Getting Your Cooking Groove Back

IMG_2519As I mentioned in my last post, I had hit a wall with my cooking. The vegetarian aspect only made it slightly more challenging. I took some time off from fretting about it, then I was ready to move forward. Time to get the cooking mojo back. Like anything you do regularly, it’s easy to get tired of it or frustrated with it. Exercise routines, work, dinner. All things that can quickly run into a rut which makes you want to give in completely. Sometimes you need to take a break or try something new to get your inspiration back.

I combed through these cookbooks, checked blog posts I had liked, and gave some thought to what would taste good to come up with some new dinner ideas.

Here’s the list of what I’ve got on the cooking docket.

Wednesday night I made a (another) tasty rice casserole from the Super Natural Every Day cookbook by Heidi Swanson. It had cottage cheese, wild rice, and chopped mushrooms in it which made it rich and meaty. It was topped with Gruyere cheese which made a crispy, cheesy topping. Everyone liked it, no one knew there were mushrooms in it. Definitely a win.

Coming up next is an Asparagus Quiche with Goat Cheese. I try very hard to stick with in-season, locally grown produce. But I spied some tasty asparagus in the grocery store and couldn’t resist. It will still be a few weeks before we see any asparagus here. And we’ve got to eat. This will make a lovely dinner and I can carry the leftovers to work for lunch. Or breakfast. Goat cheese is good for any meal.

Deborah Madison doesn’t write a bad recipe, so I’m looking forward to trying some Cabbage Parcels with Sweet and Sour Sauce. However, the filling seems a little labor intensive for weeknight cooking and I’ve got several cups of cooked wild rice leftover from the rice casserole. So my plan is to create my own riff on the filling while using her recipe for sauce and cooking method. After I give this a whirl I’ll share the recipe and let you know how it turned out.

Black bean burgers are also on this week’s Must Eat list. I’ll googled around until I found this recipe from Sandra Lee. Based on the comments, the recipe looks pretty solid. I may not make it exactly as written, but I’ll let you know what I do and how it turns out. I like the idea that it comes with instant leftovers for another meal.

In my back pocket for when the weather gets warm (IF the weather ever gets warm!) I’ve got some taco recipes that I’d like to try. And I’ll be so glad when some salads come back into the rotation! Salad is great but I crave hot food in the winter. I’m also looking forward to having this for lunch this week. It definitely looks like one of those meals I could eat many days in a row until I make myself absolutely sick on it.

Here are the cookbooks I’m using for inspiration. Do you have a favorite cookbook? A favorite vegetarian cookbook?

How do you get out of a cooking rut? What are you cooking these days?

See where I began here. Post your ideas on Twitter using #40dayvegetarian. And checkout my other blog, 3oclockproject!

 

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I’ve Hit a Wall

By Si Griffiths (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Si Griffiths (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I knew it would happen. I hit the vegetarian wall today. This happens, even when you’re eating meat. You start to think about dinner. What would taste good? What do you have the ingredients for? What’s worth a trip to the store if you don’t have the ingredients? Nothing sounds good. It’s all too much trouble, too similar to something you recently had, or you just don’t feel like making much of anything at all. Today is that day.

I was talking with my daughter. Snow was pouring down outside. The house was cold. Neither of us was particularly happy about the weather. It’s late March and should be 60 degrees during the day. It’s not. Not today anyway. It’s cold and yucky and we want hot food. Hot food that’s not soup.

Me: I don’t want to make soup for dinner, but I’m out of ideas.

Child: I’m souped out.

Me: Me too. Souped out. Stewed out. Out.

Child: Let’s have something else.

Me: Like what? I’m open to suggestions.

Child: I don’t know.

Me: I’d like a black bean burger.

Child: I don’t like black beans. I like pinto beans.

Me: I have pinto beans. But I think they’ll turn to refried beans if I try to mash them into a burger. That’s why people make black bean burgers. You never hear about pinto bean burgers. I have a new recipe for a different rice casserole?

Child: I’m tired of casseroles.

And so it went. We discussed some other options but still nothing was ringing my bell. She went to school. I ran by the grocery store and picked up the ingredients for the rice casserole and for spaghetti for later in the week. What will we have tonight? I don’t know, but Qdoba may be calling.

Cooking fatigue hits everyone once in awhile. If you asked my family what they want for dinner they’d say “Tacos!” gleefully! Even if we JUST HAD TACOS. While I try to find a variety of healthy, seasonal options to tempt their palates, they want tacos. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with something new and creative in the face of taco lust. I have my old favorites, meals I can make by rote, ones that require no recipe, no thinking. Then I have a stash of new recipes to try. I most often find these on my favorite blogs or in Cooking Light . I even keep binders of recipes, sorted by category, that I can refer back to when I’m feeling like I’ve run out of cooking steam. The truth of the matter is that we need a season change. We’re tired of the soups, stews, and roasts that we’ve been enjoying since the cooler weather came. We want the bright, fresh menu of spring! Only it’s still winter outside and our bodies crave hot food that you eat with a piece of crusty bread while hunkered down in front of the fire.

I know that relief is coming. The farmers market opens in a few weeks. Even if I have to eat Swiss chard and spinach for a month before the asparagus and spring onions appear, I’ll do it. And I swear I won’t complain. I know in a month from now when Easter arrives I’ll be thrilled with the prospect of peas, new potatoes, and the strawberries that will inevitably follow. But for now we’re still stuck in the winter of our discontent and we’ll have to eat a few more casseroles, soups, and stews until the weather breaks and the burden of the spring bounty of vegetables finally arrives.

What do you do to get out of a cooking rut? Do you have a favorite place to get new recipes? What meal are you most looking forward to eating this spring?

Use #40dayvegetarian on Twitter and check out my other blog, threeoclockproject on Tumblr!

Vegetarian Hits & Misses

By jammmick [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Swiss Chard! By jammmick [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 My better half has complained that all he can find on the road is a vegetable plate. I don’t doubt that’s true. But I don’t think that’s what most vegetarians eat on a daily basis. In the summer a plate of tomatoes with mozzarella and basil can certainly make a great meal. But we’re still in the grasp of winter. We need food that is hot and sticks to your ribs.

This weekend I set out to prove that the vegetable plate is not our only option. And most of what I made was great! Not every recipe can be great one, meat or no meat. Here’s what we’ve eaten lately and what we would make again.

Friday night I made a great Broccoli, Cheese, and Wild Rice Casserole from smitten kitchen. It was hot, tasty, easy, and everyone loved it! I served it with a simple green salad. Highly recommend.

Saturday night we celebrated our anniversary with dinner at Bonefish Grill. I hadn’t had any fish since Lent began so I was glad to have the opportunity to enjoy some trout.

Sunday night I rolled out another new recipe. Let’s just say this one won’t be going into the dinner rotation. I had seen this recipe for Tortilla Espanola in the March 2014 issue of Cooking Light.  I chose it because it was a recipe tested by kids, they had rated it very highly, and since Cooking Light is one of my go-to sources for tasty, healthy recipes. We ate and were glad to have it. But, without putting too fine a point on it, it was gross. You can’t win ’em all.

I was hopeful I could redeem myself Tuesday with something tasty and this Healthy Mexican Casserole with Roasted Corn and Peppers from a pinch of yum was definitely a WIN! Yummy and hot, creamy and cheesy, it was perfect on a cold night. It was great Mexican food without being heavy or greasy. While my daughter did pick out all the peppers and assemble a tiny mountain of them to the side of the plate, she also ate it without complaint. It will make great leftovers too! The only thing I would change is the size. The recipe is for a 9×13 baking dish. When I make it again for our little tribe of three I will make two 8×8 pans and freeze one. Then we would have one set aside to eat later or to share with another family when we need to take a meal.

I’m planning to make some tomato soup later this week, but otherwise I think we’ll finish up the few leftovers we have from the last few meals. Sadly, I think the leftover Tortilla Espanola will languish in the back of the fridge unless I get desperate for lunch.

What have you made lately? Any hits? Misses? Where do you find the best new recipes to try?

Check out some other wins here. Use #40dayvegetarian to share your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook. You can also check out my other blog 3oclockproject.tumblr.com on tumblr!

It’s Not Summer Yet Salad and Other Things

Salad!I made Joy the Baker’s  It’s Not Summer Yet Greek Pasta Salad tonight and it is sooooo good! She’s right, it’s not summer yet, but we’ve had a few summery days and this pasta salad is perfect for a light lunch or dinner. Add a few shrimp or a pita sandwich and you’ve got a nice meal.

It’s been fairly crazy around here so there hasn’t been much cooking. I did make Smitten Kitchen’s Stuck Pot Rice Sunday and it was great! I would definitely add the recipe to my regular cooking rotation. I think it would be even better with additional spices. We managed the last five days with that one meal, cheese plates, Qdoba, and leftovers. I’m looking forward to making something new to eat this weekend!

As easy as it has been for us here at home, my other half travels for work most weeks and he has been struggling to find things to eat. Currently he’s staying in a one horse town with very few options for food, much less meatless. Do any of you vegetarians have suggestions for eating on the road? There’s not even a grocery store in the town where he’s staying, so it’s hard to cobble something together in desperation.

If you have trouble finding meatless meals here’s another post you might like from milesforthought!

Check out where I started here. And follow along on Twitter using #40dayvegetarian.

An Avocado A Day . . .

Photo courtesy of the USDA.

Photo courtesy of the USDA.

I’m not planning to bore you with a daily play-by-play of my meals. But in the interest of accountability, I thought I’d share a bit with you. Hopefully as we get further into Lent there’ll be some great new recipes I can share!

I had my usual Avocado Egg Toast for breakfast. Yes, I am dull. Yes, I really do eat this almost every day. It works for me. For lunch, leftover cheesy grits with Swiss chard and leeks, and minestrone for dinner. Normally I would use chicken stock for the minestrone, today I used juice from the tomatoes and water and it turned out just fine. As with most soups, it was easy to make a ton of minestrone. Probably more than we’ll ever eat, so I’ll freeze some for a night when there’s just no time. I don’t use a recipe so if you want to make some here’s a recipe that’s similar to how I make it. It’s a great, easy soup. Feel free to put in or take out anything you want.

I refuse to go to the grocery store on the weekend. It’s crazy town in there. When I went today I had a general idea of what we’d need for the weekend. Here’s what we’re planning to eat.

Friday night – I will probably end up eating alone, but I thawed a spinach lasagna that I had tucked away in the freezer. It’ll be good for me when I’m ready to eat and will hold til the husband-like-person returns. This is the recipe I use. 

Saturday – Leftovers will work for lunch time. Since the weather is supposed to be better we might head to a local winery and take a picnic. We often have a cheese plate for dinner when it’s just the grown-ups, so wine and cheese will do fine for us Saturday evening. I bought some new cheeses to try. If they work out I’ll share the names with you. I’m also planning to make this tasty Greek pasta salad from a recent Joy the Baker post to eat for lunch next week.

Sunday – I’m super excited to try this new recipe for Stuck Pot Rice from Smitten Kitchen. As a young child I lived in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the Rice and Duck Capital of the World. I am not making this up. In that part of Arkansas you eat rice. You LOOOOOVE rice. There are entire cookbooks and festivals devoted to rice. It’s what keeps the town alive. Well, that and duck hunting. Rice immersion worked for me. I loooooove rice. White rice. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the brown stuff is better. That’s not the point.) So any time I see a recipe involving rice I’m down with it. I’ve spent years learning the art of making lovely rice without burning it. The point of this recipe is to kind of burn it. We’ll see if I can hang.

What’s on your weekend menu? Fun, food, both? Do you have weekend food?

Check out where I started here and by using the hashtag #40dayvegetarian!

Also, check out my 3oclockproject! You might also like 3191 miles apart.

40 Days of Vegetarian

By Anita Martinz from Klagenfurt, Austria (Colorful spring garden) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Anita Martinz from Klagenfurt, Austria (Colorful spring garden) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We’re going vegetarian for Lent. Or, to be more correct, pescatarian. We’ll still be eating the occasional fish or seafood item. But let’s back up a second. What is Lent?

Generally speaking, Lent is the 40 days before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday. During this season, Christians often give up a habit that stands in the way of their relationship with God. They may also add a practice or behavior that would enhance this relationship. We’re kind of doing both. In giving up meat we’re taking on the restraints of an a vegetarian diet. If you want to know all the details about Lent you can read more about it here.

We’ve decided to give up meat for several reasons.

  • It will be good for our bodies and good for the planet. While we’re young and healthy, it can’t hurt to cut down on the meat we eat. I already do Meatless Monday and we generally don’t eat meat for breakfast or lunch. So taking it out of dinner won’t be that much of a stretch. The raising of meat is also hard on the Earth, at least in the case of industrial meat production. God expects us to take care of the planet. While we don’t eat industrial meat, there’s still a need for all of us to consume less. Less in the case of meat and less overall. Just less.
  • It will be good practice for me as a cook. While my kitchen skills are just fine, taking up the practice of eating only vegetables will help me branch out in the kitchen. It’s easy to do in the summer when the market is brimming with tasty vegetables. A bit more difficult when you’re still in the root vegetable purgatory of late winter.
  • There’s some discipline involved. We are fortunate to not have to be very disciplined in what we eat around here. Our grocery budget is generous and I’m unwilling to cut corners on feeding the family. The absence of meat will surely save us money, but it will also force me to focus on real nutrition and a better meal plan than meat + two sides = dinner.

I mentioned that we’re going to keep some fish and seafood in our meals. This is not intend to be a way to wiggle around the commitment. It’s because we need to eat more fish. It’s been a goal of mine to work more seafood into our diet, but I haven’t focused on introducing seafood regularly at the dinner table. Lent is a good opportunity to do this.

Being prepared is half the battle so I’ve already worked up a list of things that I want to cook. I’ve got a menu plan just like any other week.  I’ve checked out several top-rated vegetarian cookbooks from the library and I’ll be sharing information about those as we go through out Lenten journey.

I hope you’ll follow along with me as I work through this season. Use #40dayvegetarian. How are you observing Lent? In the past I’ve given up candy and almost always give up cursing. Who’s with me on that one?

Want to see how others did this? Check out Kristin Schell’s blog!

Looking for more information on Lent?

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