Mommy Cafe

Vegetarian home cooking, kid tested and approved

Tuna Pasta Salad

I’ll be honest, I completely forgot that today was the official $5 Challenge day!  Will and I had a picnic lunch with my parents this afternoon, 2 hours from home, so our meal options were severely limited to anything that could withstand the drive there and back.

I improved upon a pasta salad that I brought to a potluck a few weeks ago.  It went over well the first time, but I thought it was missing a little something.  This time around I nailed it!  I added tuna for an extra protein boost, but it can definitely be left out to turn this back to a vegetarian meal.  I used Anaheim peppers, because that is the one thing that has grown in abundance in my garden, but Will thought it was a little too spicy as a result.  I recommend sticking with red bell peppers if you’re feeding kids… or less adventurous adults.  However, even my 1-1/2 year-old buddy loved the noodles, which had picked up a little bit of the heat from the peppers.

Since we were biking after lunch, and because it’s too darn chilly to be filled by a simple pasta salad lunch, I wanted something to round out the meal.  I served some tasty baking soda biscuit-type muffins with local honey– which, incidentally, is great for keeping the ragweed blues at bay!  For the salad and the muffins, this meal probably cost around $6.  Will and I each had lunch size servings of the pasta (okay, I had two), plus the folks had a share as well.  There are easily four servings left.  I’m a little too sleepy to do the math, but I think the cost per serving works out to somewhere around dirt cheap!

$5 Challenge: mission accomplished!

Prep and cook time: 15 minutes     Estimated cost: $5.50

Tuna Pasta Salad

  • 1 box tri-colored rotini, cooked and drained
  • 1 red bell pepper (or something spicier if you’re brave!), diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can tuna, drained
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons


  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 T balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • Dash each of salt, pepper, and sugar, or more to taste

Toss the salad ingredients together.   To make the dressing, combine ingredients  in a small container with a lid and shake until well-mixed.  Add dressing to the salad and stir gently to combine.  This salad is best when chilled for an hour.

Serves 4 for a meal, 8 as a side




September 17, 2011 Posted by | Recipes | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vietnamese Noodle Soup


With the cold weathVietnamese Noodle Souper, I have been on a huge soup kick.  I first made this soup as a warm-up for after trick-or-treating.   It was a great way to chase away the chill of walking outside for two hours, and a healthy contrast to the candy in the bucket!

This recipe was modified from a beefy version I found in Fitness magazine.  When made 100% vegetarian, it misses that great beef flavor.  If you want that flavor, you can either use beef broth instead of vegetable broth (making it not vegetarian) or stir in a little Worcestershire (again, not exactly vegetarian) or Marmite.  Be sure to use a good quality vegetable broth.  A weak broth has nowhere to hide in this soup!

The best part about the soup is that it’s so quick and easy to prepare.  The ingredient list is long, but don’t let it fool you!

Prep and cook time: 25 minutes       Approximate cost: $8-12 (homemade vegetable broth makes a big price difference!)


Vietnamese Noodle Soup

  • 4 oz thin rice noodles
  • 1 block tofu, cubed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1-inch piece ginger, minced
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 T fish sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 pound snow peas
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts

Cook noodles according to package directions and drain.

While the noodles cook, cube tofu and season with salt, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice.  Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add tofu and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the broth, fish sauce and honey, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add the snow peas, bell pepper, and noodles.  Simmer for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and add bean sprouts.

Serves 4

December 11, 2010 Posted by | Learning to Love Tofu, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetarian | , , , | 2 Comments

Chili Manicotti

I discovered a local blogger the other day, and was so excited about her ideas for using up leftover chili.  In fact, I was so excited that I even made her chili instead of mine.  Now that is a compliment, considering I don’t like to take any chances with my chili!Chili Manicotti

I won’t reproduce Amanda’s chili recipe here, you can visit her blog, Vegacious, directly (and often!) for that.  The recipe I’d like to share is my inspiration from her suggestion of using leftover chili in lasagna.  Brilliant!  The very next day I went to the grocery store fully intending to make lasagna.   But as I was reaching for the lasagna noodles, something else caught my eye: manicotti shells.  Add a memory of Rachael Ray’s Sloppy Joe Manicotti, and (dare I say it?) genius was born!

While Amanda’s chili was delicious, I had my taste buds set on something a little sweeter for the manicotti.  Next time I’ll make the manicotti with my usual chili.  But when I’m craving a hearty, veggie-ful chili, I’m going back to Vegacious!

Prep and cook time: 35 minutes     Approximate cost: $3 per serving

Chili Manicotti

  • 12 manicotti noodles
  • 3 cups leftover chili
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cook noodles in salted water according to package directions.  Meanwhile, heat chili to lukewarm.  Spread 1/4 cup of tomato sauce over a 9×13 baking dish.

Once noodles are cooked and cooled, stuff each with about 1/4 cup of chili.  Place the stuffed manicotti side-by-side in the baking dish.  Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the manicotti and cover with cheese.  Bake until golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Serves 4

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Recipes | , , | 1 Comment

Egg-n-Muffin Breakfast Sandwich

When I was young, my mom would make egg “McMuffins” for breakfast.  They were a humongous hit with me and my brother.  In fact, we both eat them fairly regularly to this day!

Egg-n-Muffin Breakfast Sandwich

I recently learned that eating protein at breakfast is beneficial for weight loss (thank you, Rachel Ray!).  According to MedicineNet, consuming protein in the morning keeps hunger at bay longer, therefore curbing the desire for that mid-morning snack. (

Besides the health benefits of eating a high-protein egg sandwich, this is a quick and easy breakfast to make.  From start to finish, one sandwich takes less than a minute and a half.  And it’s portable!  Although I don’t recommend eating on the run, it’s bound to happen on occasion, and a breakfast sandwich is so much better than a bowl of cereal in those situations!

Prep and cook time: 1-1/2 minutes     Approximate cost: $0.75

Egg-n-Muffin Breakfast Sandwich

  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 English muffin (preferably whole wheat)
  • 1 slice American cheese

Lightly spray a microwave-safe bowl with nonstick spray.  Beat egg in the bowl with salt and pepper to taste.  Toast English muffin.  Microwave the egg on high for 45 to 50 seconds.  Lay a slice of American cheese on the egg and microwave for another 10 to 15 seconds.  Place egg on toasted English muffin and serve.

Each sandwich serves 1.

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Recipes, Vegetarian | , , , | Leave a comment

Tangy Mac & Cheese

My grandma made a phenomenal macaroni and cheese.  Whenever we visited, my brother and I would request it for lunch.  It was so creamy and delicious, nothing like the pasty processed Kraft version.

Sadly, Grandma died before sharing her recipe.  It was probably a very simple sauce, one that she likely assumed would be easy to replicate.  I’ve scoured her cookbooks looking for a clue as to the secret but never found the telltale food smudge on any page.  Shortly after Grandma died, my mom found a few containers of her mac & cheese in the freezer, which she graciously shared with me and my brother.  I savored every bite of it, knowing that it would be the last time I would taste it.

Over the past few years I have made countless attempts to make a mac & cheese just like Grandma’s, never quite succeeding.  But I have come up with some darn tasty concoctions, which I’m sure she would be proud of.  One of my versions has become Will’s absolute favorite meal of all time.  I’ve made sure to tell him the secret ingredients so that he will be able to make it himself someday.  So I guess you could say I have found success after all!

This particular recipe was less an attempt at perfection than an attempt to fulfill Will’s dinner request with a limited variety of cheese on hand.  The ricotta gave it an unexpected tanginess that I especially enjoyed.  Will gave it his absolute approval, but asked me to please make his favorite version the next time 🙂

Prep and cook time:  20 minutes     Estimated cost: $6

Tangy Mac & Cheese

  • 8 oz pasta (bowties, macaroni, small shells, whatever you’ve got!)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup half and half or milk
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.  When al dente, drain pasta and return to medium heat.  Add cheese, milk, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted and combined with pasta.

Serves 2-3

November 3, 2010 Posted by | Recipes, Vegetarian | , , | Leave a comment