Learning by Cooking

This mom is feeling extremely pampered today.  E is working on his cooking merit badge.  Today was the day he prepared ALL the meals for the family!  Every single meal AND he did ALL the dishes!!!

Tortilla Soup BrightThe cooking merit badge experience has been great.  The boys have learned their caloric and nutritional needs and developed three days worth of meal plans that satisfy those requirements.  It was nice to see E develop an appreciation for how well balanced some of his favorite meals are.  He has always liked tortilla soup, but now that he knows how many requirements it fulfills he seems to like it even more.

I like the shopping trips we do for scouts.  I don’t do a very good job of including the boys in that aspect of things, so it’s really been good taking E shopping with a budget.

IMG_0212Beyond the merit badge, scouting is really helping E gain confidence and independence.   It’s a great reminder for me that I need to hang back and let the kids contribute more.  It’s a huge help when we are packing lunches and the kids make their own sandwiches. Sometimes I think, “Wait, why am I doing this?  This kid knows how to pack for a weekend outdoors, cook over an open fire, and use a backpacking stove.”

Cooking doesn’t have to be all about meals.  Sometimes it’s still fun to bust out our metric cookie recipes and make a batch of cookies using our best kitchen lab skills.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras always makes me a little homesick for Louisiana.  We lived in Baton Rouge for a few years.  It was a really wonderful time in our life.  Hard work, good friends, and just an amazingly special place.

IMG_1682When we moved away I had to learn to bake my own king cakes. (You can order them, but they aren’t as fresh as picking them up at the bakery.)  I still miss the warm weather and crawfish boils of Louisiana.  I miss Spring coming in February.  But today, even as the wind batters the house with numbingly cold winds, each bite of King Cake brings warm happy memories.

So today I’m sharing my favorite King Cake recipe, in case you too find yourself far away from the bakeries of Louisiana!

Zulu King Cake


  • 2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3+ cups flour
  • Filling
  • 8 oz cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teas cinnamon
  • 1 teas vanilla
  • White Icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • Chocolate Icing
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, melted


  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, sugar, oil, baking powder, salt, egg and 2 cups of flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
  2. Turn dough onto well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
  3. Place in greased bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours. Dough is ready if an indentation remains when touched.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. While dough is rising, make cream cheese filling by mixing softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla on high speed until fluffy.
  6. Roll dough on a floured surface into a rectangle about 16" x 8"
  7. Place cream cheese filling down the middle and fold dough in thirds to make a roll.
  8. Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper with the seam side down and shape into a circle.
  9. Bake covered for 20-25 minutes and then finish with about 5-10 minutes uncovered.
  10. Once the king cake has cooled top with a simple white frosting, melted chocolate, and toasted coconut flakes(optional).


King Cake season runs from January 6th through Mardi Gras.


Have fun with it and make it your own.  Try pecan fillings or fruit fillings or go a more traditional route by making a cinnamon roll ring.

Happy Mardi Gras! 


7 Ways to Fix Zucchini

We’ve reached that time of the year when it feels like the zucchini is secretly multiplying behind closed refrigerator doors.  This week I was determined to use all the zucchini before the next CSA pickup.


Veggie Quiche– Since this was a complete attempt to use what was available I did not follow a recipe. (Actually, unless I’m baking I rarely follow a recipe.)  I used the food processor to slice up about two zucchini, added onion, garlic, and kale (about 1/2 a bunch) and cooked all the veggies until slightly soft. I placed the veggies in a mixing bowl and added sun-dried tomatoes, a few bacon bits, some feta cheese, and 3 eggs and poured the mixture into a pie crust.  I covered the pie crust edges with aluminum foil and baked for about 45-50 minutes at about 400 F.  (The boys offered the following improvements: Eliminate the zucchini – use more spinach and kale instead.  Replace the feta cheese with Mexican cheese and add more bacon bits. )

Zucchini Cupcakes – Absolutely delicious!  I replaced half the oil with peach mango applesauce.

Black Bean Zucchini Enchiladas –  Again this was a “use what’s available” creation.  I chopped up about 1 onion and 1 largish zucchini and a bit of garlic (I would have added red pepper if it had been available).  Then I added about 1/2 cup of frozen corn and seasoned the whole thing with 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 tablespoon chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  I sautéed all the ingredients in a small amount of oil.  Once the onions were almost soft, I added a can of rinsed black beans.   When the mixture was all warm I placed it in enchiladas in a baking pan, covered with enchilada sauce and baked at 400 F for about 15 minutes.  Then I added a bit of cheese and baked until the cheese melted. Serve with sliced avocado and cilantro for garnish.  There were probably about 3-4 servings.

Zucchini Fritters – I used the leftover grated zucchini from the making the cupcakes mixed with some beaten egg and a little flour to make fritters.  I served with a little sour cream and sliced tomato.

Black Bean Zucchini Quinoa Burgers – I linked to this recipe because the instructions look  fairly close to what I actually did.  Again I really didn’t follow a recipe, but I really should have taken notes while making mine because they turned out great.  I know I used some curry, nutmeg and turmeric as seasoning.

Zucchini Brownie

Also popular with my kids although not made this week:

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Brownies

What are your favorite zucchini recipes?



5 Meatless Winter Dinners



Winter is a time when we turn to cozy comfort foods.  I’m sure our ancestors needed high calorie meals to get them through the cold winter months, but even though it’s cold outside most of us aren’t burning significantly more calories to stay warm.  Today I’m sharing 5 comforting plant based winter foods that will fill you up without blowing your calorie budget.


Tortilla Soup BrightTortilla Soup – This is my kids’ favorite.  Their version is just black beans, lentils, corn, cream corn, and chicken broth.  For grownups, we add red peppers, onions, and tomatoes – or just salsa if we are in a hurry.  This is an absolute staple at my house.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream, a bit of Mexican Cheese blend, and tortilla chips.

Red Beans and Rice served with Avocado and Cilantro!  Yum!


Red Beans and Rice – Small red beans slow cooked with celery, onion, tomatoes, and chili spices.   Served over rice with sun dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and maybe some avocado.






White Bean Chili – Potatoes, onions, green chilis, red peppers and white beans.  Sometimes I add mustard and curry for an infusion of Indian flavor.




Veggie Shepard Pie – I usually start with peas, carrots, a bit of corn and onions with either beans, edamame, or lentils.  I cover all that with about 1 1/2 cups of gravy.  Then top with mashed potatoes (probably 3-4 cups of mashed potatoes).


Vegtable SoupVegetable or Minestrone Soup-  This serves as a clean out the frig soup so the ingredients vary a lot.  This week I used carrots, onions, corn, potatoes, red pepper, mushrooms, snap peas, zucchini, and tomatoes.  I like to cook quinoa, pasta or barley separately and combine with the soup when serving.  Add some warm, crusty bread and this is comfort food at it’s best.

Hope you’ve gotten some inspiration!

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A Plant Based Diet


Why go plant based?

Three years ago a friend sent us the book, The Engine 2 Diet.  The author, Rip Esselstyn , is the son of Cleveland Clinic cardiologist, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who has studied the effects of diet on heart disease.  The book advocates a strictly plant based diet to reduce cholesterol and improve heart health.  Our friend had gone on a two week retreat where he ate strictly plant foods and did yoga every day.  He said he felt great and chose to continue once he returned home.

My husband wanted to give it a try.  I felt like we were already eating very healthy and doubted we would see any benefit.  At the time I was fixing about 4 chicken breasts,  1 lb. of ground turkey and some preservative free sliced turkey for the four of us each week, so we weren’t consuming a huge amount of meat.  Reluctantly I agreed to make the switch – no dairy, no meat, no eggs.  An amazing thing happened.  After about 2 weeks I woke up one morning and realized I didn’t feel any pain in my joints or hands for the first time in years!

3 years later we don’t hold to a strictly plant based diet but I would say we are MOSTLY plant based.  I still use eggs for some baking and chicken broth in soups.  However our cheese and dairy consumption is way down and I remain pain free.   A few times per month, I buy rotissarie chicken for the kids and the husband and I eat sushi.

I never imagined I would choose a primarily plant based diet.  It always seemed to me like it would be a life of “I can’t eat that.”  At first I was uncertain what to make and so many of the recipes I found were either super complex and required ingredients I’d never heard of or they were so simple it didn’t even seem like cooking.  I didn’t want to replace simple minimally processed meats with replacement products that had long lists of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.

Is it practical to eat a plant based diet?

Yes.  In fact in most respects it’s easier and I feel more freedom as a cook.  It is definitely easier to get the recommended amounts of fiber and vegetables.

Do I feel like I’m missing out?

Not at all.  I eat a much greater variety of foods now.   However, I have learned that if I get a craving for a particular food to just go for it.  That means I do eat ribs or a steak maybe 3 times per year and sushi a couple of times per month.

Do I plan to stick with it?

Since eating a mostly plant based diet makes me feel tremendously better it’s easy to maintain.  I would think it’s the same for people who find out they are gluten sensitive.

What about for young people?

I don’t try to have my kids follow a strict vegetarian diet.  They have chicken a couple of times a week.  If it’s been a few days without meat I make sure they take a vitamin B12 supplement.

I really enjoy having the chance to talk with families when the teenagers are thinking about going vegetarian.  It can feel so intimidating to parents, because they want to make sure the kids are eating healthy nutritious food, but they don’t want to cook a whole different menu just for the kids.   Parents don’t want to give up their favorite foods or be made to feel guilty about eating them.  It’s important for kids to understand that while eating vegetarian or vegan is possible, it does take work to make it a healthy choice.  It’s not just about the absence of meat, you have to eat healthy whole foods to maintain energy.

How do you get enough protein?

I use rice protein powder in my smoothies each morning.  It’s convenient and has a good amino acid profile.  The rest of the day my protein intake is from a variety of beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, quinoa or nut butters.  I usually only use tofu once or twice a week and I avoid most meat replacement products.

Do you take any supplements?

I take a multivitamin, a B complex, vitamin D, and calcium supplements.  I also make sure to add flax seed to my smoothie each morning for Omega-3’s.  I found that with a vegetarian diet a separate vitamin B supplement was necessary to keep my energy levels up.

What do you use for milk?

I use almond milk in my smoothies.  Our youngest drinks chocolate soy milk and our oldest drinks organic milk.  I don’t eat cereal much anymore because I can’t get used to not using regular milk on cereal and my smoothie makes a much better start to the day.

What sort of dishes are staples at your house?

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing some of my favorite winter plant foods.