice balsamic vinegar, a little salt and pepper, and a handful of basil leaves cut into ribbons.


2. Barley salad with parsley, walnuts, and ricotta salata. This salad has all my favorite things: A nice whole grain as its base, a salty cheese and walnuts for protein , and parsley for an added nutritional punch. It’s definitely going on my list to try soon!

3. Quinoa salad. One of my all-time favorites is a nice quinoa salad, just because it’s so darn versatile. You can pretty much throw in any fresh veggies you have lying around (I’m especially fond of avocado, tomato, and scallions), season with whatever herbs you like best, dress it with olive oil and lemon, and call it a day. Or, throw in some pine nuts or walnuts for extra crunch.

Lunch time!

4. Tortellini salad. One of my recent culinary adventures also turned out to double as a great lunch the next day. You could easily make this ahead the night before, or just do what I did and have it for lunch the next day as leftovers.

Not bad for leftovers! Not bad at all.

5. Arugula and lentil salad with goat cheese. Goat cheese? Lentils? Arugula? I’m in! Besides having a lovely peppery flavor, arugula has the added bonus of staying nice and crisp longer than other salad greens, so this would be a nice one to pack for lunch at the office.

6. Farro salad with roasted kale and beets. Farro is my favorite grain right now. Haven’t you heard? It’s the new quinoa. Or maybe something else is even hotter, and I haven’t heard about it yet. In any case, this salad makes excellent use of it.

Yes, please.

7. Roasted garlic, olive, and tomato pasta salad. I made a modified version of this recipe for dinner last night (more on that later), and it was delicious. Sure, roasting garlic takes a while, but at least it’s mostly downtime. Stick it in the oven and go curl up on the couch with your significant other (or your cat, or a book) and enjoy some quality time while it roasts. Other than that, it should be super-quick to put together the night before.

8. Farro, green olive, and feta salad. Here’s another twist on farro salad. The ingredients are mostly non-season-specific, so you can easily make this whenever you want throughout the year. Of course, if you want to incorporate fresh seasonal veggies, it’s easily adaptable, but I love the briny tang of the green olives with the lemon zest and feta cheese.


9. Cilantro-lime chickpea salad. This salad looks amazing: not only tasty, but healthy and vegan to boot! I love cilantro and lime together. I think they’re just the perfect summer flavors.

10. Kale salad with ricotta salata, pine nuts, and quinoa. This is pretty much the perfect make-ahead salad, since it gets better after the flavors have a little time to meld. The dressing will even soften the crunchy kale slightly, which is a good thing, since it can be a little tough when raw.


This is tasty, hearty, and surprisingly filling for a salad. Once kale is back in season, this will be making lunch appearances around here often!

Black bean burgers and “crazy slaw”

The other night, it was reasonably nice outside, and I had some random veggies from the CSA box to finish up, so I decided dinner needed to be black bean burgers and a slaw of some sort.

I’ve been working on perfecting my recipe for black bean burgers for a while now, and, while I’m close, it still needs a little extra something. They just always turn out too mushy. Any suggestions? I was thinking of adding some cheese, an egg, or maybe a grain like farro… just spitballin’ here. I would welcome any thoughts… I promise I’ll share the recipe as soon as it’s perfected, but it’s just not quite ready for prime time yet.

I will say, though, that with the addition of a little cumin and some fresh hot and sweet peppers from our garden, the taste of these burgers was amazing. Add some homemade pickles, and we’re just about there!

Oh yum.

As for the slaw… well, it was perfect. I used this recipe as a base, but I had a couple of different veggies on hand that I just went ahead and threw in. The hubby called it “crazy slaw,” and I think that’s appropriate. The combination of broccoli, cabbage, and fennel was a great one, though, and the dressing was delicious.


It kept well in the fridge, and Nora devoured it, so I do believe I’ll be trying this again soon! A cold veggie side dish is always good in the summer, and anything that gets the kiddo to eat more vegetables happily is fine by me. The hubby and I both agreed that it would be even greater with some sliced almonds, so I’ve added those to the recipe, but it’s perfectly fine without them, too.

Broccoli and Cabbage Slaw with Fennel
Loosely based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

1 head of broccoli
1 small head of cabbage
1/2 onion
1/2 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbs shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbs fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds, toasted
salt and pepper

Trim the broccoli and cut it into large chunks. Core and quarter the cabbage, and peel and quarter the onion. Use a mandoline or food processor to cut the prepared veggies into thin slices, or you can do it by hand. Toss the sliced vegetables with about a teaspoon of salt in a large bowl, and Transfer to a colander to drain for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, shallot, and parsley together in a smaller bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Press the vegetables out with a paper towel and transfer them back to the large bowl. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, add the sliced almonds, and toss well. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Tortellini pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta

Some days, it’s just too hot to really cook anything. The other day was one of those days. I looked around my kitchen and took inventory. I had some cherry tomatoes leftover from our CSA box, plus a handful more from my own plants (woo!). Add that to cold tortellini, along with some kalamata olives, a handful of capers, and crumbled feta cheese, and you have a super-easy, (almost) no-cook summer meal.

Ta da!

I love an easy weeknight meal like this, and there were plenty of leftovers for lunch, too.

Tortellini Pasta Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, and Feta
Inspired by this recipe (via Pinterest)

1 package refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 quart cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
generous handful of capers
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3-4 basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook the tortellini according to package directions. Drain and rinse the tortellini, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Rinse the cherry tomatoes, remove stems, and cut any larger ones into halves or quarters. In a large bowl, combine the tortellini, tomatoes, capers, feta, crushed red pepper, basil, garlic, and a generous couple of glugs of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy!

Quinoa salad with edamame, ricotta salata, and avocado

I’m pretty bad at lunches. As much as I plan ahead for dinners, I just don’t for lunch. Half the time lunch ends up being leftovers, and the other half of the time, I am scrounging the fridge, freezer, and pantry for something acceptable to eat.

This weekend, I did a little better than usual, though. I threw together a delicious quinoa salad with edamame, avocado, and ricotta salata.

Let’s do lunch.

I am a huge fan of quinoa, so I always have it around. It only takes 10-15 minutes to cook, and then it can be tossed with a little dressing, add some veggies and/or some cheese, maybe some toasted nuts, and you’re good to go. I don’t know why I don’t think of this more often! Now I will.

This particular incarnation had ricotta salata (leftover from kale salad earlier in the week), frozen edamame from Nora’s stash, and a nice lemony dressing, with some sliced avocado served over the top for good measure. Hubby called it a “perfect lunch” — I’d say that equals success!

Quinoa Salad with Edamame, Ricotta Salata, and Avocado

1/2 cup dried quinoa
juice of one lemon
1 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper
2 oz ricotta salata (or other crumbly cheese, like feta), crumbled
1/2 package frozen edamame, cooked and shelled
1/2 avocado, sliced

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Rinse in a mesh colander with cool water and drain well (or just let it cool in the refrigerator, covered, if you are making it ahead). Transfer to a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Add the crumbled cheese and shelled edamame and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with the sliced avocado on top.

Warm lentil and kale salad with Dijon vinaigrette

Quick dinners, or at the least, make-ahead dinners, are a must on Monday nights for our family. I sneak out to go to core class, and we eat shortly after I get home. It’s quite a workout, so I am usually famished! This warm lentil salad fit the bill on all accounts.

Ding ding ding!

I made the lentils ahead, which I probably wouldn’t do next time, since they were a little overcooked from sitting in a warm pot, but otherwise this was a clear winner. Lentil salad is a nice change from soups and stews, and a good use for the curly kale that we got in the CSA box. The kale retained a bit of its crispness, which was perfect in this salad.


Nora agreed it was tasty, although the texture of the kale was not to her particular liking. Oh well — can’t win ’em all!

Warm Lentil and Kale Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
Based on this recipe from Serious Eats

1 cup green lentils
3 cups vegetable stock
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, ribs removed and cut into ribbons
2 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, bring the lentils and vegetable stock to a boil. Add the carrots, onion, and bay leaf and turn the heat down to a low simmer. Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and remove the bay leaf. Set aside.

In a saute pan, heat 1 Tbs of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute briefly, then add the kale. Saute until tender, then add to the lentils.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over lentils and toss to combine. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

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