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.


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.