Caprese Pasta Salad in a Jar

My best friend Heather Hollands and I at the Western wall in Israel.

My best friend Heather Hollands and I at the Western wall in Israel.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” 

― Anais Nin

Tomorrow begins my thirteenth year as a high school English teacher and I have been so lucky to share the wild journey with my best friend Heather. Even though we grew up with a mere thirty miles between us, we did not know each other until we became educators. If it was not for Heather I would never have the courage or ability to launch Produce with Amy. Three summers ago when we were at a National Writing Project resource development retreat in Austin, Texas we started a blog to celebrate our 10th year in the classroom called Blended Voices. Heather is a gifted and prolific writer and her posts always pushed and inspired me to write my own and we were able to both hold each other accountable. Those who know us well simply call us Hamy. If you want to know more about our friendship, read The Hamy Story, As Told By Heather.

Fall is always a time of change but this year as I type this I feel an uneasy feeling in my stomach. This week my best friend Heather, who for twelve years has taught 10th grade English across the hall from me, has been moving to a classroom in the middle school. This year our district had to make many deep financial cuts which resulted in many teachers losing their jobs, getting cut to part-time, and much shuffling of teaching positions. Yes,she will be in the same building, but not right across the hall. I know that Heather will do a phenomenal job teaching 6th and 7th grade English but I selfishly morn the fact that she no longer will be there for me to lean on during the day. No more quick little chats in between classes or brief visits in the copy room. True, we are often so busy that we have gone days without a sit-down, long conversation but I always knew she was there if I needed her. I do need her.

Heather’s new teaching position makes me want to stick to my goal of being productive during the week even more. We have decided that we will make sure to get together a couple of times a month during the week or weekend for Donors Choose, blog, and Squidoo dates. We have to carve out time for each other because that is what best friends do.

One of the things that I value the most about our friendship is that while we share a love for many of the same things, we can always inspire each other to try new things. We work so well as a team but can also get involved in projects independently. This year when I started Produce with Amy, Heather also found a way to accomplish her writing goals by discovering Squidoo. In fact, in true Heather fashion, not only did she start writing lenses Squidoo but she approached each deadline with gusto. To date she has ten lenses posted. Check out Heather’s Lensmaster Page.

When Mason Jar Salads took my blog by storm Heather told me that she was going to come up with a recipe for her favorite summer Caprese Pasta Salad.

Photo by Heather Hollands

Photo by Heather Hollands

Not only did Heather include a recipe but she also has links to where you can purchase supplies and even recommends great literary works that feature food. To check out Heather’s recipe click here: Caprese Pasta Salad in a Jar.

Photo by Heather Hollands

Photo by Heather Hollands

Please share Heather’s recipe on Facebook, pin it here on Pinterest, and make sure you check out and comment on her other lenses. I urge you to be careful because her lens on The Mackinac Island Fudge Experience will make you crave chocolate, her lens on Five Prepackaged, Healthier Snacks for School Lunch is timely and may really be of interest to parents who are looking for healthier options for lunches, and with Halloween right around the corner  – you must check out her clever ideas for How to Create a Bewitching Halloween BOOfet.

Not having Heather right across the hall from me will be a huge adjustment this year and I wish her the best of luck with her new position as a middle school teacher. Her students are extremely lucky to have such a talented writer, voracious reader, and passionate educator making sure that they reach their literacy potential. I am determined to make time to spend together and I guarantee we will write together while feasting on delicious food. Maybe Heather will create more lenses that feature her fabulous recipes? I will make sure to share them when she does. Thank you, Heather for your friendship and inspiration! ❤

Heather and I in Jerusalem, Israel spring of 2012.

Hamy in Jerusalem, Israel spring of 2012.

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Mushroom Barley Soup ~ Plant-Based Comfort Food

“There is nothing like soup. It is by nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup in a can.”
~Laurie Colwin

Phoebe fresh from the groomer.

Phoebe fresh from the groomer.


Yesterday, as the temperature in our house spiked to 89 degrees, I had a difficult time believing that a couple of weeks ago it was chilly outside and that I was craving warm, comfort foods. Today at noon it was 82 in our house and I am thankful that we got Phoebe groomed last week. Fall the past few years has been much warmer than the summer months and Phoebe is much more comfortable with her sleek coat and ears. Before long she will be back to her long-eared, feather legged, spaniel self in time for our long Michigan winter.

While the heat from the past couple days makes my body want green smoothies and salad, a couple weeks ago I was craving comfort food. I posted my recipe for Red Lentil Sloppy Joes and made a pot of Vegetable Chili. I also found myself craving mushrooms. Thankfully, I am fond of mushrooms because they make a great meat substitute. Portobello mushrooms are one of my staples with whole pasta and marinara, I love stuffed mushroom caps, and they are great in stir fry.  

When I posted on my Facebook Page that I was making mushroom soup, my friend Sue said that one of her favorite soups is mushroom barley. I thought that sounded like a fabulous combination so I added some to my soup. Thank you, Sue, for that wonderful suggestion!

1I used dried porcini, baby portobella, and organic button mushrooms along with fresh sage, thyme, and parsley from my garden.
2I tied the thyme and sage up with string to immerse into the crock pot.

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I tied my fresh herbs up in a bundle with string and pulled out of the soup after it was finished cooking.

I caramelized the onion by cooking on low heat in a bit of coconut oil. After I added the onions to the soup, I de-glazed the pan with 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Marsala wine or sherry would work well and give an extra layer of flavor.
4MUSHROOM SOUP WITH BARLEY

  • 6 cups of fresh mushrooms (I used two 8 ounce packages)
  • 1 package of dried mushrooms (I recommend shiitake or porcini. The porcini mushrooms gave the soup a deep, smoky taste.)
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 ribs of chopped celery
  • 3/4 cup of barley
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 large chopped onion 
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice or wine (Marsala, sherry, red, or white)
  • 3 Tablespoons of coconut oil
  • Sage, thyme, and chopped parsley (approximately 1/2 cup fresh. A couple Tablespoons of each if you are using dried)
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg (gives savory dishes a depth of flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Chop all ingredients and add everything, except the mushroom, onion, garlic, and barley, into a crock pot on low heat.
  2. Add two Tablespoons of coconut oil and brown the mushrooms until soft and add to crock pot..
  3.  In the same pan add the remaining Tablespoon of coconut oil and caramelize the onion on low heat until dark brown. Caramelizing the onion will bring out their sweetness and give the soup broth a richness. When the onions are finished scrape them into the crock pot. Now add the garlic and saute until soft and fragrant and add to the crock pot as well. De-glaze the pan with lemon juice or wine and put the drippings into the crock pot.
  4. Cook on low for approximately 6 hours. During the last hour of cooking, put in the barley.
  5. Serve hot and garnish with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon or a dash of rice vinegar.
  6. Makes 10 cups.

5Not only is soup a terrific comfort food when it is chilly outside (or for me, even when it is warm outside) but I learned when I joined Weight Watchers that a broth-based soup is a great, low calorie way to bulk up a meal. When I add a cup of soup and a side salad to a meal, I eat a smaller portion of the main entree. I do not think there is ever a time that I do not have soup or vegetable chili in the house (either in the refrigerator or in the freezer). Making a large crock pot or stock pot of soup is part of my weekly routine and Mike loves how filling and satisfying soup is as well.

I was delighted with the way this soup turned out. The stock was rich and flavorful and the mushrooms added a lovely texture. It reminded me of the mushroom soup that I had in Poland a couple years ago. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the mushroom soup in Poland had a plant-based broth. I have found that vegetable broth is a fine stand-in for soups that call for chicken or beef broth.

This soup would also work well with brown rice and you could add other vegetables. I am going to try it in the future with a little bit of tomato sauce, cabbage, and white beans.

If you are interested in other soup recipes you can find them on my soup tab. You can also find these recipes and follow my blog on Pinterest.

Soup is a great way to bulk up meals and eat healthy without feeling deprived. Making a pot of soup is like writing a poem. It is therapeutic, satisfying, and the combinations are endless.
Mushroom Barley Soup

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Rainbow Collage4Most experts agree that there is no comparison between fresh and dried basil in terms of flavor. The fresh leaves have a flavor complexity and intensity that is largely lost in the dried form. If storing for a week or less, basil can be wrapped in several layers of paper towels and placed in an airtight or Ziplock bag and stored in the highest section of the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for several days. It can also be stored for a few days in a glass of water placed on a counter top. ~Herb Society of America Guide

This week gently heralds in a new school year and I am back to work for two days of professional development. It has been a spectacular summer full of gardening, organizing our house, and reading and writing for pleasure. Yet, I am ready to reclaim my work schedule.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

This school year I am changing things up a bit when it comes to my cooking routine. Normally I shop on Friday night or Saturday afternoon and engage in a cooking marathon for the week’s meals on Sunday. This fall I am going to try to break my grocery gathering up into segments. I will shop on Wednesdays after work and cook on Thursday and Friday (Thursday a large pot of soup and Friday a couple of entrees for both Mike and I). On Saturday I will take a trip to the Marquette Food Co-op and will assemble my Mason Jar Salads. Monday I will leave myself open to the possibility of another quick trip to the market.

Last year, submerged in piles of essays to grade, grocery shopping and cooking started to feel like a chore instead of a pleasure. I am hoping that my new routine will make meal preparation more manageable and help free up precious time on the weekend to grade, blog, do housework, and spend time with Mike, family, and friends. I also think that pre-weekend cooking will help me make strong food choices on the weekend since I will have healthy food already prepared.

When I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 I found that planning and prepping my meals was essential to my weight management success. I never allow myself the excuse that I do not have enough time. I make time for my health.

This summer, when I had the luxury of more free time on my hands, I tried to be flexible and spontaneous with meals and during the week took many small trips to the store and 7farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables. I think that breaking my shopping into small trips actually helped save money and time. I found that I have not been dreading the weekly shopping and since I often grab one of the hand-held baskets, (instead of a large shopping cart) I am not stockpiling food and I am only buying what we will eat for the week.

One item that has not been on my list in the past couple weeks is tomatoes. My tomato plants have perfect timing and each day I am able to harvest enough ripe fruit for the day’s meals. I wait all summer for the candy-sweet tomatoes straight off the vine and I am savoring each juicy bite.

While my tomatoes have persisted and were able to survive our cold and rainy summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my basil plants have not done as well. While I have been able to pluck quite a few clusters of leaves for basil vinaigrette and a few slices of bruschetta, the plants have remained small and many of the leaves are brown (a woman at the farmers market told me this was due to the cold temperatures we have experienced this summer). 3

Since one of my favorite fall food combinations is tomatoes and basil, I have been disappointed my lackluster basil crop. This Saturday my friend Brenda gave me a generous gift of robust basil plants from her father’s garden. The plants are healthy and thriving and I am so thankful.

I love the aroma of basil and this morning I picked a bowl of fresh tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. I will be making Vitamix recipe for a raw dish: Zucchini Pasta with Pomodoro Sauce (with extra basil, of course). This coming weekend I am planning on making homemade pizza topped with plenty of basil, green and ripe tomatoes, Greek olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. As I type I am also imagining tomato and basil soup with fresh spaghetti squash from my garden.

Earlier this summer my recipe for Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette Dressing received many positive reviews. So yesterday I decided that I needed to come up with another basil dressing for a batch of Mason Jar Salads. I wanted a creamy dressing that featured the intense aroma and flavor of basil. Naturally, pesto came to mind.

Here is my version of a plant-based Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing that uses raw cashews as a thickening agent. A traditional pesto recipe would use pine nuts, but I did not have any on hand. I think that any nuts would work; almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds. Next time I make this dressing I will toss in a few pine nuts but will still stick to raw cashews since I like the creamy texture that they yield. If you wanted to make this dressing a vinaigrette you could leave out the nuts. If you eat dairy you could also add a fresh grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the blender or to your salad. 1CREAMY PESTO SALAD DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of raw 5apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing with a bit of celery. I enjoy my dressing extremely tart and often sprinkle more vinegar on my salad before serving.)
  • 1/2-1 cup of fresh basil leaves (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. I also tossed in a few extra leaves in the blender for good measure)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of raw cashews (you could substitute almonds, walnuts, or nuts of choice)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
  • Chives (I used fresh since I have chives in my garden. If you do not have fresh chives you could add a little bit of onion)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Blend until smooth

The dressing turned out just as flavorful as I imagined it would. I knew that the salad that I created to accompany it had to be extra special. Since I had purchased a wide variety of fruit and vegetables I decided to capture a rainbow in a jar.

2When making Mason Jar Salads it is important to put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar. I find with the quart sized Mason Jars that I need extra dressing. Sometimes I add extra vinegar or lemon juice to the bottom as well as the dressing.

I made two versions of the Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad. For the first one I layered the following:11

  • Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • Quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced nectarines
  • Yellow bell pepper
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • White beans
  • Romaine lettuce

For the second version I layered the following:

  • 8Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • White beans
  • Quartered radishes and cherry tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Quartered yellow tomatoes and yellow bell pepper
  • Broccoli florets
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Pickled beets
  • Romaine lettuce

Since part of the charm of the Mason Jar Salads are how visually appealing they are I think it is important to make them as pretty as possible. Plus, by filling them with a vibrant rainbow of fruit and vegetables we are making sure that we are meeting our nutritional needs.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes. I also have other plant-based salad dressing recipes. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

My goal for fall and winter is to continue coming up with new recipes and to blog at least once a week. As always, I really appreciate feedback if you try my recipes. I am so thankful to my readers and love that together we can embrace a healthy lifestyle.

I would like to extend a thank you to my dear friend, and Weight Watchers receptionist, Brenda and her father for the gift of basil. It really made my weekend special and I appreciate your kindness.

In the coming weeks Brenda has agreed to do a guest blog so I can feature the story of her incredible weight loss journey. Brenda has lost seventy pounds and for the past two years has done an amazing job maintaining her loss. I am thankful for her friendship and the way she inspires, motivates, and helps keep me (and our entire Weight Watchers group) accountable. Brenda strives to educate herself about nutrition and is always aiming to understand what her body needs to stay healthy, fit, and energized.

Since I launched Produce with Amy in January of 2013, Brenda has been my biggest fan and supporter. She is always willing to give my recipes a try and her belief in me helps give me the confidence and the drive to keep experimenting and coming up with new recipes.  If you know Brenda, make sure you encourage her to write her guest post so others can be inspired by her hard work, determination, and weight management tips and advice. I am excited to share her story with you!

6I know that Brenda will be trying the Creamy Pesto Dressing and I hope that you do too. If you do not have basil in your garden (or a generous friend who will share) make sure you check out your local farmers market or produce section of the grocery store for fresh basil.

Fill your plate (and Mason jars) with a vibrant rainbow. Your health will thank you.

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Creamy Pesto DressingRainbow Plate

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Fennel, Cabbage, and Apple Salad with Avocado Hummus & Ginger Vinaigrette

11Queen Anne’s Lace

Her body is not so white as 
anemone petals nor so smooth–nor 
so remote a thing. It is a field 
of the wild carrot taking 
the field by force; the grass 
does not raise above it.
~William Carlos Williams

Last week as I drove to Marquette, I marveled at the sea of Queen Anne’s Lace growing with wild abandon along the side of the highway. They catch at the slightest breeze and perform a delicate dance for those who pay attention.

Years ago when Mike and I moved into our house there was not a flower to be found in either our 12front or back yard except for a few crocus and johnny-jump-ups. When we went for walks around the neighborhood I noticed masses of Queen Anne’s Lace and hoped that one day they would grow in our yard. When we started planting a flower bed I toted a few stems home and stuck them in the dirt. Nothing. They wilted and died. I brought home more flowers that had gone to seed and shook them in violent hope. Imagine my excitement the next year when the filigree flowers appeared.

I think it’s the texture of Queen Anne’s Lace that enthrall me. It is the same reason that I10 was first drawn to fennel in the supermarket. The bright green fronds (even though I do not eat them) make for a pretty composition. If you have never had fennel before I challenge you to try it. It has a very mild anise flavor and is common in Mediterranean dishes. It can be eaten raw or cooked and I love it sliced thinly on a green salad with orange and grapefruit segments.

Last week I bought a fennel bulb and decided to use it in a cabbage salad. Fall seems like the perfect time for slaw since the local cabbage is in season. I thought the fennel and cabbage would go well with crisp and juicy fall apples.

SlawInstead of a heavy mayonnaise laden slaw, I decided to combine these fresh flavors with a ginger vinaigrette. The combinations of flavors work so well together. Sweet apple juxtaposed with the tartness of vinegar, crunchy cabbage, spicy ginger, and the faint licorice taste of  fennel sounds like a perfect marriage to me. To add even more to the flavor and texture explosion I wrapped the slaw in romaine leaves and topped them with creamy avocado hummus and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro. How much more healthy, satisfying, and flavorful can you get than that? I think this slaw makes a fantastic side dish, would be a great sandwich topping, or would stand on its own with an addition of nuts and even dried fruit (I think apricots would make a beautiful mix).

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Fennel, Cabbage, and Apple Slaw with Ginger Vinaigrette

  • 4 cups of finely chopped cabbage (depending on the texture you desire)
  • 1 cup of shredded carrot
  • 1 fennel bulb thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 chopped red apple (the apples that I used were organic so they were small)
  • 1 chopped green apple 

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.

Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup vinegar (depending on how tart you want the salad. I used 1/2 raw apple cider vinegar and 1/2 white balsamic vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice and zest of one lime
  • 1 Tablespoon of sweetener (I used local raw honey but you could use your sweetener of choice)
  • 1 Tablespoon of Tamari (soy sauce would work as well)
  • 1 Tablespoon finely minced ginger root
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 small bunch of finely chopped green onions
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix vinaigrette well (You could use a blender but I just used a whisk). Pour over salad and toss well. While I tasted the salad immediately after making it yesterday, the flavors really bloomed overnight in the refrigerator. Makes 10 cups.

I left the pieces of apple and even the cabbage in rather large chunks. Though you could aim for a more fine slaw and use a food processor.

I left the pieces of apple and even the cabbage in rather large chunks. Though you could aim for a more fine slaw and use a food processor.

The Romaine Lettuce Wraps with the Avocado Hummus were easy to make.

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The recipe that I use for Hummus is from the Vitamix Whole Foods Cookbook.

  1. 230 ounces of chickpeas (it says to reserve one can of liquid. Though, I always make my own from dried beans)
  2. 1/4 cup raw sesame seeds (I used jarred tahini)
  3. 1/4 cup lemon juice (again I used the zest and for this recipe I increased it to a whole lemon)
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  6. 1 teaspoon cumin

In addition to the above ingredients I added one avocado, a few green onions, and fresh1 chives.

The hummus was delicious and the perfect, creamy accompaniment to the crunchy slaw. The wraps are messy (I recommend a fork) but such a nice break from a traditional salad. Plus, if you are trying to watch your intake of bread it is a much slimmer option.

When I buy romaine I do not buy the bagged but instead buy the large heads in the produce section. I find this often a better bargain and they are more green, fresh, and I think they taste better. Other greens work well for wraps as well such as collard greens, large spinach leaves, and red lettuce.

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I have to confess that normally I wait until I publish my post to dive into my creation, but today I had to take a break for lunch because my plate was so tempting. For the past few weeks I have been a food rut and I think yesterday’s Red Lentil Sloppy Joes and today’s Fennel, Cabbage, and Apple Salad have helped me break free!
7I hope you enjoy this salad just in time for fall’s bounty of vegetables. I eagerly await the selection of Michigan apples at the farmers market and in the stores. This recipe and others can be found at Pinterest on my Produce with Amy board. Also, please join the conversation on my Facebook page.

My summer holiday is nearly over and I will be going back to teaching soon, but blogging will help me to stay committed to my healthy lifestyle. I hope that I can help you do the same. Enjoy the last few fleeting weeks of summer and remember to stop and pay attention to the nature around you. Who knows, you might catch a spirited Queen Anne’s Lace ballet. Or whatever wild things grow in your backyard!

I found this vintage tumbler while thrifting this summer. Disappointed there was only one, I know think it is a gift. Now I will have to keep my eyes open for matching treasures! :)

I found this vintage tumbler while thrifting this summer. Disappointed there was only one, I know think it is a gift. Now I will have to keep my eyes open for matching treasures! 🙂

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Romaine Lettuce Wraps with Fennel, Apple, and Cabbage Salad and Avocado Hummus

Avocado Hummus by Produce with Amy

Fennel, Cabbage, & Apple Salad by Produce with Amy

Plant-Based Comfort Food ~ Red Lentil Sloppy Joes

Lilies from my garden.

Lilies in my garden.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

I have been negligent in posting lately. The truth is that I have been in a slump. The start to my summer was very strong with solid routines, blissful time spent outside gardening, and a flourish of writing and new recipes. In the past few weeks my bedtime has crept up later-and-later and because of this I have felt really fatigued. The weather has been an endless cycle of cold and rainy skies and I think that the blues sunk in and dissolved my motivation. Each day I set goals for myself. I even write them down when I am doing my daily journal writing and post them in my Weight Watchers Facebook group. However, for a few weeks I have been coming up short in achieving all of what I set out to do and today I am determined to reclaim my productivity. When I do not follow through with things that I want to achieve I felt guilty and depressed. With only a few weeks left of my summer holiday, I am going to make the most of the time left. The beginning of the school year is exhausting (so is the middle and end) and I want to start the year out with a clean and organized spaces (both my house and my classroom) and a positive attitude.

One of the goals that I set for myself a couple of weeks ago was a two-week Raw Food Challenge. Last year when we bought a Vitamix the idea was that we would incorporate more raw meals into our diet. I started off strong and found a fantastic blog called This Rawsome Vegan Life and I tried three recipes which I loved and will be making again (in fact, I did made the Beet Soup three times and the Raw Lasagna twice already). The recipes that I tried: Beet & Avocado Soup with Cashew Cream, Raw Lasagna with Cashew Cheese and Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, and Raw Vegan Burrito Wraps. Once the weekend arrived, with more lousy weather, my resolve fizzled out.  I tried to recover my 229challenge on Monday, but I ended up deciding to end it instead. However, I am still committed to learning more about raw food. In the coming weeks I will try to incorporate a raw food plan for a couple of days out of the week. Mike really LOVED the Raw Lasagna and I know that I will be making it again soon with fresh zucchini from our garden.

I think part of my problem with following through with my challenge was that my body started craving comfort foods. Sometimes this can be a challenge with a plant-based diet, especially when you do not feel like cooking. I cook for Mike, but since he eats meat, I do not eat what he is having for dinner.

Today one of my number one goals was to come up with a meal plan for the coming week and write out my grocery list. After inspecting the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry situation I realized that I had enough ingredients to cook quite a few meals already. (I tend to over-shop and stock pile food supplies.) So instead, I decided to engage in a cooking marathon so I have things in the house to eat this coming weekend.

First up I tossed all the ingredients in the crock pot for a soup posted on the fantastic blog, My Whole Food Life, Hearty White Bean Soup. Not only did I have all the ingredients on hand (including white beans already cooked and frozen) but I was able to gather fresh sage, thyme, and parsley from my garden.

I also whipped up a batch of hummus and tabouli for a few Israeli Feast: Mason Jar Salads and a Fennel and Cabbage Slaw that I have been meaning to make (recipe coming soon).

I knew that the Hearty White Bean Soup would cover the comfort food but I wanted something else for lunch today. When going through the pantry I saw that I had the ingredients for Red Lentil Sloppy Joes and decided that was exactly what I was craving. I also decided that I would blog out the recipe right away. No fancy photos (just a couple snapped with my iPhone) and this would help me get my blogging mojo back.

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RED LENTIL SLOPPY JOES

  • 2 cups red lentils (I purchase in the bulk section of our local co-op)
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup of chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 6 ounces of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegan worcestershire (Here is recipe from Martha Stewart for Homemade Vegan Worcestershire)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (or more)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional ~ hot sauce (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Saute the onion, celery, garlic, and bell pepper until soft (5-10 minutes)
  2. Add in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 60 minutes. Stir often and you may have to add more water as it cooks.
  3. You may want to add more spices/vinegar/mustard based on your taste. Sometimes I like to add extra hot sauce and an extra splash of vinegar right before serving.
  4. Serve in buns, in pita pockets, or open faced. I like to toast the bread and sometimes sprinkle with a bit of plant-based Daiya cheese and top with dill pickles. If you are trying to watch your bread intake I have had it served over romaine leaves or even as a topping for sauteed cabbage or zucchini.
  5. Makes 7 Cups. If you do not want such a large batch you can use the same amount of ingredients but reduce the lentils to one cup and only add 2 1/2 cups of water.

I do not serve this meal to Mike (he is not fond of the texture of lentils) so I make him the real deal. It freezes well and I find that it really tastes like Sloppy Joes. I think that in order to stick to a plant-based meal plan it is important that you do not feel deprived. My mom always made Sloppy Joes (but we always called them Barbecues) when I was growing up so it reminds me of home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Let me know what you think!

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You can find this recipe, along with others at my Produce with Amy board on Pinterest. Please consider joining the conversation at my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

I challenge you to join me in finishing out the week strong. Write out that shopping list, buy fresh produce and wholesome ingredients, and fill your refrigerator and deep freeze with meals that are simple and satisfying. A plant-based diet does not have to translate to boring. There are so many healthy comfort foods that will keep us on track. What is your favorite plant-based comfort food?

I think this post was exactly what I needed to get back on track. Today I will be at peace because what I want to do, what I am saying I will to do, and what I am doing are all in harmony. This is a trend that I am going to continue into tomorrow, the weekend, and all the weeks that follow. (((((Productivity)))))

(Click on image for a larger version.)

(Click on image for a larger version.)

Red Lentil Sloppy Joes