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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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).