Vegetarian Sweet Potato Nachos with Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce

Vegetarian Sweet Potato Nachos with Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce

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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.

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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?

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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

Ingredients

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)

To Make

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:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=124

https://www.symptomfind.com/nutrition-supplements/probiotic-bacteria/

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Quick & Easy: Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros

Quick & Easy: Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros

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More and more these days, Matt and I find ourselves playing the fridge-clean-out-game when deciding what to do for dinner. We do about one main grocery shop per week at which point we buy tons of produce, a little bit of meat or poultry for matt and restock our grains, beans and dairy arsenal. I may plan for a couple specific meals, but other than that, dinners are improvisational. The benefits? Playing the clean-out-game a few nights a week minimizes waste, saves money, avoids getting takeout, and it’s actually a pretty fun game. The hard part? Knowing what to have on hand to be able to successfully improv a delicious, balanced and satisfying meal. There’s no exact formula for this, and it really depends on your diet and food preferences. In any case, I’ve come up with a vegetarian-friendly list of staple categories to stock up on, and a few of my fave examples of each…

lettuce/dark leafy greens – hearts of romaine, lacinato kale, arugala
citrus – lemons, limes, blood oranges
flavor boosters – garlic, red onions, yellow onions, jalapenos, avocados
other produce – broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, red bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, apples, grapes etc.
whole grains (uncooked) – short grain brown rice, quinoa, lentils
breads/pasta – whole wheat penne pasta, whole wheat pita/flatbread
dairy – cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, grass-fed plain yogurt, whole milk
canned foods (organic only) – black beans, chickpeas, lentils, diced tomatoes, coconut milk
oils – olive, organic canola, virgin coconut, toasted sesame
vinegars – red wine, champagne, apple cider
pantry/fridge staples – sea salt, hot sauce, tamari, tahini, dijon mustard, yellow miso, ketchup, raw cashews, maple syrup, agave, all purpose flour, corn meal, yeast
herbs/spices (dried) – black pepper, oregano, dill, parsley, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cardamon, cinnamon

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So now let’s put this list to work. A perfect example of an amazing fridge-clean-out meal using my handy-dandy staples list? You got it – these healthy and delicious Asparagus & Hummus Gyros. I threw these wraps together without much effort, and, you guessed it, each item I used is on my staples list. I made hummus from canned chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. I did a simple roast of the asparagus spears, which I had purchased without a purpose. To make it a balanced and substantial meal, I added shredded romaine, leftover minced red onion and a stupid-easy dill-yogurt sauce that utilized the last 1/3 cup of yogurt left from my family-size tub. Then I wrapped it all up in basic pita flatbreads. So yummy and so easy. This dinner ended up taking less than 30 minutes to prepare, and Matt and I were both blown away by how tasty it was. Balance it out with some crispy red grapes or apple slices and you’ve got yourself a full meal.

Anyway, I’d love to know your go-to tips and tricks for stocking the pantry and playing the kitchen improv game. Or, even better, any successful improvs you’d like to share. Let’s hear it!

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Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros with Dill-Yogurt Sauce

Servings: 4    Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

for roasted asparagus
16 asparagus spears, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
for hummus (you could also use 1 cup store-bought hummus)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup water (+ more for texture)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
hot sauce, to taste (optional)
for dill-yogurt sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
for assembly
1 romaine heart, shredded and washed
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 flatbreads or pitas

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).

Toss trimmed asparagus spears with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes, checking spears and flipping them every 5-10 minutes. When finished, the tips of the spears should be brown and the flesh a rich olive green.

Combine all hummus ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed, a tablespoon or 2 at a time. Transfer to bowl, season to taste. I use 3 dashes hot sauce and an extra tablespoon or 2 of water.

In a small bowl, stir together yogurt-dill sauce ingredients. Season with salt and lemon juice, to taste.

Prep veggies. Warm pitas, if desired, in microwave (wrapped in a clean towel) or in the oven, wrapped in aluminum foil.

When all components are complete, build the gyros. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of hummus across each pita. Top with 4 asparagus spears, shredded lettuce, chopped onions and about 2 tablespoons dill-yogurt sauce.

 

The Best Chickpea Falafel Patties

The Best Chickpea Falafel Patties

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Truth – falafel is one of my all time favorite foods, it’s right up there with pizza & burritos. Falafel is a vegan & gluten-free crowd pleaser making it an easy choice for this healthy, plant-eating girl. So I obviously have my own version of falafels that’s quick & simple to make at home, and, not to mention, totally delicious & addictive.

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To make my falafel patties, I blend soaked chickpeas with onion, garlic, cumin, parsley, paprika, salt & olive oil. No gluten, no eggs, no dairy. AMAZING! I pan fry them to get some good color on the outside and then finish them up in the oven for a no-fuss, no-vat-of-oil-needed rendition.

These guys are a great snack on their own or an epic meal stuffed into pitas with loads of fixings. They reheat beautifully and taste great cold so, you guessed it, meal prep friendly!

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The falafels you get at restaurants are generally deep fried, so I love being able to control the quality and health-factor when making them at home. I use organic chickpeas & high-quality olive oil to make my falafels, and they’re honestly just as satisfying as the restaurant falafel patties.

I recommend whipping up some simple lemon tahini sauce for serving. Or an easy yogurt tzatziki sauce would be stellar too. Eat as sandwiches or pile onto lettuce for a more veg-heavy meal. There’s so much you can do with these guys, go for a double batch and thank me later.

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Easy Falafel Patties

Serves: 4     Start to Finish: 30 minutes (not including soaking time)

Ingredients

1 cup dry garbanzo beans/chickpeas, soaked*
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small or 1/2 medium/large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil, + more for browning
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves (or 1.5 tablespoons dried parsley)

To Make

Preheat oven  to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment.

Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until a uniform batter is formed (it will still have a visibly grainy texture). Form the batter into 12 patties. It might seem very wet, but should still form into patties easily. You can refrigerate the batter or patties for a bit to make them easier to handle. I don’t find this necessary but I sometimes do it.

On a griddle pan or in a frying pan (cast iron recommended), heat a very thin layer of olive oil over medium-low heat. Fry patties for 3-5 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. Cook patties in batches if needed, replacing oil between batches.

Transfer to oven and bake for 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees.

Serve the falafels on a salad or in a pita with sauces & toppings of choice. Need an idea? Check out this pita sandwich I made using this recipe!

Notes:

To soak chickpeas either 1) soak in water over night in the fridge or 2) bring chickpeas and water to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, turn off heat, cover and soak for 1 hour. Drain soaking liquid off before cooking with the chickpeas.

Side note, these patties reheat really well. But I often eat them cold anyway, so reheating after the fridge is definitely not necessary.

I recently tried forming 4 burger size patties instead of 12 smaller ones, and it was great (much less work)! Bake them for 12-15 minutes instead of 8-10 after browning.

Quick & Easy: Fresh Mozzarella and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Maple Mustard

Quick & Easy: Fresh Mozzarella and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Maple Mustard

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Between my best friend’s amazing wedding last weekend (shout out to my girl, Karen G), and keeping myself on top of school as the workload steadily grows, and catching a bug of some kind this week, what better recipe to share than a total time-buster recipe? I mean, I barely had time to make a post this week, but because this recipe is so simple, I managed to pull it together. It must be easy, right?

I think everyone has those weeks when they’re desperate for something quick, easy, satisfying, comforting and delicious. I actually think many people consider this type of week the norm. So basically quick, easy, satisfying, comforting and delicious are always the ideal when it comes to weeknight meals. But that’s a tall order. Ok, now take meat out of the equation. Even taller. But trust me when I say, simple, yummy and vegetarian-friendly cooking is attainable.

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The key to satisfying meals, sans meat, is creating depth and complexity by using new and different flavor combos. I get inspiration from everywhere when it comes to finding exciting new tastes. Today’s inspiration comes from a light lunch I made when trying to clean out the kitchen a few weeks back. I topped an English muffin with a fresh sliced pear, fresh mozzarella and a pinch of sea salt. It was love at first bite so I immediately wrote it down on my list of upcoming recipe ideas. And today, pear and mozzarella, will finally have their moment in the spotlight.

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Pear and Mozzarella Grilled Cheeses are the perfect quick and easy dinner for the fall season. This time of year, pears are sweet and juicy, and their vibrant flavor goes perfectly with the creamy, salty profile of fresh mozzarella. I added fresh spinach leaves to pump up the nutritional profile and added a super simple, sweet and tangy sauce to compliment the sweetness in the pears and also to cut through the richness of the cheese. It’s almost like a honey mustard, but uses maple syrup to get that sweetness in addition to the grainy mustard. This 2-ingredient spread was one of the first things I learned at culinary school and I’ve been making it constantly ever since. It’s so basic, I am almost embarrassed to say that I had to learn it. But whatevs, it’s amazing.

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Anyway, mozz, pears, fresh spinach and maple mustard sauce. That’s it. Barely any prep work whatsoever. Just some slicing really, because my spinach was already triple washed. Score (I hate washing lettuce). Then I layered the ingredients between two slices of bakery-fresh sourdough bread and brushed the outsides with a bit of oil. Yum!

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Now for the grilling portion of the grilled cheese. What I’m about to tell you is my secret for the perfect grilled cheese. It’s hot and gooey on the inside and golden-crisp on the outside. Every. Time. I mean, have you had this problem before? It’s crazy how something as basic as grilled cheese can be so difficult to get right. But I’ve got the magic. First trick is a super low heat. Like basically as low as it can go. And the second trick is to use a lid on your pan. The low heat allows for the sandwich to cook very slowly and the lid traps the heat to surround the sandwich, ensuring the middle will be piping hot and uber melty. I also press the sandwich down every so often with the back of the spatula, an important step for a grilled cheese that contains more than just cheese. If you follow these three steps, I can promise you, you will be absolutely delighted!

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So I spilled my deepest, darkest secret to you of how to make grilled cheeses absolutely perfect. And all you want to do now is to go try making a perfectly melty and crispy grilled cheese using this new-found cooking wisdom. And all I have left to say is go for it, good luck and let me know how it goes!

Quick & Easy: Fresh Mozzarella and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Maple Mustard
Serves: 4   Start to finish: 20 minutes

Ingredients

8 slices bakery-fresh Sourdough Bread
12 ounces Fresh Mozzarella, sliced*
2 ripe Pears, sliced (I used organic Bartlett Pears)
2 handfuls fresh Baby Spinach Leaves
1\3 cup Whole Grain Mustard
2 tablespoons Maple Syrup
Sea Salt, fine grain
2 tablespoons Olive Oil

To Make

In a small bowl, mix mustard and maple syrup. Set aside.

Slice mozzarella into thin slices. It may be difficult to cut fresh mozzarella thin, do the best you can. Break up slices into 2 parts, this makes it easier to distribute evenly on the sandwich.

Assemble sandwiches. For each sandwich, layer like this…

1 slice bread
Light layer of maple mustard
2 pieces of cheese
Season with a pinch of salt
5 spinach leaves
2-3 slices of pear
2 pieces of cheese
Another slice of bread, spread with maple mustard

When sandwiches are assembled, heat a large skillet over low heat (very low) for about a minute. Meanwhile, brush the top slice of each sandwich with a bit of olive oil. Gently flip sandwiches into the pan, olive oil side down. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden and crispy. Press down on the sandwiches with a spatula every so often. Flip the sandwiches and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the 2nd side is golden and crispy.**

*i allow for 3 ounces of cheese per sandwich. But that’s up to you. Note that 2 ounces is an actual serving size of cheese.

**on your first time using a stovetop, keep an eye on the sandwiches to prevent burning. Once you know how your stove/heat works, you’ll have freedom while they cook to prepare a side dish or something. My stove is 6 minutes per side, with an extra 1 minute on each side at the end (lowest heat).

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

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Hello readers! I’m just going to jump right in because I’m so excited for this post. I don’t say this often because I’m cooking literally all the time, but this recipe tops the charts for me. One of my favorite dishes I’ve ever come up with. While this dish is really simple, there’s a lot going on, so let’s break it down a little.

Last week I made a batch of classic basil pesto. I first used it for a simple pesto fusilli pasta with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini and roasted red peppers. Yummy no doubt, but pretty standard. So for the remainder of the pesto, I wanted to come up with something new and original. While at a restaurant a couple weeks ago, I had a delish Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil and it was just divine. Additionally, Chop’t (my go-to fast-casual restaurant for inventive and fresh salads) recently added a summer seasonal salad plate that combines the classic Caprese flavors with sweet peaches. A Caprese-style dish with basil pesto and peaches was obviously the direction I needed to go. But the question was, how to make it a meal? Why not toss the pesto with nutty brown rice and make it a rice bowl!? Perfect.

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When I put this dish together last night, Matt was definitely skeptical. I have tried peaches in savory dishes a handful of times, so I wasn’t quite as worried as him. But still, I was eager to see if my recipe came together as deliciously as I had imagined. Short answer, it did. Matt and I both absolutely loved it. The ripe and juicy peaches with the savory basil pesto worked together in perfect harmony. And who doesn’t love mini balls of fresh mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes? The last touch was to add mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Ugh, so good. I’m totally obsessed. It’s summer in a bowl!

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I love this dish too because not only are the flavors out of control, but it’s also a balanced and light meal that I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty eating. It’s naturally gluten-free due to the brown rice and packed with fresh produce (aka tons of vitamins and nutrients). Because of this, I definitely consider it to be a “detox meal”. Yes, it has cheese. But that doesn’t stop me from calling something healthy. No way.

Warning, I’m about to go on a mini rant.

I got a comment on my Instagram one time because I had hash-tagged “healthy” on a simple cage-free-vegetarian-fed-egg and cheese sandwich on a sprouted grain English muffin. Side note: I love commentary, especially commentary that sparks healthy debate so know I’m not lashing out because of a controversial comment. Anyway, the commentor simply said “cheese isn’t healthy”. Since then, the whole “cheese is not healthy” issue is something that really bothers me. Not only because I love cheese and find that it can make many meat-free meals more satisfying, but also because it’s such a  ridiculous notion. Processed cheese in excessive quantities, not good. Anything high in fat and sodium in excessive quantities, not good. Natural, calcium- and protein-rich cheese in moderation? Go for it. The word “healthy” is subjective and can be defined in countless ways. To label cheese as unhealthy is a major generalization that doesn’t take a lot of factors into consideration. Net net, please do not generalize all cheeses and place them automatically in the category of “unhealthy”. At least not to me.

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Anyway, I think I’m getting a little bit hangry here, and I have leftovers from last night’s Caprese Bowls calling my name. Screaming my name actually. Gotta go!

Caprese Bowls with Pesto Rice & Ripe Peaches
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 20-50 min (depending on rice cooking method)

Ingredients

1 cup dry Brown Rice or 2 cups cooked Brown Rice
Sea Salt
1/3 cup Basil Pesto (get my recipe here or use store bought)
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 ripe Peaches, pits removed, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (I used Bocconcini, or bite size mozzarella, each ball halved)

To Make

Cook rice according to package instructions. Cooking dry rice takes about 45 minutes, frozen cooked rice or pre-cooked rice works too. If cooking dry rice, use 1 cup rice with 2-1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Meanwhile, prepare pesto (if making from scratch, store bought works too). Cut peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella. Toss greens with vinegar. Divide dressed lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Evenly distribute peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella over greens.

When rice is finished cooking, add pesto to rice and stir until well combine. Scoop about 1/2 cup pesto-rice onto each bowl. Serve with a fresh basil garnish if desired.

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

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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Meatless Meal Plan: Car Camping for Two

Meatless Meal Plan: Car Camping for Two

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Matt and I are really big on camping. And when I say that Matt and I are really big on camping, I really mean that Matt is a camping pro and I’m along for the ride. That’s not to say I don’t love it though. I actually grew up spending my summers glamping (glamourous, more comfortable camping) on my family’s island in Ontario, Canada. While it wasn’t totally “roughing it”, going to Canada definitely made me super comfortable in nature and without the comforts of civilization. The only electricity on our little island comes from a small generator, which is rarely on. To get to the nearest major grocery store takes hours, and the nearest convenience store is a 40 minute boat ride away. On the island, we spend our time reading, playing cards, hiking, fishing, cooking, eating, napping, crafting and exploring. We sleep on old beds in ancient screened-in cabins, perfect for star gazing as you fall asleep, and we spend mornings sitting around the campfire, looking out over the beautiful Canadian wilderness. Sounds magical, right? To me, it’s heaven. In fact, we’ll be heading to Rickey Island in just over a month. Can’t wait.

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My favorite spot while camping last weekend, right by the water.

In addition to our trips to Rickey Island, Matt and I always find time to do a little camping on our own. We’ve hiked to camp, we’ve canoed to camp, and we’ve car-camped. Car camping is my personal favorite, because you can take more stuff and leave the food and valuables in the car. It just makes it a little more relaxing and a little easier, ideal for a short weekend camping trip. And that’s exactly what we did last weekend. Matt and I joined some of his University of Vermont friends and had a wonderful 36 hours hiking and chilling on the water. This campsite, called Black Bear Campground, was totally awesome. One of my favorite campgrounds so far. It’s located in Phoenicia, a small town near Woodstock, New York. There were beautiful hiking trails, a wide, flowing creek running along the edge of each campsite, and a couple resident black bears. Yes, we saw a black bear and her cub at Black Bear Campground. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? (I hope everyone picked up on that song reference). After our morning hike, I spent most of Saturday on a chair overlooking the creek with a beer in my hand. It was just lovely. I even saw a group of fly fishers waddle through and one of them caught a fish right in front of me! So cool.Whole Food Camping Menu.jpg

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View from our campsite. You can see the fly fishers!

Anyway, being a whole foodie and cooking addict means that I’m not bringing just any old food supply. One of my favorite activities while camping is the food part! I like planning it, executing it, and most importantly, eating it. So what does a vegetarian whole-foodie bring camping that will satisfy both her and her carnivore boyfriend? Well that’s what this post is all about! Four meals and a few snacks that blend together the essential elements of camping food…simple, fun and satisfying. I’ve even included packing tips and essential utensils, to make prep even easier.

 

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Matt and I didn’t arrive at the campsite until 11pm on Friday night, so we didn’t need to worry about Friday night dinner (we ordered pizza while packing up at home). Then for lunch on Sunday we headed to Woodstock for a sit down lunch. Basically this meal-plan covers all the food we needed for all of Saturday and Sunday morning (essentially one full day of camping, plus an extra breakfast before hitting the road on the second day). Use this as a guide and fill it in how you see fit…that could mean an extra dinner and lunch or maybe s’mores supplies for a classic camping dessert by the fire.

Hummus Sandwich

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I hope my tips, tricks and pics inspire you to get outdoors, take advantage of summer and get a quick camping trip like ours on the calendar. Camping Shopping ListPrep at Home

For Two Egg & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwiches and Home Fries

Cut potatoes and half the onion into a medium dice. Toss with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a thin layer of olive oil to a skillet. Add potatoes and cook over camping stove or fire pit, stirring often to prevent burning. Honestly, ours got super crispy and a bit black/burned on the bottom but they still were amazing! You could also try cooking the potatoes in a foil packet over the camp fire. We didn’t want to start a fire because we were leaving after breakfast to hike, we used a camping pan and a portable flame.

Peel and slice 2 hard boiled eggs. Slice 2 ounces cheddar cheese. Use egg and cheese slices to make sandwiches on the English muffins. Season egg slices with cheese. You can griddle the sandwiches in a skillet/pan over a portable stove top or over a fire pit. Or wrap the sandwiches in foil and heat over the fire. Always be extra careful about burning food while camping, it happens easily.

For Two Hummus Sandwiches

Spread about 1/4 cup of hummus onto 2 slices of bread. Top each slice with 1-2 ounces crumbled feta and the reserved roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts. Top each sandwich with a second slice of bread. Serve with all-natural potato chips.

For Eggplant Burgers and Chopped Salad

Slice eggplant width-wise into 1/2 slices. Sprinkle each slice with salt, allow to sit for 15-30 minutes to let the salt draw out the bitter liquid. Brush each side of each slice with olive oil. Season with pepper. Grill slices on a grate over the fire pit until soft and tender. On a BBQ it takes 3-5 minutes preside, over a fire pit the time will vary depending on the fire. When slices are almost cooked, top with 1 ounce slices fresh mozzarella cheese and allow to melt. Slice tomato. Stuff buns with 1 or 2 eggplant slices, a slice of tomato (seasoned with salt), and basil leaves (or a hefty seasoning of dried basil).

Dump mason jar filled with salad into a large bowl and toss. Serve with burgers.

I also bought a 1/3 lb beef patty for Matt. We grilled it with the eggplant and he topped his burger with both the patty and an eggplant slice.

For Almond Butter & Banana Sandwiches

Spread about 2 tablespoons of Almond Butter onto each of two slices bread. Drizzle with honey or agave (a little goes a long way. Slices bananas and layer over almond butter. Each open faced or top with another slice of bread. I prefer open face (less bread).

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The view of Phoenicia, New York while hiking.

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

Vegan Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls

Vegan Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Ingredients

2 pounds Eggplant
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Sea Salt*
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

To Make

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