tofu on the table

Before kids, I ate an über-healthy diet. No meat, lots of veggies, regular intake of fatty fish, legumes, and whole grains. I still had the sweet tooth I do now, but figured that my overall low-calorie and nutrient-rich diet more than balanced any high-fat, high-sugar indiscretions.

Then came kids. Pregnancy threw my body for a loop as I was completely turned off all vegetables. Bizarre. I also developed ravenous protein cravings and anything whole-grain had WAY too much flavor. Having food issues when pregnant isn’t uncommon and it’s temporary, but each pregnancy still threw off my healthy-eating groove and it takes work to go back. I’m glad to love fresh produce and whole grains again, but returning to occasional meatless meals has yet to happen.

Which is why tonight’s supper was so much fun. I bought tofu a week or so ago, thinking it would be good to cook with again. I found a recipe in my collection I had clipped from an old Vegetarian Times and set about to make Barbecued Tofu. I was trying to use up an overabundance of zucchini, summer squash, and bell peppers, so subbed those in for the veggies called for in the recipe. I made a few other tweaks and this is what I came up with.

barbecued tofu and sweet brown rice

The flavors were good, though a homemade barbecue sauce would have made it even tastier. My husband dutifully ate a serving, though his preference would have been something more meat-and-potatoes. And while I would love to report that my girls gobbled it down, they weren’t thrilled with tonight’s meal.

It’s on me to finish the leftovers (of which there are plenty–this recipe makes a lot), but I don’t mind as this dish is versatile. It’ll be tasty stuffed into pitas, wrapped in tortillas, tossed with pasta, or served over mixed greens. But tonight, alongside brown rice, it made a warm, comforting, and über-healthy meal.

Barbecued Tofu

  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package firm tofu
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 each red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 each zucchini and yellow summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F. Coat large baking sheet lightly with olive oil.

Drain tofu; pat dry on clean kitchen towel. Cut tofu into bite-size pieces.

On baking sheet, toss together vegetables. Drizzle with some of barbecue sauce. Toss to coat, adding sauce as needed. Add tofu to baking sheet; drizzle with sauce as needed. Roast, stirring gently once or twice, 20 minutes or until vegetables are desired doneness. Season with salt and black pepper. Makes 8 servings.

bowl of red

A recent sale on red bell peppers got me thinking about pureed bell pepper soup. Today was the day for this soup. Not wanting to take time to find a recipe, I made it up as I went along. This cooking philosophy doesn’t always serve me well, but today I struck gold (or ruby?). The results were just what I’d hoped for.

First, I chopped and seeded 4 large red bell peppers. Next, the peppers sautéed in just a bit of olive oil. When the bell peppers were just starting to brown, I added a splash of white wine (1/4 cup?) and a spoonful (1 tablespoon?) of low-sodium chicken bouillon. I stirred to dissolve the bouillon, then poured in about 1 cup (maybe a bit less) water. Next, I added about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried basil, covered the saucepan, and simmered the soup until the bell peppers were tender (15ish minutes). A quick whir with the immersion blender pureed it smooth (you could also transfer the soup to a traditional blender for the puree). The pan was removed from the heat so I could add 1 to 2 tablespoons 1% milk and about the same amount plain low-fat yogurt. Stirring in the dairy off the heat was important as both are low-fat and sure to curdle the high-acid soup if brought to a boil.

It was all pinch-and-dash, so I was glad to see the soup turn out well. The color was bold and the flecks of dried basil added a touch of rustic. Pressing the finished soup through a fine-mesh strainer would have rendered it smooth as silk, but I preferred the hint of texture from the bell pepper skins. I loved the deep and savory flavors–lots of bell pepper with a heavy hint of basil. And when I did the math, I figured I’d eaten half of the recipe (which made about 3 cups total). That means I downed two (!) large bell peppers. Wow. That’s some serious vitamins A and C as well as fiber and all the healthy “plant chemicals” we hear so much about. A very nutritious bowl of red, for sure.

pureed red bell pepper soup


There’s a rhythm to the kitchen. After a few evenings of full-on home-cooked meals, the refrigerator holds leftovers that need to be eaten. This means cooking takes a back seat to “meal assembly” for the next few evenings. Instead of serving the same thing multiple nights in a row (meatloaf AGAIN?), I have a better shot at getting the family to eat things a second time around when the leftovers are re-assembled. Take tonight’s supper.

If that leftover meatloaf wasn’t eaten soon, it was headed for the trash. A half-loaf of mulitgrain French bread was leftover from the weekend and a small casserole dish of leftover pizza sauce was taking up freezer space. Sounded like the makings of pizza bread to me.

After slicing the bread horizontally in half, I brushed the cut sides with olive oil. The bread then toasted at 300°F for a few minutes while I quickly browned slices of the meatloaf. The bread was topped with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella and the meatloaf. This returned to the oven to melt the cheese and warm all ingredients.

While the pizza bread warmed in the oven, the (leftover) pizza sauce was stirred into a sauté of thinly sliced onion and colored bell peppers. I spooned this bell pepper-tomato sauce alongside the pizza breads and called it supper. (The sauce went on the side as I figured my girls would at least try the sauce if it was on the side. If it went over the pizza bread, they’d most likely turn their cute little noses up at the whole dish.)

Leftover (frozen) green beans added a bit more veggie to the meal and also ensured my girls would eat vegetables, seeing how they’d be passing on the bell pepper-tomato sauce after their token bite. Tonight’s meal will not go down in my family’s “greatest meals of all time” memories. Just the same, we enjoyed a fun–if basic–meal with good flavors. It had the whole-grain carb, protein, dairy, and lots of vegetable. And there’s now room in the refrigerator for when the kitchen rhythm picks up again.

pepper pots

Bell peppers are on sale at a neighborhood grocery this week, which is a good thing. I love the vibrant colors of yellow, red, and orange bell peppers. I already had a stash of green bell peppers in the refrigerator thanks to a gift from a neighbor. The peppers would serve as inspiration for tonight’s supper.

I immediately thought “pepper pot soup,” though not sure why as I’d no idea what it was. A bit of online searching uncovered two types–a Jamaican hot pot of sorts with yams, coconut milk, and hot chile peppers. The Philadelphia or Yankee version was more what I had in mind: beef, carrots, celery, okra (had some on hand from a recent project), tomatoes, and the namesake bell peppers. I’d love to share a recipe here for what I made, but can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to follow recipes; my livelihood is developing, writing, and editing recipes, after all. It’s just that I never seem to have all of the ingredients I need. Or I mess up somewhere along the way. But I use what I have and move through “mistakes,” because I know that recipes are only springboards (am talking cooking here–this laissez fare attitude doesn’t usually hold for baking).

When I made tonight’s pepper pot soup, I loaded up on the bell peppers, replaced the tripe with short ribs, added thyme, beer, and a splash of white wine vinegar for more flavor depth, skipped the water and bouillon in favor of the stock I’d made with beef soup bones (one of the easiest ways to make something spectacular), used twice as much okra as the recipe called for as I wanted to finish the bag, and probably some other “tweaks” I’m not recalling. Could I make the exact same soup again? Nope. Was it good? Absolutely. My daughters picked out most of the vegetables, but they tried something new and I consider that a success.

Beef stock is as easy as throwing a few ingredients into a pot and letting it simmer. Freeze the stock in ice-cube trays, then pop the cubes into a resealable freezer bag for quick hit of broth. Or freeze in 1- or 2-cup portions.

Homemade Beef Stock

  • Beef soup bones
  • Water
  • 1 large onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 to 3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 to 3 celery ribs, cut into large chunks
  • 6 or so whole peppercorns
  • Bay leaf
  • Few sprigs fresh parsley

Heat large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add soup bones; cook, turning, until browned on all sides. Add remaining ingredients. Cover pot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 4 to 6 hours. Strain and discard solids. Skim fat from surface of stock or refrigerate and remove top layer of chilled fat.  Season stock with salt, if desired. Refrigerate or freeze to store.