Zucchini & Summer Squash “Pasta”

I recently used Groupon for the first time. A fellow Oxfam American Action Corps member shared a deal where you could get a 1-month subscription of organic produce from a local farm for $39.00. Since I made the switch to a vegetarian diet I have been struggling with veggies. Since I don’t know what I like, buying them at a grocery store is very tough, and I haven’t ventured out to a farmer’s market yet. (I have social anxiety issues, and really, it’s hot here in Texas.) So I signed up for this produce delivery and have vowed to eat every single item in the box.

Summer squash, zucchini, basil pesto, Asiago cheese, and pizza sauce for good measure.

I would like to mention that I have never eaten zucchini or summer squash before so I was very hesitant about this idea. I have seen people rave about eating substitute pasta so I felt it was a worthy endeavor. I had some leftover pesto to toss the finished product in.

I started cutting the veggies into thin slices as I didn’t have a julienne slicer.

I read in some comments at different food sites that you should cut the seeds out, so I did. I have since learned that you can leave them in so I will try that when I cook them again.

I sliced them as thin and uniform as possible.

Since I have never cooked either of these before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I cut them as uniformly as possible so they would cook evenly, though that didn’t turn out to be an issue at all. This is one of each vegetable chopped up and ready to throw in some boiling water.

Put the “pasta” into a pan of boiling water with some sea salt.

Bring the water back to a boil and boil for about one minute.

I boiled the “pasta” for about a minute or so which was the most recommended cooking method for this type of veggie. With the exception of chopping it up, this was almost faster than making angel hair pasta.

Drain the veggies and quickly rinse with cold water.

Remove the pan from heat and drain the “pasta”; rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking process. I believe this helps retain nutrients as well as texture.

Zucchini & summer squash “pasta” tossed with basil pesto.

The next time I make the pesto I will add a post about it. I absolutely LOVE the stuff and it’s so easy to make as healthy as you need it to be. I tossed my finished “pasta” with pesto and topped it with some Asiago cheese. This batch of pesto was made with basil, Asiago cheese (instead of Parmesan), olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds. I just had the seeds leftover so I threw them in at the last minute. This was such a wonderful and refreshing dinner and I am so proud of myself for eating these veggies! They truthfully did not have a taste to themselves, so much that I felt like I should have added more salt. I would never have touched this as a kid, and I wouldn’t expect my nephew to eat it in this form. If I had made the slices much thinner, more like pasta, he might have tried it with spaghetti sauce. Kudos to Groupon and organic produce delivery. ๐Ÿ™‚

Smoothie Cups & Smoothie Recipe

I have never been a smoothie fan, mostly because I am lazy. It just seems like so much effort to wake up every morning and WORK to make a breakfast that is supposed to give you energy to work. You know what I mean? I tend to prefer oatmeal (it’s pretty quick) or the classic “no breakfast” routine. Unfortunately, that is not something my body can take anymore and I’m looking for ways to branch out into other meals besides dinner. (It is so unhealthy to just eat that one meal at the end of the day and it’s something I’ve done for years. I am not a huge advocate of 6+ meals or anything, but two is a bare minimum for myself these days.)

I found the pin not long before I had a fainting spell I attribute to low iron intake. A couple of people have recommended that I throw leafy greens into a smoothie and drink it to boost my iron levels, so when I was prepping food for my first week of classes (that’s this week!) I decided I would give these a shot. The recipe is brought to you from the blog Muffin Tin Mania. You should definitely check this one out in your spare time! Tons of great recipes using a muffin pan. Who doesn’t enjoy perfect portions? Anyway, I changed up the fruit in the cups and I mixed up my smoothie a bit differently, but seriously… amazing.

It looks intimidating to me, to be honest.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups coconut water
  • 1/3 cup almonds
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint
  • 1/2 orange
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 2 cups frozen peaches & raspberries

I froze fresh raspberries and a peach for my fruit.

The author of the recipe used 2 cups of frozen mangoes instead of the raspberries and peaches. I am not a huge fan of mangoes so I decided I would try it out with my favorite fruits. I bought some strawberries as well, but the raspberries and peach turned out toย  be 2 cups of fruit. I chopped the peach and mixed it with the raspberries to freeze for a while. I probably didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to use the fruit frozen for consistency. ๐Ÿ˜›

Coconut water (not milk!), almonds in the mini chopper, and fresh mint.

The recipe says to mix everything in the order listed, and that is exactly what I did. I chopped my almonds a bit to spare my blender some pain, then I poured them into the blender with the coconut water and 2 cups of spinach. I gave this a few pulses to start blending up the nuts.

Baby spinach and celery stalks, pre-chop.

I chopped up 2 stalks of celery and put them in the blender with the fresh mint. I gave that a few more pulses and moved on. It’s pretty green at this point.

Frozen fruit, orange, and honey & ginger powder in the back.

I tossed in half an orange, and I left most of the pith on as well. I added the honey and ginger in with the orange – I recommend buying local honey if possible. I buy different varieties of honey local to Austin, and I LOVE wildflower honeys. I blended this together real quick, then added the frozen raspberries and peach.

This is NOT the smoothie; this is the mixture going into the muffin pan.

I have a 5-cup blender and it was just able to hold all of this green goodness. I will note that my almonds are not extremely fine so they are still visible and have a crunch to them in the finished smoothie. This does not bother me at all, but just a heads up for anyone with picky tastes. This is easy to fix by chopping them in a food processor.

I filled 12 muffin cups and put it in the freezer overnight.

The whole blender filled 12 muffin cups in a pan. It was just a little bit too much but no problem at all. I overfilled some of mine a bit and I’m glad I did. It’s so delicious I don’t want to waste any. I froze mine overnight.

Out of the freezer the next morning, they are slightly red!

Mine did not turn out as green as the author’s, thanks to my raspberries. They have a bright red layer on top that just begs to be licked – they are also sticky from the honey and fruit mixture. At first they were stuck in there, so I just set the bottom of the muffin pan in some warm water and loosened them up a bit. I used a fork to start prying and then they easily popped out.

Finished smoothie cups – I just covered the top of the bowl and stuck it in the freezer.

I have recently switched to a vegetarian diet, and I have cut out most processed foods. Since I am trying to cram a lot of nutrients into my meals, I didn’t want to waste an opportunity to value-add. The author mixed 2 smoothie cups with 1 cup of coconut water, or water. Here’s how I did mine:

The components of a delicious, healthy breakfast!

Ingredients:

  • 2 Smoothie Cups
  • 1 cup Almond Milk
  • 1 whole banana

Smoothie with banana and almond milk.

I chopped the banana up a bit, and just to make my blender’s poor life a little easier, I cut the frozen cups into quarters. You could probably make them in mini muffin pans and save yourself some trouble. I poured in 1 cup of almond milk and blended it up. It was so wonderful! It tastes clean – can food taste clean?! The mint is very refreshing and the sweetness of my favorite fruits combined with the honey mask the taste of any veggies. I am going to keep making these and I have a feeling I am going to be hooked!

Chewy Vanilla Cherry Almond Bars

Don’t you hate when you find something you love on Pinterest, then forget to pin it? Well, I found a recipe for some chewy energy bars a while back that had dried cherries in them and apparently I forgot to pin the recipe. I have looked all over for it, but decided to just search “dried cherries” on Pinterest. I did not find what I was looking for but I found something better – almonds, dried cherries, and dates. I love cherries and dried cherries are no different. I also happen to love dates, but I find they are too sweet to eat by themselves. This is a wonderful way to cut the sweetness and still get some yummy dates in my diet.

The recipe was found at Creative Juices for Decor and she says they are a homemade version of Cherry Pie LaraBars. I’ve personally never eaten a Lara Bar, as I normally don’t buy into diet foods and prepackaged anything. Apparently this is a pretty wholesome brand, but nothing beats homemade and they are cheaper from scratch if you’ve got time to make them. I changed the recipe up by adding one ingredient: vanilla bean paste.

Ingredient List:

  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup dried pitted cherries
  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)

Almonds, dried sweet cherries (no sugar added), and Medjool dates.

Dried sweet cherries – found in the bulk section, prepacked so I bought a few.

Medjool dates, found in the bulk section.

The first thing you’ll want to do is chop the almonds if you bought whole ones. The recipe says to chop them in the food processor but that is quite frankly too much noise for me, so I hand chopped them in a mini chopper.

Chopped almonds using my mini food chopper. I love this thing!

You’ll also want to pit the dates. I will admit that I did not even think about pitting mine (I’ve even eaten these things before!) and didn’t realize it until I turned the food processor on with the cherries and dates inside. Turns out that is a very handy way to pit the things, though! With a few good pulses I was able to pick all of the pits out and continue on my way to “energy” bar bliss. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cherries and whole dates in the food processor – 1 cup of each.

The cherries and dates will form a ball, more or less.

Once you mix the cherries and dates really well, the recipe says to transfer the fruit mixture into a mixer with the almonds. I do not own a Kitchen Aid mixer and my hand mixer was probably not interested in this project. I put the fruit mixture in a large glass bowl, then I added in the chopped almonds and the vanilla bean paste.

Fruit mixture, chopped almonds, and vanilla bean paste.

Instead of using a mixer, I just started by chopping it all together with a wooden spoon. This was not an exact science and it didn’t need to look pretty. I’m not sharing. ๐Ÿ˜›

Fruit mixture combined with nuts and vanilla.

After I got it chopped really well, I used my hands to knead the rest of the almonds in. Then I put the mixture on a piece of wax paper and placed another piece on top so I could spread it out. For some reason I also do not own a rolling pin (ikr?) so I just used my hands to press the mixture out between the wax paper. I used the bottom of one of the mixing cups to flatten it.

Mixture in between two pieces of wax paper to spread it out.

This is the first spread of fruit mixture.

I used a pizza cutter to cut the bars into rectangles. Again, I’ve never eaten a LaraBar so I don’t know the accurate size. Mine were not all uniform and I got 7 bars out of it.

First cut of bars and remaining mixture.

I just cut the rectangles and then re-rolled the mixture to cut it again. It was pretty easy to do and didn’t take long at all.

I stored mine in between wax paper layers in a glass pan with a lid.

Notice my hideous cutting skills!

I was extremely impressed with these bars! I am now interested in trying various flavors because it’s a great snack and they don’t take long. These cost approximately $10 to make, and that is an exaggerated amount because I am too lazy to do the real math on the cost. They taste great and I am glad I added the vanilla in. I am storing them in the refrigerator and I am trying my best not to eat them all tonight. Seriously delicious! ๐Ÿ™‚

Red Lentil, Rice, & Potato Stew

Okay, I admit that this did not come from Pinterest. I bought some spices and shenanigans at the Savory Spice Shop and I wanted to find a use for this tomato & honey powder I bought. The tomato & honey powder is a mixture intended for a Chicken Tikka Masala recipe, but I knew I would find another use for it. I liked the idea of something creamy so I modeled the recipe after the Tikka Masala. I pretty much threw together some of my favorite foods with some spices.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 medium Yukon potatoes
  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter*
  • 1 package tomato & honey powder (OR 8 ounces tomato sauce & 1 teaspoon honey)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream*
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Berbere Ethiopian style seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

*If you are not a strict vegan and don’t mind the honey powder, the butter can be replaced with coconut or palm oil and the sour cream can be removed to make this without animal fats. I am personally a fan ofย  butter and dairy products, though.

Potatoes, tomato & honey powder, Berbere Ethiopian style seasoning, lemon, butter, sour cream, & baby spinach

Directions:

Prepare tomato & honey powder by mixing with 8 ounces of water; set aside.

Tomato & honey powder mixed with water, lemon, sour cream, baby spinach

Rinse lentils and rice, then combine in a large stock pan. Add vegetable broth and 1-2 cups of water, depending in how thin you like your stew. Bring to a boil, then simmer until rice is tender. While this is cooking, you can start the potatoes.

Red lentils & brown rice cooked in vegetable broth

In a cast iron skillet, melt butter and seasonings. Mash 1 clove of garlic and saute in skillet. Chop the potatoes in the shape of your choice – I sliced mine but dicing would be great, too. Add to the skillet and cook potatoes until they are just soft.

Sliced potatoes sauteed in butter, a clove of garlic, and Berbere Ethiopian style seasoning

Add the lemon juice, salt, and tomato paste mixture to the potatoes in the skillet. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then add sour cream and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.

Tomato paste combined with potatoes

Potatoes with tomato paste and sour cream

Once the potatoes are tender, you will combine the potatoes with the lentils & rice.

Brown rice and red lentils before potatoes are mixed in.

Red lentil, rice, & potato stew served with baby spinach.

I am a picture failure and did not get a picture of the whole pot after it was finished. However, I served mine with some of my marinated mozzarella balls and some baby spinach. It was so delicious that I had 2 bowls. It was mildly spicy and just a little bit sweet. I enjoyed it and I will have some leftovers for a couple of days which makes me happy. It’s one of those dishes that is going to be better the second time around, I believe!

Marinated Mozzarella Balls feat. Aleppo Red Pepper Flakes & Harissa EVOO

My mother came to visit me last week and we went to a couple of really neat specialty shops – Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars and the Savory Spice Shop. We were in the shopping center specifically to go to Con ‘Olio and we accidentally walked in the Savory Spice Shop. It was right next door and I had never been to either one and just walked into the place with the spices in the windows. My mother and I were like kids in a candy store. ๐Ÿ™‚

Harissa Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Coconut White Balsamic Vinegar

Aleppo Red Pepper Flakes & Pink Himalayan Sea Salt

I was really interested in trying a recipe that would showcase the red pepper flakes and the Harissa flavor in the olive oil. While I was out shopping at Central Market, I grabbed some mozzarella balls and knew that’s what I wanted to do with my flakes!

In a plastic sandwich bag, I mixed up about 1/3 ounce of red pepper flakes, a dash of chili powder (the flakes are relatively mild), paprika and kosher salt. Then I poured in about 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup of the Harissa olive oil, and about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Once I mixed it all up in the bag and coated the mozzarella balls really well, I poured them back into the container they came in and let them marinate. I put them in the refrigerator overnight, then brought them to room temperature and let them soak for a while today before I used them.

They were just spicy enough that you needed a drink with them, but they taste wonderful! The Harissa is a chile sauce as well, but again, none of these are over a 5 on a 1-10 heat scale. The flavors together made a wonderful mix on pasta. I didn’t take a picture of that, but I made some cappellini and tossed in some mozzarella balls and the olive oil mix for a wonderful lunch. I love both the olive oil and the red pepper flakes and I am glad I tried them out this way. I have some other ideas for them in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚

Avocado Pasta

I promise that I am going to pin some recipes that don’t use avocados, but they are so delicious and it’s that time of year. My best friend, Olga, came to visit for the weekend and it’s the first time we spent a few days together in about 3 years! We had a wonderful weekend of eating & crafting. She had the idea that we make some avocado pasta that she saw on Pinterest, and naturally I agreed! We used a recipe from Avocado.org and it didn’t take 10 minutes to make the whole meal.

I started with olive oil, lime juice (of course I didn’t have lemons), 2 cloves of garlic, and some coarse salt. I added 2 avocados, some oregano & basil, and black pepper and pulsed it in the food processor until it was creamy.

I tossed mine with some cappellini and topped it with some Parmesan cheese.

There isn’t a single thing I would change about the way I made this, except use fresh herbs. I didn’t have any and we weren’t going to the store so I used dried herbs.

This is by far one of the most amazing recipes I’ve found on Pinterest. I was so surprised at how well it came out and I will be making this for years to come! The avocados take on the taste of the garlic and olive oil very well and it tastes so wonderful you wouldn’t expect it to be green. It was a lot like pesto, only with avocados. Amazing!!

Avocado “Mayo” Spread

One of the most disappointing things about Pinterest is when a pin doesn’t link to anything! How obnoxious is it to see something “crafty” and there isn’t a tutorial? And how frustrating is it to find something that looks DELICIOUS, but there’s no recipe? This doesn’t happen to me often, but I found what I thought would be a delicious recipe for avocado “mayo” spread WITHOUT mayonnaise (I hate the stuff!) only to have my stomach’s dreams ripped away. The link is broken! I even Googled the spread and couldn’t find it with the specific ingredient list. Now, I realize you can just whip up some avocados in the food processor and they would be tasty alone, but I like to know what was so amazing about someone’s recipe that they felt the need to post it, you know?

At the very least, the pin’s comment has a list of what should be in this, but I didn’t have everything so I had to make some substitutions. I always have to make substitutions. Anyway, the original pin says this spread is an avocado, whipping cream, lemon juice, mustard, & Tabasco sauce. I rarely purchase lemons so I used a lime instead, and I also prefer Louisiana Hot Sauce over Tabasco Sauce. Use what you love!

I chopped the avocado up a bit, squeezed a lime, used about a teaspoon of yellow mustard, and some hot sauce as the recipe called for, and then I added sour cream & a touch of milk, and whipped it up in the food processor.

I didn’t take any pictures of the finished product, but it looks like the original pin and it was delicious! When I make it again, I will use spicy brown mustard instead of yellow mustard. I ate it as a baked potato topping and it would be delicious on a grilled cheese or a sprout-y sandwich. Another win for avocados!

Fresh Spinach and Cherry Salad with Quinoa

My favorite fruits are stone fruits: peaches, cherries, and almonds. (Yeah, it’s a nut and a fruit. *giggle*) I don’t care much for maraschino cherries, but I love fresh cherries and can never find enough uses for them in the summer. I’m typically not a salad fan, but fresh spinach is delicious, healthy, and a great substitute for boring lettuce. I found the inspiration for my dinner this evening at Time at the Table.ย I pinned it a week or so ago and have been waiting to try it out. This recipe calls for kale, but I didn’t have any and I’m not a huge fan of it yet. I also didn’t have the orange juice this recipe called for so I used lemon juice instead, and I substituted Parmesan cheese for Gorgonzola. It would be great even without cheese!

Now, I made a few other adjustments – some out of necessity, others just for health/fun/taste. I had some quinoa cooked in coconut milk that I wanted to use so I put in about 1/3 cup of that. I also added cinnamon to my dressing for extra flavor. The cherries were a bit tart but the maple syrup from the dressing definitely made up for it! You’ll notice some chunks of carrot in there, as well. The taste of cherries and carrots together was surprisingly refreshing. This was a delicious salad and definitely worth the time spent halving and pitting the cherries! (Maybe an extra 5-10 minutes, but tedious.) I am thrilled that I saw this recipe because I’d otherwise be noshing away on my cherries as a snack – this was definitely better. Vegetarian, healthy, and tasty!