Happily Ever After Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Grilled cheese sandwiches used to be a staple in our home.  I loaded them up with cheese — usually a combination of Jack and Cheddar,  and then cooked them in about an inch of melted butter —  they were absolutely, to-die-for fabulous!  Everyone in our family loved them, including my  husband, who has a major aversion to cheese.

But, as the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end”,  and when we switched to a plant-based diet, about a year ago, that was the end of our grilled cheese sandwich.

I know, I know — Horror of horrors and tragedy of tragedies!

But, hang on a bit… this story does have a happy ending.

Although our family now consumes a diet of, mainly, plant-based foods, we’ve learned that as long as we keep our consumption of animal-based protein to 5%, or less, of our overall diet, we still  have the ability to stave off  what are called ”diseases of affluence”, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes — our main reason for making the diet change (if you’re interested, here’s the movie that got it all started for us).

Here’s what our grilled cheese sandwiches look like, now…

They are loaded with chopped kale, apples, and a little bit of aged cheddar cheese  — 5% that acts as the “glue” to help hold them all together! 🙂

For eight, sandwiches, I use a total of 7 oz. of aged cheddar cheese , about 2 cups of fresh, chopped kale from my garden, and one large, organic, red delicious apple.  *A note on cheese selection:  it’s best to use organic cheese that comes from grass-fed cows to avoid consuming GMOs, which will, most certainly, be found in the feed of non grass-fed cows — if you’re eating what they eat, then you may, unsuspectingly, be consuming genetically modified food, too.

I use  Dave’s Killer Bread as the bookends on these sandwiches.  I appreciate that the goal at this company is to “create the ultimate healthy bread using the best organic ingredients available on the market”, but what I love, even more, is the story about Dave, the man behind the bread — a wonderful, second-chance story, of an ex-con who has turned his life around, and is now paying it forward in many different ways.

I don’t think the process of putting this sandwich together takes any explanation, but a couple of hints on making it:

1.  Slice your apples nice and thin – you want them to get nice and warm along with the other ingredients inside of the sandwich.

2.  Shred your cheese, rather than slicing it.  This way you can better control the amount that goes onto each sandwich.

2.  Layer the kale and apples in between the cheese – as I said, you need some “glue” to hold it all together.

3.  Lightly oil your griddle with a touch of coconut oil to help brown the bread – another good oil is grapeseed oil (these both remain stable at high heats).  *You’ll want to avoid canola oil, as it is, most likely, genetically modified, and butter, as it is high in cholesterol and fat.  (Technically, all oils are 100% fat, so, if you are cutting down on fat in your diet, just skip the oil altogether, it’ll still brown fairly nicely without it).

4.  When flipping the sandwich, use a spatula underneath and your hand on the top to help hold the sandwich together while turning it over, otherwise you may end up with a big mess. 🙂

This sandwich is as nutritious as it is delicious.  The pairing of cheese and apples is wonderful — I especially enjoy how the sweet balances out the strong aged cheddar flavor (another reason why you can get away with so little cheese),  and the kale provides a nice, mild tasting third layer of flavor.  For those who don’t like kale, spinach would also be a nice alternative, and so would some spicy arugula!

In fact, if you are strictly a plant-based eater, you could make an even healthier grilled cheese sandwich by using a vegan “cheez” sauce, like this one, which I am going to do the next time I make these.

So, although we no longer consume the traditional grilled cheese sandwich, loaded with cheese and cooked in oodles of butter, we haven’t completely given up on them.

The version we eat now, however, is more suited to helping us live “happily ever after”, and what better ending to a story could you ask for than that?   🙂

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Seasonally Fresh, Summer Confetti Salad

Every couple of weeks I host an “Open Garden” sale, out at our homestead.  It is a way for me to sell some of the surplus fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers from our gardens, give people a tour of our large food garden, and talk to them about sustainable farming practices, answering any questions they might have about starting or maintaining a garden of their own.  It’s usually a pretty small event, and I don’t make a whole lot of money from the sale, but I love getting to share the fruits of our labor with other people, and let them sample the amazing tastes of our fresh, homegrown, organic heirloom foods.

I often have a surplus of goodies leftover, for myself, after the sale, and I always want to use it up as quickly as possible, to take advantage of their freshness and so they do not spoil.

After this weekend’s sale, I had some leftover cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro, and I decided to use them all in a simple, one dish, light, summer salad.  It ended up being the perfect meal to end my long, busy day.

I kind of just threw this salad together, so I’m approximating on the ingredients.  Feel free to add more or less, to your own liking, and use whatever veggies you’ve got on hand to add to the salad and make it your own.

Summer Confetti Salad

Ingredients:

1 box whole wheat couscous (I think quinoa would make a great, gluten-free substitute – about 3 cups cooked)

2 cups raw almonds

2 cups corn kernels (frozen or canned is fine, if you don’t have fresh)

1 cup seeded, chopped cucumber

1 cup seeded, chopped zucchini

2 cups chopped tomato (I used quartered cherry tomatoes)

1 large bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (if you don’t like cilantro, you can substitute mint, or another fresh herb, like oregano)

1 jalapeno chili pepper, seeded

1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

1/8 cup lime juice

1 tbsp. honey

salt, pepper to taste

about 1 cup feta cheese crumbles (optional, and you can add whatever amount to your liking)

Assembly

Cook couscous according to package directions (I only use water and salt to cook it in), set aside.

Process almonds in a food processor until they are finely chopped.

Assemble dressing:  In a blender, combine jalapeno pepper, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, honey, 1/4 tsp. salt, and pepper.  Blend until pepper is nearly liquified.

Assemble salad:  In a large salad bowl, combine couscous, almonds, vegetables, and cilantro, toss with dressing, then fold in feta cheese crumbles (if using).  Add more salt and pepper, if needed.

This is a really, great salad.  I love using fresh, seasonal produce from my garden, and I also tend to be a “one-pot” type cooker, so this salad is really the ideal recipe, for a cook, like me!

It is light, yet filling, and the flavors all work really well together.  One note:  the dressing is barely detectable, which I like, but if you want it to be more pronounced, you may want to double the recipe, especially the jalapenos, if you want it to be more spicy.

It makes a perfectly fine, stand alone meal, but would also be a great tag-along side dish for a potluck.

So, if you’re looking for a nice, light, cool, summery meal, or a new dish to bring along to your next potluck, why not give this salad a try?  I’ll bet you won’t be disappointed!

A Quick, Healthy, Creamy, Kid-Friendly, Non-Dairy Tomato Sauce

I think it’s quite funny that I’ve been posting a lot of recipes, lately.  I do not consider myself to be a “cook”, by any means.  I love growing food, but I’d much rather leave it to someone else to figure out what to do with it in the kitchen.  For the sake of saving money, and feeding my family food that I can feel good about, though, I’ve been forcing myself to get better at cooking.

Occasionally, I surprise myself by coming up with something that I think other people might enjoy, and, so,  I decide to share it, here.

It feels a little scary, putting my recipes out there for the rest of the world to see!  I think, “What if someone who knows what they are doing gets a hold of one of my recipes, and really tears it apart?”

Ah, well.  I’m not trying to be America’s Next Top Chef, afterall.

So, this week, I got a little  creative, in the kitchen, and decided to try making a  non-dairy, creamy, tomato sauce – for my kids – to go over  pasta.  I was quite surprised when it actually ended up being a crowd pleaser — yay!  I love it when a plan comes together like that! 😉

So, if you’re looking for a fast,  kid-friendly, non-dairy, and quite healthy red tomato sauce that you can pour over the top of any type of pasta, then I invite you to give this recipe a try!

Here’s how it’s made…

Creamy, Non-Dairy, Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

1 – 15 oz. can of tomato sauce

1/3 of a 6 oz. can of tomato paste

6 oz. soft tofu (half of a 12 oz. package)

1 cup non-dairy milk

1/8 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1/8 cup raw cashews

1/2 tbsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. fresh basil leaves

1/4 tsp. salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Instructions:

Place the tomato sauce and tomato paste into a small saucepan and set aside.

Blend the remainder of the ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Pour the blender ingredients into the saucepan with the tomato sauce and paste, stir with a wire whisk until combined.  Heat, on medium-low, until it begins to bubble, stirring fairly often.  Remove from heat, and serve over the pasta of your choice.

The color takes a little getting used to — it turns out to be an orangey-pink color, but it has a nice, sweet and slightly rich taste (even a little bit like Chef Boyardee).

If you decide to give it a try, let me know what you think — just remember, if you don’t like it,  go easy on me. 🙂

How to Make a Quick, Semi-Homemade, Late Spring Veggie Pizza

Since “going vegan”, I don’t miss eating fast food, but I do miss eating food that I can get into my tummy fast!

Now that the weather’s warmed up, and the garden (like a newborn baby) requires so much of my attention,  the kitchen is the last place I want to spend my time.  (In fact, if it weren’t for having to feed the rest of my family, I’d be perfectly content hooking up an intravenous feeding tube to my stomach so that I didn’t have to stop in the middle of another gardening project until the first frost of next year!)

To speed up lunch, a little, today, I employed a” you-bake” cheese pizza that I purchased  last night, and transformed it into a much healthier version using fresh, organic veggies from our garden.

First, I removed about 80% of the cheese that it was topped with (yes, real dairy cheese on pizza is one of my weaknesses, but I’ve learned to dial it way back!).  Then, I loaded it with broccoli, golden zucchini, and the first tomato of the season.  I also added some fresh, store-bought, chopped mushrooms.

Does this look fabulous?

With the time I saved, using a pre-made  pizza base, I was able to finish prepping a garden bed, construct a trellis system,  and sow a plot of  Rattlesnake pole beans.  Not a bad compromise, I think!

So, if you’re looking to make a quick meal that utilizes lots of fresh veggies why not give this method a try?

And, when you’ve got more time, make it even more healthy by making your own pizza saucetofu or almond ricotta cheese spread, and homemade whole-wheat crust (There are a ton of recipes on the web —  I tweak one that I found in the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook) for the base?

What is your favorite, fast, healthy, home-cooked meal?

Strawberry, Lime Basil-Flavored Water

I thought I’d treat myself to something a little more exciting than plain ice water, today, as I worked out in the garden.

All it took to build this concoction was…

  • Ice cubes
  • A handful of fresh strawberries
  • 10 leaves of lime basil
  •  filtered water

I simply tossed all of the ingredients into my favorite plastic tumbler (after crushing the basil leaves in my hand, a little, to release the oils), sloshed it around a little,  and I was done!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the flavor from the berries and basil kept right on infusing any extra water that I added throughout the day.

 I must say, it was quite fabulous!

I don’t think I’ll ever drink plain water when I’m working out in the garden again.

So, the next time you’re looking for a quick, flavorful, and thirst-quenching drink to make, why not infuse some water of your own with a little fruit and herbs?  What flavor combinations do you think would work well together?