Semi-Veggie Jessie

Vegetarian recipes for beginner home cooks

Broccoli and Red Pepper Stir-Fry October 29, 2010

Filed under: Recipes — semiveggie @ 4:22 pm
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Broccoli and Red Pepper Stir-Fry

I have a foolproof method to guarantee your success in the kitchen.  My method is easy and effective; once you start using it, your friends will be fighting for a seat at your kitchen table.  In addition, this method can help you avoid ordering take-out too often.  A few years ago, J. and I were on a first-name basis with our local Thai food delivery guy.  Our addiction to curry got so bad that our delivery guy got us a Christmas present one year for being his best customers.  Don’t be like us.


So how can you avoid take-out temptation?  Just use one of these three forbidden ingredients:


1.  A bottle


2.  A can


3.  A package


I know what you’re thinking.  A food blog is supposed to be about how to make food!  You didn’t come to SemiVeggie to learn about how to reheat a pre-packaged frozen burrito.  I’m pretty sure you know how to do that on your own.  And honestly, most days I love to make food from scratch.  I often make my own pizza dough and salad dressing, and I’ve even gone so far as to attempt making my own mayonnaise before.  Cooking from scratch is fun and rewarding, when I’m in the mood.  But why is there a weird bias in the food world against using pre-made items?  You’re viewed as virtuous when you make cookies from scratch, but seen as weak when you succumb to the tube of chocolate chip dough.  Yet both scenarios involve you standing in your kitchen, creating food for loved ones.  Yes, I know that prepackaged food is full of sodium and chemicals.  I realize that it’s healthier to make everything from scratch.  I can even promise you that it’s way more fun to make your own salsa rather than buying it.  But sometimes, a bottle can make the difference between cooking dinner and ordering greasy Chinese take-out.  I’m telling you right now that it’s ok to use “the forbidden three” in the kitchen every once in a while.


For example, last year I attempted to make lemon meringue-topped cupcakes for a friend’s birthday party.  I spent over an hour making the lemon curd filling from scratch, melting butter and stirring the creamy custard.  The lemony end result was incredibly delicious, and my kitchen smelled like summertime.  Yet by the time I had finished scrubbing out the crusty yellow glaze from the pot I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore.  I just couldn’t face the thought of whipping egg whites for meringue, and I was dreading creaming the butter for the cupcake batter.  I was sick of cooking, tired of standing, and was about ready to pour the lemon curd down the drain.  I was dangerously close to leaving the kitchen, cupcake-less.  Then, I spotted an old box of yellow cake mix in the back of my pantry.  I’m pretty sure it was full of hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup, but it saved my cupcakes and my sanity.  I added lemon juice to the cake mix and poured the batter into a cupcake pan.  After cooling the cupcakes, I spread the pale yellow lemon curd on top instead of icing.  Success!  No one ever knew about my original meringue ambitions, and my friends were thrilled with the sugary treats.


Let’s say it together: “It’s ok to use forbidden ingredients”.  This recipe uses bottled stir fry sauce.  You can make your own sauce, if you want – throw some chopped ginger, soy sauce, water, cornstarch, honey, and garlic together and simmer.  Or, you can use some pre-packaged help. Sometimes, chopping veggies is all I can manage after a long day of explaining to fourth graders why it’s a bad idea to use violin bows to stage a swordfight.  So, on days like that, I chop my veggies, and I let the bottle do the rest.  Dinner is served in ten minutes, and it’s even faster than take-out.  Just make sure to tell your usual delivery guy that you won’t need his services tonight.


Broccoli and Red Pepper Stir-Fry


Two tablespoons of olive oil

Two cloves of garlic, minced

One head of broccoli, chopped

Two red peppers, diced

One block of extra-firm tofu

Preparation: Take the tofu out of the package.  Place a heavy bowl on top of the tofu.  Let drain for twenty minutes.

8 oz. stir fry sauce

Optional additions: cashews, peanuts, or sesame seeds



Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pot over medium heat.  Add minced garlic and cook for two minutes.  Add red peppers and broccoli.  Toss to combine ingredients.  Cook for five minutes, stirring to make sure the veggies don’t burn.


Meanwhile, cut drained tofu into cubes.  Heat up a dry skillet over medium heat.  Place tofu cubes on skillet and cook for one minute.  Flip the tofu cubes and cook another minute.  Continue to flip tofu until the cubes are browned all over.  Sprinkle tofu with salt and pepper.  Add the browned tofu to the veggies.  Pour stir fry sauce on top, and mix to combine.  Add nuts or sesame seeds, if you want to be fancy.


~Semi-Veggie Jessie


Toasted Kale and Mushrooms with Gnocchi October 26, 2010

Filed under: Recipes — semiveggie @ 1:47 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Toasted Kale and Mushrooms with Gnocchi

Random fact about me: I need to learn absolutely everything about a subject before I can take action.  I’m not proud of my neurotic habits – I would give anything to be more spontaneous.  But it’s just not my style.  I’m the type of person who reads all 146 reviews on the latest paperback book before buying.  I routinely google my medical concerns before I actually pick up my phone to call my doctor.  I can’t seem to publish a post on SemiVeggie without obsessively reading it a million times, checking for grammatical mistakes and making sure my writing is accessible to the beginning home cook.  I’m great at gathering information, but I’m awful at following through.  Many of my great ideas go into the trash bin because I cannot seem to get started.


Two years ago I knew I wanted to learn how to cook, and I tried to convince myself to take action.  Of course, instead of actually walking into the kitchen, I ended up reading a million food blogs and learning everything I could about cooking.  As a result of my efforts, I soon could talk for hours about the differences between summer squash and winter squash, but I had never actually tried to cut into a squash with a butcher knife.  I’m sure you can relate – cooking sure seems fun when you’re watching Paula Deen douse her cornbread in butter, but in reality it’s hard to peel yourself away from your TV long enough actually go preheat the oven.  Oh, I’m sure you’ve done your research, promising yourself you’d learn to cook – maybe you invested in expensive non-stick cookware, or watched multiple YouTube videos about how to dice a mango.  I did the same – I used to scour thrift stores for fun kitchen gadgets, but the flat spatulas and pastry brushes would sit unused in my kitchen drawers.  I’d tried to learn to cook before, but had only gotten as far as re-heating Easy Mac.  Two years later, I’ve gone from food blog reader to food blog writer, and I cook every chance I can get.  I get excited when Wegman’s has Hungarian paprika on sale, and I can tell you the best way to liven up a grilled cheese sandwich (add Balsamic vinegar, in case anyone was wondering).  What the hell happened to me?


Here’s the truth: I was finally inspired to put knife to veggie when I faced my first bitterly cold upstate New York winter.  I’m sure you can picture the scene: I’m wrapped up in blankets, with my laptop on my lap, going stir crazy in the middle of January.  Out of a fit of desperation, I posted a sad little message on Facebook:  “Anyone want to come over?  I’ll make dinner”.  To my surprise, my friends replied: “Sure!  We’ll be over in an hour.”  I gathered up my courage and started boiling water for pasta.  Soon, I had a house full of friends, wine, and laughter in the middle of winter.  And the best part was: I didn’t have to leave my house! I had figured out a way I could fill up my social calendar without venturing out into below-freezing temperatures.  Win-win!


I quickly fell in love with my new role as cook.  I discovered I loved hosting casual dinner parties, and my kitchen confidence grew with every veggie I diced.  My new hobby grew into an obsession, and I couldn’t be happier.  Oh sure, I still love to know everything before I actually cook – I will read through the recipe many times before starting, and I often make a recipe for my fiance before I will serve it to friends.  But I can tell you – actually cooking is way more fun than reading food blogs.  So get up out of your computer chair, put your laptop on your kitchen counter, and start cooking!  This gnocchi recipe is a favorite of J’s, and it’s perfect vegetarian comfort food for the cold winter months.  Make it, and invite your friends to join you.  Tell them to bring wine.


Toasted Kale and Mushrooms with Whole Wheat Gnocchi

Two years ago, I would have been intimidated by the ingredients in this recipe.  Please don’t be a wimp like I was.  Recipes should be flexible – if kale scares you, then substitute spinach or swiss chard or broccoli.  Kale is yummy and healthy and cheap – I highly recommend it.  I buy a large bouquet of the curly green stuff at Wegman’s every week, and I throw it into soups, pastas, and stir-frys.  You can find pre-made whole wheat gnocchi in the regular pasta aisle.



Two tablespoons of olive oil

Two cloves of garlic, diced

Or one teaspoon of the pre-diced garlic

One bunch of kale

Preparation: Strip off the curly leaves, throw out the stems, and rip the leaves into small pieces.  Rinse pieces to remove any dirt.

One 16 oz. package of sliced mushrooms

I like to use prepackaged baby ‘bellas, but any kind will work.

¼ cup of Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Extra olive oil to drizzle on top



You’ll need two pots for this recipe: one for the gnocchi, and one for the kale and mushrooms.  A wok works well for the veggies if you want.


Directions for gnocchi:  Bring four cups of water to a boil over high heat.  Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water.  Cook according to package directions (gnocchi are usually ready in 3-4 minutes).  Drain the water from the pot.


Directions for veggies:  Add the two tablespoons of olive oil to a pot over medium heat.  Wait until the oil is hot, and then add the garlic.  Let the garlic cook for a minute, then add the entire package of mushrooms.   Cook the garlic and mushrooms together for 5-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are dark and juicy.   Add the prepared kale to the pot.  Sprinkle salt over the kale, mushrooms, and garlic.  Stir the veggies around the pot to cook.  After about three minutes of cooking, the kale should turn bright green.  Keep stirring so the veggies don’t burn.  Cook for five more minutes, and then turn off the burner.


Combine cooked gnocchi with kale and mushrooms.  Add a generous drizzle of oil and the ¼ cup of parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Toss to combine.



~Semi-Veggie Jessie


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