The Veg-tastic Voyage!

So I’ve decided to make some fairly drastic changes my to food over the next 12 weeks.  My husband and I have signed up for a weight loss challenge that lasts 12 weeks…the winning team wins loads of cash and…we like money so….

We have been running regularly training for a 15k, however I have noticed that I have not been losing any weight.  Since the exercise has increased so much, I can only assume that the reason I am leveling off is my diet.

So, in an effort to lose those pounds…I have decide to embark on the vegan journey.  I actually really love this way of cooking and eating and I am 100% up for the challenge.

I know, the word vegan sounds HORRIBLE for most people.  Who can live without meat and cheese!?  Being from Oklahoma, I understand the feeling…if you take away meat and dairy, what else is there.

The answer is…PLENTY!  And I am going to share it with you.

If this still sounds like too much for you…think of it not about eliminating meat and dairy, but increasing your fruits, vegetables and grains.  You will find that these recipes are simple, healthy and very, very filling.

If that STILL sounds like too much, I challenge you to take my vegan dish and add to it.  There is nothing wrong with adding some shredded chicken or ground turkey to any of these recipes…or maybe you just want to add some crumbles of goat cheese.  Whatever works for you, do it!  But if you start with my recipes, you are guaranteed to have a healthy, nutritious meal.

Are you up to join me on the veg-tastic voyage?  Stay tuned for the first recipe, Shitake Mushroom Stir-fry with Rice Noodles!  This can be made with crispy tofu, or chicken if you prefer.  Great flavor and very healthy!


Here’s to easy, healthy cooking!

The Left Brain Chef

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Ugh, so the weather has been soooo coooold here in Chicago recently.  We took a huge plunge from Fall to Winter in a couple of days and we aren’t looking back!  Cubs are gone, the big coats are out, and Wrigleyville is empty…guys, Winter is here.

Nothing goes better with a cold Winter than hot soup…specifically, beef stew.  I love beef stew so reminds me of cold nights by the fireplace in Oklahoma City with my family.  Nothing says home like stew.

This recipe is very easy and makes a lot of food!  You and your family will get to enjoy the taste of home for several days.

In case you don’t eat meat, I have included some alternatives if you want to do a vegetarian/vegan version.  This recipe would be just as delicious without the beef…just to be sure add more vegetables so the stew stays nice and hearty!

Here’s what you’ll need:


  • carrots, sliced – 6
  • celery, sliced – 6
  • onions, sliced – 2
  • potatoes, diced – 3 pounds
  • garlic, minced – 2 cloves

Note:  If doing vegetarian, be sure to pick up some additional vegetables!  16 ounces of whole mushrooms or 3-4 turnips!  This will help to make the stew nice and hearty.


  • allspice – sprinkle
  • bay leaves – 4
  • paprika – 1 tsp
  • pepper – 1 tsp
  • salt – 2 tsp

Pantry Items

  • beef stock (or veggie if vegetarian) – 4 cups
  • Worcestershire – 2 tbsp
  • sugar – 2 tsp
  • cornstarch – 4 tbsp
  • vegetable or olive oil – 4 tbsp


  • water – 2 1/2 cups

Meat (optional)

  • beef stew meat – 4 pounds

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven.

Add the stew meat.

photo 1

Brown all sides, about 5 minutes.

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Add the sliced onion.

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Add all the herbs/spices, Worcestshire sauce, garlic, beef stock and 2 cups of water.

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Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cover for 1 hour.

Add the carrots, celery and potato to the stew.  Bring to a boil once again, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.

Remove from heat when vegetables are tender.

To thicken the stew up, mix the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water together in a small bowl.  Add this mixture (called a slurry) to the hot stew and stir.  Heat a few minutes until the sauce starts to thicken!


photo 51

Week Summary for 10/13

Here the list of all the groceries that are needed for the recipes during the week of October 13th, 2013.  I have also included the link to the recipes below:

Cuban Baked Chicken and Yellow Rice

Greek Pasta Bake

Teriyaki Salmon and Rice Noodles


  • baby spinach – 2 bags
  • cherry tomatoes – 2 pints
  • crimini mushrooms – 16 ounces
  • garlic cloves – 5
  • leek – 2
  • mushrooms – 16 ounces
  • onion – 2
  • red pepper – 1
  • yellow pepper – 1


  • butter – just over 1/2 cup
  • eggs – 3
  • milk – 4 cups
  • parmesan cheese – 1 1/4 cup


  • allspice – 1/2 tsp
  • cinnamon – 1 tbsp
  • cumin – 1/2 tsp
  • nutmeg – sprinkle
  • oregano – 2 tsp
  • pepper
  • salt
  • turmeric – 1/2 tsp

Frozen goods

  • peas 1 1/2 cups
  • sugar snap peas – 2 pounds

Pantry Items

  • flour – 1 cup
  • mirin – 4 tbsp
  • olive oil
  • red wine, dry – 1/2 cup
  • rice – 1 1/2 cups
  • rice noodles – 3 packages
  • soy sauce – 1 cup
  • sugar – 4 tsp
  • tomato paste – 1/4 cup
  • veggie stock – 3 cups
  • tomatoes, whole – 1 can
  • ziti – 1 pound

Meat (optional)

  • ground turkey – 2 pounds
  • salmon – 2 pounds
  • whole chicken – 1

Feel free to leave me your feedback about the recipes or let me know if you have any questions.

Here’s to easy cooking!


Teriyaki Salmon and Rice Noodles

Final recipe for the week!

I cannot emphasize enough how easy this recipe was.  Marinating the salmon gives it so much flavor, then you can use the marinade liquid as sauce for the dish…how much easier can it be!?

You should be able to throw this recipe together in a half hour or so.  You will get 8 servings which is enough to feed a family of four for two nights!

Feel free to use any  mushrooms you like!  You can also add any additional vegetables.  This recipe is very flexible, so make it what you want!

Here is what you’ll need:


  • soy sauce – 1 cup
  • mirin – 4 tbsp
  • sugar – 4 tsp
  • salmon – 2 lbs
  • cherry tomatoes – 1 pint
  • baby spinach – 2 bags
  • crimini mushrooms – 16 ounces
  • rice noodles – 3 packages (8-9 servings worth)
  • olive oil

First step, mix the marinade ingredients together in a large Tupperware.  Add the salmon and marinate at least an hour, recommended overnight.

photo 1

Begin to soak your rice noodles at least a half an hour before you plan to eat.

After the salmon has marinated, heat olive oil in a skillet over high heat.

Brown each side of the salmon, about 3-4 minutes each (until golden brown).

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Left Brain Tip:  If you have really thick pieces of salmon, searing the sides may not cook it all the way through.  Feel free to sear it, then back it at 350 for another 10 minutes or so.  You are going to shred the salmon anyway for the recipe, so go ahead and cut it in half to make sure it’s cooked to your level of preferred done-ness.  

Remove salmon from skillet and put on a plate.  Cover the plate in foil.  This will help keep the salmon warm and will help it to cook through.

Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven.

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the oil.

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Cook both until the mushrooms soften and the potatoes begin to blister.  The tomatoes should be easily pobable…feel free to use the back of your spoon or spatula to pop them.  This adds great flavor to the dish.

Add the first bag of spinach.

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Let this wilt down a bit so you have room to add the second bag.

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Once the second bag begins to wilt, add the remaining juices from the marinade.  Let the mixture simmer together for about 5 minutes.

Left Brain Tip:  If you want the marinade juice to thicken up, feel free to add cornstarch.  Just mix about 2 tsp of corn starch with 1/4 cup of water in a separate bowl, then add to the pot.  Sauce should thicken as heated.

Divy up the noodles between 8 servings.  Spoon the mixture over the top of the noodles.  Shred the salmon and put on top of the noodles and veggie.  You should be able to get at least 8 servings.  3-4 ounces of salmon per serving should be plenty!

photo 15

So healthy, so yummy, so easy!!!!

*Greek Pasta Bake recipe

This recipe was such a great way to make lots of food all at once.  The pound of pasta easily makes 10 servings when you serve a vegetable on the side.  It is rich and delicious and is sure to be a family favorite.  The bechamel sauce on tops makes for a beautiful, brown topping over the pasta.

It might look like a complicated recipe, but it is really just 3 sections…the meat sauce, the bechamel and the pasta itself.  Don’t let the multiple parts overwhelm you as you can do them all very quickly.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the meat sauce:

  • olive oil
  • ground turkey – 2 lbs (you can use ground lamb or beef, but I used turkey for a healthier option)
  • onion, chopped – 1
  • garlic, minced – 3 cloves
  • red wine, dry – 1/2 cup
  • tomato paste – 1/4 cup
  • cinnamon – 1 tbsp
  • allspice – 1/2 tsp
  • whole tomatoes, canned – 1 (14 oz)
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the bechamel

  • butter, unsalted – 1/2 cup
  • flour – 1 cup
  • milk, 1% – 5 cups
  • parmesan, grated – 1 cup
  • egg yolks – 3
  • nutmeg – 1 pinch
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the pasta

  • ziti – 1 lb
  • olive oil – drizzle
  • egg whites – 3
  • parmesan – 1/4 cup

The first step is to start heating your pasta water.  Be sure to add plenty of salt!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Put your five cups of milk in a pot and begin to heat over medium-high heat.  Be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch!

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add a drizzle of olive oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions.

photo 1

Cook onions for about 5 minutes until they start to become translucent.

Add the ground turkey and garlic to the pan.

photo 2

Cook until turkey is browned.

photo 3

Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon and allspice.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes.

photo 4

While the sauce is cooking, start your bechamel.

Tip:  Your water should be close to boiling now.  Once it is, add your pasta and cook as directed.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add the flour and whisk.

photo 5

Add the scalded milk and whisk until smooth.

photo 11

Remove sauce from heat and add parmesan, egg yolks, nutmeg and salt and pepper.  Stir to incorporate.

Tip:  Sauce should be thick enough that it covers the back of a spoon.

Pasta should be done by now.  Drain.

Add egg whites, a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan to pasta.  Stir to incorporate.

photo 21

Now you are ready to bake it:

Layer the sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.

photo 31

Add the noodles on top of the sauce.

photo 41

Cover the noodles with the bechamel sauce.

photo 51

Bake this in the oven for 45 minutes until top is golden brown.


Can you even handle how good that looks!  The bechamel looks beautiful on top!  I was able to cut this into 10 pieces and serve alongside some snap peas.  The recipe can be found here:

Italian Snap Peas with Tomatoes

photo 46

Enjoy!  This was a hit in our household all around!