Category Archives: Meat Free

Meatless Monday: Ensalada Caprese Stack with Toasted Garlic “Croutons” and Savory Butternut Squash Soup

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Meatless Monday seems to be growing in popularity and meat lover that I am, I’ve been avoiding it like the plague! But now that the holidays are over and I’m back to eating relatively healthful food day to day but…I still have pants in the closet that I can’t fit into anymore!

While I’m well aware that eating veggies only once a week isn’t going to make a significant impact it’s certainly a step in the right direction. It also starts off the week with a kick to my immune system and sets the stage for eating good wholesome food throughout the rest of the week.  So, meatless Monday it is!

Bacon bits just wouldn’t have been right so I went with the garlic “croutons”. These are not actually croutons but simply pan toasted chopped garlic. These yummy little tidbits pack a punch, are easy to make and great as a garnish for soups, salads, or even cooked vegetables.

I use a little dairy in both of these recipes. If you avoid dairy try making the tomato stack with firm tofu in place of the mozzarella cheese and unsweetened almond milk would be very good in the soup.

Note: The soup is best if made the day before and it also makes this an easy dinner to prepare on a Monday night!

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

1 – Large butternut squash
1 – Whole head of garlic
1 – Med yellow onion, halved then sliced thin
1 Tbsp – Fresh ginger, grated
6 Cups – Low sodium vegetable broth
1 Cup – Low fat kefir, plain (or non-fat buttermilk)
Olive Oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (or canola)
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and spritz with cooking spray. Quarter the squash leaving the seeds intact and place skin side down on the baking pan. Spritz the squash with a little of the cooking spray and season with salt and pepper.

Very carefully cut roughly ½ inch off the top (pointy end) of the garlic head. (The idea is to expose as many of the cloves as possible without removing too much of the meat.) Place the garlic on a piece of foil then drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil evenly over the top. Season with salt and pepper then bring the edges of the foil together over the top of the garlic head to seal.

Now place the baking sheet into the oven then place the neat little package of garlic on one of the corners of the baking sheet alongside the squash. Bake for 45 minutes, carefully remove the garlic and bake the squash 15 minutes more. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash is cooling add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a 4 quart sauce pan and place over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the pan is sizzling and the onion has begun to become transparent. Lower the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the onion turn golden, about 10 minutes.

When the squash have cooled enough to work with remove the skin and the seeds. (If they are not too burned; save the seeds for garnish or to munch on later.) As you work, place the cooked squash pieces into the pan along with the onions continuing to stir once in a while. Carefully remove the garlic cloves from the head and gently squeeze the roasted meat out of the skin, adding this to the pan with the onions and squash.

When you have all of the squash and the garlic added to the pan, add 2 cups of the broth, raise the heat to medium high and cook stirring often until most of the broth has evaporated. Stir in 3 more cups of broth and reserve the remaining cup for later. Allow the soup to just come back to a boil then remove it from the heat.

With the pan off of the heat, use an immersion blender to carefully puree the soup while adding the kefir a little at a time. Blend until all of the ingredients are well pureed and the soup has become silky smooth. Check the flavor and add salt and pepper if needed then return the pan to the heat and cook stirring often until heated through. If the soup is too think stir in the reserved cup of broth to bring back the consistency. Serve garnished with toasted garlic “croutons” and just a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

Ensalada Caprese Stack with Toasted Garlic “Croutons”

1 – Med to med-large very fresh, very ripe tomato per person, rinsed well
4 – ¼ thick slices fresh mozzarella per tomato
1 branch – Fresh basil, per tomato
Aged balsamic vinegar (I used12 year old)
Extra virgin olive oil
Mixed baby greens salad
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Slice enough off the bottom of each tomato to allow it to sit flat. Working one tomato at a time and slicing horizontally cut each into five equal slices including the top. Position the tomato slices in such a way that you can easily reassemble them into the original tomato shape.

Starting at the bottom, sprinkle the first slice with a little kosher salt & pepper. Now add a slice of mozzarella and a leaf or two of fresh basil, then drizzle this with a little of the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Set the next tomato slice on top and repeat the process until the tomato is reassembled with salt and pepper, cheese, basil, and oil and vinegar between each slice.

Before putting the top back on the tomato carefully cut out the stem, then after placing the top back on the tomato, drizzle a little more oil and vinegar into the hole left behind. Pinch the top of f of a branch of basil and place the stem end into the same hole so that it appears to be leaves on the tomato.

To serve, spread a serving of mixed baby greens on the plate then carefully set the tomato in the center. Sprinkle the greens with a little of the oil and vinegar, then garnish with toasted garlic “croutons” and just a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

Toasted Garlic Croutons

 2 to 4 Tbsp – Garlic, roughly chopped (large mince)
2 Tbsp – Olive Oil
1 – Pinch of kosher salt

Warm a small non-stick pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer lower the heat to low and stir in the garlic. Stirring very often to avoid burning, cook until all of the garlic has become evenly cooked and golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic to drain on a paper towel much as you would with bacon. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and shake the paper towel a little to distribute and to spread out the garlic so the pieces don’t stick together. Allow “croutons” a minute or two to dry before serving.



Menu for Two – Pan Seared Sea Scallops with a Fresh Herb White Wine Sauce, Oven Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus Spears.

Last week my wife Kathy had a rough week fighting the cold that I probably gave her when I had it the week before. Since she was feeling somewhat better by Friday I wanted to cook her something special so I went browsing at Costco for something out of the ordinary. With a crispy salad and some crusty bread, these scallops fit the bill perfectly!

I shop at Costco or BJ’s often as bulk stores are a great way to stretch your grocery bucks. For instance, while you might find nice fat Sea Scallops (nearly always pre-frozen) at a local seafood market or grocery for 12.99 to 15.99 per pound, these came in just over 9.00 per pound for a two pound bag. Two pounds are enough for 3 dinners for the two of us and that boils down to about $6.00 per meal or $3.00 per person. Just try to find that kind of deal at a seafood restaurant!

Speaking of buying frozen seafood; for a very long time I absolutely refused to buy frozen scallops or shrimp. While I wouldn’t consider myself a food snob…I simply did not care for the way the frozen ones tasted when compared to fresh. Then I came across an article about sodium tripolyphosphate . Sodium tripolyphosphate is a preservative that packagers will “claim” is used to “retain tenderness and moisture”. In fact it absolutely ruins the flavor and texture of certain foods, especially shrimp and scallops, giving the flesh a diluted, soapy flavor and an unpleasant spongy, almost waterlogged texture.

So why do seafood packagers use this additive, which is also used in household cleaners, laundry detergent, and paint? The simple answer is Sodium tripolyphosphate “can substantially increase the sale weight of seafood in particular”. Need I say more?

Fortunately, in the U.S., Sodium tripolyphosphate must be listed in the ingredients list on the package label. Also fortunately, Costco and BJ’s both carry frozen shrimp and scallops that do not contain Sodium tripolyphosphate! Do yourself a favor and read the ingredients next time you buy frozen seafood. For the same reason I also try to avoid the “fresh” scallops that are sold soaking in “their own” liquid.

Menu for two – Pan seared sea scallops with a fresh herb white wine sauce, oven roasted baby creamer potatoes and asparagus spears.

Note: Before I get started on the recipe there is one other tip that I must mention: WATER KILLS BROWNING! In searing and roasting the browning that occurs on the outside surface is where the flavor comes from. Searing your scallops while they are wet will prevent them from browning. To get the most flavor from your browned foods always be sure to pat them dry with a paper or dish towel before cooking.

For the Scallops you will need:

12 medium – Sea Scallops, thawed, rinsed, and dried well.
¼ Cup – Dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
Juice of ½ – Fresh lemon
3 Tbsp – Butter, Cut into 6 or 8 cubes, and kept cold.
2 Tbsp – Shallots, minced
2 Tbsp – Fresh basil, sliced in thin ribbons ( see )
1 Sprig – Fresh rosemary
Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder
Olive Oil

For the Potatoes and Asparagus you will need:

12 – Baby Potatoes, I used half red bliss and half Yukon gold potatoes
12 Large or 16 Medium – Fresh green asparagus spears
Olive Oil
Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder

To Prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and dry the potatoes. Trim the stem end of the asparagus, rinse and dry. When the potatoes are dry toss them with just enough olive oil to coat, give them a good dusting of seasoning from the Italian herb seasoning grinder and toss again. Spread them evenly in a glass 9 X 12 inch baking dish and roast for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the asparagus spears with just enough olive oil to coat, give them a good dusting of seasoning from the Italian herb seasoning grinder and toss again. Set the asparagus aside.

2. Warm 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 sprig of rosemary in a non-stick pan over medium high heat swirling the oil occasionally as it heats. Dust the scallops lightly with the Italian herb seasoning.

3. After 15 minutes carefully remove the potatoes from the oven. Carefully tilt the baking dish so that the potatoes move to one side allowing room to add the asparagus spears. Add the asparagus and place the dish back in the oven for 15 minutes longer.

4. While the vegetables finish roasting, sear your scallops: When the oil in the pan is hot the rosemary will begin to crackle and pop. Remove and discard the rosemary then gently place the scallops, one at a time, into the pan. You should hear a distinct sizzling as soon as each scallop hits the oil. Sear the scallops for two minutes on the first side, gently flip, and sear one minute more before removing directly to serving plates. Cover each plate with a paper towel or foil to keep the scallops warm.

5. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside to rest.

6. As soon as the last scallop is removed, add the shallots and the wine to the pan. As the wine comes to a boil swirl the pan and, using a wood or silicone spatula, scrape any browned bits from the pan. Reduce until the wine takes on a syrupy consistency then add the lemon juice.

7. Turn off the burner and allow the residual heat to reduce the liquid by half. Gently swirl in the butter cubes 2 or 3 at a time letting these melt before adding 2 or 3 more. Continue swirling the pan until all of the butter has been incorporated, swirl in the basil and spoon the sauce evenly over the scallops.

8. Carefully place the roasted vegetables on the plate and serve.



Frittata with Spinach and Tomato

Frittatas are another very versatile and fast way to whip up a great dinner. This one calls for Spinach and Tomato but, like pizza, the ingredient list is limited only by your imagination. Some of our favorite combinations include tuna & scallions, diced ham & fontina with scallions, and asparagus, artichoke hearts, tomato, & onion. Fresh grated Parmesan cheese is a constant for me and I even sprinkle some over the top for an added flavor boost. Though I used Soy Milk in this recipe you can use skim milk, whole milk, or even half & half in yours. Get creative and have a little fun!

Frittata with Spinach and Tomato

1 package pre-washed fresh spinach, about 12 oz
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, patted dry, and sliced
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced large *See my note below
1 large tomato, peeled and sliced into 7 equal slices
2-3 med red bliss potatoes, sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch-thick
8 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tbs whole wheat flour
1/4 cup part skim ricotta
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus about a tablespoon reserved
1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Heat 1 tbs of the olive oil in a 10 inch non-stick pan over medium heat. When the oil is beginning to shimmer, add the leeks and about 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper. Cook, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes until the leeks are just transparent. Remove them to a bowl to cool. Using the same pan, raise the heat to med high and bring 1/4 cup of water to a boil. Dissolve about 1 tbs of kosher salt, then carefully add the spinach. Cook 2 to 3 minutes until spinach is wilted then pour into a colander to drain and cool. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, in a dishtowel, gently squeeze out excess water. Hold the spinach in the same bowl with the leeks until ready to use.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl beat the eggs with the soy milk. Gently fold in the flour and the nutmeg, then the spinach, leeks, diced tomatoes, ricotta, and most of the Parmesan cheese, reserving about 1 tbs. Warm the same pan over med heat with 1 tbs of olive oil. Meanwhile carefully distribute the potato slices evenly around the pan trying not to overlap. When the potatoes begin to sizzle, pour the egg mixture into the pan. Use a spoon to make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Lower your heat to low, cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes or until the eggs have begun to set and pull away from the side of the pan.

Remove the cover and evenly distribute the tomato slices around the top, sprinkle with the reserved Parmesan then carefully place the pan in the oven. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the eggs in the top center appear to be completely set. Remove the pan from the oven and using a thin spatula carefully loosen the frittata from the pan all the way around the edges. When the frittata is freed from the pan, gently slip it out of the pan and onto a cutting board to rest. Rest 10 minutes, then slice into pie shaped pieces to serve.

* Note: Tomatoes are easy to peel if you blanch them in a little hot water for a minute or two. For this recipe, slice about a 1/2 inch “X” in the bottom of your tomatoes (opposite the stem end). Gently drop them into a pan of water heated to near boiling and simmer for two minutes or so until the tomato skin at the “X” begins to pull away. Now removes the tomatoes and cover them in cold water to stop the cooking.

Once the tomatoes have cooled the skin will be very easy to peel; I use the edge of a knife to grab it and gently peel it away.

To remove the seeds, cut the tomato in half cross ways (midway between the stem and the bottom) and gently squeeze the tomato to force out the seeds  using the tip of your knife to remove any stragglers.


After seeing the photo in my blog header, my friend Jackie really wanted my bruschetta recipe. I told her this was only one of about a million ways that bruschetta is made and explained how I prepared it on this particular day.  She still insisted that I share the recipe so Jackie…this one is for you!

The word bruschetta actually refers to the bread that is usually grilled or toasted, drizzled with good olive oil, then rubbed with a fresh cut clove of garlic. The “bruschetta” is then often topped with a mixture of fresh tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. A quick search of bruschetta on Google actually returns over 7,150,000 results, many of which are delicious recipes and the common denominator in nearly every one is the bread, the most important ingredient.

Traditionally bruschetta was a use for old bread that was or about to become stale. This was the good, crusty stuff that mom baked in her kitchen or picked up from the local bakery. So in keeping with tradition, when I make bruschetta, I always look to start with a good loaf of Italian bread or a French baguette. And, for the best taste and texture, I always try to serve my bruschetta while it is still warm.

To make bruschetta place a whole loaf of good crusty bread on your cutting board so that the right end is pointing towards the lower right corner of the cutting board, and the left end is pointing towards the upper left corner or roughly a 45 degree angle. Now cut ½ inch thick slices with your knife blade parallel to the sides of the cutting board. This should give you nice oval shaped slices of bread. Now lightly toast the slices on a grill or under a broiler until they are crisp but not overly browned. (I toasted mine on a dry cookie sheet placed 6 inches under the broiler just until they were golden.) Once toasted, lightly brush each slice of bread with a little extra virgin olive oil then rub gently with the cut side of a freshly cut in half garlic clove.  Now you are ready to make bruschetta magic!

On the day the photo was taken, I wanted to make my bruschetta in the style of an Insalada Caprese. So after toasting and following the steps above, I drizzled each piece with a little balsamic vinegar; probably no more than ¼ teaspoon on each. Then I topped each bruschetta with a slice of soft fresh mozzarella, a slice of super ripe fresh tomato, a sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, and a few ribbons of fresh basil chiffonade.

I hope you enjoy this bruschetta and be sure read through a few million of the other recipes on Google <wink!> or use your imagination to come up with your own yummy topping combination!