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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

To Make

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

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

Assemble sandwiches. For each sandwich, layer like this…

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

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

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

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

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.

Best of Basic: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Best of Basic: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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Every so often, when I’m feeling a little sluggish, or feeling like I’ve been particularly indulgent lately, I like to reset my routine and get back on track. This detox, as I like to call it, could last for a couple days, or if I’m feeling super motivated, a few weeks. With summer just around the corner, I thought it a good idea to do a lengthy detox to kick off swimsuit season… lose the bloat, gain some energy, reset my metabolism and maybe even shed a few pounds. Sounds great, right? You might be thinking “no, that does not sound great”, but I honestly love my detoxes because not only do they make me feel amazing but they’re also quite fun and delicious, when you do it my way.

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Even when I’m detoxing, I refuse to sacrifice flavor or give up on my favorite foods entirely. I hate eating just for the sake of eating. I like to always enjoy and feel good about what I’m eating. So I find creative ways to make detoxing enjoyable. And these roasted cherry tomatoes are a great example of how I add flavor and interest in a light and healthy way. Roasted tomatoes are delicious in salads, on sandwiches, and in pasta, but are equally as yummy when used as a simple side dish to meat, tofu, or fish. I could seriously eat the entire batch in one sitting with only a spoon.

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Roasting tomatoes is super simple because I keep it very basic. There’s simply no need to make it implicated here. Just add a little bit of quality olive oil, some garlic, sea salt, and black pepper to the halved tomatoes, and then roast for 30-40 minutes. Perfection. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and makes them super soft and juicy. They are the perfect way to add moisture and intense flavor without adding excess fat or dairy.

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This batch of Roasted Cherry Tomatoes is for stuffing into pita pockets along with flavorful white bean dip and fresh spinach. This pita sandwich is simple, light, balanced, and will make a perfectly detox-friendly lunch this week. And don’t worry, my upcoming posts will focus on daily detox meal plans and recipes, including this delicious sandwich. Stay tuned!


Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 pints Cherry Tomatoes
4 cloves Garlic, crushed, peeled, roughly minced
1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt (plus more)
1/4 Black Pepper

To Make

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Combine tomatoes, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a medium size bowl. Spread out onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and toss, re-spreading tomatoes out into a single layer. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with an additional 1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt and toss. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

*for simplicity’s sake, I often roast the tomatoes whole and also leave out the garlic and black pepper – cooking time for uncut cherry tomatoes will be slightly longer – bake until most of the tomatoes have bursted and the skins are browning – these tomatoes are super delicious with just olive oil and salt