Quick & Easy: Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros

Quick & Easy: Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros

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More and more these days, Matt and I find ourselves playing the fridge-clean-out-game when deciding what to do for dinner. We do about one main grocery shop per week at which point we buy tons of produce, a little bit of meat or poultry for matt and restock our grains, beans and dairy arsenal. I may plan for a couple specific meals, but other than that, dinners are improvisational. The benefits? Playing the clean-out-game a few nights a week minimizes waste, saves money, avoids getting takeout, and it’s actually a pretty fun game. The hard part? Knowing what to have on hand to be able to successfully improv a delicious, balanced and satisfying meal. There’s no exact formula for this, and it really depends on your diet and food preferences. In any case, I’ve come up with a vegetarian-friendly list of staple categories to stock up on, and a few of my fave examples of each…

lettuce/dark leafy greens – hearts of romaine, lacinato kale, arugala
citrus – lemons, limes, blood oranges
flavor boosters – garlic, red onions, yellow onions, jalapenos, avocados
other produce – broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, red bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, apples, grapes etc.
whole grains (uncooked) – short grain brown rice, quinoa, lentils
breads/pasta – whole wheat penne pasta, whole wheat pita/flatbread
dairy – cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, grass-fed plain yogurt, whole milk
canned foods (organic only) – black beans, chickpeas, lentils, diced tomatoes, coconut milk
oils – olive, organic canola, virgin coconut, toasted sesame
vinegars – red wine, champagne, apple cider
pantry/fridge staples – sea salt, hot sauce, tamari, tahini, dijon mustard, yellow miso, ketchup, raw cashews, maple syrup, agave, all purpose flour, corn meal, yeast
herbs/spices (dried) – black pepper, oregano, dill, parsley, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cardamon, cinnamon

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So now let’s put this list to work. A perfect example of an amazing fridge-clean-out meal using my handy-dandy staples list? You got it – these healthy and delicious Asparagus & Hummus Gyros. I threw these wraps together without much effort, and, you guessed it, each item I used is on my staples list. I made hummus from canned chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. I did a simple roast of the asparagus spears, which I had purchased without a purpose. To make it a balanced and substantial meal, I added shredded romaine, leftover minced red onion and a stupid-easy dill-yogurt sauce that utilized the last 1/3 cup of yogurt left from my family-size tub. Then I wrapped it all up in basic pita flatbreads. So yummy and so easy. This dinner ended up taking less than 30 minutes to prepare, and Matt and I were both blown away by how tasty it was. Balance it out with some crispy red grapes or apple slices and you’ve got yourself a full meal.

Anyway, I’d love to know your go-to tips and tricks for stocking the pantry and playing the kitchen improv game. Or, even better, any successful improvs you’d like to share. Let’s hear it!

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Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros with Dill-Yogurt Sauce

Servings: 4    Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

for roasted asparagus
16 asparagus spears, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
for hummus (you could also use 1 cup store-bought hummus)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup water (+ more for texture)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
hot sauce, to taste (optional)
for dill-yogurt sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
for assembly
1 romaine heart, shredded and washed
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 flatbreads or pitas

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).

Toss trimmed asparagus spears with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes, checking spears and flipping them every 5-10 minutes. When finished, the tips of the spears should be brown and the flesh a rich olive green.

Combine all hummus ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed, a tablespoon or 2 at a time. Transfer to bowl, season to taste. I use 3 dashes hot sauce and an extra tablespoon or 2 of water.

In a small bowl, stir together yogurt-dill sauce ingredients. Season with salt and lemon juice, to taste.

Prep veggies. Warm pitas, if desired, in microwave (wrapped in a clean towel) or in the oven, wrapped in aluminum foil.

When all components are complete, build the gyros. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of hummus across each pita. Top with 4 asparagus spears, shredded lettuce, chopped onions and about 2 tablespoons dill-yogurt sauce.

 

Vegetarian Buffalo Cauliflower Sandwiches

Vegetarian Buffalo Cauliflower Sandwiches

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A couple posts ago I  became a spokeswoman for cauliflower steaks (check out my cauliflower reuben sandwiches here). I love them. These seasoned and baked slabs of cauliflower can pretty much be turned into anything, including the spicy buffalo sandwiches I’m sharing today. Classically, the cauliflower in this sandwich would be a deep fried chicken breast tossed in buttery buffalo sauce and topped with a heavy blue cheese dressing, however that’s not my style. I found a way around this though. You see, one of my go-to orders at a local sports bar back home in St. Louis is their build-your-own-burger option with a veggie patty, veggies, buffalo sauce and ranch dressing. I get everything I used to love about buffalo chicken sandwiches, just without the chicken. So I blended this concept with my new obsession for cauliflower steaks and came up with this out-of-bounds buffalo cauliflower sandwich recipe.

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I actually had intended on making this post a few days ago, but it took me until today because of the crazy week I’ve had. This past week was not only my last full week of classes at culinary school, but it was also the week of our final project. As a final, me and five of my classmates took over the school’s weekly Friday Night Dinner even, where we planned and executed a three-course, gourmet vegan dinner for 100 people. For this project, we are responsible for concept, recipes, execution, prepping, cooking, plating and table settings. It’s a lot of work, but in the end, it was a super success. The food was perfect and the tables looked beautiful. But while it’s a sweet feeling to be over and done with it, it’s also a bitter feeling because I don’t want school to end. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, and it was so amazing to have all my friends and family there on Friday to celebrate this monumental time in my life.

Then, the morning after, my mom, oldest sister, and I participated in the NYC Women’s March. To say the least, it was a truly major experience. The signage alone was enough to keep me fully entertained, but it was the positive, united and hopeful energy coming from the masses of people marching that really made it an event to remember. I am so proud to say that I participated in such a significant event in history.

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So at the close of these two epic events (and before I have to start my homework), I at last have a minute to share this almost-as-epic recipe. I’ve hit all the classic flavor-packed elements of a traditional buffalo chicken sandwich here, except I keep them lighter and meat-free with my flavorful roasted cauliflower, a vegan buffalo sauce, and a rich blue cheese dressing made with plain, grass-fed yogurt. I also used one of my favorite techniques when it comes to topping sandwiches and wraps with veggies, which in this case is to toss the typical buffalo side kicks (shredded lettuce, celery and carrots) with the blue cheese dressing before adding to the sandwich. This way, every bite gets some blue-cheese-veggie action and also helps to keep the sandwiches together.

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When it comes to the blue cheese dressing, I’m using a recipe that utilizes only full fat plain yogurt (my go-to is an organic, grass-fed variety StonyField from Whole Foods). In case you’re interested, I prefer grass-fed milk and yogurt because grass-fed cows are far happier than grain- or meat-fed cows, and because my go-to brand, Stonyfield, is also organic, I can trust that it’s a non-gmo product that doesn’t contain hormones or antibiotics. Awesome. However, regular plain yogurt of any variety is still an excellent nutritional choice, and much easier to find, so I sometimes use conventional yogurt over grass-fed/organic. But, if you really can’t have blue cheese dressing without mayo, check out my slightly more indulgent recipe here, it uses a mixture of yogurt and mayo. Now, the last but certainly not least element of this sandwich is, of course, the bun. You can use a conventional store-bought brand for this obviously. But I find that a bakery fresh version is always better because not only does it support a local and small business, but bakery-fresh versions will likely contain nothing artificial or excessive. In fact, this brings up a good point. Everything about this sandwich is a good example of small adjustments that make a big difference. Yogurt instead of mayo, baked cauliflower instead of fried chicken, and a bakery-fresh bun instead of a conventional grocery store brand are all examples of simple changes that have changed my life for the better. I mean, how else could I enjoy eating as much and as often as I do while continuing to feel my best? This is how.

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So there you have it – an epic sandwich recipe to end a totally epic week. Bring it on, Monday!

Vegetarian Buffalo Cauliflower Sandwich Recipe
Serves: 4     Start to finish: 40 minutes

Ingredients
For Buffalo Cauliflower Steaks
1 large head cauliflower
1.5 tablespoons olive oil (plus for for griddle)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For Vegan Buffalo Sauce
3 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoons granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
For Blue Cheese Sauce
1.5 cups plain yogurt*
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil
For Assembly
1 heart of romaine, finely chopped or shredded, washed
3 stalks celery, cleaned and trimmed
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced or shredded
4 sandwich buns**

To Make
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prep a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.

Cut cauliflower into steaks by slicing the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, to slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. Two large slabs is enough for 4 portions in this recipe, but I like to roast some of the florets to fill in gaps in the sandwich.

Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Combine ingredients for cauliflower steaks, olive oil through cayenne pepper. Brush cauliflower with spice mixture. Add a thin layer of oil to pan, just to coat. Add cauliflower to pan and cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until browned. Transfer to baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until super tender, flipping half way through cooking.

While cauliflower bakes, combine all ingredients for blue cheese dressing. Prep lettuce, celery and carrots. Toss together in a bowl with 1/3-1/2 cup blue cheese dressing. Set aside.

Combine buffalo sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until for 3-5 minutes. When cauliflower steaks are finished cooking, remove from oven and brush with buffalo sauce, reserving some for pouring over sandwiches. Cut each steak into 2 equal portions.

Now assemble the sandwiches. Spread 2-4 tablespoons of blue cheese dressing onto the bottom half of each bun. Top each with a cauliflower steak half, then some of the tossed salad mixture. Drizzle remaining buffalo sauce and blue cheese over each sandwich as desired. Finish with top bun.

*my recipe uses all yogurt to keep it a bit leaner, but feel free to use your favorite blue cheese dressing – get my slightly more indulgent recipe here – it uses a mixture of yogurt and mayonnaise

**bakery fresh bread is a better choice than conventional grocery-store varieties because fresh bread likely contains nothing artificial or excessive – I got mine from Northside Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Recipe by Mary Louis

Veganized Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

Veganized Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

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2017 is the year of the Cauliflower Steak. I’m literally obsessed. If you haven’t yet heard of the concept, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a slab (or steak, if you will) of cauliflower, roasted or grilled until rich in flavor and tender in texture. Eat this tasty “steak” on it’s own, or use it as a clean, whole, nutrient-rich and satisfying substitute, wherever slices of animal protein are traditionally used. Yesterday, during my improvisation class at culinary school, my partner and I layered slabs of roasted cauliflower with a delicious mock-bolognese sauce made with tempeh. It was divine. But this obsession actually started while home for the holidays, when I used cauliflower steaks as a replacement for the burgers everyone else was eating on bbq night.

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Also on bbq night, is when I came up with the idea for a Cauliflower “Reuben” Sandwich using the slabs of cauliflower. I asked my mom to add the traditional reuben toppings to the burger bar, and the result was delicious. So when I returned to NYC last week, I was obviously craving another cauliflower reuben sandwich…stat.

A traditional reuben sandwich consists of sauerkraut, swiss cheese, a sweet Russian dressing and some rye bread. Well, pastrami is also an important component, but that’s not happening in my kitchen. So what’s my version? Perfectly cooked cauliflower steaks, seasoned with traditional pastrami spices (corriander, garlic, onion, paprika, black pepper), fresh rye bread from the local bakery, nutty swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a “lightened up” yogurt-based Russian dressing. Yum, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m not missing the pastrami one bit.

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Making cauliflower steaks is easy. Simply slice the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. So basically, you can only count on 2-4 solid slabs that will hold together. But no matter, there are countless uses for the leftover florets. I add them to soups and stirfries, use them as a simple side dish, or food-process them into low-carb “rice.” For slabs that are mostly staying together, with just a couple florets starting to peel off, I keep them together as best as possible while cooking so it still looks like a slab. Easy enough, yeah?

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Now that the cauliflower is covered, all that’s left to talk about is the accessories. I picked up some fresh rye bread from Northside Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Why? Grocery store-bought bread has too many additives. Bakery-fresh bread on the other hand, is pure. Not to mention it supports small, local businesses. Next is the swiss cheese. Not much to say about this. It’s cheese and it’s delicious. Next up, sauerkraut. Sauerkraut, if you don’t know, is pickled or fermented cabbage. You can find pickled sauerkraut in jars or cans at the market. It has a sour flavor and is a perfect compliment to the richness of the cheese and sauce on this sandwich. While most store-bought sauerkrauts are heated during processing, there are also uncooked, unpasturized varieties of sauerkraut, which are filled-to-the-brim with gut-healthy bacteria and Vitamins B, C & K. To find a store-bought version like this, that include the digestion-healthy probiotics and live cultures/bacteria, look for jars of organic sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the market. Both versions, pickled and fermented, work for this recipe. The choice is yours.

Finally, that sauce. Traditional russian dressing is a rich and creamy mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, with some other ingredients, depending on the recipe. I made my sauce as simple as possible and added vegan variations too.

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So there you have it. A classic Reuben Sandwich, reinvented to cater to the health-conscious, meat-free crowd. But honestly, meat-eaters and meat-freers alike can benefit from veggie-centric, lightened up recipes like this one. Stay tuned for more recipes using my new best friend, Cauliflower Steak. Maybe buffalo style next time? If you have any suggestions, for sure let me know!

Cauliflower Reuben-Style Sandwich
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 medium heads cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces swiss cheese, sliced (vegan? Try VioLife cheese slices)
1 cup organic sauerkraut
3/4 cup full-fat, plain yogurt (mayo, vegan mayo or cashew cream also work)
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon grated onion, white or yellow
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
8 slices rye bread (or bread of choice)

To Make

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut cauliflower into steaks by slicing the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically through the stem. Then, moving out from the center cut, to slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. You’ll get two “steaks” from each cauliflower. Cut the remaining cauliflower into florets and save for another meal.

Heat cast iron pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Combine spices, black pepper through coriander, in a small bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Brush both sides of cauliflower slabs with 1/2 tablespoon oil and season both sides of slabs with seasoning blend. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to pan. Brown cauliflower slabs in pan until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, until the core of the cauliflower is soft and tender.*

While cauliflower cooks, make sauce by combining ingredients yogurt through garlic powder, plus 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add more salt to taste. Set aside in fridge.

When cauliflower is finished, remove from oven and cut each slab into 2 equal-sized pieces (four total). Season the top of each slice with a pinch of salt. Evenly distribute cheese slices over cauliflower. Return slabs to oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Make sandwiches by layering ingredients as follows… 1 slice rye bread, 1-2 tablespoons sauce, one cheese-covered cauliflower steak, 1/4 cup sauerkraut, 1-2 tablespoons sauce, 2nd slice of rye bread. Repeat to make 4 sandwiches.

*You can also cook the cauliflower steaks fully in the oven for about 35 minutes, flipping halfway through OR cauliflower slabs can be grilled, without needing to brown in on cast iron first

**i like to gently squeeze excess liquid from the sauerkraut before adding to sandwich, it’s less messy/soggy when eating

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

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There are salads, and then there are SALADS. I’m talking super yummy, satisfying and healthful salads, filled to the brim with flavor, texture, and nourishment. A salad like this answers the body’s desire for fresh, clean, and nutrient-rich meals, to offset all of the richer and more indulgent meals we (I mean, “I”) enjoy eating. Salads like this are definitely a staple in my diet, and this one is a particular favorite of mine. There’s sweetness from the roasted apples, depth from the caramelized onion, freshness from the greens, richness from the cheese, and a punch of flavor from the delish sherry vinaigrette (my new basic dressing for everything and anything). Trust me when I say, this salad won’t disappoint.

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When creating a super satisfying “big salad” (Seinfeld reference), there are a few elements that I almost always include. There’s always something a bit sweet, there’s always something (or a few things) that adds richness and complexity, there’s always a balanced dressing, and there’s always an abundance of protein and fiber. But protein is the focus of this post.

I’ve decided to focus on meat-free protein sources for a few reasons. The first reason is that I get this question a lot, how do you get enough protein as a vegetarian or a vegan? Short answer, easily (sometimes I even eat too much protein by accident). The second reason why I’m focusing on protein today is because my class recently started our nutrition-specific lectures at school (Natural Gourmet Institute), and I’d like to pass on the basics of protein to all my lovely readers. And thirdly because this particular salad highlights almost all of the meat-free protein source categories, so it only makes sense to use it as a reason to talk about meat-free protein. So here we go!

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The first question I want to answer is, what does protein do for us? Protein is one of three essential macronutrients required for life and function (the other two are carbs and fat). Protein, as most know, is a building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. But protein is also essential for important bodily functions such as metabolism, fighting off infections, and the creation of enzymes and hormones. Additionally, protein is also needed for proper brain function and clear thinking. So basically, protein is super-duper important. But what is protein?

Protein is a source of amino acids for our body. Our bodies require 22 different types amino acids in order to function. 13 of these required amino acids are naturally produced in the body. But 9 of them are not produced by the body, which means these 9 ‘essential amino acids’ (EAA) need to be given to the body through ingestion (aka eating and drinking). Complete protein foods, like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, include all 9 EAA’s in sufficient quantities (easy enough).Point is, if you eat meat and dairy, it’s simple to get all those essential amino acids. And there are a handful of vegan complete protein options, including quinoa, chia seeds and buckwheat. However, most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly protein sources do not include all 9 EAA’s. We call these ‘incomplete proteins’.

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The issue is, as a vegetarian, I can’t eat quinoa all-day-every-day. Don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa, especially in this salad. But variety is the spice of life! No worries though. The cool thing here, is that you can combine incomplete protein sources to create complete proteins. All plants contain protein, therefor all contain amino acids. To get complete proteins, simply combine multiple protein sources. For instance, black beans + brown rice or whole grain bread + almond butter or whole grain pasta + kale & pine nut pesto or millet pilaf with pecans and baby spinach. Basically, grains are combined with veggies and legumes (nuts, seeds, beans), creating whole and complete protein sources.

For this particular salad, I used quinoa, so other ingredients weren’t necessary to create complete protein. But I added beans anyway for texture, additional protein and fiber. Then I added even more protein with fresh baby spinach and brie cheese. See? So much protein! All of which are vegetarian, most of which are vegan.

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So there you go, a brief summary of protein. To recap, protein is absolutely essential for a healthy and strong body and mind. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs are complete proteins, providing all essential amino acids in one swoop. Multiple incomplete proteins (most grains, vegetables and legumes) should be combined to create complete proteins. And veggie-friendly protein sources are countless, you just have to know when and how to combine them. And if you’re still wondering where meat-freers get protein, just take a look at this salad. Gang’s all there!

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing
Serves: 3 mains or 6 sides    Start to Finish: 1 hr

Ingredients

For salad
3/4 cup dry quinoa
Sea salt, fine grain
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large apples (like gala or honey crisp)
1 can organic kidney beans (1.5 to 2 cups cooked beans)
3 ounces Brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 large romaine heart, washed and chopped
10 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe follows)

For dressing
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons organic maple syrup
1 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (1 teaspoon chopped garlic)
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teasooon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

To Make

Add quinoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1.5 cups water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover. Cook until quinoa is tender, about 13 minutes. Set aside, still covered, for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in sauté pan. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until onions are caramelized, about 45 minutes. Add water to the pan when it gets dry, 3-4 tablespoons at a time. When onions are caramelized and the pan is at a dry phase, remove from heat. Transfer to container for cooling.

While onions cook, remove core and cut apples into big bite-size chunks. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread onto parchment lined baking sheet. Roast apples in oven until tender, 25-30 minutes, tossing once during cooking.

Drain and rinse beans. Wash and prep lettuces.

Make dressing. In a blender or using and immersion blender, blend all dressing ingredients until smooth and creamy. Season with sea salt to taste.

This can be a tossed salad or a composed salad. When all components are ready (quinoa, caramelized onions, roasted apples, beans, Brie cheese and dressing), divide among portions of romaine/spinach and drizzle with dressing to taste. Or toss all components together just before serving. Go easy on the dressing at first, you can always add more or serve more on the side for those who like lots of dressing.

*the components to this salad should be at room temp or chilled before tossing with lettuces.

**double recipe to feed a crowd or to keep around for future dinners and lunches in a pinch.

***sherry vinaigrette, caramelized onions, roasted apples and quinoa can all be made up to 3-4 days in advance. Store each component separately in tightly sealed containers and refrigerate.

Quick & Easy: Fresh Mozzarella and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Maple Mustard

Quick & Easy: Fresh Mozzarella and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Maple Mustard

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Between my best friend’s amazing wedding last weekend (shout out to my girl, Karen G), and keeping myself on top of school as the workload steadily grows, and catching a bug of some kind this week, what better recipe to share than a total time-buster recipe? I mean, I barely had time to make a post this week, but because this recipe is so simple, I managed to pull it together. It must be easy, right?

I think everyone has those weeks when they’re desperate for something quick, easy, satisfying, comforting and delicious. I actually think many people consider this type of week the norm. So basically quick, easy, satisfying, comforting and delicious are always the ideal when it comes to weeknight meals. But that’s a tall order. Ok, now take meat out of the equation. Even taller. But trust me when I say, simple, yummy and vegetarian-friendly cooking is attainable.

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The key to satisfying meals, sans meat, is creating depth and complexity by using new and different flavor combos. I get inspiration from everywhere when it comes to finding exciting new tastes. Today’s inspiration comes from a light lunch I made when trying to clean out the kitchen a few weeks back. I topped an English muffin with a fresh sliced pear, fresh mozzarella and a pinch of sea salt. It was love at first bite so I immediately wrote it down on my list of upcoming recipe ideas. And today, pear and mozzarella, will finally have their moment in the spotlight.

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Pear and Mozzarella Grilled Cheeses are the perfect quick and easy dinner for the fall season. This time of year, pears are sweet and juicy, and their vibrant flavor goes perfectly with the creamy, salty profile of fresh mozzarella. I added fresh spinach leaves to pump up the nutritional profile and added a super simple, sweet and tangy sauce to compliment the sweetness in the pears and also to cut through the richness of the cheese. It’s almost like a honey mustard, but uses maple syrup to get that sweetness in addition to the grainy mustard. This 2-ingredient spread was one of the first things I learned at culinary school and I’ve been making it constantly ever since. It’s so basic, I am almost embarrassed to say that I had to learn it. But whatevs, it’s amazing.

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Anyway, mozz, pears, fresh spinach and maple mustard sauce. That’s it. Barely any prep work whatsoever. Just some slicing really, because my spinach was already triple washed. Score (I hate washing lettuce). Then I layered the ingredients between two slices of bakery-fresh sourdough bread and brushed the outsides with a bit of oil. Yum!

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Now for the grilling portion of the grilled cheese. What I’m about to tell you is my secret for the perfect grilled cheese. It’s hot and gooey on the inside and golden-crisp on the outside. Every. Time. I mean, have you had this problem before? It’s crazy how something as basic as grilled cheese can be so difficult to get right. But I’ve got the magic. First trick is a super low heat. Like basically as low as it can go. And the second trick is to use a lid on your pan. The low heat allows for the sandwich to cook very slowly and the lid traps the heat to surround the sandwich, ensuring the middle will be piping hot and uber melty. I also press the sandwich down every so often with the back of the spatula, an important step for a grilled cheese that contains more than just cheese. If you follow these three steps, I can promise you, you will be absolutely delighted!

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So I spilled my deepest, darkest secret to you of how to make grilled cheeses absolutely perfect. And all you want to do now is to go try making a perfectly melty and crispy grilled cheese using this new-found cooking wisdom. And all I have left to say is go for it, good luck and let me know how it goes!

Quick & Easy: Fresh Mozzarella and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Maple Mustard
Serves: 4   Start to finish: 20 minutes

Ingredients

8 slices bakery-fresh Sourdough Bread
12 ounces Fresh Mozzarella, sliced*
2 ripe Pears, sliced (I used organic Bartlett Pears)
2 handfuls fresh Baby Spinach Leaves
1\3 cup Whole Grain Mustard
2 tablespoons Maple Syrup
Sea Salt, fine grain
2 tablespoons Olive Oil

To Make

In a small bowl, mix mustard and maple syrup. Set aside.

Slice mozzarella into thin slices. It may be difficult to cut fresh mozzarella thin, do the best you can. Break up slices into 2 parts, this makes it easier to distribute evenly on the sandwich.

Assemble sandwiches. For each sandwich, layer like this…

1 slice bread
Light layer of maple mustard
2 pieces of cheese
Season with a pinch of salt
5 spinach leaves
2-3 slices of pear
2 pieces of cheese
Another slice of bread, spread with maple mustard

When sandwiches are assembled, heat a large skillet over low heat (very low) for about a minute. Meanwhile, brush the top slice of each sandwich with a bit of olive oil. Gently flip sandwiches into the pan, olive oil side down. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden and crispy. Press down on the sandwiches with a spatula every so often. Flip the sandwiches and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the 2nd side is golden and crispy.**

*i allow for 3 ounces of cheese per sandwich. But that’s up to you. Note that 2 ounces is an actual serving size of cheese.

**on your first time using a stovetop, keep an eye on the sandwiches to prevent burning. Once you know how your stove/heat works, you’ll have freedom while they cook to prepare a side dish or something. My stove is 6 minutes per side, with an extra 1 minute on each side at the end (lowest heat).

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza

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Pizza in the summer? Give me homemade tomato sauce, creamy fresh mozz, and homegrown basil. Pizza in the fall? Different story.

Getting creative with pizza is one of my favorite activities in the whole wide world. We make pizza dough on the reg, but truth be told, most of our pizzas are on the traditional side. You know, red sauce base, mushrooms, spinach, roasted red pepper, Italian cheeses, etc. So I decided to mix it up a little bit. And I’m so glad I did, because Matt deemed this creation one of my best recipes ever. Yep, that’s right. Best. Ever.

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It all started with a little get together we decided to have this past Friday. Whenever we have people over, I always make some kind of a food spread. This is for two reasons. First is that it gives me a chance to experiment in the kitchen and cook for my friends on a small scale. Second is that a couple noshes at a party, even if it’s supposed to be just drinks, always makes for a more welcoming and comforting environment. And I’m all about creating a warm and welcoming vibe in my home, even if only for just me and Matt to enjoy.

So we decided to have a get together. I made roasted red pepper hummus and pita crisps, because I had all the ingredients on hand and because who doesn’t love hummus? Additionally, I decided to make a pizza of some kind. Why pizza? I think pizza is a winning appetizer. Cut into squares instead of slices, pizza is an easy and fun finger food that just about everyone can enjoy. I use our easy pizza dough recipe (get it here), but don’t hesitate to use store-bought, refrigerated crust for an even easier result!

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Now, I didn’t want to do anything traditional or standard here. I really wanted to use this opportunity to bring autumn flavors into the mix. Not surprisingly, butternut squash quickly came to mind. From there, the rest of the ingredients easily fell into place. Garlic oil as the base, caramelized onions for some richness and goat cheese for some tang. Perfection.

The different ingredients in this pizza require some prep time, it takes a bit longer than pizza sauce and mozzarella. But everything comes together in about an hour. Start with the slow process of caramelizing the onions and you have a pocket of time to work on getting the squash into the oven. While the squash bakes, prep the cheeses and make the garlic oil. Everything falls together perfectly in the end. Flavor, depth, richness? Gang’s all here.

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There are enough ingredients here to make two medium-large pizzas. Although calorie-wise one pizza feeds about 3 people, I always allow one pizza for every two people. That’s because Matt, my family and I eat more than normal people. And also because you always want too much food rather than not enough. This is also a good opportunity to plan ahead and double up. Roast two squashes and four onions, freeze the extra, and you can have this pizza super quick and easy next time. I’m definitely wishing I had thought ahead like that. Ugh.

This is a delicious and unique combination of toppings for a pizza, but trust me when I say, it just works. You’ve just gotta give it a try. I like it so much that if I ever have a restaurant, this will be a seasonal pizza on the menu, that’s for sure.

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza
Serves: 4-5 (10-12 appetizer servings)   Start to Finish: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 balls Pizza Dough, get my recipe here
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and seeds/pulp removed, cut into a small/medium dice
Olive Oil
Sea Salt, fine grain
Black Pepper
2 Yellow Onions, peeled and cut into thin half moons
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
1.5 cups shredded Mozzarella (6-7 ounces)
1 cup crumbled Goat Cheese (5-6 ounces)
Cornmeal

To Make

Remove dough from fridge, if necessary. Allow to sit for at least an hour at room temperature

Preheat oven to 425 degrees for roasting squash.

First step, start caramelizing onions. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. I used coconut oil but olive oil works too. Add onion slices to pan. Season with salt (2 good size pinches). Allow Onions to slowly cook, tossing occasionally. Keep adding water when pan becomes dry, 2 tablespoons at a time. This should take about 40 minutes. When finished, transfer to small bowl or ramekin.

While onions caramelize, peel and prep Butternut Squash. Toss squash cubes with salt (I used about 1 teaspoon), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon), and 1.5 tablespoons Olive Oil. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast for 15- 20 minutes. Toss. Roast for an additional 15 minutes, until some edges are golden brown.

Meanwhile, make garlic oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 cloves minced garlic over medium heat. When the garlic begins to turn golden, remove from heat and transfer to a ramekin or small bowl.

Grate and crumble cheeses. Press dough balls out to make 2 pizza crusts. Transfer crusts to a peel or pan that’s been dusted with cornmeal. When squash, onions and garlic oil are complete, began assembling pizzas for baking.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Brush about 1 tablespoon of garlic oil onto crusts, including the outer edge. Sprinkle cooked garlic bits evenly over both pizzas. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella. Add about 3/4 cup Roasted Squash cubes over each pizza. Distribute onions evenly over each pizza. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup Goat Cheese. Sprinkle each pizza with remaining mozzarella.

Bake pizzas on pizza stones or on pans for 8-10 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Roasted Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

Roasted Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

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Yesterday was a very big day for me. A day that marked the beginning of an end and also the start of a new chapter. You see, for the last five years, ever since graduating from college, I’ve worked in New York City for the same fashion company. More recently, I decided that fashion is not the field for me, and that I needed to make a switch to an industry more in line with my passions, ideals and values. So yesterday, I gave my boss notice that I wouldn’t be returning to Ralph Lauren come September, as I’ll be pursuing a career and a life dedicated to wholesome and healthy cooking and living.

Although I’ve known about this move for a bit, there’s something about saying it out loud, without hesitation, to everyone, even coworkers, that makes it feel real. I feel free and excited. I feel like I’m finally starting to find my way. My first step in this journey is to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, a nationally recognized culinary school focusing on healthful cooking. So I’m going back to school (amazing) and taking my life in a new direction. I seriously couldn’t be more thrilled.

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In addition to the freedom to fully announce and embrace the next phase of my life, I also had a great day yesterday because of dinner. That sounds weird (or maybe it doesn’t if you love eating as much as I do), but hear me out. When deciding what to do for dinner last night, I had only one requirement. It had to be ready quick so Matt could eat before leaving for rec hockey (and so I could enjoy a night of relaxing and watching Bravo). I raced through Whole Foods, grabbing refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough, a big beautiful eggplant, a ball of fresh mozzarella and a jar of marinara, knowing that I could pull these ingredients together with little thought or effort.

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As soon as I got home I sliced the eggplant and got it into the oven. Once finished, I piled on the sauce, roasted eggplant, mozz, and some finishing touches, and my roasted eggplant and fresh mozzarella pizza was ready for the oven.

After a long 10 minutes, I took it out and was seriously taken aback by how good it looked. My eyes darted to the balcony, and to my delight, I saw daylight, which means adequate food-photography lighting. On a night when a blog post was the last thing on my mind, the stars aligned and I accidentally came up with a delicious recipe and the pictures to go along with it. Awesome.

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So here I am, everything seemingly falling into place; both my life and a delicious Eggplant Pizza post. I have no idea what the future holds, which is kind of scary. But, of course, that’s life; an ongoing series of ups, downs and unknowns. All I can really do is cherish the ups, learn from the downs and enjoy the whole ride, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Eggplant Parmesan Pizza
Serves: 2-3   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 15-16 oz package refrigerated Pizza Dough, I used whole wheat*
1 Eggplant, about 1.5 pounds
Sea Salt
Olive Oil
Cornmeal
1 cup Marinara or Pizza Sauce
6 ounces Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Garlic Powder, optional

To Make

Remove dough from fridge, allow to sit at room temp for an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim eggplant ends and slice width-wise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle each side of each slice with salt and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Dab off excess moisture and place in a single layer onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly coat each side of each slice with olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes, flipping once during cooking.

When the eggplant is about 10 minute from done, form dough into desired shape. Place onto pizza pan or baking sheet that’s been brushed with a little olive oil and dusted with cornmeal. I used a circular pizza pan this time for a thicker crust.

Top crust with an even layer of sauce. Slice mozzarella and cut into big bite size pieces. Remove eggplant from oven and turn the oven temp up to 500 degrees. Place the eggplant discs evenly over the sauce (I cut them in half to make placement easier). Top with mozzarella and grated parm.

Optional step: brush olive oil onto crust and season with sea salt and garlic powder.

Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is crisp and cheese is starting to brown.

*of course you can use homemade dough too, get my recipe here (use 1/2 batch)

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

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Hello readers! I’m just going to jump right in because I’m so excited for this post. I don’t say this often because I’m cooking literally all the time, but this recipe tops the charts for me. One of my favorite dishes I’ve ever come up with. While this dish is really simple, there’s a lot going on, so let’s break it down a little.

Last week I made a batch of classic basil pesto. I first used it for a simple pesto fusilli pasta with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini and roasted red peppers. Yummy no doubt, but pretty standard. So for the remainder of the pesto, I wanted to come up with something new and original. While at a restaurant a couple weeks ago, I had a delish Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil and it was just divine. Additionally, Chop’t (my go-to fast-casual restaurant for inventive and fresh salads) recently added a summer seasonal salad plate that combines the classic Caprese flavors with sweet peaches. A Caprese-style dish with basil pesto and peaches was obviously the direction I needed to go. But the question was, how to make it a meal? Why not toss the pesto with nutty brown rice and make it a rice bowl!? Perfect.

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When I put this dish together last night, Matt was definitely skeptical. I have tried peaches in savory dishes a handful of times, so I wasn’t quite as worried as him. But still, I was eager to see if my recipe came together as deliciously as I had imagined. Short answer, it did. Matt and I both absolutely loved it. The ripe and juicy peaches with the savory basil pesto worked together in perfect harmony. And who doesn’t love mini balls of fresh mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes? The last touch was to add mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Ugh, so good. I’m totally obsessed. It’s summer in a bowl!

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I love this dish too because not only are the flavors out of control, but it’s also a balanced and light meal that I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty eating. It’s naturally gluten-free due to the brown rice and packed with fresh produce (aka tons of vitamins and nutrients). Because of this, I definitely consider it to be a “detox meal”. Yes, it has cheese. But that doesn’t stop me from calling something healthy. No way.

Warning, I’m about to go on a mini rant.

I got a comment on my Instagram one time because I had hash-tagged “healthy” on a simple cage-free-vegetarian-fed-egg and cheese sandwich on a sprouted grain English muffin. Side note: I love commentary, especially commentary that sparks healthy debate so know I’m not lashing out because of a controversial comment. Anyway, the commentor simply said “cheese isn’t healthy”. Since then, the whole “cheese is not healthy” issue is something that really bothers me. Not only because I love cheese and find that it can make many meat-free meals more satisfying, but also because it’s such a  ridiculous notion. Processed cheese in excessive quantities, not good. Anything high in fat and sodium in excessive quantities, not good. Natural, calcium- and protein-rich cheese in moderation? Go for it. The word “healthy” is subjective and can be defined in countless ways. To label cheese as unhealthy is a major generalization that doesn’t take a lot of factors into consideration. Net net, please do not generalize all cheeses and place them automatically in the category of “unhealthy”. At least not to me.

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Anyway, I think I’m getting a little bit hangry here, and I have leftovers from last night’s Caprese Bowls calling my name. Screaming my name actually. Gotta go!

Caprese Bowls with Pesto Rice & Ripe Peaches
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 20-50 min (depending on rice cooking method)

Ingredients

1 cup dry Brown Rice or 2 cups cooked Brown Rice
Sea Salt
1/3 cup Basil Pesto (get my recipe here or use store bought)
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 ripe Peaches, pits removed, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (I used Bocconcini, or bite size mozzarella, each ball halved)

To Make

Cook rice according to package instructions. Cooking dry rice takes about 45 minutes, frozen cooked rice or pre-cooked rice works too. If cooking dry rice, use 1 cup rice with 2-1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Meanwhile, prepare pesto (if making from scratch, store bought works too). Cut peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella. Toss greens with vinegar. Divide dressed lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Evenly distribute peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella over greens.

When rice is finished cooking, add pesto to rice and stir until well combine. Scoop about 1/2 cup pesto-rice onto each bowl. Serve with a fresh basil garnish if desired.

Cheap & Easy: Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza

Cheap & Easy: Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza

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In our household, Friday night is always dinner date night. Although Matt and I eat dinner together just about every night, there’s something about Friday night (or any night without work the next day) that feels so much more relaxed and intimate. You can really focus on the food, enjoy a couple drinks without fearing the early morning alarm clock, and fully relax. For date night, we always switch it up; choosing to go out to dinner for some date nights, ordering delivery for some and, of course, cooking some date night meals ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, but I’m starting to think I like the homemade, reclusive version of date night the best. Why? Because not only is it more comfy and cozy, but it’s also so much cheaper.

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Last Friday, before date night, I made a quick trip to Whole Foods where I was able to pick up the few ingredients needed for this easy and delicious meal, Spinach & Feta Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust. You may be thinking “Whole Foods? Cheap?” Yes, because just about all of the ingredients for these pizzas are available in the Whole Foods 365 version. Now, if you don’t know about 365 brand products, you’re doing Whole Foods all wrong. I’m constantly hearing how expensive Whole Foods is, and I agree that there are definitely pricey products and brands at Whole Foods. But that’s where 365 comes in. 365 is the Whole Foods generic brand, and one that can be trusted in terms of quality ingredients at a great price. You can get everything from pasta, dairy and spices to canned beans, fresh spinach and frozen entrees. Literally, the store is stuffed to the brim with 365 products. If you go to Whole Foods and focus on only buying 365 brand products, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at the register. Trust me, you will be.

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So anyways, the pizza turned out uber flavorful and delicious, and it was ready in a pinch. I simply sautéed the the spinach with oil, fresh garlic and salt, and then layered it onto the store-bought whole wheat crust with marinara and double cheese. A quick 10 minutes in the oven the pizza is ready for devouring. I just love this pizza. Sautéed spinach and garlic is already one of all-time fave foods. Add salty feta, gooey mozzarella and a crispy crust? Winner winner [pizza] dinner.

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This will be my last post until the last week of July. I’m so happy to say that I’ll be MIA next week as we are leaving tonight for our rustic lake house in Canada. It’s in the middle of nowhere and I couldn’t be more excited to get away (check out my Instagram throughout the week to experience this heavenly place, it really can’t be described). And when I return, I have a super exciting announcement to make. Intrigued? You’ll just have to wait. So enjoy the weekend and this upcoming week and definitely make this pizza. You won’t be disappointed!

Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza
Serves: 2-3*   Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

22 ounces Pizza Dough, approx. (I’m using Whole Wheat for added nutritional value)
1 cup all-natural Marinara Sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Mozzarella
1/2 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
1 tablespoon Olive Oil, plus more
1 bag fresh Baby Spinach
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly minced
Sea Salt, fine-grain
Corn Meal (optional)
Crushed Red Pepper Flake (optional)

To Make

Refrigerated dough should sit out for at least an hour prior to baking. Place ball of dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Leave at room temperature for 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Make garlicky spinach topping. In a medium skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 cloves minced garlic over medium heat. When garlic begins to sizzle, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add fresh spinach leaves, tossing to coat with garlic and oil. When the spinach has wilted slightly, or after about 1 minute, add 2 teaspoons water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the spinach, toss to combine. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, remove from heat.

Spread dough out to the fit the size of a large sheet pan (use whatever shape pan you want and/or divide dough between multiple pans, this amount of dough should make one large pizza or two smaller pizzas).

Lightly oil baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle a thin layer of corn meal evenly over oiled pan. Place dough onto pan, readjust shape as needed.

Evenly spread sauce over the dough, leaving a thin ring around the edges untouched. Evenly distribute about half of the spinach mixture over the sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella and feta over spinach. Top with remaining spinach. At this point I like to sprinkle the crust with a little bit of salt and also add a dash or two to the whole pie, that’s optional though.

Bake pizza for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

* Matt and I ate, combined, about 3/4 of the pizza for dinner, with side salads. We were stuffed. It could’ve easily served 3 people with a side salad too. Without a side of some kind, I would plan on 1 pizza for every 2 people.

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Buffalo Cauliflower & Brown Rice Bowls (vegan optional)

Buffalo Cauliflower & Brown Rice Bowls (vegan optional)

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There are oh so many ways to enjoy my stellar recipe for a major food trend, Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings”. This post highlights one of my fave recipes using vegan buffalo wings, in the form of a nourish bowl. Casual yet creative, tasty yet nutritious. This recipe is simply perfect.

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The idea for a brown rice bowl topped with buffalo wings was inspired by a popular fast-casual restaurant in my hometown of St. Louis called Crazy Bowls and Wraps. CBW, as St. Louis-ans like to call it, has been around forever, even before healthy fast-casual joints became a thing. CBW offers customizable rice bowls, salads and wraps with all kinds of creative fillings and options. One of my absolute favorites is the buffalo fried tofu, so it wasn’t hard to come up with the idea for a buffalo cauliflower brown rice bowl.DSC_0370

I love the idea of layered bowls when serving a crowd. It makes it easy for each person to get exactly what they want. Plus, bowls like this are easy to eat. But I don’t need company to make bowls like this. In fact, last night for dinner I made Mexican rice bowls with roasted potatoes and peppers, cabbage, shredded cheddar and marinated tomatoes. When it comes to “bowls”, the possibilities are endless. Whenever I don’t know what to make, I start with a starch like rice or orzo pasta and simply add toppings according to a theme (Mexican, Greek, Italian, Asian etc.). That’s actually a really good tip if you’re ever struggling with what to cook. I use it all them time.

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If you’re new to rice bowls, this is a great one to start with. The spicy, crispy cauliflower compliments the fresh veggies and creamy sauce perfectly. It feels so indulgent, but it’s really very balanced. And it’s also a lot easier than it sounds. These bowls are seriously so yummy and I highly recommend trying them out, STAT. I know I can’t wait to make them again.

Buffalo Brown Rice Bowls
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 1 hour 15 min

Ingredients

1 batch Buffalo Cauliflower (get recipe here)
1 cup Brown Rice
Sea Salt
8-10 ounces chopped Romaine Lettuce
10 ounces Cherry Tomatoes
2 large Carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 cup Dressing (get my creamy blue cheese dressing here or use the vegan recipe below)

Creamy Vegan Dressing
1 cup Vegan Mayonnaise (I like Follow Your Heart brand)
2 teaspoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 tablespoons unsweetened non-dairy milk or water (+ more to consistency)
3/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dried Parsley

To Make

Make rice. Add 1 cup brown rice, 2 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt into a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to lower simmer, cover. Simmer for 35-40 minutes. Remove from heat when all water is absorbed, allow to sit, still covered, until ready to assemble bowls.

While rice simmers, preheat oven to 450 degrees and get the Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” started (get recipe here).

While cauliflower bakes, make dressing by combining all ingredients for vegan dressing (ingredients above) or make my yummy blue cheese dressing (get recipe here). Set aside.

Prep veggies. Wash & chop lettuce. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Prep carrots as desired. I like making “carrot shavings” for salads. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off long strips of carrots, then run your knife through the strips to make shavings.

When cauliflower and rice are finished, assemble the bowls. Divide lettuce into 4 bowls. Top each bowl with brown rice, tomatoes, carrots, buffalo cauliflower “wings” and 2-4 tablespoons dressing.

 

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

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It’s been about 10 days since my last blog post and I couldn’t be happier to get back in the groove. Since coming back to NYC after a fabulous vaca in my hometown of St. Louis, life has seemed a bit crazier than normal. Maybe it was a few days without cooking gas and hot water (long story), maybe it was the inevitable homesickness that comes after going back home and spending time with my parents, or maybe it was an abnormal amount of items on my to do list last week. Most likely, it was a combination of all three and I was in need of a recharge. You see, I’m a creature of habit and routine makes me feel in control. So because routine is hard to come by as an adult, if I’m feeling a bit out of control, I need to center myself by refocusing on the things in my life that are routine. Thank goodness for Saturday, it was just what the doc ordered.

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Matt spent most of the day playing golf this past Saturday which gave me the day to gain some control. Morning yoga, lots of iced coffee, a trip to the farmers market and quality time in the kitchen. Amazing. But the most amazing part? The simply scrumptious goat cheese and veggie topped toasts I made for lunch using fresh and local bread from the farmers market. The flavors in these toasts are out of control. Tangy goat cheese, sweet basil, bright roasted cherry tomatoes and slow cooked red onion come together to create a total masterpiece. And so simple too!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity lately. I actually think about simplifying my life quite often. Whether my apartment or my wardrobe, it’s definitely a work in progress but I try to take steps toward decluttering and cleansing whenever possible. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about simplifying my food and recipes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a complicated recipe that takes hours of time and loads of energy. After all, the kitchen is my happy place. But I really want to come up with delicious and wholesome meals that require less ingredients and less work. I can see my future and it’s going to be busier than ever, so I really have no choice but to start now to come up with lots of easy go-to dishes that allow me a little time in the kitchen to decompress while also getting healthy, clean food on the table quickly and seamlessly.

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Making a toast (aka an open face sandwich) is the perfect base for a simple dish. You can really top a good quality slice of bread with any combination of flavors. It’s kind of like a pizza, kind of like a sandwich, so what’s not to love? This recipe for Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes and Red Onion is the first of many toast recipes and the perfect dish to kick off my effort to create delicious and simple recipes for when life gets crazy.

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Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomato & Red Onion
Servings: 4   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
2 cloves Garlic, peeled & minced
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
1 large Red Onion
8 ounces Plain Goat Cheese
1/3 cup fresh Basil Leaves
4 thick Slices Fresh Bread (I love the whole wheat Peasant Round Loaf from Baker’s Bounty)

To Make

Remove goat cheese from fridge to soften.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut tomatoes in half. In a bowl, toss tomatoes with chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread tomatoes out onto baking sheet in a single, closely packed layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, toss, and bake again for another 30-35 minutes.

When the tomatoes go in the oven, start caramelizing the onion. Slice onion into half moon slices (1/4″ to 1/2″). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add onions, toss to coat with oil and to separate the layers. Cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low or medium-low. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons water to onion. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and sweet. Add a tablespoon or two of water if the onions are getting too dry.

While tomatoes and onions cook, mix goat cheese with chopped basil leaves. Set aside. When tomatoes and onions are cooked, remove from heat to cool. Drizzle one side of each bread slice with 1/2 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Toast in toaster oven or under broiler until lightly golden and crisp.

To assemble toasts, spread each slice of bread with 1/4 of the herbed goat cheese mixture. Divide tomatoes and onions evenly over toasts. Serve cold, warm or at room temp. Garnish with more fresh basil.

Meatless Meal Plan: Car Camping for Two

Meatless Meal Plan: Car Camping for Two

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Matt and I are really big on camping. And when I say that Matt and I are really big on camping, I really mean that Matt is a camping pro and I’m along for the ride. That’s not to say I don’t love it though. I actually grew up spending my summers glamping (glamourous, more comfortable camping) on my family’s island in Ontario, Canada. While it wasn’t totally “roughing it”, going to Canada definitely made me super comfortable in nature and without the comforts of civilization. The only electricity on our little island comes from a small generator, which is rarely on. To get to the nearest major grocery store takes hours, and the nearest convenience store is a 40 minute boat ride away. On the island, we spend our time reading, playing cards, hiking, fishing, cooking, eating, napping, crafting and exploring. We sleep on old beds in ancient screened-in cabins, perfect for star gazing as you fall asleep, and we spend mornings sitting around the campfire, looking out over the beautiful Canadian wilderness. Sounds magical, right? To me, it’s heaven. In fact, we’ll be heading to Rickey Island in just over a month. Can’t wait.

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My favorite spot while camping last weekend, right by the water.

In addition to our trips to Rickey Island, Matt and I always find time to do a little camping on our own. We’ve hiked to camp, we’ve canoed to camp, and we’ve car-camped. Car camping is my personal favorite, because you can take more stuff and leave the food and valuables in the car. It just makes it a little more relaxing and a little easier, ideal for a short weekend camping trip. And that’s exactly what we did last weekend. Matt and I joined some of his University of Vermont friends and had a wonderful 36 hours hiking and chilling on the water. This campsite, called Black Bear Campground, was totally awesome. One of my favorite campgrounds so far. It’s located in Phoenicia, a small town near Woodstock, New York. There were beautiful hiking trails, a wide, flowing creek running along the edge of each campsite, and a couple resident black bears. Yes, we saw a black bear and her cub at Black Bear Campground. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? (I hope everyone picked up on that song reference). After our morning hike, I spent most of Saturday on a chair overlooking the creek with a beer in my hand. It was just lovely. I even saw a group of fly fishers waddle through and one of them caught a fish right in front of me! So cool.Whole Food Camping Menu.jpg

Fly Fishers
View from our campsite. You can see the fly fishers!

Anyway, being a whole foodie and cooking addict means that I’m not bringing just any old food supply. One of my favorite activities while camping is the food part! I like planning it, executing it, and most importantly, eating it. So what does a vegetarian whole-foodie bring camping that will satisfy both her and her carnivore boyfriend? Well that’s what this post is all about! Four meals and a few snacks that blend together the essential elements of camping food…simple, fun and satisfying. I’ve even included packing tips and essential utensils, to make prep even easier.

 

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Matt and I didn’t arrive at the campsite until 11pm on Friday night, so we didn’t need to worry about Friday night dinner (we ordered pizza while packing up at home). Then for lunch on Sunday we headed to Woodstock for a sit down lunch. Basically this meal-plan covers all the food we needed for all of Saturday and Sunday morning (essentially one full day of camping, plus an extra breakfast before hitting the road on the second day). Use this as a guide and fill it in how you see fit…that could mean an extra dinner and lunch or maybe s’mores supplies for a classic camping dessert by the fire.

Hummus Sandwich

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I hope my tips, tricks and pics inspire you to get outdoors, take advantage of summer and get a quick camping trip like ours on the calendar. Camping Shopping ListPrep at Home

For Two Egg & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwiches and Home Fries

Cut potatoes and half the onion into a medium dice. Toss with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a thin layer of olive oil to a skillet. Add potatoes and cook over camping stove or fire pit, stirring often to prevent burning. Honestly, ours got super crispy and a bit black/burned on the bottom but they still were amazing! You could also try cooking the potatoes in a foil packet over the camp fire. We didn’t want to start a fire because we were leaving after breakfast to hike, we used a camping pan and a portable flame.

Peel and slice 2 hard boiled eggs. Slice 2 ounces cheddar cheese. Use egg and cheese slices to make sandwiches on the English muffins. Season egg slices with cheese. You can griddle the sandwiches in a skillet/pan over a portable stove top or over a fire pit. Or wrap the sandwiches in foil and heat over the fire. Always be extra careful about burning food while camping, it happens easily.

For Two Hummus Sandwiches

Spread about 1/4 cup of hummus onto 2 slices of bread. Top each slice with 1-2 ounces crumbled feta and the reserved roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts. Top each sandwich with a second slice of bread. Serve with all-natural potato chips.

For Eggplant Burgers and Chopped Salad

Slice eggplant width-wise into 1/2 slices. Sprinkle each slice with salt, allow to sit for 15-30 minutes to let the salt draw out the bitter liquid. Brush each side of each slice with olive oil. Season with pepper. Grill slices on a grate over the fire pit until soft and tender. On a BBQ it takes 3-5 minutes preside, over a fire pit the time will vary depending on the fire. When slices are almost cooked, top with 1 ounce slices fresh mozzarella cheese and allow to melt. Slice tomato. Stuff buns with 1 or 2 eggplant slices, a slice of tomato (seasoned with salt), and basil leaves (or a hefty seasoning of dried basil).

Dump mason jar filled with salad into a large bowl and toss. Serve with burgers.

I also bought a 1/3 lb beef patty for Matt. We grilled it with the eggplant and he topped his burger with both the patty and an eggplant slice.

For Almond Butter & Banana Sandwiches

Spread about 2 tablespoons of Almond Butter onto each of two slices bread. Drizzle with honey or agave (a little goes a long way. Slices bananas and layer over almond butter. Each open faced or top with another slice of bread. I prefer open face (less bread).

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The view of Phoenicia, New York while hiking.