It’s still March Madness, which means I have another perfect game-day appetizer to share. This recipe was inspired by a meal I cooked for a client following the Whole30 diet. If you don’t know the rules of Whole30, it’s pretty much clean eating, with no grains, dairy or beans, and a focus on produce and high-quality meats and poultry. This diet plan is almost impossible for a vegetarian like me (no grains, dairy or beans? I definitely cannot sustain that). However, for a meat-eater, this is an amazing option to both lose weight and to transition into a clean eating lifestyle.
Given the rules, this recipe fits into the Whole30 regimen. Baked potato skins, an easy tomato sauce, homemade cashew cream and broccoli florets are all acceptable foods on Whole30. For my client, who eats meat, I added crumbled and cooked italian sausage, but for me, roasted broccoli is the perfect meat-free topping. This recipe is a clean, whole and delicious appetizer or main dish, and it not only pleases Whole30 peeps, but also satisfies vegans, vegetarians and gluten-freers too. Before getting to the recipe, check out my breakdown of the top health-supportive elements in this dish, and then head to the kitchen to whip up this healthy, satisfying and delicious dish.
Potatoes are sometimes looked down upon because they’re “carby”, but potatoes are actually a super healthy food containing substantial amounts of fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, iron, niacin, thiamin, b-6 vitamins and vitamin-c. Vitamin b-6 helps with a variety of essential bodily functions such as immunity, mood, digestion, metabolism, energy production and brain function. Added bonus, b vitamins are known for their healthy skin and hair benefits. Iron, which is highly concentrated in the potato’s skin, is known for providing energy and supporting the immune system. Vitamin-c is also important here because it allows the body to absorb and utilize the iron found in plant-based food like potatoes.
Cashews, like other nuts, provide protein and healthy unsaturated fats, which help to fight high cholesterol. Additionally, cashew cream adds dairy-free richness and makes plant-based meals super satisfying. Because they are a softer nut, cashews and water easily transform into a smooth, creamy sauce without needing an expensive high-power blender (like a Vitamix).
Tomatoes, like in my quick tomato sauce, are a great source of antioxidants such as lycopene. Lycopene is associated with bone strength, fighting certain types of cancer and protecting against a variety of toxins and pesticides commonly found in modern foods. Tomatoes are also high in other nutrients like vitamin-c, vitamin-k and biotin, to name just a few. Vitamin C, as I mentioned earlier, allows for plant-based sources of iron to be absorbed by the body (very important for vegetarians like me). And biotin (vitamin b-7) is commonly associated with healthy skin, hair and nails. Additionally, because tomatoes are low on the glycemic index scale, they are helpful in regulating blood sugar levels.
Vegan Pizza Potato Skins with Roasted Broccoli
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
** you can add any desired pizza toppings to these easy potato skins… try crumbled sausage, shredded chicken, roasted veggies, diced onions, red bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, fresh herbs or leafy greens
In a medium bowl, soak cashews in 4 cups water for 2-4 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
Prepare potatoes. Note that the potatoes and garlic have similar cooking times so they should go into the oven together. Using a fork, poke each potato 4 times, twice on each side. Rub potatoes with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Place directly onto oven rack. Bake for 50-60 minutes, just as skin begins to pull away and flesh is very tender.
While potatoes and garlic cook, make red sauce. Chop garlic and onions. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sweat for 3-4 minutes. Add oregano, thyme, fennel seed and black pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup water and an additional 3/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer until thickened, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.
While the sauce simmers, cut broccoli into small florets. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake in 400 degree (F) oven for 10-15 minutes, or until edges are beginning to turn dark and crispy.
Make cashew “cheese” sauce. Drain and rinse cashews. In a food processor or high powered blender, add soaked cashews, roasted garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth and creamy. This takes 3-6 minutes depending on blender strength.
Assemble the potato skins. Divide red sauce evenly amongst the 8 potato skins. Add 2-3 tablespoons of vegan cashew cheese sauce to each potato boat. Top with roasted broccoli florets. Bake for 10 minutes in 400 degree (F) oven or until warmed through.
Being a University of Wisconsin alum, I’m obviously beyond ecstatic that the Badgers beat defending champ, Villanova, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen round of March Madness. If you know me at all, you’d know that watching sports isn’t really my thing. That is unless it involves my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, the STL Blues or anything relating to UW-Madison. There’s one other exception, March Madness. Maybe it’s because I grew up glued to the TV during March Madness, thanks to my dad. Or maybe because I actually played A LOT of basketball in my early years, so I’m able to better relate to the games. No matter the reason, I love this classic tournament, especially when my alma mater surprises the nation and beats the #1 team in the second round.
So, to go along with an amazing game and lots of excitement to come, I thought I’d share a healthy-ish twist on a classic sports bar appetizer – nachos. Instead of traditional tortilla chips, I’m using roasted rounds of sweet potato. Through roasting, the sweet potatoes become sturdy enough to hold all of the amazing toppings that get piled on. What toppings, you may be wondering? Well, there’s a decadent homemade cheese sauce spiked with fresh jalapeño, crisp romaine lettuce, refreshing yogurt and, last but not least, creamy guacamole. Doesn’t this all sound simply amazing?
Yes, these nachos are still rich and indulgent. But, like everything else, I make all of my recipes as clean and health-supportive as possible, even if it’s a dish that’s not supposed be light or healthy. That’s why I call this version of nachos “healthy-ish”. Because I’ve made them as healthy as possible while still maintaining the crowd-pleasing, addictive, satisfying element. There are several health-supportive ingredients in this recipe. Check them out below. Then head down to the recipe, just in time for game day. Go Badgers!
Sweet Potatoes are a power house of nutrition. By replacing fried corn chips with sweet potatoes, this recipe gets a hefty dose of vitamin A, potassium and fiber, plus some vitamin B-6 and protein. Sweet potatoes are also a filling food, making these nachos substantial enough to become a satisfying and nourishing main dish.
Romaine Lettuce, like other lettuces, fills you up without adding extra calories or fat. Adding fresh lettuce to any dish increases vitamins and assists the body in flushing out toxins. Lettuce also adds freshness and balance to this rich dish.
Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt (full-fat) is my new favorite ingredient. Not only can I trust that grass-fed cows live a healthier and happier lifestyle (grain-fed cows live extremely bloated, confined and uncomfortable lives), but grass-fed cows produce dairy containing high-quality fats. These fats are then transformed into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) through the process of making yogurt with lactic acid. Grass-fed dairy, like grass-fed beef, contains a higher concentration of CLA’s. Research has linked CLA consumption with decreased risk of heart attack, bone-mass loss and inflammation. Additionally, live cultures in yogurt aid in digestion, immunity, weight-loss and regular bowel movement. Yogurt is also naturally high in calcium and protein. Whoa! Go grass-fed yogurt go!
Avocados, like in my guacamole, are known for providing the body with “good fats” such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats which can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart disease. Avocados are rich in potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, folic acid and other essential nutrients. Avocados are also amazing because they add guilt-free richness, flavor and decadence to just about any dish, which is especially important for vegetarians and vegans.
Sweet Potato Nachos with Homemade Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce & Fresh Guacamole
Serves: 2-3 (entree), 6 (appetizer) Start to Finish: 1 hour
2 sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, fine grain
1 avocado, very ripe
2 tablespoons minced red onion
3 teaspoons minced jalapeño, approx. 1/2 of a medium jalapeño, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
hot sauce, to taste, if desired
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2/3 to 1 cup whole milk
2 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1.5 cups shredded romaine lettuce (1 heart of romaine will be more than enough)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (full-fat, grass-fed preferred)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make potato rounds. Prep potatoes, brush with oil, season with a pinch of salt on each side of each round, and place potato rounds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until color begins to brown and the rounds are sturdy.
Make guacamole. Combine 1 smashed avocado with with 2 tablespoons minced red onion, 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro. Add a couple dashes hot sauce if desired and season with salt if needed. Refrigerate until needed.
Make cheddar sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium-heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of flour until smooth. Allow flour/butter mixture to cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in 2/3 cup whole milk until smooth and creamy. Allow mixture to gently simmer until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside. If queso sauce gets to thick, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached. Gently reheat on stove top when needed.
Assemble. When potato slices are finished roasting, lay out on a platter or large plate. It’s okay to overlap but make sure a good section of each slice is visible. Pour queso sauce over top of potatoes. Top with shredded iceberg lettuce, plain yogurt and a cilantro garnish, if desired. Serve with guacamole (and some fresh corn chips maybe?).
Nutrition Information References:
Looking back at the last 6 months, it’s hard to express just how much I’ve learned. I spent the last half-year studying the techniques and methods necessary to be a professional chef, as well as the ideas and science behind health-focused, sustainable and clean cooking. No surprise there, I was at a health-focused culinary school after all. But in addition to this, I’ve also learned a great deal about myself and the career/life path I’ve recently chosen, and I owe a great deal of that to my ten classmates who shared this experience with me, my ten classmates of CTP 267 (aka the 267th chefs-in-training class at NGI).
It’s kind of awesome actually – that some of the most significant lessons I learned throughout this experience did not come from a teacher, but rather from my fellow students. And this lesson is that I am not alone. I’ve honestly never been in an environment (other than my own home) where I felt so at home, where I felt like I truly shared the same values, goals and ideals as everyone around me. Yes, my classmates and I, we all love food and cooking and we want to make a career of sorts out of it. But, you see, it’s much deeper than that for us. I’ve spent the last leg of my life realizing that while food is incredibly important to me, my passion in this field goes far beyond just cooking. For me, and for my classmates, it’s about being healthy and balanced, it’s about treating the environment with respect, and it’s about having compassion for all living things. Because of my deep-seeded beliefs when it comes to food and health, I decided to switch up my life to be focused on these values. A huge move, a risky move, a scary move. But the comfort-zone I found at school, this like-minded culinary family I quickly grew to love, is what motivates me and gives me the confidence I need to move forward in this career. So I’d like to give a little shout-out and huge thank you to CTP 267. I can’t wait to see the inevitable marks they leave on this world.
So that was quite the speech I just gave, huh? I really didn’t mean for that at all, I meant for a short intro to a technique for falafel I learned from one of my classmates. Oh well, sometimes I just can’t help but be a total sap. Anyway, during our very first improv cooking class at school, I was grouped with 3 classmates and given a list of ingredients. As soon as I saw ‘soaked chickpeas’ on the list, I knew falafel was the way to go. The group agreed and we got to work. I was about to cook the chickpeas when Carol, my very skilled Brazilian/vegan classmate, mentioned that food processing soaked chickpeas with a healthy dose of olive oil makes for a quicker falafel. I had never heard of this or seen this before, but I trusted her and went ahead without cooking the chickpeas first. No surprise, the little patties turned out to be super easy and super delicious.
Being as I love falafel, I wasted no time in trying this version of falafel again at home. Just like in improv class, the quick mixture of soaked chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, onion, fresh parsley and spices was very wet, but firmed up nicely when browned on an oiled cast iron skillet. Then just a few minutes in the oven and the falafels are ready for eating. The pic above shows one way of eating these guys. That’s another (future) blog post, but I will say that it features homemade pita bread encasing hot falafel, fresh romaine, quick pickled red onions and sweet roasted beets served with a side of lemon-tahini dressing. So yummy. You could also eat the falafel patties over rice, on a salad, or just with your fingers, they are actually pretty sturdy even though they aren’t deep fried. I mean, I’m not going to say they’re the same as deep fried, because they just aren’t. Deep fried falafel balls are beyond amazing, and it’s definitely the classic preparation in my eyes. But these baked falafels are less stress and less mess, not to mention a smidgen more figure friendly. Plus you get the same flavor profile and versatility as a deep fried ball. Easier, cleaner, healthier and still totally delicious. Done and done.
So with that, I hope everyone’s Valentine’s Day is filled with lots and lots of love, in any of its forms (self-love, romantic-love, bestie-love, puppy-love etc).
Best of Basic: Easy Falafel Patties
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 30 minutes (not including bean-soaking)
1 cup dry garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), soaked overnight or up to 24-hours
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (+ more for pan frying)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 tbs tightly packed parsley leaves, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment.
Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until a smooth mixture is formed (it should still have a visibly grainy texture). Form the batter into 12 patties. The batter will be very wet, but should still form into patties easily.
On a griddle pan or in a frying pan (cast iron recommended), heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium-low heat. Fry patties for 5 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. Cook patties in batches if needed, replacing oil between batches. Finish by cooking patties in the oven for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, covered in foil.
If refrigerating patties for later, skip baking step, bake just before serving, until cooked through. If freezing, skip initial baking step. Defrost completely before reheating in oven, covered in foil.
Side note, I often eat these patties cold anyway, so reheating after the fridge is definitely not necessary.
Growing up, my mom took every opportunity to make the ordinary into the extraordinary. From something as small as the icing monograms on our toaster strudels before school, to something as meaningful as Christmas morning, she always did (and still does) know how to make things special. So it’s no wonder why I turned out the exact same way, and why I find that holidays are the most perfect opportunity to get creative, make some memories, and have some festive (and often times, delicious) fun.
Halloween is a particularly fun holiday on which to get into the spirit. So last week, on All Hallow’s Eve, I planned a relaxed and laid back date night with Matt…spooky-style. Since he’s never seen Hocus Pocus (I know, sinful), I thought a “Netflix and chill” theme for the evening was a no-brainer. Can’t you just picture it? Tasty noshes, a couple libations, candle light, pumpkin-print napkins, and a good ole classic flick. Doesn’t that sounds simply delightful? Only one question remained. What to cook?
I finally settled on a three course, couch-friendly, vegan meal plan. The mains? A Leek and Carrot Brown Rice Risotto and a Perfectly Poached Pear with a Coconut-Caramel Reduction Sauce. Both of these dishes are easy to keep on the counter or stove until a commercial break gives just enough time to finish and plate the dishes. But today’s featured recipe is actually not for the risotto or the pear, but rather, for the appetizer portion of the meal, the premiere dish, the opener, if you will; Roasted Beet Hummus.
Roasted Beet Hummus is not much different than my classic Hummus recipe, except of course, for the subtly sweet addition of roasted beets, which add not only flavor and nutritional power, but also change the color of the hummus to a bright, rich red-pink color. Beautiful! I served the hummus with blanched veggies and pita wedges. But then, I ate it the next day as a veggie burger topping, and it was phenomenal. I can also see myself creating a layered veggie sandwich with this spread, and maybe using it as a vegan pizza base. Only time will tell all the ways this super-food hummus will be used in my kitchen.
I think this hummus was the perfect addition to our festive Halloween feast because, not only is it visually appealing and vibrant, but it’s also something you don’t see every day, making it special enough for a celebration like this one. But there’s one more reason why this spread is a winner – this hummus also happens to be super healthy and nourishing, always something to think about when making for for myself and to others. Beets are seriously a health and wellness all-star, so before I get to the recipe, I want to end by going over these health-supportive qualities of beets. Beets are a good source of protein and fiber. They contain immune-boosting vitamin-C, potassium, bone- and liver-strengthening manganese, and b-vitamin folate. Basically, beets are a fantastic way to nourish and cleanse the body and the mind, making this Roasted Beet Hummus a must-try for whole-foodie type like me. Ok, now on to the recipe.
Roasted Beet Hummus
Yield: 2 1/4 cups
2 medium-size fresh beets, trimmed, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1 14-oz can chickpeas, liquid reserved, drained, rinsed (equivalent to 1 1/3 cups cooked Chickpeas)
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons water or reserved chickpea liquid (or combo)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep beets, and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until super tender (poke with a knife, no resistance), 45-65 minutes.
When beets are finished roasting, allow to cool for 10-20 minutes. In a food processor combine beets, chickpeas, water or chickpea liquid, garlic, tahini and lemon juice. Add salt to taste (1/4 teaspoon salt is a good place to start). Add additional liquid or water until desired consistency is reached.
Serve with crudités and pita chips. This also makes a great topping for veggie burgers and a yummy spread on a veggie sandwich.
Fried potatoes are my jam. Cheese fries? Amaze. Tater tots? Obsessed. Hashbrowns? Yes please. Are there people out there who don’t love fried potatoes? No way. While deep fried foods are totally fine in moderation (that is, if they’re whole foods that are fried in healthy oils), I want French fries on the daily. So a recipe for slightly lighter and healthier oven fries was a natural for me.
I’ve been making oven fries since forever. And after a lot of trial-and-error, I’ve come up with a go-to method that makes flavorful, crispy fries that are neutral enough to go with any dipping sauce. I use small yellow or Yukon Gold potatoes for my oven fries. Yukon Golds are my favorite type of potato. I like the waxy texture, the golden color and the small size. After cutting the potatoes in thick fries, I soak them in cold water. This trick removes excess starchiness and makes for a crispy fry. Then I just toss with a simple blend of spices and olive oil. When baking the fries, I start at a lower temperature which allows the insides to become fully cooked. Then I crank up the heat to get those guys golden brown and crispity-crunchy. Perfect every time.
I’ve been meaning to share this recipe for quite awhile. Then I saw these amazing red, white and blue basket liners at Sur la Table and couldn’t resist. These liners are perfect in those red plastic woven baskets you get at diners and casual food joints. As soon as I saw them I thought “oven fries! 4th of July! BBQ perfection!” You can use these lined baskets to serve apps and sides or everyone can have their very own basket for their meal. So cute, so fun and so festive.
Honestly, I’m not even sure what Matt and I are doing for the 4th. Independence Day has always been a big holiday for me. I grew up spending every July 4th at our family friends’ lake house near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it was always quite the celebration. The fireworks were unreal, the drinks were flowing and the group of us (sometimes over 30 people sleeping in one house) always got a little too rowdy. Those were the days. As of this year though, the lake house has been retired. I’ll really miss that place. But I wouldn’t be able to go this year anyway because it’s Matt’s brother’s engagement party in New York (woohoo!). There are plenty of activities planned for the weekend, but for the actual 4th of July we have nothing going on. I’m thinking a festive BBQ on our balcony, some all American beers, and a few sparklers will be totally awesome. I’m not quite the party-er I used to be and these days, I prefer to celebrate on the tamer side. But if this intimate celebration does end up happening, these fries will most definitely be on the menu.
I hope everyone has a super fun (and safe) holiday weekend with lots of good food and good company!
Best of Basic: Perfect Oven Fries
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 1.5 hours
2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 tablespoons Olive or Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
Cut potatoes into 1/4-1/2″ slices, length wise. Cut each slice into sticks or wedges. Place cut potatoes in a big bowl of ice water. Allow to soak for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet or two with parchment paper. I use one large pan for this amount but the more room the potatoes have, the crispier they’ll be.
When potatoes are finished soaking, drain and dry with a clean towel. Toss potatoes with oil and seasoning. Spread out over baking sheets. Bake for 20 min. Remove from heat, gently toss. Turn heat up to 450 degrees. Cook for 30-40 more minutes, tossing every 10-15 minutes.