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.

 

Vegetarian Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

Vegetarian 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 includes 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 used grass-fed, full-fat plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise. In my opinion, once the sauce is paired with all the other flavorful ingredients on this sandwich, I don’t think a mayo-based sauce is necessary. So I lightened it up for a health kick. Again, the choice is yours.

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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: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 large head cauliflower
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander
sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces swiss cheese, sliced
1 cup organic sauerkraut
3/4 cup full-fat, plain yogurt, grass-fed preferred (or use mayo)
3 tablespoons all-natural 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

To Make
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

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. Save the florets for another recipe.

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.

*cauliflower slabs can also 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 when eating

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).

Quick & Simple: Vegan Sloppy Joe Sandwiches

Quick & Simple: Vegan Sloppy Joe Sandwiches

Sloppy Joe Sandwich

I’ve said it before, much of my inspiration in the kitchen comes from my mom. Growing up, we had family dinners every weeknight, and my mom always managed to make delicious, creative, balanced and varied meals for us. Because my mom ran a successful non-profit and had three kids, two dogs and a husband to deal with, these meals also had to be fast, affordable and simple to get on the table. Continue reading “Quick & Simple: Vegan Sloppy Joe Sandwiches”