Simple vegan winter squash soup

September 30, 2021 at 10:04 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot)) ()

This is another base recipe from Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day. Compared to the Cook’s Illustrated butternut squash soup recipe I used to make, it’s much simpler, and much less rich.

All you do is saute some onion in a large pot, add some garlic and salt, then the squash (unpeeled if you’re using red kuri as I was, and cut into large cubes) and water. You simmer the squash until it crushes easily against the side of the pot (around 12 to 15 minutes). You let it cool slightly then puree in batches in an upright blender. Done. The soup had a lovely smooth texture, bright color, and a simple, clean taste. It reminds me a lot of the squash soup I got years ago at Hangawi in New York City. The flavor was just a tad boring, but I guess that’s what I get for making the base version. It was better when we added chili flakes to it. Roasted pepitas or a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil would have also been nice. Next time I should make one of the variations, like squash soup with ginger, turmeric and miso or rosemary squash soup with toasted-hazelnut milk. You can find the base recipe and the hazelnut variation here.

This recipe made a ton of soup. (The recipe says it makes 2.5 quarts.) The three of us ate it for dinner, then Derek and I each had a bowl for lunch, and I still had quite a bit to freeze. It says it freezes well, so I’m looking forward to pulling it out one night when I’m in a rush and need a hot vegetable-based appetizer or side dish.

Alma seemed to enjoy it. At least she ate it without complaint and had a small bowl for seconds.

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No-bake sesame chocolate squares

September 30, 2021 at 9:48 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Brownies and bars, Granola & energy bars, Website / blog)

In one of my parenting groups someone was raving about these no-bake chocolate sesame squares from the book Sugarproof. I love sesame in desserts, and I love chocolate, so I had to try them.

The recipe is pretty simple, you just dump 8 oz of pitted dates in a food processor along with 3/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup tahini, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 2 Tbs. water, and a pinch of salt. You pulse it all until the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the food processor and collect towards the center. My mixture didn’t pull away, even after quite a while. I had to add quite a bit more water to get it to congeal into a solid mass. But other than that the bars came out well. They remind me a lot of Lara bars, just sesame flavored. I’ve tried to make “halvah balls” before without so much success. These had a better texture, if less halvah-esque.

I gave one bar to Alma in her school snack and she told me it was very good. I’m going to freeze the rest and bring them out occasionally when we are in the mood for something sweet and chocolatey.

Also, one more note. A full 8oz of dates is a lot! I guess if you don’t use refined sweeteners you need a lot of dates to make it taste sweet like a dessert.

Update Jan 18, 2022: We finally finished the whole batch of frozen bars. Although Alma said they were very good on her first try, she never liked them after that. Oh well. I still really like them, especially when they have been sitting out for a while. Cold from the freezer they aren’t as gooey and chocolatey. I will definitely make these again for myself!

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Detailed review of the LunchBots Medium Trio snack container

September 22, 2021 at 10:59 pm (Equipment reviews)

Years ago I bought a big “Laptop lunch box” with four separate compartments that Chickpea used last year in Kindergarten, but it’s a pain to clean and I think four compartments are too many for a mid-morning snack. It’s also big— 9x9x2.5 inches! I wanted something smaller and simpler to pack. I also wanted something stainless steel not plastic. I read various reviews of small stainless lunch boxes. Of the reviews compendiums I read, I found the lunchbox reviews from kidseatincolor the most helpful.

85F00F0D-9F0F-4E8B-91BB-68FF9A74053AI ended up choosing a LunchBots Medium Trio snack container, which is stainless steel and dishwasher safe. It’s relatively expensive, but I’ve read good reviews and heard they last forever. And compared to the Planetbox Rover, which many people rave about, it’s positively cheap! I thought about buying the lunchbox medium duo (with two compartments) instead, but I figured the trio’s three compartments are good for my “one fruit, one veggie, one filling thing” approach. Below I give more details on the size and organization, leakage and useful accessories, and durability and ease of cleanup.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Packed lunchbox ideas for school snack, school breakfast, or school lunch

September 22, 2021 at 9:59 am (Monthly menu plan)

Now that Alma has started school, she has to bring in a morning snack. They call it “breakfast”, but she actually eats breakfast at home, so I think of it more as a snack. She eats breakfast at home sometime between 7 and 7:30am, snack is generally around 10-10:15am, and lunch she eats at after-school care around 1:15pm I think. Since she only has about 15 minutes to eat snack, I can’t pack anything too ambitious. [Update: She’s since told me that on days they don’t have theatre or gym class, they are usually allowed to eat more of their snack when they come in from recess, at 11am.]

I think pretty typical in Germany is that parents send bread with salami or cheese or something like that, along with a raw fruit or veggie. But Alma is not so excited about getting bread everyday, plus she often has bread with lunch and sometimes for breakfast, so I’d prefer that she gets more variety. So what do I pack? I’ve been trying to stick with the general pattern of a fruit, a vegetable, and something filling (with protein or fat or both), and occasionally something extra yummy (which may be the filling thing, or may be in addition). To get some new ideas I downloaded the free “veggie exposure shopping list and menu planner” from Kidseatincolor, but I didn’t find it all that helpful or comprehensive. So I decided to make my own list that I can look at when I needs some ideas. Below I’ve listed my ideas so far, along with Alma’s assessment. But if other people have more ideas for me, please post a comment!

I’m also taking pictures of many of the snacks (and some breakfasts) that I pack, with before and after photos (when I remember!). You can see them on instagram, here.

For a while Alma was finishing her snack in the car on the way to after school care (when I picked her up at 12:30pm). But lately she has stopped doing that. I assume that she is now more confident in the after school lunch, and is waiting for that instead. Sometimes she finishes her snack if she’s hungry before dinner though.

I’m going to post a separate post shortly about the lunchbox and accessories I’ve been using. Read the rest of this entry »

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Delicate, delicious, gluten-free, low-sugar muffins

September 19, 2021 at 10:45 pm (breakfast, B_(2.5 stars, like), Muffins and quick breads, Other) ()

This is the second recipe I’ve tried from “Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the way you eat with 250 vegetarian recipes free of gluten, dairy, and refined sugar” by Amy Chaplin. I’m always looking for muffin recipes that don’t just feel like (a) more wheat in our lives, and (b) dessert in disguise. Chaplin has three base muffin recipes in her book—a vegan gluten-free recipe, a gluten-free recipe with eggs, and a grain-free recipe. Then she has a bunch of flavor variations that you can combine with any of the base recipes. I made the gluten-free recipe with eggs as my base, and tried two different flavor combinations: spiced seeded winter squash muffins and zucchini, lemon, and walnut muffins. Read the rest of this entry »

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Salad dressings from Whole Food Cooking Every Day

September 11, 2021 at 10:03 pm (B_(2.5 stars, like), Other, Sauce/dressing) ()

My Kindle recommended the book “Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the way you eat with 250 vegetarian recipes free of gluten, dairy, and refined sugar” by Amy Chaplin. It was free to borrow on Kindle Unlimited so I decided to check it out. I am intrigued by the cookbook’s schtick: each section has a number of “base recipes” that are meant to be staples, plus several variations for each one so that you feel like you’re getting variety even if you’re basically making the same recipes over and over. I would like to try some of her breakfast porridge recipes, and her muffins and granola. (I really need more breakfast ideas), but for most of those recipes I need to get some additional ingredients. So instead I decided to try one of her salad dressings, for which I already had everything on hand. Plus I’ve been wanting to find a new salad dressing that everyone likes. I decided to start with the first dressing in her book, which is for a raw zucchini dressing. I made the base recipe then removed half and made one of the variations by adding mint and dill and shiso leaves. I didn’t love it at that point and added some fresh basil, and at that point I thought it tasted good.

Ingredients for zucchini dressing (base recipe):

  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 1 (3-inch) piece scallion, white and light green parts only, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil or cold-pressed flaxseed oil
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Instructions:

Combine the zucchini, scallion, lime juice, oil, and salt in an upright blender and blend until smooth, starting on a lower speed and gradually increasing it as the dressing comes together. Use a rubber spatula (with the blender off) to help move the ingredients around as necessary, or use the tamper stick if using a high-powered blender. Adjust the seasoning to taste—some variations with lots of extra herbs will need more salt. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Use immediately, or store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 3 days. Shake well before using. The dressing will thicken once chilled; thin it out with a little water if needed.

My notes:

I had the herbed zucchini dressing on my salad and it was fine but I didn’t love it. I think maybe it was just too much lime? Later I tried the dressing on tofu and I thought it was delicious, and then after that on falafel. Also a winner. I think it’s so acidic it goes better on salty savory protein-rich foods, rather than salad. Derek liked the original version better than the herb version. But he also didn’t like it on his salad. Alma wouldn’t try it on the salad, but ate it happily on pan-fried tofu slices and on zucchini. Zucchini dressing on zucchini. Funny. I am curious to try it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls. The zucchini dressing in the book comes with a number of variations, including this golden citrus zucchini dressing, which sounds interesting.

The author says the dressings can’t be frozen. I wonder why. Mom, do you know? Is it the raw zucchini?

Update October 2021:

I made a batch of the creamy carrot dressing and then I separated out half of it and ginger, miso, and cayenne to make the spicy carrot miso variation. I liked both of them! We ate the spicy variation with spring rolls, which was nice, although not as good as our usual peanut sauce, and then later we used it as a dipping sauce for some storebought falafel, which was great. I think even Alma tried it, but I’m not sure. I quite liked the spicy variation on a salad with apples and grapes. I was surprised, because I hadn’t liked the zucchini dressing much on salad, but the carrot dressing for me was great. Derek was less excited, but he said it was because he doesn’t like fruit in salad.

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