Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Today is a momentous day in my life…and I didn’t even realize it until my sweet husband surprised me with these at work today.

I had no idea why I received such a beautiful bouquet.  Were my tacos that delicious the other night?  The card revealed that my clever husband knew that as of today, I have officially been alive for 10,000 days.

10,000 days

Not only was this a very sweet, unexpected surprise that brightened my day, but this has also given me a chance to reflect back on my 10,000 days of life; the good, the bad, the routine.

I was an only child for 1173 days. 
I’ve been a big sister for 8827 days. I still remember the day Daniel was born.
4654 days passed from my first day of kindergarten to my graduation from high school.
I was a college student for 1576 days.
1953 days passed from my first date with Jason to our wedding day.
I’ve been a dog mom to Winston for 1564 days.
1498 days ago I passed the NCLEX-RN and became a Registered Nurse like Mom and Grandma.
We’ve been homeowners for 1339 days.
I’ve been married to my best friend for 1047 days.
I’ve been free of student-loan debt for 2 days.

I have so many more events, significant or not, that I would love to add if only I could remember the dates!  My goal going forward is to be more mindful of the good things in my life that I experience each day and end every day with a sense of thankfulness for another day of life.

Today, as I looked through my “Growing up with Charlotte” photo album that Mom made for me I am reminded of all of those family, friends, people and places that have shaped me through the years.  I am so grateful for everyone who has played a part in leading me to where I am 10,000 days later.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hankering for "Meat"

I am becoming more adventurous when it comes to the category of meats, fake meats that is (did you think I was turning back to a carnivore?).  Before, the Tofurky and “meat crumbles” just kind of repulsed me.  And don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t think that replacing meat with fake meat means you are eating healthy.  It’s still processed food and not whole food, meaning it’s probably lacking in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and likely loaded with sodium and preservatives.  But sometimes a girl just gets a hankering for a corn dog, or a delicious piece of sausage pizza.

A week ago I spent a fabulous three day weekend in KC with two of my dear friends.  The first night there we hit up a great restaurant and brewery called The Foundry.  They had bar food, and not just any bar food, but VEGAN BAR FOOD.  From my limited experience in Nebraska it is extremely difficult to find a credible bar that also serves a plethora of vegetarian and vegan dishes.  I took full advantage and ordered the “cheat lover’s pizza”…vegan Italian sausage, vegan cheese, ratatouille vegetables, wild mushrooms, basil, and red sauce.  It was nothing short of amazing!

On the same trip we went to RA, a sushi restaurant with a lot of vegetarian options.  I ended up getting the vegetarian rolls and Dengaku Tofu.  The tofu was deep fried and delicious…so hot and creamy.  I had not had tofu like this before!   

Maybe all of this tofu and vegan sausage wasn’t so disgusting after all.

This KC getaway led me to be a little more daring at my trip to Trader Joe’s last week.  I went on a week night while Jason was at class…which created the perfect storm.  I was:

1)      At Trader Joe’s on a slow night
2)      Not rushed
3)      ALONE

Yeah, I went a little crazy.  I picked up a few new items that I had not tried or seen there before; the soy corn dogs, soy chorizo and some firm tofu for good measure (along with numerous other items I will not bore you with).  I’ll admit I was still craving bar food at the time, but I managed to turn most of these items into fairly healthy meals (save the corn dogs).

For breakfast on Saturday I tried my hand at a tofu scramble that I had been reading about in so many vegan cookbooks and blogs.  The premise is that firm tofu crumbles into a consistency similar to scrambled eggs.  I also wanted to try out my chorizo for something a little different (spicy food for breakfast, what?).

I crumbled half of the container of firm tofu and added about an eighth of the chorizo, which also crumbled once the casing was removed.

Next I chopped half of a zucchini, 4 sundried tomatoes (comes in a huge jar from Costco), and a teaspoon full of chopped garlic (also from a huge jar from Costco).

I started by sautéing the veggies for a minute or two in a little olive oil.  Once softened, I added the tofu/chorizo mixture, a handful of torn spinach leaves, and then stir fried everything for a few minutes. 

I ate only half of the scramble Saturday along with my vegan almond butter waffle and a much needed cup of coffee.

I honestly kept forgetting that I was eating tofu, the consistency is that close to eggs…couldn’t tell a difference.  Jason even tried a bite, he said it didn’t have the flavor of eggs but the texture was the same.  The chorizo wasn’t super obvious as far as texture, it mainly added flavor to the dish as I didn’t need to add any additional spices.  Overall, I’d say it’s worth repeating for me, especially if I’m craving a big greasy breakfast (it really wasn't greasy).

To use up the remaining chorizo I decided to make a taco filling last night.  We made two taco fillings to be precise as Jason is not quite on board with the fake meats as of yet.  I started by chopping half of a red bell pepper, a quarter of an onion, and the remaining zucchini half from breakfast Saturday.

I boiled 1 cup of dry quinoa with 2 cups of water in the rice cooker.

Oh, and here’s proof I was cooking meat for the hubby.  I still don't miss meat itself, just the idea of meat.  Surprisingly the smell of ground turkey cooking really bothers me now.

The chopped veggies were sautéed in a little olive oil along with a teaspoon of chopped garlic.

Next I added the remaining chorizo (7/8 of a package to be precise).

Then, the cooked quinoa was added along with 1 can of drained and rinsed black beans.

Just so you know I had no clue what I was doing, completely flying by the seat of my pants.  But, it kind of resembled a sort of taco filling, right?  My goal was, protein, protein and more protein…hence the soy chorizo, quinoa AND black beans.

So my dear husband had come across this idea to make your own mini taco bowls.  I’m still wondering why I had not found this on Pinterest before?!  I think it’s totally Pinterest worthy (I'll fix that!).  Please refer to it for details on the bowl making.

We had mini taco bowls with our respective taco fillings, topped with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and avocados, served with a side of Spanish rice.

I really liked the taco filling!  The chorizo gave it all the spice it needed while the quinoa and beans helped add more bulk to the recipe.  I have plenty of leftovers (which reheated well at lunch today) and I even froze a bag of taco filling for down the road.

Operation Fake Meats was a success overall.  I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to stick to a completely vegan diet.  Especially when everyone else around you is still indulging in cheese burgers (i.e. my patient’s lunch today, it smelled awesome), which is why I choose my battles.  I feel like the world of fake meat is good for the occasional splurge as a vegetarian.  It gives me a little of what I am missing without feeling completely crummy afterward.

Vegan Chorizo Tofu Scramble
(Makes 2 Servings)


½ package firm tofu, crumbled
1/8-1/4 package Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, removed from casing and crumbled
½ zucchini, chopped
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic or 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 handful torn spinach leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil


Heat olive oil in skillet.  Add veggies and sauté until softened.  Mix crumbled tofu and chorizo together in bowl and add to skillet.  Add torn spinach leaves. Stir fry for several minutes until desired texture achieved (I like my tofu slightly browned).

Vegan Chorizo Taco Filling
(Makes a lot, no clue on servings here)


1 package Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, removed from casing and crumbled
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ zucchini, chopped
¼ onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic or 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed


Heat oil in large skillet.  Cook quinoa according to directions (1 cup dry quinoa with 2 cups of water).  Add chopped vegetables to skillet, sauté until softened.  Add crumbled chorizo to skillet.  Add cooked quinoa and black beans to skillet.  Cook until heated through.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Spice(s) of (Our) Life

For years now I have been meaning to organize our spice cabinet.  Last week I finally got around to it after coming home with a few new spices from the store.  This cabinet was probably one of the most disastrous cabinets in our kitchen.  All of this somehow fit into our smallest cabinet.

 That's only half of it!

A few years back I had purchased cute little glass spice jars at IKEA.  Cute as they were, air-tight they were not and spices contained in them would clump together.  Also, there was no handy sprinkle top option for the ground spices.

So the cute glass IKEA spice jars were replaced with…cute glass IKEA spice jars!  Last August on my yearly IKEA trip with Mom I picked up twelve upgraded spice jars for $11.97.  By upgraded I mean the lid screws on tightly, and there’s a handy flip top with both open and sprinkle options. 

Another issue with our last set of IKEA spice jars was that I never labeled them.  I decided to remedy that this time around, no more mixing up the oregano and parsley, or even worse the Lawry’s and the cinnamon sugar (they look surprisingly similar).  I had previously fallen in love with a can of chalkboard spray paint at Home Depot, and thought this would be a good opportunity to break it in.

I also bought oval labels that I had originally intended on using for the spice jars, but realized the ink would likely smear as they were not waterproof.

I don’t know about you but I’m not the neatest chef and I tend to smear ingredients on random objects (such as spice jars).  I still used the oval labels, except I technically used the sticky outline of the ovals to create an empty oval on the glass jars.  I used painters tape to cover the rest of the jar.

After two light coats of chalkboard spray paint I removed the tape and had a pretty smooth chalkboard oval for the label.  I used a funnel (to the delight of my husband, I’m a former funnel hater) to pour the spices into each jar and I labeled them with chalk.  I am looking into purchasing a chalk pencil so I don't have to try to write with a half inch piece of chalk I found in my sewing kit, please excuse the handwriting.

So this solved the problem for 12 of our spices.  Now, what to do with the dozens of tiny spices?  You know the cheap ones you buy when a recipe calls for whole cloves and you don’t think you’ll ever use whole cloves again. 

Well we had a lot of these cheap mini spices of various brands, and being the perfectionist that I am I wanted them all to match and have pretty labels.  I know, I know, who cares if they match?  I just wanted them to look nice and uniform against the cute glass spice jars.  I tried to think of different ways I could label them, again trying to find something that was water-proof or at least smudge proof.  Then suddenly it came to me…the random Christmas gift I received!

Yes, my friends, that is teal duct tape.  I’ll just let you dwell on the awesomeness of this as a Christmas gift for a moment.

And, thoughts?  It just so happens that duct tape is the perfect width to cover the mini spice jars and it also matches the new teal accessories I purchased from Target.  I know, it’s like it was meant to be.

I wrapped each mini spice jar with duct tape and used a Sharpie to label it with the name and approximate date it was purchased/opened.

Here’s the after shot of the beautified spice cabinet.

And here are a few gratuitous shots of my new teal Target accessories just for good measure.

So what do you think of our spice cabinet overhaul?  It’s been a lot more functional so far.  We like the upgraded IKEA spice jars with the sprinkle option and the duct tape adds a nice classy pop of color when you open the cabinet.  I wouldn’t say that I’m promoting duct tape as the latest home décor accessory, but for this circumstance it was just too perfect (can you tell that I’m still struggling with the idea that I used duct tape to decorate?).  Who knows, maybe this will start a trend (please, no).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fixin' Freezin' Feastin'

As much as I love to cook and eat vegetarian, it is much more difficult to eat-and-go.  When you want to eat fresh, healthy food, it requires a little more planning, prepping, and cooking time.  Last summer (prior to my conversion) my dear husband bought me a cook book called “Fix Freeze Feast” by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik.  This was my introduction to the world of cooking in bulk. 

Although the idea sounded great (spend a day prepping food that will feed you for many future meals) I never really got around to trying it until now.  The only caveat, over half of the cookbook has chapters titled “chicken, beef, or pork main dishes” and I no longer partake in these.  (There are a few pages of “meatless mains”, although most contain dairy.)  So I adapted. 

The concepts still apply (taken from “Fix Freeze Feast”)

1) Get Organized…plan ahead what you are going to make
2) Consolidate ingredients…pick what’s on sale and what you can buy in bulk
3) Go shopping…buy in bulk if possible
4) Prep your food
5) Label and assemble containers of food to freeze
6) Cook your food at a later time and enjoy!

For the past few weeks I loosely followed the above guidelines.  A few weeks ago I had a craving for lasagna, which I have not had in months.  I did a little searching online for recipes and couldn’t find one in particular that I liked.  I decided to just wing-it and see what I could come up with…which was rather dumb brave of me since I was planning on cooking in bulk.  The plan…shop for random vegetables and assemble them into two lasagnas, half vegan and half vegetarian with cheese (for the hubby). 

I came home with:

1 red bell pepper
2 zucchini
1 package fresh spinach
2 boxes of no boil lasagna noodles
1 container ricotta cheese (for him)
1 container Tofutti cream cheese (for me)
1 package frozen chopped spinach

What we already had at home:

4oz container fresh baby bella mushrooms (leftover in fridge)
4 cans of tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
1 package shredded Italian cheese (for him)
1 egg
Various spices
Red wine

When we got home I put Jason to work making sauce.  He makes amazing spaghetti sauce (I never knew that people actually made spaghetti sauce from scratch until I met him, Prego was all I knew).  While he was busy at the stove with the sauce, I started chopping away.  I ended up with a mixture of the red bell pepper, mushrooms, and zucchini which I sautéed with a splash of olive oil, some veggie broth, and a little red wine.

As this was cooking up on the stove I mixed up the cheesy fillings for our respective lasagnas…Jason’s consisted of the typical ricotta mixed with an egg and 1/3 of the pack of thawed and drained chopped spinach (on the top), mine was a mixture of the container of Tofutti cream cheese with the remaining 2/3 pack of spinach (on the bottom).

After all three components were ready (sauce, veggies, and cheesy filling) I started assembling the lasagnas.  We decided it made more sense to do two pans with half vegan and half vegetarian with cheese.  This way we could freeze one assembled pan before baking it, and have one pan for dinners that week.  I started with a little sauce on the bottom to help prevent the noodles from sticking.

(I continue to do each step with both pans but will only show one in the upcoming photos)

I then added a layer of noodles and veggies.

Sauce was poured over the veggies.  I added a layer of fresh spinach leaves and some Italian cheese to Jason’s side.

Next came another layer of noodles along with the cheesy fillings and more sauce.

This was topped with more noodles, and the first veggie layer was repeated (veggies, sauce, spinach and Italian cheese on Jason’s side).

The final layer of noodles was added and topped with the remaining sauce.  Jason’s side was doused with cheese, I added torn spinach to my side to further differentiate vegan vs. non-vegan (although I did sprinkle a little Parmesan on my side).

At this point, one lasagna went into the freezer while the other went into a 350 degree oven for an hour (I think it was an hour).  The results…

It was oh so delicious…although we both agreed we could have used more veggies.  I would say you could double the veggies (4 zucchini, 2 red bell peppers, 8 oz. mushrooms) and make more sauce (maybe 6 cans of tomato sauce?).  Either way, I really thought that the cream cheese sub mixed with the spinach was a good filling substitute for the ricotta.  It still has a similar texture, and you don’t miss the cheese as much throughout the lasagna.  I would also consider adding some vegan mozzarella on top.  

 Jason enjoyed his first vegetarian lasagna, I think it helped that he still had plenty of cheese on his side.  This pan of lasagna gave us four servings a piece which lasted through the week, and it reheated well in the microwave.  The frozen pan came in handy this last week which we heated in the oven for a little over an hour.  It tasted even better the second time around, perhaps the sauce had time to marinate the noodles and veggies?

So Round 1 of “Fix Freeze Feast” was a success.  For Round 2 we decided to try enchiladas.  I have made this recipe twice before, so I already knew it was a keeper.  I figured I would play it safe this time and make a recipe I knew we loved and would want to eat again and again.  The recipe is as follows found on

Quinoa and Bean Enchiladas

1 Green Bell Pepper, sliced (I used 2)
1 small Onion, sliced (I used 2)
1 Squash or Zucchini, sliced (I used 2)
4 cloves Garlic, minced
Cumin to taste
Chili Powder to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 c. cooked Black or Pinto Beans (2 cans)
1 1/2 c. cooked Quinoa (I cooked 1 ½ cups of dry quinoa)
1 c. Salsa
4 oz diced Green Chilies
Daiya vegan cheese, optional
10 - 6” Tortillas (will require more for future enchiladas)
20 oz Red Enchilada Sauce (I used 1 14.5oz can, will need more for future reheating)
1 Avocado, halved and sliced (omitted)
1/2 c. fresh Cilantro, chopped (omitted)

To cook-in-bulk for this recipe I doubled the veggies since chopping takes up a lot of the time in the prep work.  I took half of the chopped pepper, onion and zucchini and put it in a freezer bag for easy cooking in the future.  The other half was sautéed in a pan with a little olive oil, the garlic, cumin, and seasonings.

Meanwhile I started cooking the quinoa in the rice cooker.

After the quinoa was cooked I mixed it with the salsa, green chilies and 2 cans of black beans (we like a higher bean to quinoa ratio than the original recipe).

Once the veggies and quinoa filling were ready I began the assembly, a spoonful of quinoa mix and a spoonful of veggies in each tortilla and rolled it up.  I made one small pan for the freezer with no sauce (4 enchiladas) and one larger pan to bake that night (6 enchiladas).  We figured the frozen version might reheat better if the sauce was added just before baking.

I poured a can of enchilada sauce over the larger pan that was baked that night along with a little cheese (half real cheese and half vegan).

The larger pan then went into the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

So no surprise to us, they were amazing yet again!  But what I was surprised about was how many left over and frozen enchiladas I was able to prepare in the same amount of time (about one hour of prep).  Here is what I ended up putting in the freezer.

This includes:
4 frozen assembled enchiladas (with no sauce)
1 bag of cooked quinoa mixture (half of what was leftover)
1 bag of frozen veggies ready to sauté

Between it all I figure we will get 14 more enchiladas (4 pre-made and enough filling and veggies for 10 more).  What a time saver that will be!  I think this type of cooking is the way to go.  I just need to be more creative in coming up with recipes that I can make in bulk.  Making it vegetarian/vegan is a little more challenging but definitely do-able!