A Green Feast

If you have kids, you know that sometimes getting them to eat their veggies is a chore. Even for some adults, getting in the recommended amount of veggies is tough. There are only so many ways to eat some vegetables, and I’m always trying to find new ways to eat my veggies that’s both palatable and easy to prepare.  I would also like to decrease the amount of meat that I consume, but having spent the last 38 years as a dedicated meat eater, this is going to be a tough task.  I would like to make an earnest go at it, and tonight’s dinner was a step in that direction.

Enter the (nearly) vegetarian fare I fixed for dinner this evening.  A few lazy afternoons ago, SB and I found ourselves watching Giada DeLaurentiis’ show on the Food Network, and she was preparing for a child’s party.  She was going to serve homemade fish sticks (which seem remarkably easy to make) with marinara, and grilled cheese with spinach cleverly hidden inside.  As she prepared the sandwich filling, I thought, “hey, that sounds pretty good, but certainly there is a way to cut the fat and boost the fiber content.”  Lo and behold:

The green grilled cheese can be eaten open-faced, as seen here, or smushed together as a proper sandwich. Either way, it's a good way to get in a serving of veggies and dairy.

For contrast, here’s what the first round of sandwiches looked like:

This one turned out a bit more done than I would have liked. It was still pretty tasty, just a bit overdone. Also, these are the sandwiches that had bacon in them.

I made mine with part-skim mozzarella and a touch of Monterrey Jack, used a canola oil/butter spread and by proportion, doubled the amount of spinach used.  I also served mine on whole wheat bread.  Giada’s recipe calls for pancetta, and I will admit, the first round of these sandwiches I made did have a couple of slices of bacon on them, but I felt the addition of bacon added too much fat.  The second attempt at the sandwiches, I left the bacon off, which made them much better.

Now, you can’t have grilled cheese without soup.  I’d been wanting to make a broccoli soup, but not the usual broccoli-cheese or cream of broccoli soup.  I felt both were too heavy for summer, and laden with more fat than we needed to consume–remember, we were eating grilled cheese as well!  Instead, I went the Gordon Ramsay route and kept it simple:  4 ingredients, easy to make and quite savory.  I think this soup would probably be good served cold as well, but I didn’t prepare it far enough in advance to chill it.  Perhaps next time I make it, I’ll try that.  But here’s how my version of Ramsay’s soup turned out:

A simple soup, this broccoli soup is full of antioxidants, fiber and flavor--all from just four ingredients.

Both of these recipes could be made completely vegetarian with the substitution of vegetable stock for the chicken stock in the soup.  I’m sure the recipes could be made vegan as well with the use of soy-based cheese for the sandwiches, but I am not certain as I have no familiarity with how well soy cheeses melt.

Here’s how you can recreate the Green Feast at your place.  You will need:

For the sandwiches:

  • 1 cup part-skim mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons Land O’ Lakes canola oil/butter spread (you can also use butter, softened)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 8 slices whole wheat bread
  • Optional:  cooked bacon

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  To make the spread for the sandwiches, pour the cheeses and butter spread into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until the cheeses and butter are combined, and then add the spinach a cup at a time, until the leaves are completely blended into the cheese-butter mixture.  The mixture should be easy to spread at this point.  Spread about 2 tablespoons of the spread on each of the bread slices.  If you would like to add bacon to your sandwiches, as I did for the first sandwiches we ate, place a slice of bacon on each piece of bread (this will give you 2 slices/sandwich).  Place the bread with the spread on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted, about 7-9 minutes.  Enjoy while hot.

Additionally, you could use a panini press, if you have one, or cook them on a griddle on the stovetop.  I elected to use the oven so that both sandwiches I was preparing would be hot and ready at the same time.

For the soup:

  • 3 broccoli crowns, chopped into chunks (I used frozen ones we had that I had defrosted; fresh would work just as well)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to make it vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • black pepper to season (4-6 turns of a grinder, if you’ve got one)

Heat the stock up in a saucepan on the stove until it just begins to boil.  Add your broccoli, reduce the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow it to cook in the stock for about 8-10 minutes, or until the broccoli is soft but has not lost its vibrant green color.

Once the broccoli has finished cooking, you have two options:

1.  Pour the cooked broccoli and stock into a large bowl and use a hand blender to puree the soup.  Add the lemon juice and pepper.  Serve the soup while hot.

2.  Carefully pour the broccoli and stock into a blender and puree, adding the lemon juice and pepper during the blending process.

Either way, you will get terrifically tasty soup!  I garnished mine with broccoli sprouts, as you can see in the picture.  SB garnished his with a tablespoon of cheddar cheese and said it was quite tasty with that addition.

The soup recipe made 4 cups of soup, and the sandwich recipe made 4 sandwiches.

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