Summer Veggie Grain Bowls with Classic Lemon Hummus

Summer Veggie Grain Bowls with Classic Lemon Hummus

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Yep, this my third grain bowl post this month. Why? Two reasons. First is because I love nourishing bowls of goodness, packed with an array of nutrients, flavors and textures. It’s my favorite way to eat because it’s healthy, convenient, packable, stores well in the fridge and, most importantly, absolutely delish. If you want to make a crave worthy nourish-style bowl, it’s not quite as easy as piling veggies, grains and protein into a bowl. My kind of nourish bowl (aka Buddha Bowl or Grain Bowl) has depth, richness and variety. It takes advantage of seasonal produce, flavor-bombs like garlic and citrus, and requires a tasty sauce or spread to pull it all together. This takes a little bit of time and planning, but it’s worth it. And once all of the components are ready, they’re easy to throw together.

The second reason why I’m focusing on grain bowls is because they’re all the rage these days. Everywhere from fast casual restaurants to fine dining establishments are jumping on the nourish bowl bandwagon. It’s a trend for sure, and food trends, specifically health-supportive ones, are my jam.

So there you have it. One more inspirational nourish bowl to get your creative juices and health vibes flowing. And if you missed the last two, check them out below.

Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl

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Roasted Summer Veggie Nourish Bowl with Classic Hummus
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 1 hour    Active Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For Veggies & Rice

1.5 cups dry brown rice
sea salt, fine grain
2 large zucchinis, cut into a large dice
olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced (2 for zucchini, 1 for hummus)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 orange bell peppers (red and yellow bell peppers work too)

For Hummus (use storebought if desired)
1 14-oz can chickpeas
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For Assembly

4 cups lightly packed greens (I used red leaf lettuce)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (lemon juice works too)
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook 1.5 cups brown rice to package instructions – it goes something like this – rinse rice in colander, add to small sauce pan with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and 3 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover with lid. Allow to cook for 35-40 minutes, until water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam, covered, for 10 minutes.

Toss zucchini cubes with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer. Toss tomatoes with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer to baking sheet with zucchini. Cook cherry tomatoes for 20 minutes. Cook zucchini for 30-35 minutes, flipping once through.

Roast the bell peppers. I like to do this over the open flames on my burner, which takes about 8 minutes and another 10 minutes in a sealed paper paper bag or covered bowl. This allows the peppers to steam and makes the charred skins easily peel off. Once charred skin is removed, discard stem and seeds, cut into a large dice. You can also roast the peppers in the over with the other veggies. To do this, remove stem and seeds, dice bell peppers, toss with a little oil and roast for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make hummus. Combine all hummus ingredients plus 5-6 tablespoons water in a food processor or in a hand blender vessel. Use the water to achieve your desired consistency.

To assemble nourish bowls – toss greens with vinegar, sliced red onions and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Divide evenly between 4 dishes. Top each bowl with 3/4 cup cooked rice, 1/4 of all roasted vegetables and 3-4 tablespoons hummus. Garnish each serving with 2 teaspoons toasted pine nuts.

Vegan Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

Vegan Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

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As I was saying in my last post, my focus these days is making healthy and clean eating easy for everyone. Whether trying to lose weight or just wanting to take advantage of the amazing health benefits that come with clean eating, the transition simply won’t happen unless it’s both convenient and delicious. This is where meal prep comes in. Having prepped ingredients in your fridge/pantry and knowing what to do with them will make your new clean eating lifestyle effortless.

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Last week I used my Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl as the perfect example of this concept. Cooked quinoa, roasted cauliflower, simple pickled red onions, avocado and peanut sauce come together to make a plant-based, satisfying and tasty meal. It’s packable for lunch on-the-go. Or easy to throw together for a quick dinner, as long as the components were easy-to-prep or pre-prepped. As promised, I’m sharing another recipe that uses a few of the same ingredients. This is meant to show you how versatile these basic components are to transform into completely new meals, keeping things fresh and interesting.

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For this super yummy (and vegan) burrito bowl, I’m using quinoa, pickled onions and avocado, just like in the Satay Nourish Bowl. But this time, I’m using roasted peppers instead of cauliflower, some canned black beans and my easy roasted tomatillo sauce to make a totally new and super delish meal. The key to plant-based, dairy-free and meat-free cooking is including multiple flavors and textures. Creamy avocado, refreshing tomatillo sauce, acidic pickled red onions, flavorful peppers and hearty black beans keep your tastebuds satisfied while providing your body with protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

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Now, for today’s health and nutrition lesson focusing on a toxic compound known as BPA and how to avoid it…

Black Beans are a great source of meat-free protein, fiber, copper, folate, manganese and phosphorus. I love beans because they make reaching protein intake goals easy, even when not consuming animal products. Plus, adding the starchy texture of black beans makes meals texturally satisfying. When using beans from a can, which I do almost exclusively, I recommend choosing an organic variety. Additionally, when choosing any canned products, be sure the lining is made without BPA (Bisphenol A). Why? Because BPA is a synthetic compound that has been shown to disrupt the human endocrine system (aka the system of ALL human glands and the hormones these glands produce). Sadly, BPA is everywhere these days (even in cash register receipts). It’s virtually impossible to avoid completely, but because BPA builds up in your system and can last for generations, it’s important to avoid it as much as possible. Intake of BPA through eating and drinking is likely the biggest culprit, and cooking for yourself using BPA-free products is a great way to reduce your risk of side effects. Yet another reason why cooking for yourself is so beneficial.

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Burrito Nourish Bowl with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 50 minutes

Ingredients

1 small-medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3+ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup dry quinoa
3-4 peppers, I like 4 poblano for spice or 3 red bell peppers for sweet or mixed
sea salt, fine grain
olive oil
1 lb tomatillos
1 large clove garlic, peeled
2 packed tablespoons cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish, optional)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 avocados, diced or sliced

To Make

**If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own tomatillo sauce, no problem! Use a store bought Salsa Verde. Check the ingredient list to make sure all ingredients sound whole and appetizing. Even better? Go for organic.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make pickled red onion (get the full recipe here). In a small bowl, combine 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/3 cup water and 3/4 teaspoons sea salt. Mix until salt is dissolved. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion. Toss to coat. Add additional vinegar and water, in equal amounts, to cover onions (you shouldn’t need much). Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Or make ahead…I always have pickled red onion ready to go in the fridge. The longer they sit, the better they get.

Roast peppers. Remove stem and seeds from peppers and cut into strips. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, tossing once. You could also roast whole peppers over an open flame, steam in sealed paper bag for 10 minutes. Remove charred skin, seeds and stem, and then cut into strips.

Also roast whole tomatillos at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, toss, roast for another 15-20.
Blend with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1 clove garlic and 2 packed tablespoons of cilantro (2 handfuls). Add additional salt to taste.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa. Add 1 cup dry quinoa, 2 cups water and 3/4 teaspoons salt to a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cover with lid. Simmer for 14-15 minutes, until excess water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit, still covered, for 10-15 minutes.

Combine black beans with 3/4 teaspoon salt and hot sauce to taste (I used about 2 teaspoons for 2 cans). Heat on stove top or in microwave I f desired.

To make each bowl, layer 1/4 of cooked quinoa (about 2/3 cup), 2/3 to 1 cup of black beans, 1/4 of the roasted peppers, 3-4 tablespoons pickled red onions (plus pickling liquid to taste), 1/2 of a sliced/diced avocado and 3 tablespoons tomatillo sauce.

BPA References

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.

Vegan Falafel Pitas with Roasted Beets, Pickled Onions & Lemon-Tahini Sauce

Vegan Falafel Pitas with Roasted Beets, Pickled Onions & Lemon-Tahini Sauce

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Hi, friends! And happy March!

I don’t know about you, but this warm winter weather is rubbing me the wrong way. It feels totally gross to be outside in New York in February without a jacket. While most seem to be loving it, I’m not loving it at all. It’s too unnatural for me. So, I’m heading to Florida, where I can actually enjoy the sun and warmth without thinking about this far-out idea called “climate change.”

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Ok ok, that’s not why I’m on a plane to Florida right now. I’m actually meeting my mom for a long weekend, just the two of us. I cannot wait for these five days of fun-in-the-sun with mama, and this trip couldn’t come at a better time either. As of this week, I am officially finished with culinary school, including my 100-hour internship. Soon ow it’s time to figure out my life and my future career, and to start making some serious moves. Oh gawd. I think a mini-vacation to both celebrate and recharge is exactly what I need.

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Due to lack of routine, blogging my recipes has been inconsistent at best. But honestly, I think part of this inconsistency is due to not knowing what to say, or not yet being brace enough to admit that I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I mean, I’m at a totally transitional place in my life and writing about it forces me to think about and confront this fact. It makes perfect sense that this avoidance is an indication of my fear of the unknown and my lack of control at this point in time, and I would feel ingenuous if I were to write a post without mentioning the most important events and emotions taking place in my life right now.

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But at last I realized that if I wanted to share this deliciously awesome falafel sandwich with roasted beets and quick pickled onions, and get on with my life, then I have no choice but to swallow my pride and own up to my feelings. So yes, I feel scared that I won’t live up to my expectations, pressured to start making it happen immediately, and nervous that I’ll make a wrong move or won’t find what I’m looking for. Phew! I must say, I feel better.

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Now that I got that out of the way, I can get to the star of today’s post. This falafel sandwich has been on my blogging to-do list for a couple weeks now. Falafel sandwiches, and falafel in general, are a serious comfort food for me. Just like pizza and burritos, a falafel sandwich is a flavorful and satisfying dish that never fails to make me happy. This falafel sandwich is also homemade with clean and wholesome ingredients, making it a healthy and nourishing meal where fresh flat bread encases my baked falafel patties, sweet roasted beets, tangy pickled onions and a creamy tahini sauce. From the layer of flavors and textures, to the bounty of nutrients, fiber and protein, there’s just so much to love. If you don’t consider falafel a comfort food now, maybe you will when you give this recipe a shot.

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[scene change]

I made it to Florida!

I’m exhausted and totally high on ocean breeze, so I guess I should call it a night and get this recipe for falafel-awesomeness posted already, right? Right.

Loaded Falafel Pita Sandwiches
Serves: 4     Start to Finish: 1.5 hours

Ingredients

For Roasted Beets
2 beets, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain

For Pickled Red Onion
1/3 cup water, room temp or slightly warmer
2 teaspoons agave (or other sweetener)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

For Falafel
1 cup dry garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), soaked overnight or up to 24-hours
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (+ more for pan frying)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tbs tightly packed parsley leaves, chopped

For Lemon-Tahini Sauce
1/3 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For Sandwich Assembly
4 pitas, store-bought or homemade (I used Half Baked Harvest’s recipe)
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce

To Make

Make roasted beets. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss peeled beets with oil and salt. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until super tender (poke with a knife, no resistance), 45-65 minutes.

Make pickled red onions. In a glass jar (large enough to hold 16 ounces), combine water, agave and salt. Stir or shake (lid on), until salt is dissolved. Add vinegar and mix once more.  Add onion slices to jar with liquid and push down until all onions are submerged. If they are not all submerged, they will wilt down a bit, simply toss onions periodically until they are fully submerged. Allow onions to sit refrigerated for at least 45 minutes.

Make falafel patties. Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until a smooth mixture is formed (it should still have a visibly grainy texture). Form the batter into 12 patties. The batter will be very wet, but should still form into patties easily.

On a griddle pan or in a frying pan (cast iron recommended), heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium-low heat. Fry patties for 5 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. Cook patties in batches if needed, replacing oil between batches. Finish by cooking patties in the oven for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, covered in foil.

Make lemon-tahini sauce. Mix together all sauce ingredients until smooth and creamy.

When all components are finished, make sandwiches. Into each pita, wrap 3 falafel patties, 1/4 of the roasted beets, a thin layer of pickled onions, a bit of lettuce and 2-3 tablespoons 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

Best of Basic: Southern-Style White Gravy with Mushrooms

Best of Basic: Southern-Style White Gravy with Mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

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

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

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

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


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

Happy summer and happy Friday!

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

Ingredients

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

To Make

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

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

Rich & Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce

Rich & Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce

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Happy Friday, everyone!

If you read my last post sharing a delicious recipe for Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls, then you know that I served these delicious “meatballs” with a homemade Vegan Vodka Sauce. The sauce was so tasty that I just had to share the recipe. And just in time for the weekend, the best time to spend some relaxation time in the kitchen.

With everything I have going on in my life (work, blogging, yoga, social life, etc.), I’d be crazy not to take advantage of shortcuts when it comes to food and cooking. A tasty jar of red sauce (made with only natural ingredients, of course) is one of those shortcuts that I often take advantage of. But still, nothing compares to a homemade tomato sauce bursting with fresh Italian flavor. So when I have the time to make my own tomato sauce, I’m all over it.

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When thinking about the sauce I wanted to make to go along with the veggie balls, I really wanted to experiment with a new homemade (and vegan-friendly) sauce. Vodka Sauce was an easy choice for Matt and me because we’ve been talking about making our own version of vodka sauce for some time now. Adding vodka to a freshly made tomato sauce was simple enough, because I’ve made red sauce a million times and I always have vodka in the freezer. The real question was how to achieve the richness, creaminess and beautiful pink color of a traditional vodka sauce…without using cream.

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Let’s get something straight. I love real cream. On weekends, I always treat myself to iced coffee with a splash of half-and-half. And there’s nothing like a whipped cream frosting on a moist cake. But not for this recipe. Why not use cream? Well, not only do I like the challenge of omitting dairy from recipes, but I also like to keep some days and meals dairy-free for the health and ecological benefits. So for this sauce, I’m going cream-free.

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To replace the rich cream, I decided to try a vegan cream made from raw cashews. Since I’ve never made cashew cream myself, I used a recipe from Beard & Bonnet as a guide. It was so simple, just soak the cashews and then grind them up with water, lemon juice and salt until a delectably smooth cream is formed. Easy enough. While the cashews soaked I made the red sauce and vodka portion of the sauce.

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This sauce is classic. Fresh plum tomatoes, lots of garlic, yellow onion and a blend of dried Italian seasonings. Not so classic is my use of coconut oil, rather than olive oil or butter. I find that coconut oil has the richness of butter and creates the subtle sweetness that I love about vodka sauce, without adding dairy or sweetener. I love what the coconut oil does for this sauce, so although it may sound strange, it’s worth a try.

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I hope everyone has a super Friday and lovely weekend! And if you feel like kicking Sunday dinner up a notch, why not try this amazing vegan vodka sauce.

Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 2 hours (45 minutes active)Ingredients2 tablespoons Coconut Oil
4 cloves Garlic
1 yellow Onion
2 pounds Tomatoes (I used Organic Plum Tomatoes)
1 cup Water (plus more if necessary)
2 teaspoons Sea Salt*
1 teaspoon Dried Basil
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flake
1/3-1/2 cup quality Vodka**
1/4-1/2 cup Cashew Cream (get Beard & Bonnet’s recipe here or my adaptation below)

To Make

Cut tomatoes and onions into a fine dice. Finely mince garlic.

Heat coconut oil and garlic over medium heat, allow garlic to sizzle for 1-2 minutes. Add onion. Cook onion and garlic for 6-8 minutes. Add tomatoes, water and seasoning. When liquid boils, reduce to simmer. Simmer covered for 90 minutes. You can leave the sauce with some texture or you can use a food processor or emulsion blender to get a smoother consistency (I like something in the middle so I use an emulsion blender to break it up a little bit).

To make vodka sauce, carefully mix vodka into the hot (or reheated) red sauce (or 2 1/2 or 3 cups of any red sauce). Add 1/2 cup vodka. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until alcohol is cooked off. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 cup vegan cashew cream (see recipe below) or 1/4 cup dairy cream. You can add more or less cream depending on your taste.

*adjust salt according to personal taste
**i used 1/2 cup of vodka and I could definitely taste it, in a great way. 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup will work, just with a lighter vodka flavor. Your call!

Cashew Cream Recipe (adapted from Beard & Bonnet’s recipe)
1.5 cups raw, unsalted Cashews
1 1/4 cups water (more or less)*
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice (or half of a large lemon)
3/4 teaspoon salt (more or less)

Soak raw cashews in a bowl of filtered water for 1-4 hours. Add soaked cashews to a food processor or high powered blender. Add water salt and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.

I used a food processor and it took longer than I expected. I had to stop and hand stir/scrape the bowl a couple times. When in doubt, just keep blending.

*start with 3/4 cup water and add more as needed

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

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It’s Day 3 of my “debloat and recharge detox” and I’m feeling good and staying motivated. My detoxes are easy in that I’m not seriously reducing calories or only eating cabbage soup. It’s more about portion controlling, loading up on veggies and fruits (even more than usual) and reducing excess fat, sugar and carbs. Because I pretty much always stick to high quality and whole ingredients, it’s mostly about portion controlling and some calorie counting.

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I’m not big on calorie counting for a couple reasons. First is because I’ve spent so much time calorie counting throughout the years that I have a pretty good sense of roughly how many calories are in most foods, allowing me to be unconsciously aware of how much I’m eating. I also don’t like counting calories because I think it can take the fun out of eating a cooking. And lastly, I don’t like counting calories because I find it to be misleading in terms of choosing an unhealthy food over a healthy food just because they are equal in calories. With that said, when trying to trim down and debloat, I’ve found that it happens much faster if you’re staying within a low-to-moderate calorie range. So when detoxing I stay within a 1,500-1,900 calorie range, typically shooting for around 1,600. Obviously this varies by person, but I’ve found this to be a sustainable, satisfying and effective range for myself.

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So the question is, what kinds of delicious and healthy foods do I eat during my detox regimens. Today I’m sharing my recipe for a super tasty pita pocket sandwich that clocks in at about 445 calories. I made these for both Matt and I to bring to work on Monday, and I kid you not, Matt actually called this sandwich one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Matt is the ultimate meat-eater-man so for him to say something so light and healthy is also super yummy means a lot.

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These pita sandwiches are a super simple combination of homemade white bean spread, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh baby spinach, all stuffed into a Demascus Bakery Whole Wheat Pita Pocket. I buy these pitas at Whole Foods and I like them because they are all-natural, made with only pronounceable ingredients, and cost just $1.50 for a pack of four. When I discovered these pitas, my commitment to a whole-foodie life got so much easier.

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For the white bean spread, I use my Lemony White Bean Dip recipe which is a must-try (it’s what Matt liked best about these sandwiches). But, for simplicity’s sake, an all-natural store-bough bean dip or hummus will work too. My Garlicky Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and some fresh spinach finish off the sandwich, adding depth, flavor and nutrients. And there you have it, a detox lunch that is transportable, satisfying, and one of the best things you’ll ever eat (according to Matt, that is).

Roasted Tomato and Lemony White Bean Spread Pita Sandwiches
Serves: 2    Start to Finish: 45 minutes   Calories: 450 per serving

Ingredients

1/2 batch Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (get my recipe here)
1 14-ounce can Organic Canellini Beans
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Lemon
2 cloves Garlic, crushed, peeled and roughly chopped
4-6 fresh Basil Leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pure Tahini (ground sesame seeds)
1/2 teaspoon Dried Basil
1/2-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
10-15 fresh Baby Spinach Leaves (I like using Organic Girl brand greens)
2 all-natural Whole Wheat Pita Pockets (I like Damascus Bakery brand, available at Whole Foods)

To Make

First, get the cherry tomatoes in the oven (get my recipe here). While the tomatoes roast, make the white bean spread.

For the white bean spread, reserve a 1/4 cup of the white bean liquid, then drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel 3-4 pieces of zest from the lemon (about 1/2 the lemon). Roughly chop them up. Add oil, garlic and lemon peel to a small skillet (the smallest you have). Turn on heat to medium-low. After 2-3 minutes, add basil leaves. Cook for 2 minutes.

Into a food processor, add beans, infused oil mixture (including zest garlic and basil), tahini, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, dried basil, and reserved bean liquid. Pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added 1/2 tsp pepper and 3/4 tsp salt). Pulse until smooth.

When tomatoes are finished, allow to cool. Assemble sandwiches by cutting each pita in half and gently pulling open the pocket of each half. Spread 1/4 cup of white bean spread into each half. Evenly divided cherry tomatoes and spinach leave between pockets.

*if using store bough bean spread or hummus, you’ll need 1 cup for 2 sandwiches (4 half sandwiches)

**if possible, make tomatoes and bean spread in advance and refrigerate. This allows the flavors to fully incorporate and develop.

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

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For awhile now I’ve been wanting to recreate the Mexican Goddess Dressing from the infamous Chop’t restaurant, a fast casual, create-your-own-salad chain that has pretty much taken over the lunch scene in New York City. Although it moves fast, between the hours of 12 and 2pm on a week day, the line is literally out the door. And it’s easy to understand why. Chop’t is seriously amazing for so many reasons. A friendly and efficient staff, fresh and high-quality ingredients (many of which are locally sourced), and the most amazing salad dressing of all time, their totally addictive Mexican Goddess Dressing.

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Because of their Mexican Goddess, I actually get the same exact salad every single time I go. Every. Single. Time. This tart, slightly spicy, super flavorful vegan dressing is more like a thick sauce. Not only could this sauce be used as a salad dressing, but it would also work beautifully as a dip for tortilla chips, as a salsa in burritos or as an enchilada sauce. I’ve seriously dreamed of all the possibilities, so naturally I made my own version of it (finally!).

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The base of my Verde Crack Sauce is freshly roasted tomatillos. Tomatillos are similar to green tomatoes in appearance and have a refreshing tart flavor. Along with the tomatillos, I also roasted the jalapeño pepper to add some depth and heat. You can control the heat by using one or two jalapeños and removing or keeping the seeds (the seeds are where the heat is). Cilantro, garlic and lime juice are added for even more flavor, and finally, I throw in a rich and creamy avocado.

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This is a great sauce to keep in the archives. In the last week I’ve used it as a salad dressing, a dip and as a suave for my scrumptious, tortilla-free zucchini enchiladas (recipe coming soon). I have a feeling I’ll be making this vibrant sauce all summer long.
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Vegan Verde Crack Sauce
Serves: 4-6 (as a dip or dressing)  Start to Finish: 20-30 min

Ingredients

1 lb Tomatillos
3-4 tbs chopped Cilantro
1 Avocado
1 tbs Lime
1-2 Jalapeños (depending on desired heat level)
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2-1 tsp salt (to taste)

To Make

Remove papery tomatillo skins and rinse under cold water. On a foil lined pan, broil tomatillos and jalapeño (whole) until the skins are blistering and partially blackened, and the tomatillos have released some juices. I broiled for about 20 minutes, flipping once half way through. Every broiler is different though so refer to my picture.

Add tomatillos and juice to a food processor. Remove the stem of the jalapeño and remove seeds if desired. I left half of the seeds in to give a bit more spice. Add jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, garlic and olive oil to the tomatillos in the food processor. Process for 10 seconds or until smooth. Add avocado, process for 5 seconds or until well blended. Season with salt and pepper (to taste). Process for 5 seconds.

Use as a salad dressing, as a sauce for smothering just about anything, or as a dip with any of your favorite Southwestern and Mexican dishes.

*Makes about 1.5 to 1.75 cups

Lighten Up: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

Lighten Up: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

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Crudités platters are often seen as the boring but required member of any party’s munchies spread. But that’s not at all how I see a good old veggie platter. In fact, I’m the girl at the party who heads immediately to the crudités platter. I’m not the girl that makes a plate of raw carrots and cherry tomatoes and considers herself full. I’m the girl who just stands there, dipping veggie after veggie into whatever creamy dip sits in the center of the platter. That is until I realize I’ve eaten about a pound of mayo. But then I dismiss that thought, telling myself that I burned 600 calories crunching and munching my way through the stacks of bell pepper, snap peas, and celery.

This love of fresh crudités and creamy dip is not just reserved for parties. I actually find myself craving sliced veggies and some kind of creamy, decadent dip, like Green Goddess or classic Ranch, on a regular basis. Lately, my dip of choice has been a lightened-up version of one of my faves, Blue Cheese Dip. And that’s the recipe I’m sharing today, my own special recipe for a creamy, dreamy (lightened up) Blue Cheese Dip.

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When it comes to healthy eating, I believe in balance and moderation. Because of that, the base of my dressing is equal parts low-fat, plain Greek yogurt and organic mayonnaise. This combo cuts the fat without losing the indulgent flavor I love. If you so please, cut out the mayo even further, or entirely, for an extra light and healthy dressing. Next comes red wine vinegar, some simple seasonings, and, of course, crumbled blue cheese. That’s it! Simple, delicious, versatile.

I use this blue cheese dip (dressing, sauce, etc) in countless ways, not just as a companion for fresh veggie sticks or chilled roasted veggies. I’ve also used my blue cheese dip with my easy buffalo falafel patties, as a spread on a veggie burger and as a dressing on chopped salads or coleslaw. I just love this dressing.

Lightened Up Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing
Serves: Start to Finish: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients
1/2 cup Yogurt
1/2 cup good quality Mayo
2 tsp Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon each Salt, Black Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder
1+ tablespoon Water
3/4 cup Blue Cheese Crumbles

To Make

In a small-medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve chilled as a dip, dressing or spread.

*I like the richness and thickness of this recipe because it works on everything from salads, as a spread on sandwiches, and as a dip for veggies, wings, etc. For a thinner consistency, add water or milk, a little at a time. A pinch more of each seasoning may be needed if more than a couple extra tablespoons of liquid is added.