Quinoa Grain Salad with Fresh Dill & Goat Cheese

Quinoa Grain Salad with Fresh Dill & Goat Cheese

One thing that makes me feel totally on top of life is having a grain-based salad in the fridge for convenient and healthful eating. Unlike lettuce based salads, grain salads get better with time, so they’re perfect as make-ahead meals or for leftover lunches.

The ingredients in this particular quinoa salad are simple but come together perfectly to create a symphony of flavor and texture. Roasted tomatoes, bell pepper and asparagus give this salad richness and depth of flavor. And all three pair perfectly with one of my all time favorite ingredients – creamy, tangy goat cheese. Finally, white onion, chopped dill and lemon juice add freshness and zip. The ingredient list is short but thoughtful, making this salad quick, simple, nourishing and absolutely delicious.

This is a great side dish for simply prepared proteins like chicken, steak or fish. As a vegetarian, I would pair it with roasted cauliflower “steaks” or organic pan-fried tofu. But I usually eat salads like this as the main dish paired with all-natural toasted bread (rubbed with olive oil and maybe some garlic) plus something saucy like hummus or tzatziki. In the words of Ina Garten, how easy is that?

Quinoa Grain Salad with Fresh Dill & Goat Cheese
Serves:
2-3 as a main dish, 4-5 as a side dish Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, each stem cut into thirds
1 pint cherry tomatoes, any color
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, fine grain
1 cup dry quinoa
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (approx. 4-5 sprigs)
1/2 cup minced white onion
3 ounces goat cheese

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep vegetables.

Toss red bell pepper strips, asparagus and tomatoes with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes, tossing once half way through. I use a rimmed baking sheet to conserve the tomato juices.

While veggies roast, cook quinoa according to package instructions. My standard method…combine 1 cup dry quinoa with 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a small sauce pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 13 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for at least 5-10 minutes.

Toss cooked quinoa and roasted vegetables (including any juices) with lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, dill, onion and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Allow to cool to room temperature. Crumble cold goat cheese into quinoa mixture and toss to evenly distribute. Season with lemon juice and salt to taste. Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

*make it a meal – round out this yummy quinoa salad with some tzatziki sauce (either store-bought or homemade) and some all-natural toasted bread drizzled with olive oil

How to Eat Clean when Dining Out

How to Eat Clean when Dining Out

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Dining out, whether trying a new restaurant or returning to a favorite restaurant, has always been one of my favorite past times. Not only do I love enjoying the culinary creations of others and finding inspiration for my own cooking, but it’s also one of my favorite ways to socialize. Since transitioning to an entirely clean eating lifestyle, I make the majority of my meals myself and I love it. When cooking meals myself I have full control over ingredient quality and I can make each dish exactly the way I like it. However, giving up on restaurants entirely is unrealistic when you love eating out as much as I do. So when I do go out, I follow a few simple rules to ensure that I’m feeding my body nourishing and clean foods. Some might say this is taking it too far. But a clean eating lifestyle is a commitment, and quite honestly, in order to reap the rewards of clean eating, it’s essential to adhere to it 90% of the time. So for clean eaters who enjoy the restaurant scene, here is my quick guide to clean eating when dining out.

1. When choosing a restaurant, be choosy.

When it comes to clean and healthy eating at restaurants, the most important decision is the restaurant itself. So do a little research and be picky! When I have a restaurant in mind, my first step is to visit their website to take a look at their homepage, their “about” page, and their menu. A restaurant that highlights their commitment to fresh, seasonal, local, organic and/or house-made food is my first indication that this is a good restaurant for clean eaters. Added bonus? Diet-restriction-friendly restaurants that offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options shows me that this establishment cares about the wants and needs of customers. If a restaurant passes these tests, I can be confident that it’s a restaurant I want to support.

Additionally, the overall professionalism of a restaurant can also be an indication of a quality establishment. I’m not saying that every great restaurant has a great website, and I’m not saying that every restaurant with a good website is good. But if a restaurant uses their time and resources to build an appealing and informative website, it tells me that the restaurant pays attention to detail and understands the needs of customers. It just makes sense that they would put the same amount of thought and attention to detail into their food.

The point is, sometimes the website or menu doesn’t explicitly state a restaurant’s commitment to quality and freshness. But I’ve found that a visually appealing and user friendly website, unique and creative menu items and lots of plant-based ingredients usually mean that you’ll be able to find something clean, high quality and healthy there.

2. Step away from the bread (tortilla, bun, muffin, etc).

Unless a restaurant prides itself on its made-from-scratch bread, or is partnered with a local bakery that provides it, I stay away from menu items that include bread. Why? Because if a bread isn’t fresh, it means that the restaurant is likely using a shelf-stable, mass produced, packaged bread. And if that’s the case, I can only imagine that it would be a highly processed, cheap variety with loads of preservatives and artificial ingredients. And that’s pretty much a clean eater’s nightmare. Now, if you’re a carb junkie, look for pizza restaurants that make their own dough, Mexican restaurants with homemade corn tortillas, Mediterranean restaurants that make their own pita breads or sandwich shops that purchase their bread from a high quality, local bakery. Or look for menu items that utilize whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and millet. If you won’t miss the carbs, many restaurants offer bread-free versions of their menu items, like a lettuce wrap instead of a tortilla or bed of greens in place of a bun. If not, ask for it. I assure you that I am rarely turned down when I make a request like that.

3. Veg out.

I’m a vegetarian, so this isn’t a difficult rule for me to follow. But menu items that include an abundance of produce will likely be naturally cleaner, lower in calories, lower in fat and higher in nutrients. Because restaurant meals are more often larger and richer than versions you would make at home, choosing a dish at a restaurant with loads of vegetables and legumes evens the scales a bit. Entree salads, vegetable- or bean-based soups, veggie burgers, and items with a vegetable filling/topping option (like in a taco or on a pizza) will fill you up with fiber and antioxidant-rich, nutritious ingredients rather than excessive portions of meat. What’s wrong with meat? If it’s moderate portions of grass-fed beef or organic, free-range chicken, then not much is wrong with eating it. But if the quality of meat/poultry isn’t emphasized by a restaurant, it most likely means that it’s coming from a factory farm. What’s wrong with a factory farm? Just Google it, it’s not pretty.

4. Ask questions, make changes.

The restaurant staff is there to make you satisfied and a good employee will be happy to help you out. Remember, you are the customer! Within reason and respectfully, of course, asking for adjustments to menu items and asking for more details on certain items is totally fine. Particularly if the adjustments and questions are making you a healthier person, because what’s more important than that?

Side note (it’s the chef in me, sorry!) – A menu that clearly states “no substitutions” means no substitutions, so it’s best to respect that. Also, when making adjustments, always make your requests straightforward and easy, which is another reason to check out the menu beforehand – if the only way you can order something is by changing a million things about it, it’s probably not a good restaurant for you or for clean eating in general.

Wrap Up & Example

To bring this all full circle, I’ll walk you through my most recent restaurant experience…

1. Choosing the restaurant.

Park Luncheonette is a restaurant near my Brooklyn apartment that we’ve been wanting to try because it’s always packed (good sign).

The website is super attractive and user friendly. Although there is no “about page” that indicates their philosophy on food quality, their menu was enough for me to want to give this place a try. Unique ingredients such as “strawberry-rhubarb puree” and “dill citrus feta” tell me that they’re taking the time to elevate their menu items. A veggie burger option, “house” granola, and a wide variety of plant-based ingredients let me know that this place was clean-eater friendly.

* Park Luncheonette has since closed its doors… new example coming soon

2. Choosing my order.

I knew I wanted to try the veggie burger because it’s made with beets (a fave super food of mine) and quinoa (a whole grain and complete protein). I thought about asking for avocado instead of the feta to make this a vegan meal, but the dill citrus feta sounded too interesting not to try. I did, however, switch out the sesame seed bun for the house-made focaccia bread. And I made the sandwich open-faced by removing the top piece of focaccia. This made my meal lighter and less carby, which is not necessary when clean eating, but definitely more figure friendly. I also ordered their fresh squeezed orange juice to go along with the meal for a boost of vitamins and hydration. And although I opted for the house-made herb fries instead of the salad, I only ate half of them (scout’s honor), and overall felt really great about my meal. Lots of produce? Check. Whole grains? Check. Fresh, homemade bread? Check. Nothing artificial? Check.

I hope this helps with your next restaurant outing. Let me know if you have questions or comments below.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Vegan Falafel Pitas with Roasted Beets, Pickled Onions & Lemon-Tahini Sauce

Vegan Falafel Pitas with Roasted Beets, Pickled Onions & Lemon-Tahini Sauce

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Hi, friends! And happy March!

I don’t know about you, but this warm winter weather is rubbing me the wrong way. It feels totally gross to be outside in New York in February without a jacket. While most seem to be loving it, I’m not loving it at all. It’s too unnatural for me. So, I’m heading to Florida, where I can actually enjoy the sun and warmth without thinking about this far-out idea called “climate change.”

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Ok ok, that’s not why I’m on a plane to Florida right now. I’m actually meeting my mom for a long weekend, just the two of us. I cannot wait for these five days of fun-in-the-sun with mama, and this trip couldn’t come at a better time either. As of this week, I am officially finished with culinary school, including my 100-hour internship. Soon ow it’s time to figure out my life and my future career, and to start making some serious moves. Oh gawd. I think a mini-vacation to both celebrate and recharge is exactly what I need.

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Due to lack of routine, blogging my recipes has been inconsistent at best. But honestly, I think part of this inconsistency is due to not knowing what to say, or not yet being brace enough to admit that I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I mean, I’m at a totally transitional place in my life and writing about it forces me to think about and confront this fact. It makes perfect sense that this avoidance is an indication of my fear of the unknown and my lack of control at this point in time, and I would feel ingenuous if I were to write a post without mentioning the most important events and emotions taking place in my life right now.

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But at last I realized that if I wanted to share this deliciously awesome falafel sandwich with roasted beets and quick pickled onions, and get on with my life, then I have no choice but to swallow my pride and own up to my feelings. So yes, I feel scared that I won’t live up to my expectations, pressured to start making it happen immediately, and nervous that I’ll make a wrong move or won’t find what I’m looking for. Phew! I must say, I feel better.

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Now that I got that out of the way, I can get to the star of today’s post. This falafel sandwich has been on my blogging to-do list for a couple weeks now. Falafel sandwiches, and falafel in general, are a serious comfort food for me. Just like pizza and burritos, a falafel sandwich is a flavorful and satisfying dish that never fails to make me happy. This falafel sandwich is also homemade with clean and wholesome ingredients, making it a healthy and nourishing meal where fresh flat bread encases my baked falafel patties, sweet roasted beets, tangy pickled onions and a creamy tahini sauce. From the layer of flavors and textures, to the bounty of nutrients, fiber and protein, there’s just so much to love. If you don’t consider falafel a comfort food now, maybe you will when you give this recipe a shot.

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[scene change]

I made it to Florida!

I’m exhausted and totally high on ocean breeze, so I guess I should call it a night and get this recipe for falafel-awesomeness posted already, right? Right.

Loaded Falafel Pita Sandwiches
Serves: 4     Start to Finish: 1.5 hours

Ingredients

For Roasted Beets
2 beets, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain

For Pickled Red Onion
1/3 cup water, room temp or slightly warmer
2 teaspoons agave (or other sweetener)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

For Falafel
1 cup dry garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), soaked overnight or up to 24-hours
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (+ more for pan frying)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tbs tightly packed parsley leaves, chopped

For Lemon-Tahini Sauce
1/3 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For Sandwich Assembly
4 pitas, store-bought or homemade (I used Half Baked Harvest’s recipe)
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce

To Make

Make roasted beets. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss peeled beets with oil and salt. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until super tender (poke with a knife, no resistance), 45-65 minutes.

Make pickled red onions. In a glass jar (large enough to hold 16 ounces), combine water, agave and salt. Stir or shake (lid on), until salt is dissolved. Add vinegar and mix once more.  Add onion slices to jar with liquid and push down until all onions are submerged. If they are not all submerged, they will wilt down a bit, simply toss onions periodically until they are fully submerged. Allow onions to sit refrigerated for at least 45 minutes.

Make falafel patties. Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until a smooth mixture is formed (it should still have a visibly grainy texture). Form the batter into 12 patties. The batter will be very wet, but should still form into patties easily.

On a griddle pan or in a frying pan (cast iron recommended), heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium-low heat. Fry patties for 5 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. Cook patties in batches if needed, replacing oil between batches. Finish by cooking patties in the oven for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, covered in foil.

Make lemon-tahini sauce. Mix together all sauce ingredients until smooth and creamy.

When all components are finished, make sandwiches. Into each pita, wrap 3 falafel patties, 1/4 of the roasted beets, a thin layer of pickled onions, a bit of lettuce and 2-3 tablespoons sauce.

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

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It’s Day 3 of my “debloat and recharge detox” and I’m feeling good and staying motivated. My detoxes are easy in that I’m not seriously reducing calories or only eating cabbage soup. It’s more about portion controlling, loading up on veggies and fruits (even more than usual) and reducing excess fat, sugar and carbs. Because I pretty much always stick to high quality and whole ingredients, it’s mostly about portion controlling and some calorie counting.

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I’m not big on calorie counting for a couple reasons. First is because I’ve spent so much time calorie counting throughout the years that I have a pretty good sense of roughly how many calories are in most foods, allowing me to be unconsciously aware of how much I’m eating. I also don’t like counting calories because I think it can take the fun out of eating a cooking. And lastly, I don’t like counting calories because I find it to be misleading in terms of choosing an unhealthy food over a healthy food just because they are equal in calories. With that said, when trying to trim down and debloat, I’ve found that it happens much faster if you’re staying within a low-to-moderate calorie range. So when detoxing I stay within a 1,500-1,900 calorie range, typically shooting for around 1,600. Obviously this varies by person, but I’ve found this to be a sustainable, satisfying and effective range for myself.

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So the question is, what kinds of delicious and healthy foods do I eat during my detox regimens. Today I’m sharing my recipe for a super tasty pita pocket sandwich that clocks in at about 445 calories. I made these for both Matt and I to bring to work on Monday, and I kid you not, Matt actually called this sandwich one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Matt is the ultimate meat-eater-man so for him to say something so light and healthy is also super yummy means a lot.

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These pita sandwiches are a super simple combination of homemade white bean spread, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh baby spinach, all stuffed into a Demascus Bakery Whole Wheat Pita Pocket. I buy these pitas at Whole Foods and I like them because they are all-natural, made with only pronounceable ingredients, and cost just $1.50 for a pack of four. When I discovered these pitas, my commitment to a whole-foodie life got so much easier.

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For the white bean spread, I use my Lemony White Bean Dip recipe which is a must-try (it’s what Matt liked best about these sandwiches). But, for simplicity’s sake, an all-natural store-bough bean dip or hummus will work too. My Garlicky Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and some fresh spinach finish off the sandwich, adding depth, flavor and nutrients. And there you have it, a detox lunch that is transportable, satisfying, and one of the best things you’ll ever eat (according to Matt, that is).

Roasted Tomato and Lemony White Bean Spread Pita Sandwiches
Serves: 2    Start to Finish: 45 minutes   Calories: 450 per serving

Ingredients

1/2 batch Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (get my recipe here)
1 14-ounce can Organic Canellini Beans
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Lemon
2 cloves Garlic, crushed, peeled and roughly chopped
4-6 fresh Basil Leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pure Tahini (ground sesame seeds)
1/2 teaspoon Dried Basil
1/2-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
10-15 fresh Baby Spinach Leaves (I like using Organic Girl brand greens)
2 all-natural Whole Wheat Pita Pockets (I like Damascus Bakery brand, available at Whole Foods)

To Make

First, get the cherry tomatoes in the oven (get my recipe here). While the tomatoes roast, make the white bean spread.

For the white bean spread, reserve a 1/4 cup of the white bean liquid, then drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel 3-4 pieces of zest from the lemon (about 1/2 the lemon). Roughly chop them up. Add oil, garlic and lemon peel to a small skillet (the smallest you have). Turn on heat to medium-low. After 2-3 minutes, add basil leaves. Cook for 2 minutes.

Into a food processor, add beans, infused oil mixture (including zest garlic and basil), tahini, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, dried basil, and reserved bean liquid. Pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added 1/2 tsp pepper and 3/4 tsp salt). Pulse until smooth.

When tomatoes are finished, allow to cool. Assemble sandwiches by cutting each pita in half and gently pulling open the pocket of each half. Spread 1/4 cup of white bean spread into each half. Evenly divided cherry tomatoes and spinach leave between pockets.

*if using store bough bean spread or hummus, you’ll need 1 cup for 2 sandwiches (4 half sandwiches)

**if possible, make tomatoes and bean spread in advance and refrigerate. This allows the flavors to fully incorporate and develop.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers

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Greetings from Florida! I can’t even begin to express how nice it is to be totally checked out of reality for the week. No work, no hustle and bustle, no mass transit. It’s just sun, sand, and relaxation here in Boca Grande, Florida. I’ve been coming to Boca Grande since I was a tot. It’s so nice to be somewhere so familiar, yet so far from my normal day to day life. Continue reading “Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers”

Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

Tortillas Main

I try really hard to eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible. And if I do purchase packaged foods, I like them to be made with only recognizable ingredients. For example, pasta isn’t difficult to buy prepackaged because it’s easy to find organic pasta made with only 100% whole wheat flour and water. But I love carbs and I don’t stop at pasta. Sandwiches, pizza, bagels, and burritos are also very important to me. So what’s a girl to do? The answer is simple. I just have to make my own doughs. Continue reading “Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas”

Creamy Tarragon Chickpea Salad

Creamy Tarragon Chickpea Salad

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I was lucky enough to spend this past Labor Day weekend at home in St. Louis. My whole family, just like me, is totally food-obsessed, so whenever I go home, the trip is all about the food. Since becoming a vegetarian, my STL restaurant picks have changed a bit. Despite this, there are certain foods that I associate with my hometown and still get the taste for, one of them being the creamy chicken salad from a gourmet market near my house, piled high on soft wheat bread with fresh lettuce and tomato. I grew up eating this delicious salad all the time, and I absolutely loved it. Well, I obviously don’t eat meat, let alone chicken, anymore, but I was determined to make a vegetarian version of my favorite St. Louis chicken salad. So I decided to make a creamy chickpea salad for my family’s Labor Day brunch on Monday. This is a very easy recipe, flavored simply with fresh tarragon and made creamy by a mix of classic mayo and low-fat, plain Greek yogurt. My chickpea salad has the texture of the chicken salad I grew up eating, as well as the same flavor, but instead of chicken, I use partially mashed, protein-packed chickpeas. My meat-eating family loved my veggie friendly rendition, so I obviously had to share. This is a quick, no-cook, and absolutely delish recipe, great on its own, on a salad, on a sandwich, or in a wrap. I would even serve it on mini slider rolls at a casual, day-time party.

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Creamy Tarragon Chick[pea] Salad
Serves: 4   Calories per Serving: 315
    Start to Finish: 10 minutes

Ingredients
2 cans Chickpeas, drained and rinsed*
1/2 cup diced Celery (2 stalks)
3 tablespoons Mayonnaise
3 tablespoons 2% Plain Greek Yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Tarragon Leaves
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt, fine-grain
1/4 teaspoon White Pepper (black pepper works too)

To Make
Add half of the chickpeas to a medium bowl. Using a fork, mash the chickpeas until
none of the chickpeas are whole. Add the second half of the chickpeas 
to the bowl, and partially mash, leaving some of these whole. Add the 
rest of the ingredients to the chickpeas, toss to combine.

You can eat the salad immediately, or refrigerate to allow flavors to meld. 
My favorite way to eat this salad is piled onto whole-wheat bread with lettuce 
and tomato. You can also top fresh lettuce and veggies with the salad for a 
lower carb, gluten-free dish.
DSC_1072*I used a "no-salt-added" variety of chickpeas, reduce the amount of salt 
to 1/4 tsp if using already-salted chickpeas
**To make this dish even healthier, reduce the mayo by 1 TBS and add 
an additional tablespoon yogurt (reduces the fat by 2 grams and
reduces calories by about 20)