Marissa's Tofu-Vegetable Stir Fry

I've tried to do stir-frys before, but they seem to turn out mushy, or without much flavor. I was actually pretty impressed with this one. I definitely had to make a grocery list for this recipe because I didn't have a lot of the Asian ingredients (sesame oil, hoisin sauce, etc.) But there is a lot leftover which means next time I make this (or something else that uses them), I won't need to go out and buy more! Just one upfront cost.

I also love that this recipe uses tofu. I love tofu for what it is. I don't think you can think if it as a meat substitute, because even though it's loaded with protein, it will never be chicken. Or, it will never be beef. And that's not a bad thing! OK, enough food philosophy. On to the making of it...

Alina's Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Veggies and Lentil Meatballs

I told Adam I'm going to start calling this dish Peter Pan Pasta because it's so good it can't be real. Oh wait. It isn't real. It's pretend pasta. It's pretend meatballs. And it's really unbelievably delicious.
Stringy spaghetti squash is the base of this dish, replacing noodles. I've never cooked with spaghetti squash before, so I found a spaghetti squash for dummies recipe on the Healthy for Two blog. I thought it would be difficult, but all I had to do was nuke the squash for 2-3 minutes per pound of squash and then dig out the insides. Piece of cake... er, forkful of squash!

For the pasta sauce, I just roasted a bunch of veggies (onions, carrots, green pepper, red potato, and mushrooms) and then added them to a can of plain ol' pasta sauce. Simple and delicious. I also added a little minced garlic to finish it off.

I subbed a lentil meatball recipe for meatballs. This recipe comes from Post Punk Kitchen. According to Marissa's Lentil Soup post, lentils were dubbed one of the five healthiest foods by Health magazine. I do like health, so getting more lentils in our diet can't hurt. Adam and I both thought these were tasty, although Adam thought he liked the pasta better without the meatballs. He said the meatballs were a 3 out of 5 ladles, which brought his overall taste rating down.

Approximate cost: $12. Makes 6 servings. 263 calories per serving.
Prep time: 1 hour Total time: 2 hours
  • Approximately 5-6 lbs spaghetti squash
  • 2 medium red potatoes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 green pepper
  • 8 ounces whole mushrooms, stems removed
  • Cooked lentils (1 cup dry)
  • About 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp szechuan sauce (the original recipe called for 2 tbsp soy sauce, but I didn't have any)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of minced garlic
  • 16 ounce can of pasta sauce
Pasta Sauce
 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Chop the potatoes, onions, carrots, and pepper. Prepare the mushrooms. (For the perfect consistency I like to stick the chopped potatoes in the microwave for about 1 minute before I roast them with the other veggies)
3. Toss the carrots and onions in 1 tbsp olive oil along with a little salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the carrots and onions to a baking sheet and place them in the pre-heated oven.
5. Let them roast for 35 minutes, shaking them occasionally to keep them from sticking.
6. Toss the potatoes, peppers, and mushrooms in 1 tbsp olive oil, add them to the carrots and onions, and roast them for another 15 minutes, shaking the baking sheet halfway to keep them from sticking.
7. When the veggies are done, turn the heat down to 350 degrees (so that it's ready for the lentil meatballs) and set them aside.
8. Heat the can of pasta sauce, and add the veggies to the sauce. Add a tsp of minced garlic. Wasn't that simple?

Lentil "Meatballs"
1. Start by cooking the lentils. When they are done, remove them from the heat and set them aside.
2. Put 1 onion and the garlic cloves in a food processor. Pulse until minced. Remove them from the food processor and set them aside.
3. Add the cooked lentils, 2 tbsp olive oil, water, tomato paste, flour and szechuan sauce to the food processor. Liquefy it!
4. When it's nice and creamy, remove it from the food processor and mix the minced onion and garlic in by hand. Add the breadcrumbs as well. Mixing this takes about two minutes.
(Here's a tip: If you're cold, put on a hat.)
5. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a skillet. Roll the lentil mix into 1 inch balls and place them in the skillet. Roll them around to get them lightly browned.

6. Place the browned lentil balls on a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees, shaking them every 5 minutes to help them bake evenly and to keep them from sticking.

Spaghetti Squash
I followed the directions found here to make the spaghetti squash.

Put it all together, and here's what you get:

Adam’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Brad’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Healthy rating: 4 ladles
Ease of prep rating: 3 ladles
Overall average: 3.75 ladles

Alina's Secret Ingredient Black Bean Soup

Growing up, my Mom made this recipe frequently. It was always my favorite, so I figured I just loved black bean soup. As it turns out, I just love this black bean soup. The secret ingredient that makes it amazing? Green olives. Combined with the fresh dill, this is a real palate pleaser. Mmmm-mmmmm... I love it!

As a side story, I actually had to make this meal twice. I finished the soup and left it to simmer for 30 minutes, according to step seven in the recipe. Our stove can be a little feisty, and the soup started to burn, but I was in the other room so I didn't notice. This wasn't like an "Is there something burning?" kind of cooking accident. This was like a "Hi, we're you're neighbors and we can smell smoke wafting from your unit and it's stinking up our unit" kind of burning (yes, that really happened).

The fire alarm was beeping, the room was filled with smoke, and it smelled awful.

I came into the kitchen gagging... The punchline is that Adam, who was sitting 10 feet away the whole time playing video games was too "in the zone" to notice that our apartment was filling with pungent smoke. We got a good laugh out of this whole fiasco, but I have to admit that I'm slightly concerned for my husband...

Instead of eating charcoal black bean soup, I decided to make it again the next day. The second time around I let it sit in the crock pot overnight on high instead of letting it simmer, and that worked really well. If you let it ruminate in the crock pot long enough and use canned black beans, steps one, two, and seven could be completely replaced with a crock pot.
Oh, and if you happen to know how to get the smell of burnt soup out of an apartment, please let me know. It's still lingering.
Approximate cost: $7. Makes 6 servings. 219 calories per serving.
Prep time: 20 minutes   Total time: 3+ hours

  •  2 cups uncooked black beans (searched for stones and rinsed)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 green peppers, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp dried dill weed)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green olives
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon (my Mom advises you "go easy on the juice")

1. Combine the black beans, water, and bay leaves in a soup pot.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook about 2 hours, until the beans are soft. Don't let kitty get into it. :)

 3. In a separate frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add green peppers, onions, and garlic. Saute until lightly browned and limp. Add cumin, oregano, mustard powder, and dill. Saute for a few minutes.

4. Add the olives and cook 5 minutes.

5. Use a potato masher to mash about 1/4 of the beans into a paste in the soup pot. This gives the soup a nice thick texture.
6. Add the cooked veggies to the beans, along with the lemon juice and salt.
7. Simmer as long as possible
8. Do NOT leave it sitting on the stove until it catches on fire.
9. Taste and add more salt if it's needed.

Adam’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Brad’s taste rating: 3 ladles
Healthy rating: 4 ladles
Ease of prep rating: 4 ladles
Overall average: 3.75 ladles

Marissa's Honey Beans and Spinach

As you might soon notice, I love crock pot cooking. So naturally, I searched Google for "crock pot recipes." Here's one that I found. I followed this one exactly, so I won't write out the recipe and instructions again. The original does a great job.

Here are my ingredients. In the future I'd buy organic spinach & sweet pots)

Here's everything in the crock pot. I scooted the spinach over so you could see the stuff below.

Cooking away. Once the spinach wilted a little I stirred it all up.

Dinner is served over white jasmine rice.

In terms of health, this one is pretty great. The only unhealthy ingredients are honey and cream cheese (optional). Knowing that Alina would be eating this, I couldn't omit the cheese. I thought about not adding the honey (so that my little one could eat it (babies can't have honey), but I wanted to try it according to the way it was written, at the least the first time.

After about 4.5 hours in the crock pot on low, it was plenty done (6 hours was recommended). I'd definitely make it again, but I'd like to try it vegan (without the honey and cream cheese).

Adam’s taste rating: 3 ladles
Brad’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Healthy rating: 4 ladles
Ease of prep rating: 4 ladles
Overall average: 3.75 ladles

Marissa's Lentil Soup

Alina gets an A+ for her posts. She's very detailed, creative, fun, etc. We'll see how I do.

I decided to make lentil soup for my first meal. Why? I love lentils. Or "lentejas" as my Spanish host-mom would call them. They are healthy, inexpensive, and I adore the taste. I found this recipe on my favorite recipe site,

The downside of blogging a week after you make it is that you forget exactly what you did. I'm pretty sure I followed the recipe as it was written, though I may have followed one reviewers suggestion and used broth instead of water. I've been doing quite a bit of cooking lately, so I can't exactly remember. I know for a fact that I didn't do the spinach & vinegar that the recipe suggests, but that's mainly because I forgot about it.

I loved this recipe because it was so healthy and yummy. According to Wikipedia, Health magazine said lentils are one of the five healthiest foods. They are just so rich in protein and dietary fiber.

I made the recipe in my trusty red dutch oven and it was very easy to make. It needed to simmer for an hour, which means that at that point all I needed to do was check on it every so often and stir it (read: low maintenance is wonderful when you are caring for a baby simultaneously). You could probably also do a variation in a crock pot. I bought the lentils from the local co-op, too, and only $1.72 for the whole bag that I used. I used brown, but you could use any color.

Adam’s taste rating: 3 ladles
Brad’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Healthy rating: 5 ladles
Ease of prep rating: 4 ladles
Overall average: 4 ladles

Alina’s Colorful Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous

I was lured to this recipe because a dish with the word “Moroccan” in the title has to be good. After all, Morocco is known as being one of the world’s most naturally colorful places, and their food ought to be equally exotic. I modified the recipe to create my Colorful Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous.

Makes 4 servings. 379 calories per serving. Total cost of approximately $11.
Prep time: 20 minutes. Total time: 70 minutes.

Shopping List:
·        Two onions (I used white)
·        3-4 carrots
·        1 medium sized parsnip
·        1 zucchini
·        1 large sweet potato
·        1 butternut squash piece (optional)
·        2 tbsp olive oil
·        1 tbsp minced garlic
·        1 cup chopped parsley
·        ½ tsp paprika
·        ½ tsp cumin
·        1 ½ tsp salt
·        ½ tsp pepper
·        2 cups low sodium veggie broth
·        3 tbsp tomato paste
·        1 15-oz can of chickpeas
·        1 box of plain couscous
·        1 tbsp butter

1. Peel and slice the onions.
2. Peel the carrots, cut them in thirds, and then cut those 
pieces in half the long way.
3. Peel the parsnip, remove the end and the skinny tail, cut it in half, and then cut those pieces in half the long way.
4. Remove the ends of the zucchini, cut it in half, then cut those pieces in half the long way.
5. Peel the potato, cut it in half, and then quarter those pieces.
6. Over medium heat, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and the two onions.
7. Stir for a few minutes, and then add the minced garlic and the parsley.

8. Add ¼ tsp paprika, ¼ tsp cumin, ¾ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Add two cups of veggie broth and put the lid on the pan.
9. When it’s boiling, add the potato.
10. Read a book for 10 minutes, and then add the carrots.
11. After 15 minutes, add the zucchini. If the sauce is cooking down too much, add a little   water.

12. After 10 minutes add the tomato paste and the remaining spices (1/4 tsp paprika, ¼ tsp cumin, ¾ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper). Add the squash piece at this time if you are using it.

13. At this time, begin preparing the couscous according to the directions on the box. I cooked the couscous with leftover vegetable stock and fluffed the couscous with a teensy bit of butter.

14. After 10 minutes add the chickpeas.

15. The dish is done if all of the veggies can be easily poked through with a fork.

16. To serve, pile the couscous in a dome shape, and then pour the sauce over the top. Pile the veggies on top.

Adam’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Brad’s taste rating: 4 ladles
Healthy rating: 4 ladles
Ease of prep rating: 3 ladles
Overall average: 3.75 ladles

Alina's closing thoughts: This was yummy, but the texture was a little mushy for my tastes. It would be fun to play around with this recipe to perfect it. I'd like to try swapping some other veggies to mix things up, like brocolli or a different type of potato. The trick is to add the firm veggies early and the soft ones at the end. I can see myself making this again, but the prep time was a little high for my schedule, so this is one I'll only throw into the food schedule on the weekend.

Two Ladies and a What?

The concept:
Alina's New Year's resolution: Cook more healthy meals. 
Marissa's New Year's resolution: Do more meal planning.
Marissa's lightbulb moment: “Hey, I have an idea! Let’s make double portions of a healthy recipe once per week and swap the leftovers!”
Genious! Half the effort and twice the healthy! And thus, Two Ladies and a Ladle was born.
Healthy recipes, always rated on taste, health and ease of prep. Oh, and did we mention that our husbands are the taste judges?

Who we are:

Alina has been blissfully married for just over two years to Adam. She enjoys quality time with friends, garage sales, snuggling with her kitty Kenny, reading her Nook, and partially completing gobs of DIY projects. She works full time for a software company in Madison. To fit into her lifestyle, a healthy meal must be finger-licking good and easy to prepare.

Marissa is a wife of a handsome man and a mother of a little peanut who is 7 months old as of the start of this blog. She is passionate about Spanish, crafts, sewing, cloth diapering, attachment parenting, crock-pot cooking, running, Catholicism, and many other mom-type things. She loves Alina's enthusiasm for life, her spontaneity, and how she'll go garage sale shopping at the drop of a hat.

The rating scales:

1 ladle: Was that food? à 3 ladles: Yeah, I’d eat it again. à 5 ladles: That just blew my culinary mind!

1 ladle: Chocolate cake à 3 ladles: Bread and water à  5 ladles: A steaming plate of vegetables
1 ladle: Culinary masters only! à 3 ladles: I could whip this up weekly.  à 5 ladles: If you know how to eat, you can make this.