Yesterday was a very big day for me. A day that marked the beginning of an end and also the start of a new chapter. You see, for the last five years, ever since graduating from college, I’ve worked in New York City for the same fashion company. More recently, I decided that fashion is not the field for me, and that I needed to make a switch to an industry more in line with my passions, ideals and values. So yesterday, I gave my boss notice that I wouldn’t be returning to Ralph Lauren come September, as I’ll be pursuing a career and a life dedicated to wholesome and healthy cooking and living.
Although I’ve known about this move for a bit, there’s something about saying it out loud, without hesitation, to everyone, even coworkers, that makes it feel real. I feel free and excited. I feel like I’m finally starting to find my way. My first step in this journey is to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, a nationally recognized culinary school focusing on healthful cooking. So I’m going back to school (amazing) and taking my life in a new direction. I seriously couldn’t be more thrilled.
In addition to the freedom to fully announce and embrace the next phase of my life, I also had a great day yesterday because of dinner. That sounds weird (or maybe it doesn’t if you love eating as much as I do), but hear me out. When deciding what to do for dinner last night, I had only one requirement. It had to be ready quick so Matt could eat before leaving for rec hockey (and so I could enjoy a night of relaxing and watching Bravo). I raced through Whole Foods, grabbing refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough, a big beautiful eggplant, a ball of fresh mozzarella and a jar of marinara, knowing that I could pull these ingredients together with little thought or effort.
As soon as I got home I sliced the eggplant and got it into the oven. Once finished, I piled on the sauce, roasted eggplant, mozz, and some finishing touches, and my roasted eggplant and fresh mozzarella pizza was ready for the oven.
After a long 10 minutes, I took it out and was seriously taken aback by how good it looked. My eyes darted to the balcony, and to my delight, I saw daylight, which means adequate food-photography lighting. On a night when a blog post was the last thing on my mind, the stars aligned and I accidentally came up with a delicious recipe and the pictures to go along with it. Awesome.
So here I am, everything seemingly falling into place; both my life and a delicious Eggplant Pizza post. I have no idea what the future holds, which is kind of scary. But, of course, that’s life; an ongoing series of ups, downs and unknowns. All I can really do is cherish the ups, learn from the downs and enjoy the whole ride, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.
Eggplant Parmesan Pizza
Serves: 2-3 Start to Finish: 45 minutes
1 15-16 oz package refrigerated Pizza Dough, I used whole wheat*
1 Eggplant, about 1.5 pounds
1 cup Marinara or Pizza Sauce
6 ounces Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Garlic Powder, optional
Remove dough from fridge, allow to sit at room temp for an hour or so.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Trim eggplant ends and slice width-wise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle each side of each slice with salt and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Dab off excess moisture and place in a single layer onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly coat each side of each slice with olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes, flipping once during cooking.
When the eggplant is about 10 minute from done, form dough into desired shape. Place onto pizza pan or baking sheet that’s been brushed with a little olive oil and dusted with cornmeal. I used a circular pizza pan this time for a thicker crust.
Top crust with an even layer of sauce. Slice mozzarella and cut into big bite size pieces. Remove eggplant from oven and turn the oven temp up to 500 degrees. Place the eggplant discs evenly over the sauce (I cut them in half to make placement easier). Top with mozzarella and grated parm.
Optional step: brush olive oil onto crust and season with sea salt and garlic powder.
Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is crisp and cheese is starting to brown.
*of course you can use homemade dough too, get my recipe here (use 1/2 batch)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
Moving is the worst. It doesn’t matter how exciting the prospect of a new home is, when it comes time to move, misery is the prevailing emotion. That’s how it is for me, at least. Also contributing to the misery is the fact that I need things to be perfectly organized and scheduled, and when it comes to moving, even the most meticulous planning will no doubt unravel. It’s exhausting, frustrating and overwhelming. Needless to say, the last two weeks of packing and moving and unpacking have been non stop crazy.
Im so happy to say that we’re all moved in, pretty much set up, and absolutely loving our new apartment in Williamsburg, a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of NYC. This is my 5th neighborhood since moving to New York in 2011, and I have a feeling it’s going to be my favorite. Although there is still a lot to do, I feel as though I can finally fall back into my usual routine and I couldn’t be more ready.
In honor of the move, I’m sharing a super simple, cheap and healthy dinner idea that came in handy during the moving process. I actually first made these delicious eggplant parm melts while in Florida a few weeks ago with my family. When trying to use up items in the fridge one afternoon, we used leftover grilled eggplant discs, fresh mozzarella cheese, jarred tomato sauce and my favorite Ezekiel English Muffins to make a light and simple lunch. I knew immediately that this would be a new go-to for us. Now let’s fast forward to the whole packing and moving process, when lack of time, saving money and staying healthy were all on my mind when coming up with dinner every night. My answer to these concerns on more than one occasion over the past couple weeks was to make these eggplant parm melts, and now I feel an almost emotional attachment to them.
I changed up the recipe slightly from Florida to be even more economical. I replaced fresh mozzarella with regular mozzarella and used the Whole Foods brand canned tomato sauce instead of a fancy jarred marinara. The beauty of this recipe is that you can really use whatever you have on hand, the brands you prefer, or items on sale at the moment. I do find that using a simple canned sauce tastes better with some simple seasoning action, like dried basil and garlic powder. I further add flavor with the technique of rubbing raw garlic onto the lightly toasted base English muffins before adding the toppings. This is optional but highly recommended.
Finally, I have a quick note about cooking eggplant, but then I’ll get to the recipe. Cooking eggplant is sometimes seen as intimidating, probably because so many recipes require removing some of the moisture with salt or soaking the eggplant in water before cooking. These steps are important to remove the slight bitterness inherent in eggplants. But never fear, eggplant is rather forgiving and these small steps before cooking take minimal effort. And sometimes, I ignore these pre-cooking steps completely. It’s not the end of the world, depending on the recipe.
When it comes to cooking the eggplant for this recipe, there are a few options. Using leftover grilled eggplant like I did in Florida, or grilling eggplant for this specific recipe, makes these melts insanely quick and easy, like under 30 minutes. But not everyone has a grill pan for the stovetop and grilling outside can often become a production. In this case, I recommend roasting the eggplant. Roasting the eggplant takes a little longer, but it’s really just as simple. Make dinner time even easier by roasting the eggplant in advance.
And without further ado, my simple recipe for Eggplant Parmesan Melts, perfect for those days you want an easy dinner that won’t blow your wallet or your diet.
Cheap & Easy Eggplant Parm Melts
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 45 minutes
1 Italian Eggplant, about a pound
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
4 English Muffins, split (I used Ezekiel Sprouted Grain English Muffins)
1 14-oz can Tomato Sauce (I used Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 ounces Part-Skim Mozzarella, shred while eggplant cooks (I used Whole Foods Brand)
1/4-1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (I used Whole Foods brand)
1 clove Garlic, kept whole and peeled, optional
Dried Basil, optional
Garlic Powder, optional
Trim ends of eggplant. Slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch discs. Season both sides of each disc with salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Use a clean towel to remove the excess moisture.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees to roast eggplant.
Spread eggplant slices out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush each side with olive oil and season with black pepper. Roast eggplant for 25-30 minutes, flipping once half way through cooking.
While eggplant cooks, brush each muffin half with olive oil. Lightly toast English muffins in a toaster oven or in broiler. Peel a clove of a garlic and cut in half. Rub the cut side over toasted English muffins (doing this gives a slight garlic flavor, this step is optional).
When eggplant is finished, assemble the melts. Top each muffin half with 2 spoonfuls of sauce. I like to season the sauce layer with salt, garlic powder and dried basil (optional). Top sauce with 1 or 2 slices of eggplant, depending on size of slice. Top eggplant with 1 or 2 more spoonfuls of sauce, 1 or 2 tablespoons mozzarella, and then 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.
Using a broiler or toaster oven, broil muffins until cheese is melted and golden brown. Season with salt and liberally sprinkle on some dried basil.
Serve with fresh fruit or simple salad.
*The baking method takes about 30 minutes. You could also grill the discs over medium-high heat, using an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan, for about 4 minutes per side (saves time).