July 26: Chipotle Vegetarian Bowl–the at home edition known as Fauxpotle Vegetarian Bowl

It’s been a minute since I posted about anything new. I would tell you about the wonderful adventure of trying to move twice in three weeks (OH to GA, GA to DC), but I’ll give you the bottom line now: Don’t do it! lol Just don’t do that to yourself. Ever. Life in D.C. is quite different as a working professional, who’s technically unemployed until Wednesday, than it was as a free-spirited undergraduate. I found the basic establishments: grocers, Metro, gas station, and the Chemistry department where I’ll be working.

I can’t say I’ve tried many new things since May when I last posted. Relocating and some much needed R&R were priorities. Now that I have some semblance of normalcy in my life again, it’s time to try new things! Yay! Okay, so first up, what I’m calling Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl. My first weekend in the city, I went with a friend to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see a special exhibit related to Black American life. We had lunch at the Chipotle on the next block and I ordered the vegetarian bowl.

I’m always looking for recipe ideas, and the vegetarian bowl seemed quite simple if only I could figure out the seasonings in the rice. I plan to save the mild sauce for another attempt. Baby steps. Search engines are a beautiful thing. I found this recipe that claims to be sources from Chipotle’s executive chef. I have my doubts, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. I made my grocery list and picked up ingredients.

Notice the recipe says to stir the rice in lime juice. The mere fact there was not a volume should have been a red flag. But hey, I’m just going with it. The fragrance of the lime juice reducing was wonderful. I cooked the rice without cilantro (I really need to start my herb garden because I will waste a bunch of cilantro), and after what seemed like forever, my rice was still wet, not as in water, but wet with sugar. The lime juice reduced to its sugar. Yes, yuck.

As my rice was messing up, I sauteed sliced green pepper (one large) and slices of half of a large red onion in chicken broth on high heat in a skillet. I liberally seasoned the vegetables with Cajun seasoning before cooking. In the microwave, I cooked half a bag of frozen sweet corn (about 2.5 cups). I added the corn to a pan of rinsed, canned black beans that were heating on low. Since I did not add liquid, I just warmed them.

In a large glass bowl, I mixed all the ingredients — including the gummy rice, which tasted surprisingly good, if not a little “lime-y”. Despite the texture and appearance, the Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl was quite tasty. And super cheap. I was able to make four servings (~1.5 cups per serving) for less than $5 total. I think that’s the cheapest meal I’ve made to date!

So, bottom line, the Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl is a keeper. In fact, I stocked up on black beans lol. After the epic fail on the rice, I went back to re-read the recipe to make sure I wasn’t crazy, and I saw a second recipe below. That one seems much more promising. It calls for the rice to be stirred in oil and cooked as usual. Then the lime juice is added. For you carnivores, adding meat and choice of sauce will make the dish more Chipotle-like. I like that this recipe is a basic recipe that can be tweaked with different seasoning, rice, beans, and vegetables. One of these days, I’ll try it with some thick white fish (like cod) and made a wrap. Perfect for lunch! The recipe written together is below.

Fauxpotle Vegetarian Bowl

Ingredients

1 large bell pepper

1 medium red onion

Chicken broth, enough to cover the bottom of a 10 in skillet about 1/4 inch

Your choice of seasoning. I used a store-bought Cajun blend

1 can of black beans, rinsed

2.5 cups frozen, sweet corn, cooked

4 cups of jasmine rice, cooked. Any kind of rice will do.

Directions:

Heat broth to boiling. Cook vegetables on high until desired tenderness.

Microwave the corn per manufacturer’s directions. Add to warmed black beans.

For the rice, follow Ramya Maddela’s recipe (Recipe#2).

Stir all ingredients together and enjoy! Happy cooking!

May 2: Vegetable stir-fry and updates

Well, I’m alive. It’s been so hectic, and not having internet at home makes it challenging to blog regularly. But all of that will change soon. So last I wrote it was Lent (where I was a vegetarian for 40 days and 40 nights, plus weekends) and I was an ice skating queen. I’ll start with ice skating. I finished my 10 weeks of group lessons April 14. I almost cried because it will be the last time I skate for awhile. The ice skating rink is located on the university campus where I work, and group lessons will not start again until June. I have several conferences I plan to attend, and with preparing to move to D.C. (via Georgia), ice skating is just on hold. I learned and became proficient in ice skating in 10 weeks. I can snow plow stop on my right leg (I do not hold my breath for learning on my left leg lol), swizzle forward, do one legged-glides on both legs, skate backwards (though not very well yet), and crossover with both legs. Not bad for someone who never donned ice skates before in her life!

The other update relates to the stir fry. I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent this year. It was a bit traumatic after the initial excitement wore off. I mean, what “sacrifice” should be fun and enjoyable, right? Other than the recipes I blogged about, I didn’t really try many new vegetarian dishes. After Lent, I started eating meat again, though I came to enjoy being vegetarian. It’s a learning curve creating new dishes or figuring out how to make favorite meals meatless. I even told my friends on Facebook that I would start having “Meat Mondays” instead of “Meatless Mondays”. Well, that didn’t last long. Not one to waste food willingly, I felt obligated to eat the frozen meat I had in my freezer, which was mostly chicken. Shortly after Easter, I bought some chicken stir fry with General Tso’s sauce from one of the dining facilities on campus. I was able to select raw vegetables from a veggie bar, choose oil or broth to cook the vegetables, a meat of my choice, rice or noodles, and a sauce. I watched the chef prepare my meal and thought, “That looks easy enough”. As with nearly all food made on campus, the stir fry was pretty much amazing. So, in April I began experimenting with stir fry dishes that I can cook without a wok.

The first attempt, I poached chicken tenders (poaching helps the chicken retain moisture) and used frozen stir fry vegetables. The poached chicken stock was used to cook the vegetables. I bought a bottle of General Tso’s sauce from Kroger. I haven’t cooked rice in over a year, preferring quinoa instead, so I used some whole wheat spaghetti noodles instead of rice. The meal was decent. The sauce had a nice amount of heat to it, which I enjoyed. I don’t like sweet General Tso’s; I might as well use sweet and sour sauce. Frozen stir fry vegetables are a no no.

Second attempt, I repeated the experiment (can you tell I’m a chemist? lol) with fresh vegetables: green beans, strips of red bell pepper, carrots cut into bite size match sticks, and bean sprouts. Love bean sprouts. In my pantry, I found some teryaki sauce that I had good experience with in the past. And I thawed out some grouper fillets. I cooked even more noodles because I knew all that I needed was fresh vegetables to take the meal up to restaurant quality. If only that was the solution.

I attempted to find lo mein noodles in Kroger because the spaghetti, while an acceptable substitute, was still spaghetti. And mentally, what I normally use to make Italian cuisine mixed in with Chinese cuisine just bothered me. After all, I wouldn’t eat stir fry with, say penne noodles. Well, with teryaki, noodle choice makes a huge difference. It tasted like spaghetti with teryaki sauce (yuck is right), and to make matters worse, I overcooked my vegetables *sigh*. I really tried to eat it. But I had to toss out that disaster last night so I could use the pot for my third attempt.

I gave up on spaghetti noodles and bought a bag of jasmine rice. I prepared as directed, though I added currants. In a large saucepan, I heated one-quarter cup of chicken broth until it started to boil. That morning, when I was up way too early for my own good, I prepared fresh vegetables (sweet yellow onion, green beans, red pepper strips, and carrot matchsticks). So, when the broth began to boil, I tossed the vegetables (~4.5 cups) into the hot pan. Unfortunately, one-quarter cup was not enough liquid. During experiment #2 I used one cup of broth; the vegetables released a lot of water, so I ended up with too much liquid. Apparently one-half cup of broth is the magic number. At any rate, I stirred the vegetables continuously until the carrots were just tender. I did not add any sauce to the pot, instead I just add sauce before eating.

The verdict is that I have a triple; not quite a home run. The jasmine rice with currants is definitely a keeper. The blend of vegetables is definitely a keeper. I bought a handful of bean sprouts, but i forgot to add them. I’ll saute them up tonight and dump them in with the leftovers. Anywhoo, so how did I miss the home run? I need to add the different vegetables at different times. The carrots were perfect, but the onions were caramelized and the green beans where extra crispy, though a beautiful green color lol. It’s not anything to complain about since I’m the only one eating what I cook these days. I just wanted my third at bat to be a home run *shrug*. The taste was spectacular. Everything tasted so fresh. I had a variety of colors to appeal to my visual sense. The seasoned broth added great flavor to the vegetables. And there was no meat in sight.

I decided a few days ago that I am going to become a pescatarian. Ever since I began eating meat again last month, I have not felt well. It’s really hard to describe. I feel lethargic. I just feel blah. And I didn’t even notice that I felt better during Lent. It wasn’t until I asked myself what is different now that a month ago that it occurred to me: it’s the meat silly. So, I will try to find a home for the last package of frozen chicken breasts. I have a small package of stew beef that  I will use to make this awesome Moroccan-inspired beef stew (which is why I have currants) before the weather heats up too much. I do not intend to consume much fish (nasty toxic metals). On the rare occasion I want poultry or beef, it will come from animals that were fed a proper diet and treated well. I am hopeful for a future consuming more fresh vegetables and less meat.

March 9: Red Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

The problem with going vegetarian cold turkey is that I didn’t see how the sharp reduction in protein would affect me. I had been waking up hungry the last few days but attributed the issue to my stoked metabolism (I fell off the fitness wagon for a few weeks).  I inspected my diet and realized that I was not eating enough protein to compensate for the lack of meat. It’s only so much Fage greek yogurt I can eat in one day, so I opted for a more economical solution: quinoa.

The back of the regular quinoa box had a recipe for stuffed peppers. My mom made the best stuffed peppers when I was growing up. She used ground beef, white rice, canned crushed tomatoes, diced yellow onion and cheese. I’ve actually followed her recipe to make stuffed peppers before, so I didn’t bother with the recipe on the quinoa box. I picked up ingredients at Kroger: a bag of 3 tri-colored peppers, a yellow onion (that I didn’t end up using), vine-ripened tomatoes (I’m anti BPA), and a bag of Private Selection Zesty frozen vegetables.

So this zesty vegetables is pretty tasty. It’s black beans, sweet corn, diced onion, diced green pepper, diced red pepper, and spices. The bag is steamable, which makes cooking super easy. I figured rather than ice a bunch of vegetables, which I wasn’t feeling, I would cheat and use the frozen veggie medley as my filler. I did dice the tomatoes because I love fresh tomatoes.

I did not multi-task very well. Start the quinoa before prepping the vegetables; red quinoa takes longer to cook than regular quinoa. I washed the vegetables with produce spray and rinsed. I chopped the tomatoes. I sliced the tops from the peppers and removed the seeds and pulp from the peppers. After the vegetables steamed in the microwave for 5 minutes, I transferred them to a large mixing bowl with the diced tomatoes. I transferred the 2 cups of cooked quinoa to the mixing bowl (0.5 cup dry = 2 cups cooked) and stirred. I mixed in some shredded queso cheese (something Kroger makes) because I like my stuffed peppers to be cheeeeeeesy! Stuff the peppers and top with lots of shredded cheese!

The peppers were placed in a baking dish lined with foil. Filled peppers don’t stand up well on their own, so I reconfigured the stuffed peppers in the dish so they wouldn’t fall over while cooking. The dish went into a 350 F oven until the peppers were cooked. I didn’t cover my peppers with foil, and the cheese did not burn. My mom would wait until the peppers were cooked before topping with cheese.

Anyway, dinner was delicious. I roasted asparagus in a separate baking dish while the peppers cooked. So, lots and lots of vegetables with a touch of protein. I had extra filling, so 2 small tomatoes, the steamable bag of vegetables, and 2 cups of quinoa can stuff 5 medium bell peppers. Quite the economical and hearty meal!

March 4: Sauteed mushrooms and grape tomatoes in green olive tapenade

What.a.meal! Who needs meat when I can have such a flavorful, quick, and inexpensive vegetarian meal?!?!?! Sunday after the gym I went to Kroger to buy fruit and grape tomatoes. The mushrooms that were supposed to be part of the roasted vegetables sandwiches needed to be cooked to avoid food waste. I was inspired by a Barilla ad to make a mushroom, grape tomato, and cheese pasta dish. As I milled about the produce section, I recalled that one of my best friends used to make portobello mushrooms with an olive tapenade that was to die for. She sourced her tapenade from a California small business; I had to settle for Kroger Private Selection. My choices were black olive tapenade and green olive tapenade.

Honestly, I do not like olives, but something about the blend of spices and herbs takes the bite from olives, which is what I dislike about them. Both jars were the same size (8 oz if my memory serves me correctly). I settled for green olive because it was $0.60 cheaper. Tapenades typically include finely diced olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic in an olive oil base seasoned with salt, other spices, and herbs. Tapenades are great as condiments (atop crackers, toasted bread, burgers, chicken, salad) or as a “sauce” for pastas.

The meal took less than 5 minutes to prep and about 15 minutes to prepare, with multi-tasking. I rinsed the mushrooms (~1.5 cups pre-sliced white mushrooms) as I heated 1T of olive oil in a skillet. I sauteed the mushrooms while preparing the grape tomatoes. I washed 1 PT of tomatoes with produce spray and sliced them in half. Meanwhile, I cooked the whole wheat linguine in a separate pot. The mushrooms began to wilt after about 10 minutes on medium-high heat. I added the tomatoes and 2 heaping tablespoons of tapenade and simmered about 5 minutes. I did not cook the tomatoes all the way down. Canned crushed or diced tomatoes would have been a nice substitute, but I avoid canned food when possible in part because of BPA-linings and high sodium content.

So my plate would not look so naked, I added a side salad and topped with homemade olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Well, salad is overstating a bit. I bought a small bag of salad mix (iceberg lettuce and julienne carrots) and literally took a handful from the bag. It had no other toppings lol. I texted 4 people to tell them how awesome this meal was as I ate! The flavors blended so well. I was concerned about not having enough “sauce” for the pasta, but the olive oil and vegetable juices made a nice broth that adhered well to the pasta, which I did not rinse off (I never rinse whole wheat pasta). The tapenade added a wonderful kick to the dish. I did not add any additional seasoning to the mushrooms, grapes, and tapenade and was pleased with the balance of flavors. You couldn’t have told me that I was eating olives! I am super excited to have leftovers for the next two days.

Overall, this is one of my favorite meals that I’ve made in a long time. In the future, I will add other vegetables (e.g., bell pepper, onion) and try it with portobello mushrooms. I think some cooking wine would take this dish over the top. I wasn’t thinking as creatively while in the store. I estimate the cost per serving to be $1.82 considering I used about a quarter of the tapenade ($3.29/jar) and three-fourths a box of linguine ($2/box). The salad adds about $0.40 cents. So, add this recipe to the inexpensive column.

Later this week I will try adding the tapenade to a pizza. I was rummaging in my refrigerator and found the jar of pesto from the gourmet pizza I whipped up a few months ago, so I’ll use that as well. Tapenade will be a staple in my house from now on! Such a quick recipe that looks like a lot of trouble. I must say that I will miss the Private Selection brand when I move to D.C. I can always have my mom ship me boxes in between trips home to Georgia *smile*.

February 27: Kroger Private Selection Sauteed Vegetable Lasagna and Roasted Peppers Sandwiches

It’s that time of year again: Lent. I have learned from 12 years of experience to not give up chocolate/sugar/sweets this year. I prayed about what I should sacrifice. I opened the refrigerator on Ash Wednesday, and my spirit said meat was the sacrifice this season. The first few days of Lent were rather traumatic because I have been craving beef for the longest. Ever since I started eating it again a few months ago, it’s like my body screams for hamburgers and steaks. Anywhoo…so, I made a grocery run on Saturday. I purchased green, red, and yellow bell peppers, a red onion, carrots and sliced mushrooms to roast for sandwiches. I was inspired by a sauteed vegetable sandwich at a local sandwich shop. I also hit up the frozen food aisle to stock up on vegetable stir fry, vegetables, and vegetable lasagna for those days when I have neither the time nor the desire to prepare fresh vegetables.

So, Monday night, I cooked the lasagna and roasted the vegetables. I did not feel like peeling carrots and I forgot about the mushrooms, so it turned out to be just peppers and onion. I coated the veggies with a little olive oil and sprinkled liberally with dried herbs. The vegetables cooked at 375 F until they became wilty (about an hour). The lasagna was only supposed to cook for 60-70 minutes. It turned into more like 90 minutes. For some reason, the center cooked really slowly. I used a thermometer to measure the internal temperature. After 50 minutes, the center was only 80 F while the rest of the lasagna was 120 – 130. The box recommended an internal temperature of 160 F.

I will say, the extra 20 minutes, while annoying (because I didn’t want to eat at 8:30 pm) was worth the wait. The lasagna was cheesy, flavorful, and hearty. I wouldn’t have expected the latter for a vegetable lasagna. The vegetables were carrots, zucchini, and yellow bell peppers. I think there is spinach, too, in the ricotta cheese layers. For $1.03 per serving, I really can’t complain. The size of the lasagna is ideal for a single person, though I was skeptical with the smaller box. Kroger has a bad habit of over-estimating the number of servings a product provides. But, as I said, I was pleasantly surprised. With a salad or additional vegetables as a side, the lasagna could feed 4 people easily and still have a couple of pieces left for seconds/leftovers.

Tuesday, I had a sandwich for lunch. Not such a good idea. First, I used sourdough bread from the bakery. I scooped out most of the bread so I could pile in more vegetables. I wrapped the bread separate from the vegetables and provolone cheese. I warmed the veggies and cheese in the microwave then built my sandwich. The sandwich was awesome. It was well seasoned, the cheese and bread added nice flavor and texture. The problem was the sandwich was soOoOoo messy. Juice from the vegetables dripped all over the plate and my hands. The bread was a little too doughy, so I will have to experiment with other breads. I probably should have toasted it in the oven, but I didn’t.

So, overall, I’m enjoying this vegetarian thing. I will likely begin to buy organic fruit and vegetables since I will consume much more than I normally do. I am looking forward to trying different vegetables. Next on my list is colored cauliflower; Kroger sells purple, orange, and green. I’m quite sad, however, that I will not be able to indulge shamelessly in corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. Technically, I can have meat on Sundays, but I think I can manage one year not following my tradition. I can still have the cabbage :o) I don’t add potatoes and carrots to my brisket and cabbage; this year I must make an exception because cabbage soup is so unappealing. I’m curious to see what God has planned that it was placed on my heart to give up meat.

February 8: Walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken breasts with roasted vegetables

In my continued quest to eat as much of my food as possible before the summer when I move, I thawed out some frozen chicken breasts I bought a few months ago during a sale at the grocery store. I’m not a fan of chicken breasts because I have to marinate them or work hard in some other way to season them and infuse them with moisture. Furthermore, they are super easy to overcook. And who wants to eat rubber chicken?

I intended to bake the chicken after I finished baking my wonderfully delicious chocolate cake, but it was enough just to clean the kitchen (I’m a very messy baker). So Wednesday morning I decided I would jazz up chicken breasts by making walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken to top my mixed greens from the seared salmon and couscous salad. I knew I should have purchased the 8 oz container, but in my delusion of thinking I’d actually eat more servings of vegetables compelled me to buy the 16 oz container of mixed greens. So, rather than waste food, which the whole point of this exercise was to avoid, I was up at 6 am crushing walnut halves in a Ziploc bag.

The  recipe is really quite simple. In a resealable bag filled with 2 cups of walnut halves and chicken seasoning, roll a glass or roller pin over it to pulverize the walnuts. A food processor or mini-blender works too. I didn’t do a very good job, which meant I had crispy walnuts. Buts that’s okay. The blackened walnuts added a nice smoky flavor to the chicken lol. As the oven heated to 450 F, I sliced half of a medium-sized red onion and two whole bell peppers (a yellow one and an orange one). I placed the vegetables in the bottom of a 13 X 9 aluminum foil lined baking dish that was sprayed with cooking oil.

In a medium sized bowl, I made honey mustard by mixing ~3/4 cup of Kraft Mayo, ~1/3 cup of yellow mustard, and honey to  taste (~2T).  I don’t buy honey mustard anymore, unless it’s in the form of salad dressing. When I was into making my own chicken tenders as a 20-something graduate student, being able to make honey mustard made life so much more enjoyable. Anyway, I digress (as usual hahaha). Once the honey mustard was prepared, I poured the walnut crumb-chunk mixture into a pie plate. I rinsed and dredged three chicken breasts (2 medium and 1 ridiculously large) in the honey mustard then rolled them around in the walnuts. I lay each breast atop the herb-seasoned vegetables in the baking pan. Into the oven the pan went until the breasts were slightly pink inside, which occurred after about 30 minutes. As you might imagine, the 2 medium-sized chicken breasts were a little more done than the 1 really large one.

Overall, I really enjoyed the walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken breasts. It was a reasonably simple dish to make. I used leftover onion and peppers from the seared salad recipe earlier in the week, which made this dish more cost-effective. Walnuts are rather expensive, but I have a huge bag from Sam’s that I use in baking. And making my own honey mustard cost pennies.  The chicken and vegetables on mixed salad was delicious. The first day I didn’t add dressing, yet the greens didn’t taste like rabbit food. The oil and juices from the vegetables was sufficient. I did use Vidalia onion and peppercorn salad dressing on subsequent salads, and the flavors were quite complementary.

I’ll definitely make this dish again. Some things I will change, however. The seasoning of the chicken was good considering I didn’t really do anything but add chicken seasoning to the walnuts before crushing. I’d also add pepper and a little salt either directly to the chicken or to the honey mustard. It was 6 am. I’m using that as an excuse because I always season my meat before cooking it. I will also put in a little more elbow grease and crush the walnuts a bit more. Coarsely crushed adds some character to the dish, but they did not stick as well to the chicken initially. I had to go back and fill in spaces after laying the breasts in the pan.

I have another package of chicken breasts in the freezer. I think I might poach them to make pulled chicken salad with walnuts and sliced red grapes, which are on sale this week. We’ll see.

Honey mustard: mayonnaise, mustard, and honey

"Crushed" walnut halves

Fresh from the oven

Walnut-crusted honey mustard baked chicken breasts

February 2: Seared Salmon and Couscous salad (with currants!!)

I love salmon. I must have been an orca in my last life lol. Unfortunately, I cannot afford fresh salmon on a regular basis. Kroger had fillets of salmon on sale, so I purchased enough for four meals. I found myself in the grocery store again a few days later to buy produce to accompany the salmon. Originally planning to buy broccoli, I ended up with two pounds of spring green mix, a three pack of colored bell peppers, and a red onion to prepare a dish similar to one I learned in my very first cooking class, which interestingly enough was about a year ago.

Instead of quinoa salad, I opted for Near East roasted garlic olive oil couscous, which I had on hand. To spice it up a bit, I added currants. I bought them for a Moroccan-inspired beef stew, and it’s so many of those little fruit in the tiny box! I thinly diced half the medium red onion (~3/4 cups) and the red bell pepper (~1/2 cup) as the salmon seared on the stove. Salmon is so flavorful, so I only use kosher salt and ground black pepper.

The diced vegetables were transferred from the cutting board to a large mixing bowl. When the couscous (with currants *smile*) cooled somewhat, I added it to the mixing bowl. In a small bowl, I whisked together 3T of balsamic vinegar, 3T of olive oil and sugar to cut the acidic taste before pouring it in the mixing bowl. I did not want wet couscous salad, so 6T was just a perfect amount to lightly coat the onion, pepper, and couscous. To plate my dish, I placed a generous helping of mixed greens on a dinner plate, spooned one cup of couscous salad, and topped with one fourth of the salmon.

I must say that the couscous adds a much different flavor to the salad than quinoa. Overall, the dish is very healthy and inexpensive. Each serving is less than $4.00. A similar salad at our nicer dining facility on campus costs $7.00. I didn’t keep up with the nutritional value but I estimate each serving contains about 500-600 calories.

I will definitely prepare this dish again, though I will cut back on the amount of onions I include lol. They do pack a strong punch, but I love their crunchiness! Firm, thick cuts of fish are definitely best for this dish. I’ll add pictures this weekend.

Couscous salad

Plated salad

 

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