Vegan Pizza Potato Skins with Roasted Broccoli

Vegan Pizza Potato Skins with Roasted Broccoli

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It’s still March Madness, which means I have another perfect game-day appetizer to share. This recipe was inspired by a meal I cooked for a client following the Whole30 diet. If you don’t know the rules of Whole30, it’s pretty much clean eating, with no grains, dairy or beans, and a focus on produce and high-quality meats and poultry. This diet plan is almost impossible for a vegetarian like me (no grains, dairy or beans? I definitely cannot sustain that). However, for a meat-eater, this is an amazing option to both lose weight and to transition into a clean eating lifestyle.

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Given the rules, this recipe fits into the Whole30 regimen. Baked potato skins, an easy tomato sauce, homemade cashew cream and broccoli florets are all acceptable foods on Whole30. For my client, who eats meat, I added crumbled and cooked italian sausage, but for me, roasted broccoli is the perfect meat-free topping. This recipe is a clean, whole and delicious appetizer or main dish, and it not only pleases Whole30 peeps, but also satisfies vegans, vegetarians and gluten-freers too. Before getting to the recipe, check out my breakdown of the top health-supportive elements in this dish, and then head to the kitchen to whip up this healthy, satisfying and delicious dish.

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Potatoes are sometimes looked down upon because they’re “carby”, but potatoes are actually a super healthy food containing substantial amounts of fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, iron, niacin, thiamin, b-6 vitamins and vitamin-c. Vitamin b-6 helps with a variety of essential bodily functions such as immunity, mood, digestion, metabolism, energy production and brain function. Added bonus, b vitamins are known for their healthy skin and hair benefits. Iron, which is highly concentrated in the potato’s skin, is known for providing energy and supporting the immune system. Vitamin-c is also important here because it allows the body to absorb and utilize the iron found in plant-based food like potatoes.

Cashews, like other nuts, provide protein and healthy unsaturated fats, which help to fight high cholesterol. Additionally, cashew cream adds dairy-free richness and makes plant-based meals super satisfying. Because they are a softer nut, cashews and water easily transform into a smooth, creamy sauce without needing an expensive high-power blender (like a Vitamix).

Tomatoes, like in my quick tomato sauce, are a great source of antioxidants such as lycopene. Lycopene is associated with bone strength, fighting certain types of cancer and protecting against a variety of toxins and pesticides commonly found in modern foods. Tomatoes are also high in other nutrients like vitamin-c, vitamin-k and biotin, to name just a few. Vitamin C, as I mentioned earlier, allows for plant-based sources of iron to be absorbed by the body (very important for vegetarians like me). And biotin (vitamin b-7) is commonly associated with healthy skin, hair and nails. Additionally, because tomatoes are low on the glycemic index scale, they are helpful in regulating blood sugar levels.

Vegan Pizza Potato Skins with Roasted Broccoli

Serves: 3-4 (entree), 6-8 (appetizer)    Start to Finish: 1 hr 30 min
Ingredients
For Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce
1 cup cashews
1/2 head (5 cloves) garlic, intact
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
3/4 cup water
For Baked Potato Skins
4 medium size potatoes (I like waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing
sea salt, fine grain
For Red Sauce
1/2 yellow onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can organic diced tomatoes (no-salt variety preferred)
1/2 cup water
For Roasted Broccoli Topping**
1 small head broccoli, cut into small florets
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain

** you can add any desired pizza toppings to these easy potato skins… try crumbled sausage, shredded chicken, roasted veggies, diced onions, red bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, fresh herbs or leafy greens

To Make


In a medium bowl, soak cashews in 4 cups water for 2-4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).

Prepare garlic for roasting. Slice the half head of garlic width wise, 1/4 inch from the root. place in the middle of a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt on cut edges. Hold garlic back into place and wrap in foil. Place directly on oven rack. Roast for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown and super soft. When cool enough to handle, pop cloves from skin. Discard skin, set cloves aside.

Prepare potatoes. Note that the potatoes and garlic have similar cooking times so they should go into the oven together. Using a fork, poke each potato 4 times, twice on each side. Rub potatoes with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Place directly onto oven rack. Bake for 50-60 minutes, just as skin begins to pull away and flesh is very tender.

While potatoes and garlic cook, make red sauce. Chop garlic and onions. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sweat for 3-4 minutes. Add oregano, thyme, fennel seed and black pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup water and an additional 3/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer until thickened, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

While the sauce simmers, cut broccoli into small florets. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake in 400 degree (F) oven for 10-15 minutes, or until edges are beginning to turn dark and crispy.

Remove potatoes from oven. When cool enough to handle, cut each potato in half length-wise. Scoop the flesh of the potatoes out using a spoon, keeping 1/4″-1/2″ of flesh attached to skin. Save the insides for another recipe (like gnocchi or tater tots). Brush potato boats with olive oil, season with sea salt and return to oven for 5-10 minutes.

Make cashew “cheese” sauce. Drain and rinse cashews. In a food processor or high powered blender, add soaked cashews, roasted garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth and creamy. This takes 3-6 minutes depending on blender strength.

Assemble the potato skins. Divide red sauce evenly amongst the 8 potato skins. Add 2-3 tablespoons of vegan cashew cheese sauce to each potato boat. Top with roasted broccoli florets. Bake for 10 minutes in 400 degree (F) oven or until warmed through.

Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza

Best of Basic: Vegan Veggie Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Make

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

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

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

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

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

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Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza

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Pizza in the summer? Give me homemade tomato sauce, creamy fresh mozz, and homegrown basil. Pizza in the fall? Different story.

Getting creative with pizza is one of my favorite activities in the whole wide world. We make pizza dough on the reg, but truth be told, most of our pizzas are on the traditional side. You know, red sauce base, mushrooms, spinach, roasted red pepper, Italian cheeses, etc. So I decided to mix it up a little bit. And I’m so glad I did, because Matt deemed this creation one of my best recipes ever. Yep, that’s right. Best. Ever.

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It all started with a little get together we decided to have this past Friday. Whenever we have people over, I always make some kind of a food spread. This is for two reasons. First is that it gives me a chance to experiment in the kitchen and cook for my friends on a small scale. Second is that a couple noshes at a party, even if it’s supposed to be just drinks, always makes for a more welcoming and comforting environment. And I’m all about creating a warm and welcoming vibe in my home, even if only for just me and Matt to enjoy.

So we decided to have a get together. I made roasted red pepper hummus and pita crisps, because I had all the ingredients on hand and because who doesn’t love hummus? Additionally, I decided to make a pizza of some kind. Why pizza? I think pizza is a winning appetizer. Cut into squares instead of slices, pizza is an easy and fun finger food that just about everyone can enjoy. I use our easy pizza dough recipe (get it here), but don’t hesitate to use store-bought, refrigerated crust for an even easier result!

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Now, I didn’t want to do anything traditional or standard here. I really wanted to use this opportunity to bring autumn flavors into the mix. Not surprisingly, butternut squash quickly came to mind. From there, the rest of the ingredients easily fell into place. Garlic oil as the base, caramelized onions for some richness and goat cheese for some tang. Perfection.

The different ingredients in this pizza require some prep time, it takes a bit longer than pizza sauce and mozzarella. But everything comes together in about an hour. Start with the slow process of caramelizing the onions and you have a pocket of time to work on getting the squash into the oven. While the squash bakes, prep the cheeses and make the garlic oil. Everything falls together perfectly in the end. Flavor, depth, richness? Gang’s all here.

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There are enough ingredients here to make two medium-large pizzas. Although calorie-wise one pizza feeds about 3 people, I always allow one pizza for every two people. That’s because Matt, my family and I eat more than normal people. And also because you always want too much food rather than not enough. This is also a good opportunity to plan ahead and double up. Roast two squashes and four onions, freeze the extra, and you can have this pizza super quick and easy next time. I’m definitely wishing I had thought ahead like that. Ugh.

This is a delicious and unique combination of toppings for a pizza, but trust me when I say, it just works. You’ve just gotta give it a try. I like it so much that if I ever have a restaurant, this will be a seasonal pizza on the menu, that’s for sure.

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza
Serves: 4-5 (10-12 appetizer servings)   Start to Finish: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 balls Pizza Dough, get my recipe here
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and seeds/pulp removed, cut into a small/medium dice
Olive Oil
Sea Salt, fine grain
Black Pepper
2 Yellow Onions, peeled and cut into thin half moons
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
1.5 cups shredded Mozzarella (6-7 ounces)
1 cup crumbled Goat Cheese (5-6 ounces)
Cornmeal

To Make

Remove dough from fridge, if necessary. Allow to sit for at least an hour at room temperature

Preheat oven to 425 degrees for roasting squash.

First step, start caramelizing onions. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. I used coconut oil but olive oil works too. Add onion slices to pan. Season with salt (2 good size pinches). Allow Onions to slowly cook, tossing occasionally. Keep adding water when pan becomes dry, 2 tablespoons at a time. This should take about 40 minutes. When finished, transfer to small bowl or ramekin.

While onions caramelize, peel and prep Butternut Squash. Toss squash cubes with salt (I used about 1 teaspoon), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon), and 1.5 tablespoons Olive Oil. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast for 15- 20 minutes. Toss. Roast for an additional 15 minutes, until some edges are golden brown.

Meanwhile, make garlic oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 cloves minced garlic over medium heat. When the garlic begins to turn golden, remove from heat and transfer to a ramekin or small bowl.

Grate and crumble cheeses. Press dough balls out to make 2 pizza crusts. Transfer crusts to a peel or pan that’s been dusted with cornmeal. When squash, onions and garlic oil are complete, began assembling pizzas for baking.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Brush about 1 tablespoon of garlic oil onto crusts, including the outer edge. Sprinkle cooked garlic bits evenly over both pizzas. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella. Add about 3/4 cup Roasted Squash cubes over each pizza. Distribute onions evenly over each pizza. Top each pizza with 1/2 cup Goat Cheese. Sprinkle each pizza with remaining mozzarella.

Bake pizzas on pizza stones or on pans for 8-10 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Roasted Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

Roasted Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Ingredients

1 15-16 oz package refrigerated Pizza Dough, I used whole wheat*
1 Eggplant, about 1.5 pounds
Sea Salt
Olive Oil
Cornmeal
1 cup Marinara or Pizza Sauce
6 ounces Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Garlic Powder, optional

To Make

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)

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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Cheap & Easy: Eggplant Parm Melts

Cheap & Easy: Eggplant Parm Melts

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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.

DSC_0173I 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.

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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.

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Cheap & Easy Eggplant Parm Melts
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients
1 Italian Eggplant, about a pound
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt
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

To Make

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).

Best of Basic: Quick Pizza Dough

Best of Basic: Quick Pizza Dough

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In my world, Sundays are usually spent in the kitchen, whether prepping lunches for the week ahead or experimenting with recipes old and new. Surprisingly, we didn’t have anything planned come this past Sunday morning, and due to the physical aftermath of Saturday night’s Christmas party and really wanting to avoid a trip to the grocery store, Matt came up with the idea to make homemade pizza crust topped with only ingredients we already had. Continue reading “Best of Basic: Quick Pizza Dough”

Traveling Foodie: Summertime in Chicago

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Chicago over 4th of July weekend was a huge success filled with lots of activity and even more food. I’ve been to Chicago plenty of times being that I grew up not too far away in St. Louis, but this was Matt’s first time so that gave us an excuse to be unapologetically touristy for the weekend. While our days were filled to the brim, there are a few highlights that are worth a try in my opinion….

1. Batter and Berries – This popular Lincoln Park breakfast and brunch gem is an absolute must if you can manage it. Warned that there would be a wait, we arrived at 8:50am and only waited about 25 minutes for our table, but within 10 minutes of our arrival the wait was much longer. The decor is sunny and cheery, the staff is beyond friendly, and the food is homemade deliciousness.

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Famous for their Super Flight French Toast, we immediately knew we had to try it. The Super Flight includes a half slice of all four of their french toast flavors plus a half slice of the rotating special french toast. My favorite was the Cherry Pie special variety but Caramel Pecan was a close second.

Our second entree to split was another special, the Lobster and Shrimp Cake Benedict, which was served with freshly grated cheesy hash-browns. This dish was nothing short of amazing. Good start to the weekend, right?

2. Chicago Architecture River Cruise – From Batter and Berries we hopped on our Divy Bikes (Chicago’s shared bike program, just $7 per day and a great way to get around when it’s nice out) and headed downtown to our Architecture Tour. This tour is absolutely worth the time and the money (about $50 per person after taxes). Our volunteer tour guide was knowledgeable and charismatic and the weather was perfect, so we really lucked out. But no matter what, the buildings and stories behind them are fascinating. We could even see the tents of die-hard Grateful Dead fans hidden on the river’s edge. The tour is a quick 90 minutes. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early and get in line to secure good seats and drinks at the full bar with time to spare.

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“Dead Heads” camping along the river. Chicago hosted the Grateful Dead’s final shows ever over the weekend.

3. Green City Market in Lincoln Park – On Saturday morning Matt, my friend Karen, and I had a lovely time walking through the Lincoln Park farmer’s market. There were samples galore of everything from fresh tofu, cheese, pancakes, pickled vegetables, and hot sauces. Along with fresh produce, flowers, and goods, there were also several food stands. We opted for the freshly made mozzarella sticks from Zullo’s, which were the best I’ve ever had. Before walking around we grabbed coffee from Elaine’s at Hotel Lincoln, right across from the market on Clark. It was fab and just what we needed.

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4. Lou Malnati’s – If there was one meal I was going to share with Matt while in Chicago, it was deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s. It’s just so good. We chose the Old Town Location which is a combination of lively sports bar and crowded pizza joint. The house salad (salami on the side) was delish, and The Lou deep dish pizza (spinach mix, mushrooms, and tomatoes) was perfectly cheesy and flavorful. Not much more to say about this place, it’s just freakin’ good.

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What a fabulous weekend in Chicago this was. We cannot wait to go back and try some more!