Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beet and Cauliflower Soup

First thing I must say about this soup: It is SO PRETTY! Seriously, this is GORGEOUS soup. It also happens to be delicious, but that's really secondary to how absolutely lovely it is. It's got the most beautiful jewel-like color... a bright, rosy, pinkish red. We ate this here at home on a regular ol' Friday night, but it would be right at home at a fancy dinner party, too. I mean, really... just look at this soup:

Beet and Cauliflower Soup, served here with a Cashew Cheese
and carmelized onion sammie on spelt bread. Deee-lish!

This recipe was based on a Martha Stewart recipe. I changed it up a bit, to make it vegan, and because I wanted the beet flavor to shine through a bit more. I also increased the dill, because I just really like dill, and added a dash of lemon. Here is my version:

Vegan Beet and Cauliflower Soup

Drizzle of olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped (around 3 cups or so)
4 med-large beets, peeled and chopped
6 cups of light vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1-2 Tbsp)

Heat the oil in a soup pot, then add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the cauliflower and beets, then stir in the broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low until the veggies are very soft. Stir in the salt, pepper and dill. Remove from heat, Let cool for a bit, then puree in a blender in small batches until smooth, then return to the pot and heat through. Stir in the lemon juice, taste for salt, and serve, garnished with a wee bit of dill.

Word of warning: I am not kidding about cooling this a bit, nor am I kidding about pureeing this in small batches. If you try to blend this while it's too hot, or with too much in the blender, this will happen:

A pretty colored mess, but a big mess just the same. It really is best to puree in small batches, and let it cool a minute first. Lesson learned!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning to Make Soap

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to have a soap-making lesson with my good friend Laura. I've been lucky enough to receive her homemade soap as a gifts in the past, and have always wanted to learn how to make it myself.

Laura stirring in some extra olive oil, to
make the soap extra moisturizing.
I was surprised at just how precise a science the whole process is! I always assumed soap making was like cooking, but it's a lot more like chemistry class than Home Ec. Safety is SO important when making soap, as lye is caustic and can cause severe burns. Laura covered every surface in the kitchen and we wore rubber gloves and safety glasses. It's also really important to measure everything exactly by weight, and to make sure everything is exactly the right temperature. If you don't, your soap will not turn out right. Seriously, soap-making is both an art and a science!

I'd planned to put the recipe we used here, with step-by-step photos, I didn't get pictures of every step, as I was too involved in the process to photograph it! So I guess I'll just have to make MORE soap, and take better pics, and I'll post the recipe next time.

Pouring our soap into paper cup molds
The recipe we used was a very basic olive oil soap, to which we added some lavender and mint essential oils. It smells amazing! The hardest part is the WAITING. After your soap is molded, you're supposed to wait at least a week or two before you can use it. There seems to be quite a bit of debate on this in the soap-making community. Some say a week is fine, others say that it's best to wait a month or more. With our batch, I grew impatient after 10 days, and it seemed fine, if maybe a bit on the soft side.

I love that this soap is totally handmade, gentle on skin, vegan, green and pretty inexpensive to make. I really enjoyed our afternoon of soap-making, and I look forward to making another batch soon. When I do, I will most definitely be posting a recipe with step-by-step instructions, as promised!

Our finished soap!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Week's Homemade Pizza...

I am not a picky eater at all. I love to try new things, new flavors, new cuisines. One food that I do have a slight aversion to is mushrooms. Funny thing is, I don't mind the ~taste~ of mushrooms, and if they're chopped up fine I actually enjoy their earthy flavor. But the texture of a mushroom? Ugh. That rubbery, chewy texture just wigs. me. out. I absolutely cannot eat a mushroom. No way, no how.

This causes a little bit of a culinary rift in our house, as the man LOVES mushrooms. To keep him happy, I try to toss a few mushrooms in his direction now and then. Which brings us to last night's Homemade Pizza, which I call The His-n-Hers Pizza, with mushrooms on just one side:

Pizza with vegan cheese, peppers, onions, arugula,
sliced garlic cloves, olives (and mushrooms on one side)
Last night was an extra-special Pizza Night. Not only did The Man get a mushroom fix, but it was also the first night that the weather cooperated enough for us to eat our pizza out on the patio, by the fire pit. It was a beautiful night where we live, and it was so nice to be outside, watching the sun set over the lake, and listening to fire crackling.
Glass of wine, crackling fire, pretty lake and good company.
(Only thing to make it better would be to have plants and
flowers growing in the yard and planters... soon, I hope!)


Sun setting over the lake behind The Homestead.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cookbook Inspiration

My cookbook shelf. The box on the bottom shelf contains
small recipe boxes which belonged to my grandmother.

I really love a good cookbook. Even though you can find pretty much any recipe in the world on the internet these days (and believe me, I do that, too!) there is no substitute for sitting in a comfy chair, perusing a cookbook.
I still own the very first cookbook I ever bought for myself, when I was first out on my own at the age of 18. It's called A Vegetarian's Ecstasy. It was my introduction to the world of vegetarian cooking, and it played a huge role in making me into the cook I am today. At this point in my life I have a pretty good collection of vegetarian cookbooks. I cull them ever year or two, donating the ones I don't use, to make room for new ones which somehow find their way into my house. When I redid my kitchen, I had a little built-in shelf installed just to store my collection.

Well-loved, bookmarked cookbooks.
When I get in a "recipe rut" of cooking the same meals over and over, I pull out a cookbook or two to look for inspiration. I also have my kids go through them from time to time, and pick out recipes that look good to them, that they would like me to make. My most-loved cookbooks are bookmarked with many scraps of paper, marking my favorite recipes. I also have little pencil notes in there, for the changes I've made to the recipes over time. That's the thing about a good recipe... you can cook it exactly as it's written, but you can also change up ingredients to make them your own. Maybe you like things a little spicier, or less spicy, or you don't like a particular ingredient, so you substitute something else. There is really no right or wrong when it comes to cooking, there is just what tastes good to you!

Sometimes people tell me I'm "lucky" that I know how to cook. I tell them that luck has nothing to do with it! If you can read, you can cook. If you want to learn how to cook, find a recipe that looks tasty, and follow the directions. That's it! The first time you make a recipe, follow it exactly. From there, you can start experimenting.

Currently, my favorite cookbooks are Vegan With a Vengeance and Appetite for Reduction, both by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I have also recently purchased Artisan Vegan Cheeses, which I haven't made anything from just yet, but I'm looking forward to it! I've heard good things about it.

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fitness Progress

It's been about a month since I last posted about my fitness journey... I figured it was time for an update!

The BIGGEST challenge for me as far as exercise goes? Fitting that exercise into my schedule! At this point, I've had to sacrifice sleep and some housework to fit it in. I've been getting up at 4:30 am to exercise, because it's the only time of day I can really do it! It's really only an hour earlier than I normally get up. My family has been really helpful on my workout mornings, picking up my slack and doing some of my regular morning tasks for me, like emptying the dishwasher and starting breakfast. I'm hoping once I close my daycare in September, I'll have more time to fit it all in AND still get some sleep.

In the last two months I've gone from maybe an hour a week of sporadic exercise to roughly 4 hours a week of moderate to intense exercise. Last week, I completed a four week, twice-a-week Fitness Bootcamp. It was rough getting up at 4:30 every Monday and Wednesday, and the first couple of sessions were HARD. By the eighth session, they were still hard, but instead of "OMG I can't do this!" I started to think, "This sucks, but I'm doing it!" Our instructor offers modifications for some of the harder exercises, and in the beginning, I was doing pretty much all the modifications. By the end, I was only doing a few, mostly for a wonky shoulder that can't quite do full pushups yet.

In addition to Bootcamp, I've been going to Zumba class once a week, and I've been trying to go for brisk walks on weekends.  Before I started, I weighed myself and took all my measurements. I kind of expected that I would see some dramatic weight loss in a month's time, but as of this past Friday I've only lost 3 pounds, and saw no change in my measurements. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little disappointed about that, but since I feel stronger and healthier overall, I do know that ~something~ good is happening from all this, and that is what's motivating me to keep going.

But the big question is... can I sustain this?  I'd like to say that daily exercise is just a regular part of my daily routine now, but it's really not, yet. At the moment, exercise classes have been a strong motivator to get me moving. I'm very frugal, so if I've paid for a class, I WILL go, so as not to waste that money. However... it would be great to someday have enough self-motivation to exercise without spending money to do it. But for now, this is what's working for me. I'm looking at it as an investment in my health.

Next post, we're going to talk about a weakness of mine... Cookbooks!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Vegan Bean Chili, Three (plus) Ways


I love meals that I can cook in a hurry. I also love meals that can freeze well so that I can have something to pull out for days that I REALLY don't have time to cook, AND I love meals that I can turn into something else for leftovers. My favorite Bean Chili fits the bill on ALL counts. Plus, it's healthy, hearty, filling and satisfying.

The other thing about this recipe is that it's versatile and VERY forgiving. You can double it or half it or change it up to suit your tastes. I usually start with dry beans that I cook myself, but if you can just as easily use drained and rinsed canned beans to make this recipe faster and easier.

Way #1: The Basic Chili

This recipe makes a lot, because I like to make this is big batches and freeze it for later meals.

Ingredients:

Drizzle of Olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 hot pepper of choice, finely chopped (optional, if you like a little heat)
2- 15oz cans of diced tomatoes
3-4 Tbsp Chili seasoning, or more, to taste (either store-bought or homemade)
2 cups cooked kidney beans
2 cup cooked black beans
2 cup cooked pinto beans
(you can really use any combo of beans... just have around 6 cups altogether. if using canned beans, it will be roughly 4 cans or so)
3/4 cup frozen corn
big handful of chopped cilantro (optional)
Diced avocado, to serve (optional)

In a big pot, heat the oil and cook the onion until translucent. Add the pepper, and cook a few more minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and add the seasoning, beans and corn. Cook on medium until it's really bubbly, then simmer on low for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Toss in the cilantro at the end. Serve in bowls, topped with diced avocado.

We have this for dinner probably twice a month, served along with a big salad and some cornbread or baked tortilla chips. Also great over brown rice.

Way #2: Chili Mac

This is comfort food, all the way! The best part about this meal is you can assemble it in the morning, or even the day before and stick it in the fridge. At dinner time, just pop it in the oven and bake at 350 until it's heated through and bubbly. While it's heating up, tossed together a salad.

Ingredients:

3 cups of leftover Bean Chili
12 oz box of elbow macaroni or other small pasta, cooked (use gluten-free pasta if you prefer to avoid wheat)
1/2 cup tomato sauce (I often just use leftover pasta sauce)
1/2 cup Daiya Pepper Jack Shreds (or other vegan cheese shreds)

Combine the first 3 ingredients and pour into a casserole dish. Top with the "cheese" shreds. Bake at 350 until heated through and bubbly.

Way #3: Chili Burritos

Ingredients:

Large tortillas or wraps
Leftover chili
diced avocado
shredded lettuce
Daiya Pepperjack shreds
vegan sour cream (optional)

This one is self-explanatory, no? Just assemble ingredients, Burrito-style. Mmm-mm good! Make sure the chili's good and hot so the cheese will get melty.

Bonus Way! Chili Potatoes!

This is our favorite day-after-chili lunch. Just top a baked potato with leftover chili. So good! Serve with some avocado and tomato slices.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Homemade Chili Seasoning

We are big fans of Tex-Mex-type meals here at The Homestead. We love things like bean chili, nachos, tacos and burritos. Since I'm all about the DIY, I make my own homemade chili seasoning for these dishes, which I keep in a little jar. This is similar to the stuff  they sell in little packets at the grocery store. The homemade version is less expensive, and you can adjust the amounts of the spices to suit your own tastes.

Homemade Chili Seasoning

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp crushed up dried oregano
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp onion powder
3 tsp garlic powder

Mix together in a small jar, and store in a cool, dry place. Keeps for several months, though in our house we use it up much quicker than that!




Later this week, I will be sharing a Three-in-One recipe for Bean Chili with you, which uses this spice blend.