Category Archives: Vegetarian

Nectarine Love

For me, it’s not summer without an abundance of fruit. I can say without exaggeration that my little family of three has eaten no less than 100 nectarines in the past two months. I know, kind of ridiculous.

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We also are big fans of all types of berries, watermelon, pineapple, kiwi, etc., but the nectarine definitely reigns king around here. We’ve enjoyed nectarine caprese a few times each week since I discovered it last month — it just doesn’t get old. I’ve also been adding nectarines to a simple spinach salad with blue cheese, thinly sliced red onions, candied pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette. So yum!

I know a big portion of the country is partial to the nectarine’s cousin, the peach. For everyday eating, I personally prefer the crispness of the nectarine, its resilient texture, and the smooth, edible peel. (I do choose the peach for baking purposes, though.) Like the peach, the nectarine comes in both freestone and cling varieties. So here’s my gripe. Why can most American grocers not label nectarines according to their pit variety, just as they do with the peach?!

I have asked multiple produce people at various grocery stores, and no one ever knows. Even at our local fruit stand, where they seem to be experts on every other produce item — no matter how rare — the dudes have absolutely no idea what kind of nectarines are in their bins. It varies week to week.

Since I find nectarines much more enjoyable to eat sliced, I am practically giddy when I end up with a freestone batch and can pop the fruit clean off the pit. They’re just so messy and sloppy when you try to eat them whole. And freestones also make a much nicer presentation in salads, etc. I tend to end up with mangy-looking fruit after slicing a cling nectarine. But you never know what you’ve purchased until you slice into the first one … It makes me feel like a small child on Easter, opening up those plastic eggs, excited to see what’s inside. A freestone nectarine is comparable to finding good chocolate. A cling nectarine is similar to finding a temporary tattoo that your mom takes away from you because she’s afraid it’s laced with LSD. (What? Did that never happen to you?)

Anyway, this really needs to be remedied. What do I need to do? Petition the National Grocers Association?

Is there some kind of trick to determine what kind of nectarine you’re getting and I’m just in the dark? If you know, please let me in on the secret!!

Extra-Fluffy Pancakes and Head Bonks

We were having a relatively uneventful morning around here today — you know, taking twice as long as should be necessary to get out of the house, trying to wear winter coats in August, and insisting that 357 stuffed animals come along with us to our playdate at the park, those kind of things. Anyway, we finally reached our destination and were having a great time, when, in a split second, my heart stopped. Lucas fell straight back off a picnic bench, bum over tea kettle, and bounced his poor little noggin on the concrete. It was possibly the worst noise I’ve heard in my life.

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We’ve had our normal toddler’s share of scrapes, falls, and bruises with him, but thankfully no head injuries up to this point. I felt relieved that he was able to calm down after about 10 minutes, his eyes weren’t dilated, and he didn’t seem to feel sick. He’s got quite the goose egg on the back of his head, but I’m hopeful that’s the extent of the damage. In fact, he gobbled down lunch and told me that he was “all better, mama, stop looking at my head” no fewer than five times. I think that’s a good sign. He’s napping now, but I still feel kind of upset about it. It also dawned on me just how much I take for granted that I have such a healthy little boy. The mere thought of something being wrong with my baby was overwhelmingly frightening.

Recently I’ve been following the story of a five-month-old baby boy named Caleb on Facebook. He was born with a severe congenital heart defect and received a heart transplant last month. (His family’s page is called Pray for Caleb, if you’d like to read about his journey and lend support.) On Sunday, his mama was able to hold him for the first time in nine weeks. Nine weeks! The picture she posted of them together was beyond touching. I simply can’t imagine what they’ve faced during this unimaginable trial. Today, when I scooped up Lucas the second he fell, I thought of Caleb’s parents. How they haven’t been able to hold their baby while he’s been hurting and through so much. SO much. It made me say a big thank you for the worries we haven’t had with our child.

I suppose it sometimes it takes moments like this to realize how truly good you have it. I plan to squeeze my Boo a little tighter (and probably more than he wants) for the rest of the day, and spoil him a bit, too. Because I can. He asked for “regular [American] pancakes” for dinner, and I will be granting his wish. (We also like to eat the Swedish variety at our house.) Here’s our favorite recipe. I like it because we enjoy buttermilk pancakes, but I never have buttermilk on hand. The vinegar solves that problem by “souring” the milk, and the result is an extra fluffy pancake.

What do your kiddos request when they’ve had a rough go of it?

Extra-Fluffy Pancakes

From Allrecipes.com; Makes 8 pancakes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to “sour.”
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into soured milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.

OAMC Spinach & Cheese Stuffed Shells

Do you subscribe to EatingWell magazine? If not, you should. Especially if you’re trying to serve healthy food in your home and are a fan of publications like the more well-known Cooking Light. I particularly like EatingWell because their recipes focus on real, whole ingredients and seasonal eating.

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I make something from EatingWell once or twice a week and very rarely have any of their recipes failed me. (I am sorry to say that Hamburger Buddy was a horrible crash and burn, but we actually got a good laugh out of how bad it was and still chuckle about it years later. So if you come across that one, take a pass.) Aside from the [usually] great recipes, their photography is stunning and I always find their feature stories on nutrition and health interesting and informative.

I recently made the EatingWell spinach and cheese stuffed shells for my OAMC freezer club (a recipe I’ve made many times as a regular dinner around here). My favorite type of OAMC meals are of the one-pan variety that can be pulled straight from the freezer, shoved into the oven, and make the whole family happy. I mean, the whole point is to save time, right? This one definitely fits the bill.

I ordered a package of these foil pans with oven safe lids for the club, and they are perfect for meals like this one — each pan holds three-to-four servings of an average adult-sized entree. I fit 12 shells into each pan. At about $0.60 each, they are so worth buying if you’re going to start your own freezer club (or if you already belong to one). They’re especially nice because the lids are sturdy to protect the food, and you can stack meals in the freezer without them tipping over and making a mess or taking up excess space.

As for the stuffed shells, the only variations I’ve made to this recipe are the additions of garlic and mozzarella cheese. I know the mozzarella isn’t really in the spirit of EatingWell, but it’s not that much cheese, and it really does take this recipe from four stars to five. Enjoy!

OAMC Spinach & Cheese Stuffed Shells

Slightly adapted from EatingWell magazine.

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 24 jumbo pasta shells, (8 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed and washed, or two 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (Hillary’s note: Getting the spinach as dry as possible is very important. I once left too much moisture in the spinach and the shells were watery and yucky. Don’t make the same mistake! Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze that spinach!!)
  • 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2/3 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups prepared marinara sauce, preferably low-sodium

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook shells in a large pot of boiling water, stirring often, until just tender, about 15 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. If using fresh spinach, add it in batches and toss with tongs until wilted. Drain in a colander, pressing out excess moisture with the back of a spoon. Let cool. If using thawed frozen, add it to the onions and toss to mix well. Set aside.
  3. Combine ricotta, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup Parmesan and nutmeg in a bowl; mix well. Add the reserved spinach and season with salt and pepper. Stir in egg white.
  4. Stuff each of the reserved shells with a generous 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture. (Note: This recipe is for one large pan of shells. Before moving to step five, if you use the type of pans mentioned above for freezing, divide the recipe in half and split between two foil pans.)
  5. Spread 1 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the stuffed shells in a single layer. Top with the remaining 2 cups of the sauce and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Bake until the top is golden and the shells are heated through, about 30 minutes. (If the top browns too quickly, tent loosely with foil.) Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
  6. If baking from frozen, place foil pan on cookie sheet and bake covered at 375°F for approximately one hour. Remove lid and continue baking until the top is golden and the shells are heated through, about 20 to 30 additional minutes.

Grilled Corn, Avocado and Tomato-Sweet Onion Salad with Fresh Basil Dressing and Blue Cheese

My name is Hillary and I am a cooking show addict. I could watch Bobby Flay work his magic all day long if you let me. We recently cancelled our cable, though, so now I’m stuck with actually making his recipes, versus watching him from the couch while thinking, “I should really try that someday …” But hey, we’re saving about $100 a month and television rots your brain anyway, right? Right? (If you can’t tell, I’m still trying to convince myself. I really miss my summer indulgences of Food Network Star and Royal Pains.) “This is good for me, this is good for my children …” Deep breath. Repeat.

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This grilled-corn salad is one of my favorite Bobby Flay recipes. My friend, Jen, introduced me to it at a barbecue a few years ago, and I’ve made it several times each summer. We’re growing corn and tomatoes in our garden right now, but neither are quite ready, so I had to hit up the store for the ingredients. I’m really looking forward to making it with what we’ve grown ourselves … just a few more weeks! It’s such a great salad for what a lot of people are growing in their own backyards.

The original recipe calls for grilled corn, but for ease and speed this time, I pan roasted mine in a cast-iron skillet and it worked beautifully. (This also will free up the grill for your main course.) The only other changes I typically make are adding two diced avocados, and roughly chopping, versus thinly slicing the onion. I like small pieces of onion in each bite.

The original recipe also says the salad can be made one day in advance, but I DO NOT agree. In fact, don’t even make it hours in advance. You can do the prep work and blend the dressing, but I really think the main ingredients should be combined only up to 30 minutes before serving — it can get pretty mushy otherwise. And plan on eating everything you make the day of. I thought the mushiness might be due to the avocado, but I’ve had leftovers with and without avocado, and find them to be less than delicious. That said, this salad will rock your face off when it’s freshly prepared.

My favorite kitchen trick for this recipe is to microwave your corn for a few minutes before shucking to loosen the silk. You can watch the full process by viewing this America’s Test Kitchen video. Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch it. You’ll never again shuck corn the old-fashioned way. It is such a great time-saver!!

Grilled Corn, Avocado and Tomato-Sweet Onion Salad with Fresh Basil Dressing and Blue Cheese

(Serves 8 as a side dish)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ears corn, grilled in the husk, kernels removed, or pan roasted
  • 1 sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), roughly chopped
  • 2 Hass avocados, diced
  • 1 pint Sweet 100 tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Directions

Combine the vinegar, basil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Dressing can be made two hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.

Combine the corn kernels, onion and tomato in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat, season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Fold in diced avocado and crumbled blue cheese, and garnish with basil sprigs just before serving.