Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza

Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza

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It’s no secret to anyone that I love pizza. And typically, when it comes to pizza, ‘cheese’ is the name of the game. But not today. Things are changing around here. I have recently discovered how good pizza can be without cheese, and I’m totally hooked. I mean, I’ve had cheese-less slices before, but after a recent slice of super simple vegan pizza from a popular NYC pizza joint, Joe’s, it came to me. A crispy and chewy crust, a robust sauce and loads of veggies are all that’s needed for a bomb pie.

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The true key to an amazing cheese-less slice, in my opinion, is the sauce. For this pizza I used a sauce I’ve been making at school during our improvisation classes. Leeks, carrots, celery and garlic give this classic red sauce lots of flavor, and crushed red pepper flake adds a good bit of heat. It’s complex and rich and perfect for my vegan veggie pie.

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As for the veggies on the pizza, I kept it simple but strategic. Just four toppings here; sliced baby bella mushrooms, par-cooked broccoli florets, thinly sliced onions and sliced black olives. While simple, this combo is a winner with a satisfying variety of colors, textures and tastes. I mean, look at it. This pizza is really just breath taking. Anything that showcases vegetables like this is bound to be pretty, but that doesn’t stop me from being mesmerized by the beauty of this pizza. Not only is it attractive aesthetically, but to me it’s also beautiful because of the overwhelming health and wellness benefits provided by this overload of vegetables. Fiber, vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, calcium, iron, folate, potassium are some of the all-star benefits coming straight to your body from this pizza. See? Beautiful. And I think it’s safe to say I’m a total veggie-nerd at this point. Thoughts?

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So that’s all I really have to say about this recipe. It’s simple, satisfying and packs a nutritional-punch. And that’s a pizza you can feel good about eating. So why not try cheese-free next time? I know it sounds crazy, but you won’t be disappointed.

Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza
Serves: 4-6    Start to Finish: 50-60 minutes

Ingredients
2 balls pizza dough (get my quick & simple recipe here, yields 2 balls)*
For Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, trimmed, halved length-wise, thinly sliced**
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into a small dice
1 celery stalk, cleaned and cut into a small dice
sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (slightly spicy, reduce to 1/8 for less spice)
1 28-ounce can tomatoes (diced or whole, organic and salt-free preferred)
1.5 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
For Pizza Toppings

1 white or yellow onion, halved, trimmed, thinly sliced
8 cremini mushrooms, washed and thinly sliced
1 head broccoli, stem removed, cut into small florets
1 small can sliced black olives, liquid removed
sea salt, fine grain
garlic powder or granulated garlic

To Make

Allow refrigerated dough to rest at room temperature for an hour. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

To make sauce, heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add leeks, garlic, celery, carrots and 1 teaspoon salt. Add dried thyme, oregano and crushed red pepper flake. Allow mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup water, canned tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and 1.5 tablespoons maple syrup. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover. Simmer for 20 minutes. Using a blender (immersion, high power, standard, food processor), blend sauce until smooth. Stir in fresh thyme leaves. Season to taste (I added another 1/4 teaspoon of salt).

Add 2 inches of water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil. Using a steamer basket, steam broccoli in saucepan, covered, for 2 minutes or until bright green. Set aside. Prep remaining toppings.

Press out dough balls to fit a pan or pizza peel.Transfer crusts to cornmeal dusted pans or a peel. Add 2/3 to 1 cup of sauce to each pizza, spreading it out evenly from center to crust. Evenly distribute broccoli, mushrooms, onions and olives over pizzas. Season each pizza with 2 pinches of salt and 2 pinches of garlic powder. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until bottom of crust is golden and sturdy.

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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.

Cheap & Easy: Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza

Cheap & Easy: Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

To Make

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

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

To Make

Remove goat cheese from fridge to soften.

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

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

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

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