I was long distance chatting with my mom the other day, and because our conversations often revolve around food, she was raving about an avocado toast she recently had for lunch at a cafe in my hometown, St. Louis. She then proceeded to ask how to make Avocado Toast. I could feel my face twist up as I thought, “It’s pretty self explanatory, no?” But before saying anything out loud, I quickly realized that, to her point, there’s a difference between smashed avocado slathered on any old slice of bread and a real Avocado Toast. So my mom wants to know how to make the best version of a real Avocado Toast? Challenge accepted. Continue reading “Best of Basic: Avocado Toast”
It’s April. Not a month typically viewed as stick-to-your-bones-soup-worthy. But I am once again reminded that my black and white vision of what the weather should look like during each month is totally irrelevant. Mother Nature does what she wants, and although she had the whole month of March to transition to true Spring, it’s still winter . You see, I can be patient with cold weather in March. But 40 degrees in April is just plain UGH.
However, instead of dwelling on my disappointment and unwavering desire to wear a skirt without tights, I decided to use this annoying down-coat-weather as a reason to make one last batch of hot and hearty cold-weather soup. What kind of soup? Something stick to your ribs, totally satisfying, and 100% healthy. Almost as fast as the idea for soup materialized, the thought of a vegan Mushroom & Barley Soup came to mind immediately. Back in the day, I loved eating my mom’s Beef & Barley Soup, and nostalgia typically drives many of my ideas. So my inkling to make a rich and flavorful batch of my mom’s soup (minus the meat) comes as no surprise.
Soups are generally pretty simple. Especially when using store-bought broth. This soup is just that: simple. Sautéed vegetables, organic veggie broth, fresh thyme and barley. That’s about it. I use thyme here because I love the flavor of mushrooms and thyme together, and because I find that the combination adds richness and substance that would normally come from the beef. To add even more heartiness and substance, at the very end of cooking I add a cornstarch slurry, which thickens the soup beautifully.
My Mushroom & Barley Soup is definitely one to keep in the recipe box. It is not only super healthy, packed with fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, but it’s also vegan-friendly and oh so yummy. For dinner on Sunday, I made grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches to go alongside the soup, and for lunch leftovers I ate the soup with a couple hunks of bakery-fresh whole wheat peasant bread that perfect for dipping and soaking. Delicious. This soup is just plain awesome. So I guess I’d like to end this post by thanking Mother Nature for giving me the opportunity to create this recipe. But I’d still really like some 60 degree days in the very near future, ok?
Vegan Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 90 min.
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 large Carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice
1 large Onion, medium to small dice
2 large stalks Celery, cut into medium dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into medium dice
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 lb Portobello Caps, cut into medium-large dice
10 ounces White Button Mushrooms, cut into medium-large dice
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Thyme leaves, divided
4 cups Organic Veggie Stock
1 cup dry Barley
2 tablespoons Corn Starch + 1/3 cup Water
3 teaspoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or preferred brand added to taste)
Prep and chop all veggies. I like the veggies big enough to see and taste, but cut to any size you prefer.
Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add celery, carrots, onion, and red pepper to oil. Toss to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic to pot, toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper (I used 1/2 teaspoon of each). Cook for 5 minutes.badd mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon thyme and season with salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon). Cook for 2 minutes. Add veggie stock and dry barley to pot. Turn heat to high and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer until barley is cooked, 45-60 minutes.
With a couple minutes to go, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup cold water. When barley is fully cooked, add the cornstarch “slurry” mixture to pot. Add remaining tablespoon thyme and an additional 1/2 cup water (or more depending on desired consistency). Bring to boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until soup is thickened from cornstarch. Turn off heat. Salt to taste (I added 1/2 teaspoon) and add hot sauce. Note that the hot sauce adds a much need cut of vinegar, it does not make it spicy unless you add more than I did.
The soup is now ready to eat. Continue adding water if desired, to maintain ideal consistency. I like it super thick so I didn’t add any additional water.
Moving is the worst. It doesn’t matter how exciting the prospect of a new home is, when it comes time to move, misery is the prevailing emotion. That’s how it is for me, at least. Also contributing to the misery is the fact that I need things to be perfectly organized and scheduled, and when it comes to moving, even the most meticulous planning will no doubt unravel. It’s exhausting, frustrating and overwhelming. Needless to say, the last two weeks of packing and moving and unpacking have been non stop crazy.
Im so happy to say that we’re all moved in, pretty much set up, and absolutely loving our new apartment in Williamsburg, a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of NYC. This is my 5th neighborhood since moving to New York in 2011, and I have a feeling it’s going to be my favorite. Although there is still a lot to do, I feel as though I can finally fall back into my usual routine and I couldn’t be more ready.
In honor of the move, I’m sharing a super simple, cheap and healthy dinner idea that came in handy during the moving process. I actually first made these delicious eggplant parm melts while in Florida a few weeks ago with my family. When trying to use up items in the fridge one afternoon, we used leftover grilled eggplant discs, fresh mozzarella cheese, jarred tomato sauce and my favorite Ezekiel English Muffins to make a light and simple lunch. I knew immediately that this would be a new go-to for us. Now let’s fast forward to the whole packing and moving process, when lack of time, saving money and staying healthy were all on my mind when coming up with dinner every night. My answer to these concerns on more than one occasion over the past couple weeks was to make these eggplant parm melts, and now I feel an almost emotional attachment to them.
I changed up the recipe slightly from Florida to be even more economical. I replaced fresh mozzarella with regular mozzarella and used the Whole Foods brand canned tomato sauce instead of a fancy jarred marinara. The beauty of this recipe is that you can really use whatever you have on hand, the brands you prefer, or items on sale at the moment. I do find that using a simple canned sauce tastes better with some simple seasoning action, like dried basil and garlic powder. I further add flavor with the technique of rubbing raw garlic onto the lightly toasted base English muffins before adding the toppings. This is optional but highly recommended.
Finally, I have a quick note about cooking eggplant, but then I’ll get to the recipe. Cooking eggplant is sometimes seen as intimidating, probably because so many recipes require removing some of the moisture with salt or soaking the eggplant in water before cooking. These steps are important to remove the slight bitterness inherent in eggplants. But never fear, eggplant is rather forgiving and these small steps before cooking take minimal effort. And sometimes, I ignore these pre-cooking steps completely. It’s not the end of the world, depending on the recipe.
When it comes to cooking the eggplant for this recipe, there are a few options. Using leftover grilled eggplant like I did in Florida, or grilling eggplant for this specific recipe, makes these melts insanely quick and easy, like under 30 minutes. But not everyone has a grill pan for the stovetop and grilling outside can often become a production. In this case, I recommend roasting the eggplant. Roasting the eggplant takes a little longer, but it’s really just as simple. Make dinner time even easier by roasting the eggplant in advance.
And without further ado, my simple recipe for Eggplant Parmesan Melts, perfect for those days you want an easy dinner that won’t blow your wallet or your diet.
Cheap & Easy Eggplant Parm Melts
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 45 minutes
1 Italian Eggplant, about a pound
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
4 English Muffins, split (I used Ezekiel Sprouted Grain English Muffins)
1 14-oz can Tomato Sauce (I used Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 ounces Part-Skim Mozzarella, shred while eggplant cooks (I used Whole Foods Brand)
1/4-1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (I used Whole Foods brand)
1 clove Garlic, kept whole and peeled, optional
Dried Basil, optional
Garlic Powder, optional
Trim ends of eggplant. Slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch discs. Season both sides of each disc with salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Use a clean towel to remove the excess moisture.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees to roast eggplant.
Spread eggplant slices out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush each side with olive oil and season with black pepper. Roast eggplant for 25-30 minutes, flipping once half way through cooking.
While eggplant cooks, brush each muffin half with olive oil. Lightly toast English muffins in a toaster oven or in broiler. Peel a clove of a garlic and cut in half. Rub the cut side over toasted English muffins (doing this gives a slight garlic flavor, this step is optional).
When eggplant is finished, assemble the melts. Top each muffin half with 2 spoonfuls of sauce. I like to season the sauce layer with salt, garlic powder and dried basil (optional). Top sauce with 1 or 2 slices of eggplant, depending on size of slice. Top eggplant with 1 or 2 more spoonfuls of sauce, 1 or 2 tablespoons mozzarella, and then 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.
Using a broiler or toaster oven, broil muffins until cheese is melted and golden brown. Season with salt and liberally sprinkle on some dried basil.
Serve with fresh fruit or simple salad.
*The baking method takes about 30 minutes. You could also grill the discs over medium-high heat, using an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan, for about 4 minutes per side (saves time).
Greetings from Florida! I can’t even begin to express how nice it is to be totally checked out of reality for the week. No work, no hustle and bustle, no mass transit. It’s just sun, sand, and relaxation here in Boca Grande, Florida. I’ve been coming to Boca Grande since I was a tot. It’s so nice to be somewhere so familiar, yet so far from my normal day to day life. Continue reading “Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers”