Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza

Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza

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It’s no secret to anyone that I love pizza. And typically, when it comes to pizza, ‘cheese’ is the name of the game. But not today. Things are changing around here. I have recently discovered how good pizza can be without cheese, and I’m totally hooked. I mean, I’ve had cheese-less slices before, but after a recent slice of super simple vegan pizza from a popular NYC pizza joint, Joe’s, it came to me. A crispy and chewy crust, a robust sauce and loads of veggies are all that’s needed for a bomb pie.

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The true key to an amazing cheese-less slice, in my opinion, is the sauce. For this pizza I used a sauce I’ve been making at school during our improvisation classes. Leeks, carrots, celery and garlic give this classic red sauce lots of flavor, and crushed red pepper flake adds a good bit of heat. It’s complex and rich and perfect for my vegan veggie pie.

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As for the veggies on the pizza, I kept it simple but strategic. Just four toppings here; sliced baby bella mushrooms, par-cooked broccoli florets, thinly sliced onions and sliced black olives. While simple, this combo is a winner with a satisfying variety of colors, textures and tastes. I mean, look at it. This pizza is really just breath taking. Anything that showcases vegetables like this is bound to be pretty, but that doesn’t stop me from being mesmerized by the beauty of this pizza. Not only is it attractive aesthetically, but to me it’s also beautiful because of the overwhelming health and wellness benefits provided by this overload of vegetables. Fiber, vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, calcium, iron, folate, potassium are some of the all-star benefits coming straight to your body from this pizza. See? Beautiful. And I think it’s safe to say I’m a total veggie-nerd at this point. Thoughts?

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So that’s all I really have to say about this recipe. It’s simple, satisfying and packs a nutritional-punch. And that’s a pizza you can feel good about eating. So why not try cheese-free next time? I know it sounds crazy, but you won’t be disappointed.

Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza
Serves: 4-6    Start to Finish: 50-60 minutes

Ingredients
2 balls pizza dough (get my quick & simple recipe here, yields 2 balls)*
For Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, trimmed, halved length-wise, thinly sliced**
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into a small dice
1 celery stalk, cleaned and cut into a small dice
sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (slightly spicy, reduce to 1/8 for less spice)
1 28-ounce can tomatoes (diced or whole, organic and salt-free preferred)
1.5 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
For Pizza Toppings

1 white or yellow onion, halved, trimmed, thinly sliced
8 cremini mushrooms, washed and thinly sliced
1 head broccoli, stem removed, cut into small florets
1 small can sliced black olives, liquid removed
sea salt, fine grain
garlic powder or granulated garlic

To Make

Allow refrigerated dough to rest at room temperature for an hour. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

To make sauce, heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add leeks, garlic, celery, carrots and 1 teaspoon salt. Add dried thyme, oregano and crushed red pepper flake. Allow mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup water, canned tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and 1.5 tablespoons maple syrup. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover. Simmer for 20 minutes. Using a blender (immersion, high power, standard, food processor), blend sauce until smooth. Stir in fresh thyme leaves. Season to taste (I added another 1/4 teaspoon of salt).

Add 2 inches of water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil. Using a steamer basket, steam broccoli in saucepan, covered, for 2 minutes or until bright green. Set aside. Prep remaining toppings.

Press out dough balls to fit a pan or pizza peel.Transfer crusts to cornmeal dusted pans or a peel. Add 2/3 to 1 cup of sauce to each pizza, spreading it out evenly from center to crust. Evenly distribute broccoli, mushrooms, onions and olives over pizzas. Season each pizza with 2 pinches of salt and 2 pinches of garlic powder. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until bottom of crust is golden and sturdy.

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Best of Basic: Southern-Style White Gravy with Mushrooms

Best of Basic: Southern-Style White Gravy with Mushrooms

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Year 2017. It’s here. And I’m happy to say, so far so good. For me, last year ended and this year began in the best way possible, with the whole family in St. Louis together. It was a beautifully lazy 10 days, highlighted by lots of tasty food, an HBO’s West World marathon and excursions to the St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum and an epic historic mansion on SLU’s campus. This trip was a far cry from the old days, when coming home for the holidays meant going out with friends and painting the town red and green. Confession – I was already asleep when midnight hit on New Years Eve this year. Oops. But honestly, I’m not complaining. I think it says a lot about me and where I am in my life. At 28, my focus and priorities have changed for the better, and I’m starting the New Year off excited, confident and ready.

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It’s crazy that last New Years I was still working in corporate fashion in New York City wondering where exactly my life was going and if that’s even where I wanted it to go. I don’t remember fully, but I imagine that last year’s resolution was to figure out a different career and life path. And although I most likely forgot about the “resolution” within days, finding a new path happened none the less. So here I am, about to graduate from the Natural Gourmet Institute as a certified chef specializing in health-conscious and sustainable cooking and eating. I mean, I have no idea where this path is taking me, and there’s much to do in terms of sorting out this new career and this new dream. All I know at this point is that I’m up for the challenge.

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Resolutions, in my opinion, are a somewhat silly concept. On the one hand, I completely understand the mentality of an annual fresh start to get life on track, in whatever way makes sense to an individual person and their needs. So around this time of year, I can’t help but think of things I could improve on in the New Year. On the other hand, more often than not, my life-changing resolution bites the dust within in the first two weeks of January, and the words “New Years resolution” are not used again until the last two weeks in December, when I choose a new resolution for the next year. I may end up accomplishing my goal by year’s end, or I may accomplish a different goal by year’s end. The point is, by year’s end, I don’t even remember what exactly my resolution was in the first place, so why even make one? Good question. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I will continue to make a New Years resolution every year. Can’t hurt, right?

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So what is my life-changing resolution for the coming year? This wasn’t a hard decision to make. I feel like a lot of my life is under control, at least for the moment, and there’s just a couple things on my mind. First, as I just mentioned, is sorting out my new career path. But honestly, resolution or not, I don’t really have a choice in the matter. So my other resolution option was the clear choice, and that is to get my stress levels under control, naturally. As I get older, I (and those closest to me) have noticed that I tend to over-think and worry…about everything…constantly. I believe that part of this trait comes from my desire to be in control and from my fear of things I can’t control. But no matter where the stress is coming from, stress is extremely hard on the body and mind, and it can be detrimental to short- and long-term health. Additionally, high-stress definitely won’t help as I embark on this new chapter in my career and life. So, it was decided. I must make stress the enemy of 2017 (happy, mom?). There are two keys to naturally controlling my stress levels; daily meditation and consistent yoga practice. I know first-hand that both of these techniques positively benefit me, so making them a consistent part of my daily and weekly routine can do nothing but help this issue (and other issues, whatever they may be). I’ll try to keep you updated on my progress.

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In any case, health seems to be the underlying theme of many resolutions. So you may expect this post to feature a light and healthy meal to appeal to those health-based resolutions. But I’m choosing a different direction for my first post of the New Year. I’m choosing to share my favorite concoction from while I was home for the holidays. Although this isn’t “low cal” or “low fat,” it still fits into my definition of healthy. It’s meat-free, uses organic butter, organic whole milk and organic flour, and gets added nutrients from fresh mushrooms and flavorful garlic. It’s clean, it’s pure, and it fits perfectly into a balanced and health-supportive diet. I made this gravy on Christmas morning and once more later in the trip, and let me tell you, it was a hit. I am always disappointed at restaurants, when I see biscuits and gravy on the menu, because it sounds so delicious, but I know I can’t eat it because it most likely is made with sausage. So when my mom asked what I’d like with the biscuits on Christmas morning, I knew immediately that it was time to create a vegetarian-friendly, southern-style white gravy recipe made with only the highest quality ingredients. Oh man, was that a good decision.

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Now, I’m not saying to eat this rich white gravy on the daily, but on special occasions (like Saturday morning), it’s an indulgent but wholesome recipe that’s sure to please anyone’s taste buds. But it’s all about balance, people! Balance, balance, balance. It’s the only way a satisfy a health-obsessed foodie like myself. So stay tuned for lighter and more detox-friendly recipes, I always have those in the works. But for now, happily realize that richer foods made with more health-supportive and high-quality ingredients should always be a part of a balanced, healthy and delicious lifestyle. That’s good news, right? You’re welcome and Happy New Year!

Vegetarian Southern-Style Mushroom Gravy
Serves: 4-6   Start to Finish: 15-20 minutes

Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup roughly chopped portobello mushroom (approx. 1 lg cap)
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms (remove stems, approx. 5 mushrooms)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, divided (plus more to taste)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (approx. 2 large cloves)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 pinches nutmeg

To Make
Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for 5 minutes, until mushrooms are reduced by about half. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just starting to turn golden. Whisk in flour, 1 tablespoons at a time, until a smooth paste forms. Continue cooking, whisking frequently, for about 3 minutes.

Whisk in whole milk in 1/2 cup increments. Once all milk is added, stir in cooked mushrooms, 3/4 tsp salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue to stir frequently until gravy has reached a thick and rich texture, 3-5 minutes. Add more salt to taste, then remove from heat.

Serve gravy over biscuits (obviously), over chicken (if that’s your thing), or a pan-fried cauliflower steak (genius). I served this batch over Immaculate brand organic ready-to-bake biscuits with some steamed baby spinach.

If gravy gets too think, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached.

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

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My recent vacation to my family’s summer cottage in Canada was super inspirational in terms of cooking and food. To no one’s surprise we ate well and often, and had a blast in the kitchen along the way. The inspiration for this post came from spending time cooking with my mom, who is the master chef in my life. She is the queen of delicious, simple and inventive cooking and, somehow, everything always tastes better when she makes it.

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One of my favorite meals from the trip was my mom’s loaded pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and fresh basil. She’s not inventing the wheel with this one, as pesto pasta is pretty standard, but watching her throw it together in a matter of minutes made me wonder why I wasn’t taking advantage of how easy a pesto pasta comes together. I’ve said it before, I need more recipes that can be thrown together in a pinch with minimal effort, and this pasta dish falls under that category. I’ll talk more about the specifics of her awesome loaded pesto pasta in a later post, but today, I’m just focusing on the actual pesto.

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In addition to my mom’s pasta, I’ve been seeing and eating pesto everywhere these days. My favorite pizza place in Williamsburg (Vinnie’s) uses a pesto vinaigrette as the dressing on my favorite salad, and while driving from our cottage to the Toronto airport we stopped for lunch where I had an amazing Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil. Finally, on a recent trip to St. Louis, I ordered a pizza at my fave spot (called Pi) that drizzled pesto on top just before serving. It’s clear that a go-to pesto recipe is a must.

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I’ve made pesto before, although it’s been awhile, and I’ve seen it made on TV loads of times. It’s quite simple and always pretty much the same. Use a food processor to blend the seven uncooked ingredients and you’re done. Yes, that’s it. It’s literally a five to ten minute process. Those seven ingredients are basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Taking a tip from my girl Ina Garten, I used a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts, but you can use one or the other if preferred. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan is ideal, but I used pre-grated from Whole Foods this time because I didn’t feel like adding another step to the process (the easier the better!). The last thing I will say about pesto is that, in order to keep it looking fresh and bright, remove all air before storing in the fridge or freezer. I find that a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto before covering with a lid is the way to go.


So without further ado, my recipe for classic and simple basil pesto, to be used on anything from pasta to pizza to salad.

Happy summer and happy Friday!

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto
Serves: 8 (2 tbs per serving)   Start to Finish: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (use 4 cloves if you absolutely love garlic)
1/3 cup total Pine Nuts and/or Walnuts
2/3 cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste (I used 1 tsp each)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

To Make

Combine basil, garlic and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until fine. While food processor is on, drizzle in olive oil. Add Parmesan, pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well combined.

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

Best of Basic: Perfect Oven Fries

Best of Basic: Perfect Oven Fries

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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.

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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.

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Scenes from Pine Lake, Wisconsin – Back in the Day – That’s me!

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

Ingredients

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

To Make

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.

Best of Basic: Quick Pizza Dough

Best of Basic: Quick Pizza Dough

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In my world, Sundays are usually spent in the kitchen, whether prepping lunches for the week ahead or experimenting with recipes old and new. Surprisingly, we didn’t have anything planned come this past Sunday morning, and due to the physical aftermath of Saturday night’s Christmas party and really wanting to avoid a trip to the grocery store, Matt came up with the idea to make homemade pizza crust topped with only ingredients we already had. Continue reading “Best of Basic: Quick Pizza Dough”

Rich Brown Gravy with Mushrooms (meat-free)

Rich Brown Gravy with Mushrooms (meat-free)

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I have something quite special to be thankful for this year. My second nephew was born just 3 days ago, and I am so looking forward to these next five work-free days filled with straight-up family time and bonding with the newest member of our family.

With that said, Thanksgiving is dinner less than 48 hours away. Hard to believe. But 48 hours away it is, so it’s time to share another holiday classic, vegetarian-style. This simple recipe for rich and flavorful mushroom gravy is a must-have at the table. Personally, I like to drench my entire plate in gravy, so of course I’m going to have a perfect recipe for a veggie-friendly gravy. Continue reading “Rich Brown Gravy with Mushrooms (meat-free)”