Simplicity

Just thought I’d share my favorite quick meal with you all: A baked potato (microwaved) topped with steamed spinach (from frozen, also microwaved), and a big scoop of hummus (this one is curry hummus). Topped with a drizzle of sriracha, this is an easy, tasty, healthy meal that anyone can enjoy. Cheap too!

  

A Day in the Life, Part 2

I typically start my day with a light, nutritious breakfast. When I worked in the afternoon and evening, I would cook first thing in the morning and have a big hearty breakfast and start prepping ingredients for cooking lunch. Now that I work a more standard 9-5 day, I don’t have time in the morning to do that any cooking. But I make my coffee and blend up a green smoothie. It’s easy to prep while the coffee brews and I feed the bunny, and easy to sip while I do my makeup and get dressed. I’ve tried having oatmeal or a sandwich instead, but it’s too messy while I’m rushing around and too heavy in my gut for the two mile walk to work. This week’s smoothies have been more purple than green – steamed beets, banana, blueberries or cherries, flax seeds, and almond milk.

For lunch, I do my best to cook something on the weekend to pack up for at least the first part of the week. Later in the week I will pack up other dinner leftovers. Worst case scenario, I take dry oatmeal with raisins or other fruit and nuts, or sometimes a savory version with peas and greens. This week we’re going out of town on Thursday, so I only need three meals, and I also need to use up some stuff in the fridge. I made tofu scramble with peppers, mushrooms, and peas for Sunday morning breakfast, then packed up the leftovers with some millet. There wasn’t a ton of scramble left, so I stretched it  out with extra peas and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds for each serving. I also packed up a side of raw broccoli and hummus. I have celery and cucumbers to take on the other two days.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

My dinners can be a little scattered. My manfriend usually gets home much later than I do, so we don’t always have dinner together. That’s just one more reason I try to cram a lot of nutritious food into the first part of the day! After walking home in the heat, I want a snack right when I walk in the door. Depending on my mood, I might have a bowl of popcorn, some chips and salsa, or even just fruit. If I’m really hungry, I eat some leftovers or a bowl of oatmeal. I’ll cook something light later on if we’re hungry, although I do make it a point to cook a proper dinner for two at least once a week.

Today I picked up some whole-wheat pasta and cans of beans at the store on my way home. It’s going to be in the 90’s this week, so I don’t want to have to cook beans from scratch! I have an easy formula for weeknight dinners: whole grain + bean + vegetables. Tonight I went with whole-wheat elbow macaroni, chickpeas, tomatoes, and broccoli. Here’s a “recipe” for tonight’s dinner (I’m using that term loosely, since actual recipes usually include measurements and stuff.)

Pasta With Raw Tomatoes and Broccoli

Ingredients:

Whole grain pasta of your choice (maybe half a pound?)

1 can chickpeas, drained

Small head broccoli, chopped

3 or more cloves garlic, minced

Tomatoes (I used small yellow plum tomatoes and a big red beefsteak), diced

  1. Combine the garlic and tomatoes in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Let them sit while you prep everything else.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. When it’s done cooking, ladle off some pasta water and add it to the tomato-garlic mixture (this warms the tomatoes and makes it easier to toss). Drain the pasta.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

  3. Toss the chickpeas, pasta and broccoli, and the tomatoes in a big bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add some fresh basil or parsley if you have it! (I didn’t.) Gobble it up!

Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

I followed dinner with a tiny bit of dark chocolate. And that’s my day, folks! I recorded a good one for you, just to be clear. There are plenty that involve eating chips on my way home from work because my job is depressing sometimes, and others that feature wine and take-out Thai food, but I always strive for one like this. Aside from my after-work tortilla chips and salsa, it was pretty low on processed foods, including cooking oil. I’m always amazed at how many calories oil adds to a dish! Every time I cut it out, I drop a few pounds. If you want to learn more about why oil is not great for you, check out Forks Over Knives. The film is eye-opening and they have some super recipes on the website. Anyway, my point as always is that with a little planning, a healthy diet isn’t that hard.

To your health!

Easy Peasy Pilaf

Spring is a funny time of year in Pittsburgh. It’s either blazing hot and humid or cold and drizzly, and it’s nearly impossible to predict when the weather will change. So some days are worthy of light salads and avocado toast and bowls of strawberries, and other days I end up curled up under blankets with a bowl of soup bubbling on the stove and something toasty in the oven.

I know I haven’t posted in a while; my attention has been on crafty projects rather than writing, including a rag rug I started more than a year ago, as well as making progress on an embroidered tablecloth I started when I was 10 or 12 or something. I figure I’ll finish that by the time my grandkids are in college (optimism!)

I have been doing my usual experimenting in the kitchen, of course with my usual mixed results. Over the winter my manfriend and I discovered The Great British Baking Show on PBS and were immediately hooked. This inspired some wonderful, tasty, cold-weather experiments, including a savory pie that leaked, but was delicious and somehow free of the dreaded soggy bottom:

Pie! Tender pastry filled with layers of carrot, peas, and something tomato-based that hemorrhaged out the side.

Pie! Tender pastry filled with layers of carrot, peas, and something tomato-based that hemorrhaged out the side.

I also made Irish soda bread that was dense and leaden but had a pleasantly crunchy crust, and more recently I attempted pizza in spite of my fear of yeast doughs. It was shockingly easy and turned out great. If you want my recipe, go to Aldi and buy some instant yeast. That’s what I used, the yeast package recipe and jarred sauce.

Pre-oven: mushroom and walnut whole-wheat pizza

Pre-oven: mushroom and walnut whole-wheat pizza

Baked, sprinkled with lots of fresh basil.

Baked, sprinkled with lots of fresh basil.

And finally last weekend I made crepes filled with fresh strawberries, mango, and banana, drizzled with homemade vegan chocolate ganache, which were a lot of work, but positively scrummy, as Mary Berry would say. We inhaled the crepes before I could photograph them. They weren’t pretty anyway.

All of those recipes are still works in progress and decidedly too wintery for June (except the crepes), so allow me to share today’s one-pot healthy cheap-tastic meal that required few ingredients and minimal time at the stove. I’ve got it all packed up for this week’s lunches at work. I might add a side of baby carrots and broccoli to round it out, but more likely I will pack them and not have time to eat them till after work anyway.

Easy Peasy Pilaf

Ingredients:

1c millet (or quinoa, or bulgur, or that 10 minute barley or spelt from TJ’s, or probably steel cut oats would work (if you try that, let me know))

Onion, chopped

Mushrooms, 8-16 oz, sliced (I think I used 1.5 8oz boxes but can’t be sure)

2-2.5c vegetable stock (or water + seasonings)

1c peas (edamame or lima beans would be good too)

3T sesame seeds

1T apple cider or rice vinegar

drizzle of sesame oil

green onions for garnish

1. Start by sauteeing your onion in a saucepan with a little cooking spray or small amount of oil for a few minutes, then add the millet (or other grain) and stir. Let the grain toast, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

2. Add mushrooms and stir some more. If the grain is starting to get too brown add your stock now. If not, continue to cook the mushroom-millet mixture for a couple minutes, then add the stock.

3. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then stir in the peas, turn off the flame, cover again, and let it stand for at least 5 minutes to cook the peas finish absorbing liquid. You don’t want to overcook them; no one likes mushy peas! If you’re using edamame, you’ll need to add them sooner as they take more time to cook.

4. When your peas are warm and the last of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the sesame seeds, sesame oil, vinegar, and green onions.

Ready for tomorrow in Tupperware!

Ready for tomorrow in Tupperware!

In other news, you know why green onions are great? They’re yummy and cheap to begin with, keep a long time, are fast and easy to use, and you don’t have to buy them very often because if you put them in a glass of water on your windowsill THEY WILL REGROW!!! Check out my stylish scallion set-up:

I "upcycled" that salsa jar because I am hip and eco-conscious.

I “upcycled” that salsa jar because I am hip and eco-conscious.

In other news, I’ve been doing the Happy Herbivore Yogivore Challenge, which is basically just getting yourself on the mat for a few minutes a day for 21 days. It’s helping a lot with the stiff neck I get from embroidering for hours at a time (I’m determined to finish that tablecloth someday). Plus it’s a not-very-intimidating way for me to get back in shape a little. My desk job doesn’t cut it in that respect; not like chasing children did! Anyway, since you read this far, I’m going to reward you with a picture of my bunny bothering me while I do yoga.

Annabelle thinks yoga time is petting time.

Annabelle thinks yoga time is petting time.

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

It’s freezing in my apartment!

I’m too stubborn to turn the heat on so early in October, so I baked.  I threw these together while loosely following a recipe from a book and wondering why I have so few ingredients that are appropriate for muffins.   Please note the lack of oil.  I forgot to put it in.  They’re still spectacular.  Absolutely the best improvisational baking I’ve ever done.  Go make them NOW!

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn't survive the cooling process.

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn’t survive the cooling process.

Ingredients

1 c whole wheat flour

1 c all purpose flour

1/2 c sugar (I used white, but brown would probably be great, or honey, or maple syrup, but then you’d have to adjust the liquid)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3/4 c apple juice

1 egg or flax egg

1 T orange zest (Ok, I didn’t measure this.  It was two oranges worth.)

1/2 c  chopped walnuts

1 c grated carrot (hooray for the food processor!)

1.  Preheat oven to 400F and prepare a muffin tin for a dozen (grease them or use paper liners, up to you!)

2.  Sift together dry ingredients.

3.  Beat egg/flax egg with the apple juice and orange zest.  I did this right in the two-cup liquid measuring cup I used for the apple juice.

4.  Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined, then fold in the carrots and walnuts.

5.  Pour the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes clean.  Mine took 23 minutes.

Let them cool for a few minutes before turning them out on to a wire rack to cool.  Eat some while they are still warm!

Little life update, since it’s been ages since I posted regularly (I am trying to get back in the habit now that my life is calmer!):  In mid-August, I moved out of the big, dirty, junky house I’d been sharing with three women and a cat in Lawrenceville.  My manfriend and I are now living together in a lovely little two-bedroom apartment in Highland Park.  It’s quiet and has loads of trees, and the back windows overlook a very pretty little garden belonging to some unidentified neighbor on the next street, while the front windows look out on a gorgeous old house populated with small blond children and their NYC ex-pat parents.  Our kitchen is AWESOME.  Massive pantry, full-size gas stove, a peninsula counter, and a dishwasher!  Paradise.

 

Buddha Bowl

This week’s lunch has been the usual improvisation: What do I have, and how can I combine it so it tastes good?

Starting with starches, I almost always have some cooked brown rice on hand, which is the basis for such a wide variety of dishes.

Next come vegetables. I have some basics like carrots and celery, as well as loads of kale (it was on sale!) and some raw beets.

I also need something proteiny and some flavor. My options were a little limited this week as I had only dry beans and no time to cook them, and very few nuts. I do always have peanut butter and some frozen peas, which I think are the most budget-friendly and convenient sources of protein you can get, aside from lentils and split peas which still have to be cooked.

So let’s get cooking! I decided to forgo the peas since I had some in my oatmeal for breakfast, and whip up some peanut sauce. Three birds, one stone: Flavor + protein + healthy fats.

Beets and carrots were quickly run through the grating disk on my food processor and tossed with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a little salt to make my favorite Easy Beet Salad.

I steamed a couple of stemmed and torn leaves of kale in the microwave in my Tupperwave Stack Cooker, but a covered glass or ceramic dish will also do the trick.

I simply layered the kale, brown rice and peanut sauce on a plate (use a big bowl, it will be easier to stir), and put a hefty serving of beet salad on the side, thinking it wouldn’t be great with peanut sauce. I was wrong; it was pretty good with peanut sauce. There you go, beets are a peanut butter food! Also topped the whole mess with some scallions, since onions are both delicious and good for your heart.

 

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

Since this is lacking a bean or tofu, I wondered what the actual protein content would be, since folks seem to be obsessed with where vegetarians get their protein. Plugged the ingredients into Google, and based on 1 cup each of rice and vegetables, plus two tablespoons of peanut butter, you end up with around 18g of protein, about a third of what a woman my size needs for the day. Not bad, right?

 

PS – I’ve been eating black bean soup for dinner at work all week.  In case anyone wanted the recipe, you can find a version of it here.

Savory Oatmeal

Need to mix up your breakfast routine? I certainly did. I’ve been eating the same breakfast almost every day since….I don’t know, 8th grade? Oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon, a few nuts. As an adult, I started adding a tablespoon of ground flax or chia seeds and occasionally changing up the fruit or spices, but overall, it’s been the same meal for about 15 years.

I’m over it.

I’ve been toying with this unorthodox dish for a while now and I’ve finally decided to share it with the world. It may sound a little strange, but embrace it! Breakfast needs a new flavor.

Savory Oatmeal for One

Ingredients:

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame (or other small beans or peas)

1 small sweet apple, diced

1 or 2 scallions, sliced about 1/4 inch

1 cup water, divided

1 Tblsp ground flax seeds

1 tsp or more of your favorite miso, or a tsp of soy sauce

1.  Put the apple and edamame or peas in a large microwaveable bowl with about 1/2 cup of water.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes.

2.  Add the oats and other 1/2 cup of water.  Stir, and microwave on high for 2 more minutes.

3.  Remove from the microwave and stir in miso or soy sauce, flax, and scallions.  Stir until miso is dissolved and oatmeal has started to thicken up.  Add more miso or soy sauce, or even salt and pepper, too taste.

If you are someone who eats eggs, may I recommend a sunny side up egg on top?  The gooey yolk is shockingly good all mixed up in the oats.

Other tasty additions include kim chee, sauerkraut, salsa, leftover cooked greens, and leftover caramelized onions.  If you have leftover caramelized onions, please let me know because I want to know what kind of person doesn’t eat them all at once.

Simple Skillet Suppers

If last winter was the winter of soup, this is the winter of the skillet.  All my meals lately seem to consist of whatever vegetables I have lying around tossed in a skillet and lightly seasoned.  Some of these meals turn out better than others for sure, but what I am really liking about them is how quickly they come together.  No need to simmer for hours at a time, hovering around near the kitchen lest it scorch or boil over.  Takes about 25 minutes if you chop as you go like I do (a good chef wouldn’t recommend that, but I’m not a chef, so there!)  Here’s one that was particularly delicious.

Southwest Skillet

Ingredients:

2 medium red or other potato (not russets, they fall apart), scrubbed and diced

1 onion, diced

8 oz package mushrooms, sliced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1/4-1/2 cup your favorite salsa

salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high flame, heat enough water to cover the bottom.  Add the onions and potatoes, cover and cook about 5 minutes.

2.  Add the mushrooms and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

3.  Add the pepper, cover and cook 5 more minutes, adding a little more water if it’s starting to stick.

4.  Finally, add the beans and salsa, give it a good stir and heat through.  Depending on how big you chopped your potatoes, you may need a little more time with the lid on to get them cooked through.

What I liked most about this meal was its versatility.  It made an excellent reheat-able dinner at work, for one thing.  My boyfriend topped it with cheese and wrapped it in a tortilla, and I think he also added some kolbassy when I wasn’t home to wrinkle my nose at it.  I ate the last of it for breakfast today, topped with a fried egg.

Also, the variations are endless!  I’m seeing another version with sweet potatoes, red pepper, and black beans, finished with a squeeze of orange juice and maybe a handful of baby spinach. Yum.  Last week I made one with potatoes, leftover roasted squash, an apple, and some cabbage, finished with lemon juice.  Trust me, that one was much better than it sounds 😉

Green Paste

Today I whipped up some easy healthy soup to (I hope) make up for next week’s impending birthday cake and Christmas cookie binge. One of my coworkers likes to joke that all I eat is green paste, and I’m certainly not proving her wrong tonight. Here’s what I cobbled together in about thirty minutes today.  It isn’t pretty to look at, but it is pretty tasty.

My ugliest meal yet!

My ugliest meal yet!

Green Paste Soup

Ingredients:
1 medium bunch of kale or other greens, coarsely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
1 can butter beans, drained, or any other white bean
3 small onions, or one giant one, or two mediums, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 or more cloves garlic, peeled
whatever herbs you have hanging around
salt and pepper
2 Tbls soy sauce
1/2c whole wheat couscous

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (about half full). Add bay leaf, onions, garlic. Simmer 10 – 15 minutes.
2. Add kale, herbs, and tomato paste, simmer 10 more minutes.
3. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
4. Add beans and turn heat back up to low, adding soy sauce and other seasonings to taste. If it tastes too acidic, add a spoonful of sugar.
5. Dump in the couscous, stir well, turn off the heat and put a lid on it. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until the couscous is tender.

Enjoy!  I garnished it with some pepitas.  It was also good with nutritional yeast and a dash of hot sauce.

Tips for Being Broke Between Holidays

By now you’ve eaten your Thanksgiving leftovers and you’re plotting what to make for Christmas and New Year’s parties and if you’re me, a birthday party and a late-January Tupperware party.  And if you’re anything like me, you’re also shopping for gifts and feeling overwhelmed at the cost of everything and trying very hard not to forget to eat in the weeks between holidays.  And wondering why holiday foods must always include nuts when nuts are so expensive?  And booze is expensive, and fresh fruits are expensive, and oops I ate oatmeal for two meals today and coffee for the third, and what am I going to serve when I have guests from New York, and will they want to eat out, and how many days do I need to take off work for this, and dammit I forgot about that check and overdrew and WHY IS MY KITCHEN SO DIRTY???

You can see I am giving myself an ulcer and should probably lay off the coffee.  However, in a moment of (coffee-induced) clarity at work yesterday, I started making lists during my downtime.  I mentally inventoried what I have in my pantry, added a few cheap things from the local grocery store, and planned my meals for the week.  Here’s what I’ve got, then I’ll show you what I came up with:

Pantry:

red lentils, black beans, kidney beans, white beans

one can butter beans, three cans tomato paste

whole grain penne and couscous

wheat berries and wild rice

oatmeal

dried fruits (prunes, raisins, apricots)

pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, tahini

nutritional yeast

flour, sugar, etc

Fridge/Freezer:

leftover baked sweet potato

few slices Ezekial Bread

half bag frozen spinach

half bag frozen corn

leftover tropical fruit from Mom’s Tupperware party

extra firm tofu

couple carrots

3 pierogies

onions, garlic, ginger

That’s what I’ve got, and since I can’t currently afford a big Trader Joe’s run to replace the thousand things I’m out of (brown rice, nuts, peanut butter, frozen everything, etc), I need to make it last until I do a big pre-party shop.  So I made a little list and hit up the local grocery (the one with the non-rotten produce) for a few extras.  I got beets, 4 broccoli crowns, almond milk, 2 grapefruits, and bananas all for under $15.  I should have gotten more onions too, but I can go back for just that when I run out.  I figure I can make red lentil soup with the leftover sweet potato, cook all the beets at once to add to my smoothies with the leftover fruits, and roast some of the broccoli and use the rest in a stir-fry with the tofu and carrots, as well as having steamed spinach with garlic.  One meal a day is oatmeal (lately this is my dinner at work) with raisins and seeds.  The tomato paste can be turned into simple pasta sauce.  I can easily make a black bean and corn chili as well.  Of course, I also have plenty of baking ingredients too, in case I want to make a quick soda bread or muffins.  Plus pierogies when I need a dose of quick comfort food!

See, when life gives you lemons, you just have to zest them into some muffins and use the juice to flavor kombucha.  I was feeling very impoverished this past week, but with some careful planning I can still have delicious healthful meals.  I’ll also be able to save a little now so I can splurge later in the month.  I’m thinking hard about how to keep my birthday party low-cost.  Right now, that might mean a potluck with me making just light finger foods: hummus and crudite, stuffed mushrooms, chips and salsa.  I’m having dreams of mulled wine and cider, but we’ll see what happens.

In other news, I am having a Tupperware party in January which will be my debut as a Tupperware consultant!  I’ve been needing a second job for a while, and this seems to fit the bill.  Flexible hours, much of the sales being done online, party planning, food demos, and wholesale products.  I’ll post details about the business when I know more so that you my beloved readers can be some of my first customers!

In other news:  Please let me know what you want to see here!  I’ve been feeling uninspired for months now, which I have realized is because my kitchen is usually dirty.  That’s the disadvantage of living with lots of people.  Anyway, I’m staying away from posting about complicated celebration foods too much; there are a million other wonderful blogs for that.  I lean towards focusing on things that are easy and cheap to make during this awkward December holiday limbo.  Was there anything I mentioned above that caught your eye?  

PS  – I’m now on Twitter!  @thepennyparsnip  I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I will!

Mediterranean Bean Burgers

Mediterranean Bean Burgers

Make these!  They are from Dreena Burton’s wonderful cookbook, Let Them Eat Vegan.  Quite similar to my own Salsa Burgers, but with a different flavor twist.  Penny Parsnip makes them without olives, because olives are yucky 😉  I’m planning to eat these for dinner tonight with a side of pasta tossed with some steamed spinach, seasoned with lemon and lots of garlic.

Much love to all of my readers!  I’m  getting some things worked out for the better right now and hope to start posting my own recipes again soon.