Our Vegetarian (kind of) Shift – Kung Pao Cauliflower

I laugh when I hear my kids telling other people we are vegetarians.  Die hard vegetarians probably wouldn’t find it so amusing.  Why do I get such a chuckle out of this?  Well, let’s see . . .  We eat bacon.  We frequent In&Out Burger  AND The Habit from time to time (for you Californians, you know what that means), and we recently sucked down some corned BEEF & cabbage to celebrate St. Patty’s Day.  So you see where I’m headed with this.

No, my kids aren’t challenged with information processing and they are very aware of what they eat.  But the rub is that we don’t prepare beef, chicken, or pork in our home as a main course.   Bacon really is the only meat cooked within our kitchen and we eat that mainly to accompany breakfast entrees and as a “garnish”  with certain veggies.  But we have no problem consuming meat when invited to other people’s homes or when eating out.

So I was recently thinking about our transition from that family who, at every meal, ate a meat protein, a starch and a veggie, to the family that now, at every home meal, eats strictly veggies.  And I remember what a mind shift it was for me to feel as though I was serving up a complete meal when the plate contained no meat protein.  It seemed off kilter to me, unbalanced, not well rounded.  But little by little my lens changed and I began to understand how to take what would be construed as a side and transform it into an entree. I began seeing the plate as more of a palette and striving to balance colors and textures instead of following my old formula of protein, starch, veg.  I practiced putting veggie sides with veggie entrees to create comprehensive meals.  And above all, I didn’t sacrifice the creativity of cooking that I love just because I was only preparing vegetables.  I discovered that you can put as much time and effort into creating a wonderful vegetable entree as you can a hunk o’ meat entree.

This past week is a perfect example of what this transformation can really look like.  I got two glorious heads of cauliflower in my Abundant Harvest CSA box.


In my pre-pseudo-vegetarian state, that would have turned up on the plate either roasted or steamed as an accompaniment to a pork tenderloin or a chicken dish of some sort.  But after deciding that the cauliflower itself would be the main staple of our dinner, I chose to go the Asian route and put together a little Kung Pao Cauliflower.

I started by tossing the cauliflower florets and some thin carrot sticks with some olive oil and roasting at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.


When things were nicely browned and starting to feel tender to the poke of a fork, I removed them from the oven.  I mixed together a little kung pao sauce consisting of soy sauce, water, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, crushed red pepper, peanut oil, wasabi powder and cornstarch.

I transferred the roasted veggies from the cookie sheet to a large skillet and poured the kung pao sauce over.


I also tossed in some sliced shallots that I had lying around.  I let things simmer, while stirring pretty regularly, until the sauce thickened up and was coating the veggies nicely.  Then I served atop a bed of brown rice, garnished with some chopped cashews, and accompanied by some steamed sugar snap peas.  You could add in a lot of other things to get even more color, texture, flavor and nutrition – red peppers, green onions, kale, garlic, etc.


Just like that we went from side dish to entree.  We followed this up with a green salad with an Asian-like dressing and everyone felt as though they had  had a complete meal.


I’m not always assured full family approval when I go off script and start making stuff up.  In fact, a certain member of this little clan is known for asking, “Is this a real recipe, Mom, or just stuff that you made up?”  But this one got thumbs up all around the table.

So I’m curious.  Do any of you opt for full vegetarian meals?  If so, would you share your favorite?  I’m looking forward to hearing about your veggie delights.

Here’s the complete Kung Pao Cauliflower recipe.


Let It Grow! – Tuna Steaks with Ginger Chile Marinade

I think I’m addicted to growing things.  I honestly thought it was a little whim that would pass after a tad of experimentation, but nope, I believe it’s here to stay.  Last year, late Spring-ish or early Summer, we played around with a little gardening.  A few tomatoes here, some beans and carrots there.  “Borrowed” crates that served as planters. (You can read all about the beginning of this adventure here.) The kids got a kick out of it and I enjoyed watching them as they explored and enjoyed the wonder of real food growing right in our own back yard.

Summer turned to Fall and the tomatoes kept right on producing.  In fact, we picked some on Christmas day. The corn and beans turned barren and we replaced them with a few winter harvest items – like cauliflower and lettuce.  Then there was a brief lull and we let things have some unattended “alone time”.

My parents came to visit mid-March.  Even though he is 85 years old, it’s always best to have a few “projects” up my sleeve to keep my dad busy.  So this year’s project entailed the rental of a chain saw and the extraction of a huge, and I do mean huge, palm tree stump.  It had been occupying a good little chuck of my precious postage-stamp backyard, and my mind was racing with the possibilities of what could be planted there if I could only get rid of the palm.  As luck would have it, post-palm stump removal, I passed by a neighbor’s home as they were doing a little remodeling.  I spied on their driveway, a tile crate and just knew it would be a perfect planter.  There’s something about the scrounging / re-purposing / upcycling aspect of my gardening approach that gives me an extra little thrill.  I sent the hubs on a planter recon mission, and he returned with my new “planter” in tow, mumbling something about ” . . . whatever it takes to keep the wife happy, blah, bah, blah.”

I feel like a veritable little country girl planted in the middle of Orange County with a garden which boasts 3 tomato plants, 3 cabbage plants, 1 cucumber plant, 1 zucchini, 1 crook neck squash,1 cauliflower,  2 lettuce, 1 red pepper, basil, thyme, and multiple pumpkins (note to self on pumpkins – – – if you toss whole pumpkins in your compost, there’s a VERY good chance you will experience spontaneous pumpkin generation when using said compost soil!)  My children, in their delusions of grandeur, were talking the other day about how we could run our own farmers market with our harvest.  Easy girls, easy!  Anyway, here’s a little shot of my ridiculously small, but massively enjoyable backyard garden.


And here’s my challenge for you – grow something, anything, even if one small thing, in your own backyard this summer and experience the joy for yourself.

In keeping our food real this past week, I served up these Tuna Steaks with Ginger Chile Marinade.

To start off the marinade, I grated some fresh ginger.


I whisked the ginger with some rice vinegar, sesame oil, peanut oil, soy sauce, and fresh chopped parsley.  Then I added in this little guy for a bit of a kick.


I seasoned the marinade with a little pepper and then set aside about 3 Tablespoons.  The rest I poured over the tuna steaks and let marinate (refrigerated) for about 40 minutes.


After marinating (the tuna, not me), I preheated my grill and sprayed with a little non-stick oil.  I grilled the tuna for only about 4 minutes total to keep them nice and rare.  In fact, these ones were a little too done for my taste.  Next time, I would stay closer to a minute and a half per side if preparing steaks of a similar thickness.


I served them atop a bed a steamed spinach and brown rice, accompanied by some balsamic cherry tomatoes, and spooned the reserved marinade over each steak.


Yummy, easy, and quick!  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Here’s the complete recipe for Tuna Steaks with Ginger Chile Marinade

Want to explore more ahi recipes?  Have a gander at these:

Grilled Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna with Orange Ginger Soy Sauce

Marinated Ahi Tuna Salad

Zip It! – Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette and Crumbled Goat Cheese

So the good news is that I have broken my mother’s cycle.  See, I was rarely allowed in the kitchen as a kid because my mom didn’t like to clean up the mess that she knew would result from my cooking or baking forays.  I let my kids in the kitchen as much and as frequently as they want.  In this little slice of my life, I can proudly proclaim, “I am not my mother.”

The not so good news is that I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut while my kiddos are cooking.  Let them dice a tomato with a steak knife?  Nope.  I CAN NOT do it.  Beat cookie dough with a wire whisk? Makes me crazy.  Remove cookies from the baking sheet with a rubber spatula?  Are they trying to drive me to the brink?  This past week, three of the four have been in the kitchen A LOT.  Let’s just say there have been numerous “discussions”, heated discussions . . .  ok, let’s call a spade a spade -tirades- about certain kitchen practices.

The thing is, I love it that my progeny like to cook.  I am proud of the fact that they are so tuned in to healthy eating practices.  I grin when the 4 year old reminds me not to buy the Asian yogurt because it has Stevia in it instead of real sugar.  I adore the looks on their proud little mugs when they serve their creations around the family table.  So why, oh why, can’t I just zip it and let them navigate the kitchen on their own?

Call it bossiness.  Call it intolerance.  Call it a downright character flaw.  It’s all of that and so much more.  But it’s also like so many of these challenges in parenting.  Seems we mama types are always walking the beam and trying to balance between guiding, directing and instructing and just letting them explore and figure things out on their own.  So on I trudge with the good fight. I try to bite my tongue, zip it, put a sock in it when necessary, and correct without losing it when possible.  I have found that some dishes lend themselves to less correction and conflict than others.  This little Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette and Crumbled Goat Cheese is just one of those.

We start with some nice red beets.  These ones just happen to have come in our box of all organic and local produce which we have delivered every week by Abundant Harvest Organics.


The kiddos trim the leafy stems (which are great for adding into smoothies by the way) and the pointed root ends.  Then they wrap the bulb of each beet with aluminum foil. You see where I’m going here, right, not much room for variation in the execution of this cooking adventure.


They preheat the oven to 425 and place the foil wrapped beets directly onto the oven rack.  It takes 45 minutes to an hour to roast depending on the size of the beets.  When they are soft and easily pierced by a fork, they are done.

After they have cooled a bit, the kiddos remove the skin from the beets.  The skin falls away really easily, but the hands can get pretty stained on this step.  Possibility of kid correction — 70% depending on parental tolerance for messes and staining.

At this point, the beets can be sliced, garnished and served immediately (sometimes I love a warm beet salad and other times I’m looking for something slightly chilled and refreshing), or just sliced, packaged up, and refrigerated and saved for serving later.  In our case we refrigerated about a day and served up for the following night’s dinner.

To serve, we just arranged them on a platter, drizzled with some homemade vinaigrette, and topped with goat cheese and fresh herbs.  Simple, straightforward, and a wonderful first course!


So go forth, Mama friends, spread those arms and walk that balance beam.  Let those kiddos in the kitchen and let them spread their little culinary wings.  But do me a favor, and if you see them trying to separate an egg using a measuring cup,  slap them (humor)  – – – I mean give them a little lesson and direction.