Spinach Zucchini Pancakes

Vegetarianism and a low-carb diet don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. It takes a lot of work to not rely on carbohydrates as the staples of your meals when you’re a vegetarian. While my diet is not deficient in protein, I am typically over-relient on carbohydrates. But recently, I decided I needed to eat fewer carbohydrates. Giving them up is out of the question, but I am trying to eat more low-carb vegetables and fewer starches.

I love potato pancakes, but potatoes aren’t exactly carb-free. So when I found a recipe for spinach pancakes, I was pretty excited. They still contain flour and some carbohydrates, but they’re not nearly as carb-heavy as their potato alternative. The recipe below is my modified version, containing spinach, zucchini and feta cheese.

Spinach Zucchini Pancakes

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with excess water squeezed out
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, grated
a handful of cilantro, chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp canola or olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt, ground pepper and freshly ground nutmeg

Mix the spinach, zucchini, cilantro and onion in a bowl. Add the eggs, seasoning and flour. Stir in the cheeses and let stand for several minutes.

Coat a nonstick skillet with a light spritz of oil. Pour in scoops of the batter and cook over medium-high heat until light brown on one side. Flip pancakes and cook the other side.

Serve the pancakes with salsa or diced tomatoes.

One Year Later: Refreshing and Reflecting

As it turns out, one year later I have 86,000+ hits — and none of them are the result of me hitting refresh over and over again (except in the rare event that the site was down).

Today is the one year blogiversary for MonikaBlogwell.com. This thing is still just a baby, but amazingly enough, I’ve kept up with my little pet project. A year later, I’m still learning from my blogwell and still getting a few kicks out of it along the way.

A year later, my own life has taken on a new shape as well. I continue to learn and grow each day, figuring out that I’m a happier person when I take simple steps each day. Steps like remembering to moisturize. Steps like cleaning the kitchen. Steps like telling my parents how much I love them.

I’m still just as crazy as ever and still just as flawed. I set off smoke alarms when I cook, I fret about whether or not I left my hair straightener unplugged, I complain about my thighs. But it’s learning to laugh at my own imperfections and finding ways to accept them them that makes me stronger.

This blog has been such an incredible outlet for me, and it means the world to me that my friends (and even some people I’ve never met before) visit it.

Each day, things happen in our lives and the lives of others that we wish we could change. Sometimes I feel bad about not bringing to light the things that are really on my mind here, but I try not to burden you. I hope this space can serve as a respite from reality from time to time. You can read about Patrick’s brown pants. when the truth is we’re all thinking about the latest deadly disaster or political scandal. Thank you for letting me use this space to try to inject a little more positivity into the world. You keep me honest. You keep me searching for new recipes. You keep me from sitting at my computer hitting the refresh button.

The Night We Ate Everything: Part 3

Okay, so my idea to blog recipes every day last week was a little ambitious. I haven’t forgotten, though, and I’m going to make this a giant recipe-filled post. Get ready.

With Memorial Day around the corner, these recipes make great food for any summer kick-off picnic. The orzo salad is a great appetizer that travels well. Zuccanoes can be cut into smaller pieces (especially when you use non-gigantic zucchinis) to make healthy finger food. And this carrot cake is a dessert everyone will rave about.

Uncle B’s Orzo Salad

Bryant made enough of this orzo salad to last us a week. But we didn’t complain. It made for a great lunch and keeps well in the refrigerator.

2 cups orzo or other small pasta
1 bag of baby spinach
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup flat leave parsley, chopped
1 can pitted black olives
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
1 peeled and seeded cucumber, chopped
1 block feta, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil pasta in salty water until tender. Drain the pasta and mix with the vegetables. Add the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spices and gently stir in the cubed feta. Chill prior to serving.

Zuccanoes (or, in my case, Zucchini Boats)
(adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook)

4 medium-sized zucchini
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized white or yellow onion, minced
1 pound mushrooms, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup slivered almonds
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup grated swiss or cheddar cheese
A handful of fresh herbs or a few pinches of dried herbs (any combination of parsley, dill, marjoram, basil or thyme)
½ cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

(A note about the filling: you can adapt this filling as much or as little as you like. Add rice if you have some cooked, substitute walnuts for almonds, toss in a few small tomatoes or make a vegan version with no cheese.)

Cut the zucchini lengthwise down the middle and use a spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a shallow space for the filling. Mince the zucchini insides and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized nonstick skillet. Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt. Saute the onion for several minutes before adding the mushrooms and the zucchini insides. Turn up the heat and stir continuously for 8-10 minutes so that the vegetables brown nicely and the liquid evaporates.

Add the garlic, nuts, lemon juice and tomato paste and stir for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and add the cheese and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Scoop the filling into each hollowed zucchini and top with a sprinkling of bread crumbs.

Put the filled zuccanoes on a baking sheet and into an oven preheated to 350-375 degrees. Bake until the zucchini is heated through and the filling has a nice brown crust (about 25-30 minutes).

Carrot and Olive Oil Cake
(from Celia Brooks Brown’s New Vegetarian with adapted frosting recipe)

I have to say, this carrot cake is divine. I was so disappointed when it was gone. It was incredibly easy to make, and would be even easier if you buy pre-shredded carrots. The cake looked a little dry when I took it out of the oven, especially in the center, but it turned out to be incredibly moist

1 cup olive oil
2 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated, about 3 ½ cups (I pulsed my carrots into small chunks in my Vitamix, and this worked surprisingly well)

For the frosting:
1 8-ounce block cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 Tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar or more to taste
a pinch of salt

Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan.

Put the olive oil, sugar and eggs in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a separate bowl. Add the spices. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the egg and oil mixture. Stir until well-blended. Add the walnuts and carrots and mix well.

Pour the batter into a prepared cake pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan, then run a knife along the edge to loosen it before removing the side of the pan from the base.

To make the frosting, mix the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt together until creamy. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Taste the frosting and add more sugar if needed.

Spread the frosting onto the cooled cake and serve. Enjoy!

The Night We Ate Everything: Part 2

The thing about our vegetarian feast that made it so special was that each course was bursting with flavor. So many things I eat now have been acquired tastes. I now love olives and Gorgonzola cheese and mushrooms. Each of these foods adds pizzazz to a meal.

My favorite cookbook is New Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown. I’ve yet to make a single dish from this book that I didn’t love. I have to admit, though, I was skeptical that such simple stuffed peppers could be so splendid.

But the Piedmontese Peppers on Gorgonzola Polenta turned out to be as beautiful to look at as they were to eat. Creamy, tangy polenta makes the perfect bed for oven-roasted bell peppers filled with olives, capers and tomatoes.

If you make this dish for a dinner party (which I suggest you do), be sure to double or triple this recipe. I used a box of instant polenta to save time, and the entire box made enough polenta squares for 4 bell peppers.

Piedmontese Peppers with Gorgonzola Polenta
Recipe courtesy of Celia Brooks Brown’s New Vegetarian: Bold and Beautiful Recipes for Every Occasion

For the Piedmontese Peppers
2 red bell peppers
2 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into quarters (or 4-6 cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half)
8 kalamata olives, pitted
1 tablespoon capers
2 garlic cloves, sliced
8 basil leaves, torn
1/4 olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Gorgonzola Polenta
3/4 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
4 oz Gorgonzola cheese (the original recipe only calls for 2 but add more especially if you prepare a full box of instant polenta)
sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (also not in the original recipe, but a delicious addition)

To Serve
Arugula leaves (we didn’t have any arugula, and this was still a complete entree)

Cut each pepper in half lengthwise. Do not remove the stems as this will help keep the peppers shape. Cut out the seeds and discard.

Put the hollowed out peppers in a roasting pan. Divide the tomatoes, olives and capers between the pepper halves. Tuck in the garlic slices and torn basil and spoon the oil and vinegar over the top. Season well with salt and pepper.

Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender and just blackened around the edges.

Meanwhile, to make the polenta, put 2 cups water in a heavy-bottom saucepan, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and sprinkle in the polenta or cornmeal, stirring well with a wooden spoon.

Cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 15-30 minutes (depending on the quality and type of polenta) or according to the package instructions. The polenta should be thick and lump-free.

Add the butter and salt, if needed, and stir well. (Do not overseason the polenta–the cheese is quite salty already.) Add the Gorgonzola and mix thoroughly.

Transfer to a shallow tray or wooden board (dampened to prevent sticking)* and spread into an 8-inch square. Let cool until firm. The polenta can be made several hours ahead or the day before, then cooled and refrigerated until needed.

Cut the polenta into 4 squares, put on a nonstick baking sheet and cook under a very hot broiler until the cheese begins to bubble and melt. To serve, transfer the polenta to warmed plates, top with the bell peppers, and serve with arugula.

*I cut out a step by pouring the polenta directly onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat. I even was able to broil the peppers briefly on a silpat mat. I recommend broiling everything for a few minutes so it all gets a nice crispiness. Bryant’s cooking tip: You gotta put some stank on it.

The Night We Ate Everything: Part 1

“Do you realize what a modern marvel this is,” our friend Bryant said to Patrick last night.

He was speaking about the vegetarian feast laid out–half demolished–on the table before us.

Bryant visited us from Baton Rouge, and after a weekend of eating out we decided to cook a multi-course meal. And by multi-course meal I mean we started cooking and didn’t stop.

We began with a goat cheese and gorgonzola cheese platter with dates and water crackers. Then, while I made olive tapenade bruschetta, Bryant made a scrumptious Mediterranean orzo salad with feta, olives, spinach, cucumber, red onion and tomatoes.

And since I woke up to find zucchini-zilla in my garden yesterday morning, we made a stuffed zucchini…

Followed by piedmontese peppers with gorgonzola polenta (courtesy of Celia Brooks Brown’s New Vegetarian).

And for dessert: homemade carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Did I mention I’m attempting to eat fewer carbs these days? Clearly, that didn’t happen yesterday.

But it was so, so worth it. Look at all this!

Every night this week, I’d like to share one recipe from this meal. And every night this week, I plan on eating the leftovers from this meal.

To start with, I’ll share an appetizer. Brushetta is one of my favorite appetizers. It’s easy to make, easy to eat (which is key for party food) and inexpensive. Oh, and it’s delicious. For this version of it, salty green olives and tangy lemon juice pair together in a simple but tasty spread.

1 cup of pitted green olives
1 clove garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil plus extra for spraying
1 French baguette

Pulse all ingredients together in a blender or food processor on low speed, but be careful not to over blend. You don’t want to puree the mixture.

Next, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the baguette into 1 ½ inch slices (roughly). Brush the slices on each side with olive oil — you can also use a spray bottle or, my personal preference, a Misto. Toast the bread for 10 minutes or until each slice is light brown. Remove from the oven and let cool just enough so you can handle each slice. Top each slice with a generous coating of tapenade and serve warm.