major spring fever

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It’s the end of March in central Virginia and it’s snowing outside.  It was 70 degrees three days ago! The snow isn’t deterring me. I caught spring fever and I’m not letting it go.

Today I’m dreaming of my future herb garden and making preparations. By “preparations” of course I mean finding tons of things I want to have on Pinterest and then sending those ideas to my husband who quickly gives me a good idea of what’s realistic and what’s absolutely not.

Here are a few things that caught my eye today (and check out other ideas on my Pinterest page here):

herb planters

herb markers

herb pots

oh hell yeah!

 

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chowder challenged – days 12-16

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I’ve never been good at making chowder. We make soups all the time. It’s our go-to meal when we don’t know what else to make. But a good thick chowder has always eluded me. I’ve used half-and-half cream, whipping cream, flour, and cornstarch but I just can’t get it down.

The picture on the left shows my “cheesy vegetable chowder” I tried to make. As you can see, it is not chowdery in the least. My first problem was that I tried to double the recipe which was probably a bad idea in hindsight because now it’s not good and I have all this leftover soup I don’t want! I also forgot to buy cream and had to use 1% milk which I tried to compensate for by doubling the flour. Plus I used cheap cheese which is probably more plastic than anything. It was a bad situation all around.

A couple days later I found a recipe online for a creamy spinach tomato tortellini I wanted to try. This time I did a little better. My friend pointed out to me that if you’re going to use reduced fat milk, you have to add fat back into it if you want it to be creamy (Duh!!). So this time I melted some butter in a pan, added flour to that and thickened that up before adding the milk to it.  I had more success this time but it still wasn’t that velvety creamy texture I’m going for. I’m sure one day I’ll master it.

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Here’s the recipe for the Creamy Spinach Tomato Tortellini (bombshellbling.com) with my substitutions noted:

Ingredients:
1 container three cheese tortellini (8 oz)
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes *I used regular diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil *I used oregano
1 teaspoon onion flakes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half *used mixture of butter, 1% milk and flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Method:
Cook the tortellini according to package directions. While the tortellini is boiling, chop the spinach roughly. Heat a large skillet using medium heat and put the two teaspoons of minced garlic into it. Sautee it briefly until fragrant, about thirty seconds or so. Add into the skillet the petite diced tomatoes (undrained), spinach, salt, pepper, dried basil, and onion flakes. Cook and stir over medium high heat until the mixture begins to bubble. In another bowl, combine the flour and half-and-half (this is when I cooked the butter/milk/flour mixture in a small saucepan). Whisk until fairly smooth. Add the creamy mixture into the the skillet along with the parmesan cheese.
Heat through and reduce the heat to medium low and continue to stir and cook until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the drained tortellini and mix together gently.

My husband said “this recipe gets a ‘check'”. I guess that’s good, right?

To read more about my Vegetarian Lent Challenge, click here.

Friday night grub – day 11

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So no sooner than I say I don’t go out to eat that often, I turn around and go out to eat. Oops. When it reaches the end of the week and my husband suggests we take ourselves out, it’s hard for me to resist. This time we went to one of our frequent haunts, The Mill on MacArthur.

We usually go here for brunch because it’s always good and they used to have really good potato pancakes (so sad they’re not making them anymore). We’ve been for dinner a few times and they have a pretty simple menu but with well thought-out dishes and ingredients. I’ve been eyeing their artichoke po boy for a while and decided to go for it this time. Although I think it could’ve used more of the Cajun remoulade sauce, it was a nice balance of fried and fresh. Plus, they have delicious in-house cooked potato chips. Their happy hour specials are pretty good ($2 off draft, house wines and appetizers) and make sure to check out their family style pasta night on Tuesdays.

To read more about my Vegetarian Lent Challenge, click here.

I eat at home, too – day 10

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I just realized all of my recent posts have been about dining out and I’d like to point out that I really do cook a lot at home. I was excited to go to the grocery store last night and stock up on lots of yummy vegetables and fruits and not have to go anywhere near the meat section.

Since I was running late we had to come up with something quick which usually means breakfast for dinner. No one can complain about that! I threw together some scrambled eggs with cheese and spinach, buckwheat waffles and a side of fruit. If you like frozen waffles, I highly recommend finding some buckwheat waffles. They actually taste like they’re made from a real product of the earth.

Here’s what’s on our menu for this week:

  • minestrone with grilled cheddar and swiss sandwiches

  • Peurto-Rican inspired beans and rice (family recipe)

  • Stir fried Singapore noodles with garlic ginger sauce

  • Cheesy vegetable chowder 

To read more about my Vegetarian Lent Challenge, click here.

The Green Leaf – day 9

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Today was the first day since I started this that I had a meat craving. I had to run some errands at lunch and let myself get too hungry. I was craving Whoppers and Big Macs. Through my internal dialogue I realized Taco Bell had bean burritos so I could stay meatless and still give into my fast food craving. Then like a gleaming beacon what appeared in front of me as I continued driving was a big green sign that read “The Green Leaf, Vegetarian Restaurant“.

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Oh yeah! I had forgot about this place. We tried it when they first opened and thought the food was good but just hadn’t had the occasion to go back. I went in to place my to-go order and the very nice hostess helped me find the lunch specials on their menu. I ordered the ‘colorful vegetable fried rice’ with wonton soup. The wonton soup was good with a mild broth, little toasted tofu pieces and vegetable dumplings – perfect for this chilly day. The fried rice was full of fresh veggies including carrots, peas, corn, lima beans, onions, pineapple, and green beans.

I’ll definitely go back and try some of the more interesting offerings from their menu such as the “Taste of Compassion” (Kale, broccoli, bok choy, water crest, and snow peas in light ginger sauce and topped with chickpeas). They also have really good fruit smoothies if you need a fix.

To read more about my Vegetarian Lent Challenge, click here.

a hint of spring

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spring timeWhat a gorgeous day it was yesterday. This winter seemed much longer and colder than usual. I’m more of a winter person than a summer person because I hate sweating, but even I was getting tired of it. It was nice to have a warm, sunny day to get us outside and stretch our legs.

We took the boy and the dog for a long walk around the neighborhood and stopped at a playground for a while before dinner. Exercise, Vitamin D, oxygen – I didn’t realize how much I missed them.

It was perfection.

first week done – days 5-8

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It’s been one week since I began my Lent Vegetarian Challenge and I feel great. The past few days have been pretty busy but pretty easy as far as staying meatless goes. The couple of times I had the occasion to go out to eat I made sure to go somewhere I knew had a good vegetarian option.

On Sunday we stopped at one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. It’s a little place in the West End called The Balkan. They do tend to be meat heavy but they cook their meat very well and they have amazing homemade lepinja bread. If you’ve never had Balkan cuisine or lepinja bread, go find it!

Here’s a description of Balkan food straight from their website:

Balkan cuisine uses many spices but usually in very small quantities. Most dishes are light, as they are cooked in lots of water. The sauces are fully natural, consisting of little more than the natural juices of the vegetables in the dish.

Typical ingredients include tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, fresh beans, milk, Ajvar (roasted red pepper and eggplant spread), and cream cheese called Kajmak.

Balkan cuisine is balanced between Western and Eastern influences. Balkan food is closely related to Turkish, Greek, Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines. However, due to years of Austrian rule, there are many influences from Central Europe.

Although I’m a big fan of their chicken shish kebab sandwich, I opted for the grilled vegetable sandwich instead. I was not dissapointed as it was full of delicous grilled zucchini, squash, mushrooms, onion and peppers all on that awesome lepinja bread. Yum!!

To read more about my Vegetarian Lent Challenge, click here.