Being a University of Wisconsin alum, I’m obviously beyond ecstatic that the Badgers beat defending champ, Villanova, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen round of March Madness. If you know me at all, you’d know that watching sports isn’t really my thing. That is unless it involves my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, the STL Blues or anything relating to UW-Madison. There’s one other exception, March Madness. Maybe it’s because I grew up glued to the TV during March Madness, thanks to my dad. Or maybe because I actually played A LOT of basketball in my early years, so I’m able to better relate to the games. No matter the reason, I love this classic tournament, especially when my alma mater surprises the nation and beats the #1 team in the second round.
So, to go along with an amazing game and lots of excitement to come, I thought I’d share a healthy-ish twist on a classic sports bar appetizer – nachos. Instead of traditional tortilla chips, I’m using roasted rounds of sweet potato. Through roasting, the sweet potatoes become sturdy enough to hold all of the amazing toppings that get piled on. What toppings, you may be wondering? Well, there’s a decadent homemade cheese sauce spiked with fresh jalapeño, crisp romaine lettuce, refreshing yogurt and, last but not least, creamy guacamole. Doesn’t this all sound simply amazing?
Yes, these nachos are still rich and indulgent. But, like everything else, I make all of my recipes as clean and health-supportive as possible, even if it’s a dish that’s not supposed be light or healthy. That’s why I call this version of nachos “healthy-ish”. Because I’ve made them as healthy as possible while still maintaining the crowd-pleasing, addictive, satisfying element. There are several health-supportive ingredients in this recipe. Check them out below. Then head down to the recipe, just in time for game day. Go Badgers!
Sweet Potatoes are a power house of nutrition. By replacing fried corn chips with sweet potatoes, this recipe gets a hefty dose of vitamin A, potassium and fiber, plus some vitamin B-6 and protein. Sweet potatoes are also a filling food, making these nachos substantial enough to become a satisfying and nourishing main dish.
Romaine Lettuce, like other lettuces, fills you up without adding extra calories or fat. Adding fresh lettuce to any dish increases vitamins and assists the body in flushing out toxins. Lettuce also adds freshness and balance to this rich dish.
Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt (full-fat) is my new favorite ingredient. Not only can I trust that grass-fed cows live a healthier and happier lifestyle (grain-fed cows live extremely bloated, confined and uncomfortable lives), but grass-fed cows produce dairy containing high-quality fats. These fats are then transformed into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) through the process of making yogurt with lactic acid. Grass-fed dairy, like grass-fed beef, contains a higher concentration of CLA’s. Research has linked CLA consumption with decreased risk of heart attack, bone-mass loss and inflammation. Additionally, live cultures in yogurt aid in digestion, immunity, weight-loss and regular bowel movement. Yogurt is also naturally high in calcium and protein. Whoa! Go grass-fed yogurt go!
Avocados, like in my guacamole, are known for providing the body with “good fats” such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats which can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart disease. Avocados are rich in potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, folic acid and other essential nutrients. Avocados are also amazing because they add guilt-free richness, flavor and decadence to just about any dish, which is especially important for vegetarians and vegans.
Sweet Potato Nachos with Homemade Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce & Fresh Guacamole
Serves: 2-3 (entree), 6 (appetizer) Start to Finish: 1 hour
2 sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, fine grain
1 avocado, very ripe
2 tablespoons minced red onion
3 teaspoons minced jalapeño, approx. 1/2 of a medium jalapeño, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
hot sauce, to taste, if desired
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2/3 to 1 cup whole milk
2 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1.5 cups shredded romaine lettuce (1 heart of romaine will be more than enough)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (full-fat, grass-fed preferred)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make potato rounds. Prep potatoes, brush with oil, season with a pinch of salt on each side of each round, and place potato rounds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until color begins to brown and the rounds are sturdy.
Make guacamole. Combine 1 smashed avocado with with 2 tablespoons minced red onion, 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro. Add a couple dashes hot sauce if desired and season with salt if needed. Refrigerate until needed.
Make cheddar sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium-heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of flour until smooth. Allow flour/butter mixture to cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in 2/3 cup whole milk until smooth and creamy. Allow mixture to gently simmer until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside. If queso sauce gets to thick, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached. Gently reheat on stove top when needed.
Assemble. When potato slices are finished roasting, lay out on a platter or large plate. It’s okay to overlap but make sure a good section of each slice is visible. Pour queso sauce over top of potatoes. Top with shredded iceberg lettuce, plain yogurt and a cilantro garnish, if desired. Serve with guacamole (and some fresh corn chips maybe?).
Nutrition Information References:
Growing up, my mom took every opportunity to make the ordinary into the extraordinary. From something as small as the icing monograms on our toaster strudels before school, to something as meaningful as Christmas morning, she always did (and still does) know how to make things special. So it’s no wonder why I turned out the exact same way, and why I find that holidays are the most perfect opportunity to get creative, make some memories, and have some festive (and often times, delicious) fun.
Halloween is a particularly fun holiday on which to get into the spirit. So last week, on All Hallow’s Eve, I planned a relaxed and laid back date night with Matt…spooky-style. Since he’s never seen Hocus Pocus (I know, sinful), I thought a “Netflix and chill” theme for the evening was a no-brainer. Can’t you just picture it? Tasty noshes, a couple libations, candle light, pumpkin-print napkins, and a good ole classic flick. Doesn’t that sounds simply delightful? Only one question remained. What to cook?
I finally settled on a three course, couch-friendly, vegan meal plan. The mains? A Leek and Carrot Brown Rice Risotto and a Perfectly Poached Pear with a Coconut-Caramel Reduction Sauce. Both of these dishes are easy to keep on the counter or stove until a commercial break gives just enough time to finish and plate the dishes. But today’s featured recipe is actually not for the risotto or the pear, but rather, for the appetizer portion of the meal, the premiere dish, the opener, if you will; Roasted Beet Hummus.
Roasted Beet Hummus is not much different than my classic Hummus recipe, except of course, for the subtly sweet addition of roasted beets, which add not only flavor and nutritional power, but also change the color of the hummus to a bright, rich red-pink color. Beautiful! I served the hummus with blanched veggies and pita wedges. But then, I ate it the next day as a veggie burger topping, and it was phenomenal. I can also see myself creating a layered veggie sandwich with this spread, and maybe using it as a vegan pizza base. Only time will tell all the ways this super-food hummus will be used in my kitchen.
I think this hummus was the perfect addition to our festive Halloween feast because, not only is it visually appealing and vibrant, but it’s also something you don’t see every day, making it special enough for a celebration like this one. But there’s one more reason why this spread is a winner – this hummus also happens to be super healthy and nourishing, always something to think about when making for for myself and to others. Beets are seriously a health and wellness all-star, so before I get to the recipe, I want to end by going over these health-supportive qualities of beets. Beets are a good source of protein and fiber. They contain immune-boosting vitamin-C, potassium, bone- and liver-strengthening manganese, and b-vitamin folate. Basically, beets are a fantastic way to nourish and cleanse the body and the mind, making this Roasted Beet Hummus a must-try for whole-foodie type like me. Ok, now on to the recipe.
Roasted Beet Hummus
Yield: 2 1/4 cups
2 medium-size fresh beets, trimmed, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1 14-oz can chickpeas, liquid reserved, drained, rinsed (equivalent to 1 1/3 cups cooked Chickpeas)
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons water or reserved chickpea liquid (or combo)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep beets, and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until super tender (poke with a knife, no resistance), 45-65 minutes.
When beets are finished roasting, allow to cool for 10-20 minutes. In a food processor combine beets, chickpeas, water or chickpea liquid, garlic, tahini and lemon juice. Add salt to taste (1/4 teaspoon salt is a good place to start). Add additional liquid or water until desired consistency is reached.
Serve with crudités and pita chips. This also makes a great topping for veggie burgers and a yummy spread on a veggie sandwich.
Pizza in the summer? Give me homemade tomato sauce, creamy fresh mozz, and homegrown basil. Pizza in the fall? Different story.
Getting creative with pizza is one of my favorite activities in the whole wide world. We make pizza dough on the reg, but truth be told, most of our pizzas are on the traditional side. You know, red sauce base, mushrooms, spinach, roasted red pepper, Italian cheeses, etc. So I decided to mix it up a little bit. And I’m so glad I did, because Matt deemed this creation one of my best recipes ever. Yep, that’s right. Best. Ever.
It all started with a little get together we decided to have this past Friday. Whenever we have people over, I always make some kind of a food spread. This is for two reasons. First is that it gives me a chance to experiment in the kitchen and cook for my friends on a small scale. Second is that a couple noshes at a party, even if it’s supposed to be just drinks, always makes for a more welcoming and comforting environment. And I’m all about creating a warm and welcoming vibe in my home, even if only for just me and Matt to enjoy.
So we decided to have a get together. I made roasted red pepper hummus and pita crisps, because I had all the ingredients on hand and because who doesn’t love hummus? Additionally, I decided to make a pizza of some kind. Why pizza? I think pizza is a winning appetizer. Cut into squares instead of slices, pizza is an easy and fun finger food that just about everyone can enjoy. I use our easy pizza dough recipe (get it here), but don’t hesitate to use store-bought, refrigerated crust for an even easier result!
Now, I didn’t want to do anything traditional or standard here. I really wanted to use this opportunity to bring autumn flavors into the mix. Not surprisingly, butternut squash quickly came to mind. From there, the rest of the ingredients easily fell into place. Garlic oil as the base, caramelized onions for some richness and goat cheese for some tang. Perfection.
The different ingredients in this pizza require some prep time, it takes a bit longer than pizza sauce and mozzarella. But everything comes together in about an hour. Start with the slow process of caramelizing the onions and you have a pocket of time to work on getting the squash into the oven. While the squash bakes, prep the cheeses and make the garlic oil. Everything falls together perfectly in the end. Flavor, depth, richness? Gang’s all here.
There are enough ingredients here to make two medium-large pizzas. Although calorie-wise one pizza feeds about 3 people, I always allow one pizza for every two people. That’s because Matt, my family and I eat more than normal people. And also because you always want too much food rather than not enough. This is also a good opportunity to plan ahead and double up. Roast two squashes and four onions, freeze the extra, and you can have this pizza super quick and easy next time. I’m definitely wishing I had thought ahead like that. Ugh.
This is a delicious and unique combination of toppings for a pizza, but trust me when I say, it just works. You’ve just gotta give it a try. I like it so much that if I ever have a restaurant, this will be a seasonal pizza on the menu, that’s for sure.
Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza
Serves: 4-5 (10-12 appetizer servings) Start to Finish: 1 hour 15 minutes
2 balls Pizza Dough, get my recipe here
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and seeds/pulp removed, cut into a small/medium dice
Sea Salt, fine grain
2 Yellow Onions, peeled and cut into thin half moons
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
1.5 cups shredded Mozzarella (6-7 ounces)
1 cup crumbled Goat Cheese (5-6 ounces)
Remove dough from fridge, if necessary. Allow to sit for at least an hour at room temperature
Preheat oven to 425 degrees for roasting squash.
First step, start caramelizing onions. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. I used coconut oil but olive oil works too. Add onion slices to pan. Season with salt (2 good size pinches). Allow Onions to slowly cook, tossing occasionally. Keep adding water when pan becomes dry, 2 tablespoons at a time. This should take about 40 minutes. When finished, transfer to small bowl or ramekin.
While onions caramelize, peel and prep Butternut Squash. Toss squash cubes with salt (I used about 1 teaspoon), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon), and 1.5 tablespoons Olive Oil. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast for 15- 20 minutes. Toss. Roast for an additional 15 minutes, until some edges are golden brown.
Meanwhile, make garlic oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 cloves minced garlic over medium heat. When the garlic begins to turn golden, remove from heat and transfer to a ramekin or small bowl.
Grate and crumble cheeses. Press dough balls out to make 2 pizza crusts. Transfer crusts to a peel or pan that’s been dusted with cornmeal. When squash, onions and garlic oil are complete, began assembling pizzas for baking.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Brush about 1 tablespoon of garlic oil onto crusts, including the outer edge. Sprinkle cooked garlic bits evenly over both pizzas. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella. Add about 3/4 cup Roasted Squash cubes over each pizza. Distribute onions evenly over each pizza. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup Goat Cheese. Sprinkle each pizza with remaining mozzarella.
Bake pizzas on pizza stones or on pans for 8-10 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.
When I think of some of my favorite meals from my meat-eating days, classic Italian meatballs definitely top the list. Whether on a sub sandwich, over pasta or even on pizza (shout out to Dewey’s Pizza in STL), meatballs are the bomb.
Whenever my parents come to visit me in NYC, one of their go-to eateries is The Meatball Shop. It’s a favorite of mine as well, and I’ve been lucky enough to live within walking to two of their locations over the past five years. The concept of this trendy yet casual local chain of restaurants is actually really cool. Using dry erase markers, you choose what you want by “checking it off” on a laminated menu. You choose the type of ball (beef, pork etc) and the sauce (pesto, cream, tomato etc.) and then the preparation (hero, over pasta, alongside steamed spinach etc).
Whenever I say that I love The Meatball Shop, I’m undoubtedly asked how that is possible when I don’t eat meat. Easy answer. One of the ball options is a delicious veggie ball, and I like it best as either a hero sandwich or in “the kitchen sink” market plate form. No matter what preparation I choose, when choosing a sauce, I always go for the classic tomato sauce with a side of their silky parmesan cream sauce.
I think subconsciously the idea for a veggie ball hero with tomato cream sauce was inspired by my typical order at The Meatball Shop. And it was a delicious idea. I spent literally all of this past Sunday in the kitchen making my own veggie balls, vegan cashew cream and a homemade vodka sauce. I always love spending hours in the kitchen, but this particular meal turned out perfectly, so this was a long but particularly rewarding cooking sesh.
The recipe I’m sharing in this post is one of my favorite ways to make veggie balls, a Roasted Eggplant and White Bean Veggie Ball.
The inspiration for an eggplant-based veggie ball comes from Matt. A year or two ago, Matt made us a batch of roasted eggplant balls stuffed with fresh mozzarella, and they were so tasty. My variation uses the roasted eggplant and then I also added some white canellini beans for a protein boost and some hearty substance.
These meat-less meatballs are my favorite for a few reasons; they are super flavorful and yummy, they stay together and hold their shape, and they contain no eggs dairy making them vegan friendly.
But mostly I love them because of how delicious they are. The balls get their amazing flavor from sweet roasted eggplant, fresh basil, and lots of garlic. Other than all-natural whole wheat bread crumbs and some additional seasoning and a bit of olive oil, that’s all you need to create these fabulous balls. I recommend making a double batch and use them in different ways throughout the week. I should’ve made a double batch on Sunday because this batch was gone by Monday.
Italian Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 2 hours (20 min active time)
2 pounds Eggplant
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 can Canellini Beans, drained & rinsed
15 fresh Basil leaves
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs, divided (I like Whole Foods brand)
1 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast (optional)**
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
Slice eggplant into 1″ discs. Cube each disc into 4-10 cubes, depending on disc size. Soak eggplant in a bowl of cold water for 45-90 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse eggplant cubes and drain in colander. Use a clean towel to remove excess moisture. Toss eggplant cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, tossing half way through cooking.
Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Allow eggplant to cool slightly. I put it in a the food processor with the top on for a few minutes to release some liquid. Combine eggplant, canellini beans, basil leaves, 4 cloves garlic and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Pulse until a smooth mixture begins to form, be sure to keep a little texture. Pour eggplant mixture into a bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Form eggplant mixture into balls (I used a 1/4 cup measure for each). Toss each ball in the breadcrumb & oil mixture. Place coated balls on a parchment lined baking sheet. I got 9 balls out of this batch.
Bake balls at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Turn heat up to 425 degrees and cook for another 25 minutes or until crisp and golden, flip half way through
*adjust salt according to personal taste
**if you choose not to use nutritional yeast, you may need to replace it with more bread crumbs