Saucy BBQ Roasted Tofu (vegan | gluten-free)

Saucy BBQ Roasted Tofu (vegan | gluten-free)

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Quinoa Grain Salad with Fresh Dill & Goat Cheese

Quinoa Grain Salad with Fresh Dill & Goat Cheese

One thing that makes me feel totally on top of life is having a grain-based salad in the fridge for convenient and healthful eating. Unlike lettuce based salads, grain salads get better with time, so they’re perfect as make-ahead meals or for leftover lunches.

The ingredients in this particular quinoa salad are simple but come together perfectly to create a symphony of flavor and texture. Roasted tomatoes, bell pepper and asparagus give this salad richness and depth of flavor. And all three pair perfectly with one of my all time favorite ingredients – creamy, tangy goat cheese. Finally, white onion, chopped dill and lemon juice add freshness and zip. The ingredient list is short but thoughtful, making this salad quick, simple, nourishing and absolutely delicious.

This is a great side dish for simply prepared proteins like chicken, steak or fish. As a vegetarian, I would pair it with roasted cauliflower “steaks” or organic pan-fried tofu. But I usually eat salads like this as the main dish paired with all-natural toasted bread (rubbed with olive oil and maybe some garlic) plus something saucy like hummus or tzatziki. In the words of Ina Garten, how easy is that?

Quinoa Grain Salad with Fresh Dill & Goat Cheese
Serves:
2-3 as a main dish, 4-5 as a side dish Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, each stem cut into thirds
1 pint cherry tomatoes, any color
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, fine grain
1 cup dry quinoa
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (approx. 4-5 sprigs)
1/2 cup minced white onion
3 ounces goat cheese

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep vegetables.

Toss red bell pepper strips, asparagus and tomatoes with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes, tossing once half way through. I use a rimmed baking sheet to conserve the tomato juices.

While veggies roast, cook quinoa according to package instructions. My standard method…combine 1 cup dry quinoa with 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a small sauce pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 13 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for at least 5-10 minutes.

Toss cooked quinoa and roasted vegetables (including any juices) with lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, dill, onion and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Allow to cool to room temperature. Crumble cold goat cheese into quinoa mixture and toss to evenly distribute. Season with lemon juice and salt to taste. Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

*make it a meal – round out this yummy quinoa salad with some tzatziki sauce (either store-bought or homemade) and some all-natural toasted bread drizzled with olive oil

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad

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Is it possible that June is already coming to an end? Fine by me, because I’ll be spending the first days of July on vacation. A glorious 10 day vaca in a remote area of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, it’s pretty much my favorite place on earth. You see, my extended family owns a modest island, smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, and it can only be described as rustic, comfortable, and totally epic. We sleep in sleeping bags and spend 80% of the day without electricity. We spend our days on the lake and evenings by the fire. And the breeze coming off the water at night, while falling asleep in the open air cabins, is pure magic.

This year, I’ll be heading up a bit earlier than usual and spending the first week of July on the island with my parents. But that means, I’ll be missing America’s birthday. I first want to say that I’m not trying to make a political statement here. Although I’d be lying if I said moving out of Trump country hasn’t crossed my mind. But I love the States, and because I’ll be missing one of the best celebrations of summer, I wanted to share a perfect (and easy) recipe for a BBQ-must-have… Loaded Italian Pasta Salad.

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I actually developed this recipe a couple weekends ago when I was visiting my hometown, St. Louis. While everyone else enjoyed this delish pasta salad alongside turkey burgers, I instead, topped it with a medley of grilled veggies, making it a scrumptious main dish for a meat-free eater. Added bonus, this salad can be made gluten-free (using a gluten-free pasta) or made vegan (by omitting the fresh mozzarella balls). Finicky foodies rejoice!

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Other than being diet-restriction friendly, this “best of basic” pasta salad is amazing for two reasons. Firstly because it’s a cinch to make. In the time it takes to cook the pasta, the remainder of the ingredients are ready to go. Then all that’s left is a chill session in the fridge to bring everything together. The second reason is because this pasta salad is packed with fresh flavor from basil leaves and cherry tomatoes, texture from al dente pasta, beans and artichokes, and health supportive because of protein, fiber, vitamins and healthy fats. Finally, the simple vinaigrette, flavored with oregano, dry mustard and garlic powder, brings it all home by adding even more flavor and richness. This pasta salad is seriously perfect. So if you’re looking for a clean, balanced and crowd-pleasing pasta salad to be your go-to summer side dish, look no further. This is it.

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loads of roasted veggies + pasta salad side dish = delish main meal

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad
Serves: 8 (large side dish portion)   Start to Finish: 30 min + chilling time

Ingredients

1 lb (16 ounces) pasta of choice* (see below for notes)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or granulated garlic)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup, or sweetener of choice, optional**
1 12-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 12-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
1 5-oz can sliced black olives
1 5-oz can pimentos
25 medium basil leaves, about 1 small package, chopped or cut into chiffonade
8-oz fresh mozzarella, I prefer the mini balls (if using a large ball, cut into small pieces)

To Make

Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. I usually drain the pasta about 1-3 minutes earlier than package instructions say to cook. The best way to know? Try 2-3 noodles. When some noodles are cooked and some noodles seem under-cooked, they’re ready. After the pasta sits in the dressing, the underdone noodles will finish cooking. Avoid over cooking noodles, they will far apart after marinading.

While water boils and pasta cooks. Prepare dressing. In a blender, or using a hand blender, combine ingredients olive oil through maple syrup. Blend until fully emulsified. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine ingredients white beans through pimentos.  Toss with cooked/drained pasta (still hot) and prepped vinaigrette. Allow to cool down to room temp (about 10 minutes). Toss mozzarella and basil with pasta salad. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until fully chilled. However, the longer it sits, the better it gets. Make 1 day ahead if possible.

*Pasta Options
– I chose an organic, white flour variety for a classic pasta salad
– Use whole wheat for additional fiber, a chewier texture and a nuttier flavor
– Use a gluten-free pasta if desired, I love Banza brand
– As for shape, penne, fusilli and bowtie are my top choices – I used penne here

**I think a bit of sweetener (just 1 tbs for 8 servings) makes the dressing more palatable and makes the salad more of a crowd-pleaser. Feel free to omit the sweetener or add less

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

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In my opinion, the best way to cleanse and detox the body is with plant-based (vegan) meals filled to the brim with fresh produce, whole grains, fiber and protein. This quinoa salad fits the bill, not to mention being outrageously delicious. The layers of flavors and textures in this salad will leave you feeling full, satisfied and energized. This salad is also mason jar friendly, making it a perfectly portable meal too!

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My Mediterranean Quinoa Salad is packed with all things good and healthy. Protein-rich quinoa, fiber-filled chickpeas, quick pickled red onions, nutty asparagus and refreshing cucumber make up the bulk of the meal. The thick and creamy tahini sauce gets its bright green color from loads of kale and is flavored simply with garlic and lemon juice. This sauce is a flavor power house, but also also adds moisture and a nice creamy texture to the dish. Whenever I cook, I try to hit as many flavor and texture profiles as possible. That’s the secret to elevating healthy meals from blah to bravo!

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Pretty much every single ingredient in this recipe is considered health supportive. Get to know some of them below before checking out the recipe. After all, understanding why something is healthy and beneficial is important to sustaining and loving a clean eating lifestyle.

Quinoa is an all-star in my mind because it’s one of a few grains considered to be a “complete protein.” This just means that quinoa (and other complete proteins) contains all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Essential amino acids (EAA) are those that the body cannot produce on its own, and therefor must be ingested. Vegetarians and vegans can get all nine EAA’s by combining grains and produce, or by eating complete protein sources like quinoa.

Chickpeas are one of my favorite legume varieties. They are very versatile and fit into a variety of different cuisines. Chickpeas are rich in protein, fiber and other nutrients such as manganese. Protein is important because it’s the building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. 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.

Lacinato Kale, my fave variety of kale, is a true superfood. While many people eat it these days because it’s become oh so trendy, kale is a staple in my diet and for good reason. Along with containing fiber and protein, kale contains generous amounts many nutrients including vitamins A, C & K, calcium, potassium, iron, copper and manganese. But my number one reason to love kale is due to its inflammatory properties. Excessive inflammation has been linked to a multitude of illnesses including some types of cancer. A diet rich in anti-inflammatories, like kale, can potentially reduce the risk of developing these illnesses. Antioxidants in kale also aid in protecting against illness. Kale is particularly rich in two important antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids. Both of which are associated with fighting illness and certain types of cancer.  That’s pretty powerful stuff, right?

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce
Servings: 4     Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For Salad
1 cup dry quinoa (I used a white variety)
1 red onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
sea salt, fine grain
1 cucumber
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1 bunch asparagus spears
1.5 teaspoons dried dill

For Super Green Tahini Sauce
1 bunch lacinato kale, woody stems discarded, leave roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic
1/2 cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain (plus more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Garnish
1/4 cup pine nuts, gently toasted (optional)

To Make

Cook quinoa according to package instructions. It should take about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop red onion into a very small dice. Transfer to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Allow to sit in fridge for about 15 minutes.

Peel the cucumber if desired. Cut in half length-wise. Scoop out seeds using a spoon. Chop cucumber into small-medium dice. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Add chickpeas to cucumbers.

Trim the ends of the asparagus spears. Cut each spear into 3-4 pieces. Set aside.

Make green tahini sauce. Add kale leaves to a food processor and process until broken down. Add all remaining sauce ingredients and process until smooth and creamy. Add more salt to taste (I added an extra 1/4 teaspoon).

When quinoa is finished cooking, remove from heat. Add asparagus to top of hot quinoa. Cover and steam for about 3 minutes. Transfer quinoa and asparagus to mixing bowl with cucumber and chickpeas. Add red onion and vinegar mixture. Add 1 teaspoons sea salt and dried dill. Stir to combine.

Serve quinoa with green tahini sauce. Garnish with pine nuts, if desired.

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.