Vegetarian Sweet Potato Nachos with Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce

Vegetarian Sweet Potato Nachos with Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce

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Being a University of Wisconsin alum, I’m obviously beyond ecstatic that the Badgers beat defending champ, Villanova, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen round of March Madness. If you know me at all, you’d know that watching sports isn’t really my thing. That is unless it involves my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, the STL Blues or anything relating to UW-Madison. There’s one other exception, March Madness. Maybe it’s because I grew up glued to the TV during March Madness, thanks to my dad. Or maybe because I actually played A LOT of basketball in my early years, so I’m able to better relate to the games. No matter the reason, I love this classic tournament, especially when my alma mater surprises the nation and beats the #1 team in the second round.

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So, to go along with an amazing game and lots of excitement to come, I thought I’d share a healthy-ish twist on a classic sports bar appetizer – nachos. Instead of traditional tortilla chips, I’m using roasted rounds of sweet potato. Through roasting, the sweet potatoes become sturdy enough to hold all of the amazing toppings that get piled on. What toppings, you may be wondering? Well, there’s a decadent homemade cheese sauce spiked with fresh jalapeño, crisp romaine lettuce, refreshing yogurt and, last but not least, creamy guacamole. Doesn’t this all sound simply amazing?

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Yes, these nachos are still rich and indulgent. But, like everything else, I make all of my recipes as clean and health-supportive as possible, even if it’s a dish that’s not supposed be light or healthy. That’s why I call this version of nachos “healthy-ish”. Because I’ve made them as healthy as possible while still maintaining the crowd-pleasing, addictive, satisfying element. There are several health-supportive ingredients in this recipe. Check them out below. Then head down to the recipe, just in time for game day. Go Badgers!

Sweet Potatoes are a power house of nutrition. By replacing fried corn chips with sweet potatoes, this recipe gets a hefty dose of vitamin A, potassium and fiber, plus some vitamin B-6 and protein. Sweet potatoes are also a filling food, making these nachos substantial enough to become a satisfying and nourishing main dish.

Romaine Lettuce, like other lettuces, fills you up without adding extra calories or fat. Adding fresh lettuce to any dish increases vitamins and assists the body in flushing out toxins. Lettuce also adds freshness and balance to this rich dish.

Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt (full-fat) is my new favorite ingredient. Not only can I trust that grass-fed cows live a healthier and happier lifestyle (grain-fed cows live extremely bloated, confined and uncomfortable lives), but grass-fed cows produce dairy containing high-quality fats. These fats are then transformed into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) through the process of making yogurt with lactic acid. Grass-fed dairy, like grass-fed beef, contains a higher concentration of CLA’s. Research has linked CLA consumption with decreased risk of heart attack, bone-mass loss and inflammation. Additionally, live cultures in yogurt aid in digestion, immunity, weight-loss and regular bowel movement. Yogurt is also naturally high in calcium and protein. Whoa! Go grass-fed yogurt go!

Avocados, like in my guacamole, are known for providing the body with “good fats” such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats which can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart disease. Avocados are rich in potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, folic acid and other essential nutrients. Avocados are also amazing because they add guilt-free richness, flavor and decadence to just about any dish, which is especially important for vegetarians and vegans.

Sweet Potato Nachos with Homemade Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce & Fresh Guacamole
Serves: 2-3 (entree), 6 (appetizer)   Start to Finish: 1 hour

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, fine grain
1 avocado, very ripe
2 tablespoons minced red onion
3 teaspoons minced jalapeño, approx. 1/2 of a medium jalapeño, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
hot sauce, to taste, if desired
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2/3 to 1 cup whole milk
2 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1.5 cups shredded romaine lettuce (1 heart of romaine will be more than enough)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (full-fat, grass-fed preferred)

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make potato rounds. Prep potatoes, brush with oil, season with a pinch of salt on each side of each round, and place potato rounds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until color begins to brown and the rounds are sturdy.

Make guacamole. Combine 1 smashed avocado with with 2 tablespoons minced red onion, 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro. Add a couple dashes hot sauce if desired and season with salt if needed. Refrigerate until needed.

Make cheddar sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium-heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of flour until smooth. Allow flour/butter mixture to cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in 2/3 cup whole milk until smooth and creamy. Allow mixture to gently simmer until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside. If queso sauce gets to thick, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached. Gently reheat on stove top when needed.

Assemble. When potato slices are finished roasting, lay out on a platter or large plate. It’s okay to overlap but make sure a good section of each slice is visible. Pour queso sauce over top of potatoes. Top with shredded iceberg lettuce, plain yogurt and a cilantro garnish, if desired. Serve with guacamole (and some fresh corn chips maybe?).

Nutrition Information References:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=124

https://www.symptomfind.com/nutrition-supplements/probiotic-bacteria/

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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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Vegetarian Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

Vegetarian Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

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2017 is the year of the Cauliflower Steak. I’m literally obsessed. If you haven’t yet heard of the concept, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a slab (or steak, if you will) of cauliflower, roasted or grilled until rich in flavor and tender in texture. Eat this tasty “steak” on it’s own, or use it as a clean, whole, nutrient-rich and satisfying substitute, wherever slices of animal protein are traditionally used. Yesterday, during my improvisation class at culinary school, my partner and I layered slabs of roasted cauliflower with a delicious mock-bolognese sauce made with tempeh. It was divine. But this obsession actually started while home for the holidays, when I used cauliflower steaks as a replacement for the burgers everyone else was eating on bbq night.

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Also on bbq night, is when I came up with the idea for a Cauliflower “Reuben” Sandwich using the slabs of cauliflower. I asked my mom to add the traditional reuben toppings to the burger bar, and the result was delicious. So when I returned to NYC last week, I was obviously craving another cauliflower reuben sandwich…stat.

A traditional reuben sandwich consists of sauerkraut, swiss cheese, a sweet Russian dressing and some rye bread. Well, pastrami is also an important component, but that’s not happening in my kitchen. So what’s my version? Perfectly cooked cauliflower steaks, seasoned with traditional pastrami spices (corriander, garlic, onion, paprika, black pepper), fresh rye bread from the local bakery, nutty swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a “lightened up” yogurt-based Russian dressing. Yum, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m not missing the pastrami one bit.

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Making cauliflower steaks is easy. Simply slice the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. So basically, you can only count on 2-4 solid slabs that will hold together. But no matter, there are countless uses for the leftover florets. I add them to soups and stirfries, use them as a simple side dish, or food-process them into low-carb “rice.” For slabs that are mostly staying together, with just a couple florets starting to peel off, I keep them together as best as possible while cooking so it still looks like a slab. Easy enough, yeah?

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Now that the cauliflower is covered, all that’s left to talk about is the accessories. I picked up some fresh rye bread from Northside Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Why? Grocery store-bought bread has too many additives. Bakery-fresh bread on the other hand, is pure. Not to mention it supports small, local businesses. Next is the swiss cheese. Not much to say about this. It’s cheese and it’s delicious. Next up, sauerkraut. Sauerkraut, if you don’t know, is pickled or fermented cabbage. You can find pickled sauerkraut in jars or cans at the market. It has a sour flavor and is a perfect compliment to the richness of the cheese and sauce on this sandwich. While most store-bought sauerkrauts are heated during processing, there are also uncooked, unpasturized varieties of sauerkraut, which are filled-to-the-brim with gut-healthy bacteria and Vitamins B, C & K. To find a store-bought version like this, that includes the digestion-healthy probiotics and live cultures/bacteria, look for jars of organic sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the market. Both versions, pickled and fermented, work for this recipe. The choice is yours.

Finally, that sauce. Traditional russian dressing is a rich and creamy mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, with some other ingredients, depending on the recipe. I made my sauce as simple as possible and used grass-fed, full-fat plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise. In my opinion, once the sauce is paired with all the other flavorful ingredients on this sandwich, I don’t think a mayo-based sauce is necessary. So I lightened it up for a health kick. Again, the choice is yours.

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So there you have it. A classic Reuben Sandwich, reinvented to cater to the health-conscious, meat-free crowd. But honestly, meat-eaters and meat-freers alike can benefit from veggie-centric, lightened up recipes like this one. Stay tuned for more recipes using my new best friend, Cauliflower Steak. Maybe buffalo style next time? If you have any suggestions, for sure let me know!

Cauliflower Reuben-Style Sandwich
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 large head cauliflower
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander
sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces swiss cheese, sliced
1 cup organic sauerkraut
3/4 cup full-fat, plain yogurt, grass-fed preferred (or use mayo)
3 tablespoons all-natural ketchup
1 tablespoon grated onion, white or yellow
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
8 slices rye bread

To Make
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut cauliflower into steaks by slicing the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, to slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. Two large slabs is enough for 4 portions in this recipe. Save the florets for another recipe.

Heat cast iron pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Combine spices, black pepper through coriander, in a small bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Brush both sides of cauliflower slabs with 1/2 tablespoon oil and season both sides of slabs with seasoning blend. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to pan. Brown cauliflower slabs in pan until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, until the core of the cauliflower is soft and tender.*

While cauliflower cooks, make sauce by combining ingredients yogurt through garlic powder, plus 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add more salt to taste. Set aside in fridge.

When cauliflower is finished, remove from oven and cut each slab into 2 equal-sized pieces (four total). Season the top of each slice with a pinch of salt. Evenly distribute cheese slices over cauliflower. Return slabs to oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Make sandwiches by layering ingredients as follows… 1 slice rye bread, 1-2 tablespoons sauce, one cheese-covered cauliflower steak, 1/4 cup sauerkraut, 1-2 tablespoons sauce, 2nd slice of rye bread. Repeat to make 4 sandwiches.

*cauliflower slabs can also be grilled, without needing to brown in on cast iron first
**i like to gently squeeze excess liquid from the sauerkraut before adding to sandwich, it’s less messy when eating

Buffalo Cauliflower & Brown Rice Bowls (vegan optional)

Buffalo Cauliflower & Brown Rice Bowls (vegan optional)

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There are oh so many ways to enjoy my stellar recipe for a major food trend, Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings”. This post highlights one of my fave recipes using vegan buffalo wings, in the form of a nourish bowl. Casual yet creative, tasty yet nutritious. This recipe is simply perfect.

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The idea for a brown rice bowl topped with buffalo wings was inspired by a popular fast-casual restaurant in my hometown of St. Louis called Crazy Bowls and Wraps. CBW, as St. Louis-ans like to call it, has been around forever, even before healthy fast-casual joints became a thing. CBW offers customizable rice bowls, salads and wraps with all kinds of creative fillings and options. One of my absolute favorites is the buffalo fried tofu, so it wasn’t hard to come up with the idea for a buffalo cauliflower brown rice bowl.DSC_0370

I love the idea of layered bowls when serving a crowd. It makes it easy for each person to get exactly what they want. Plus, bowls like this are easy to eat. But I don’t need company to make bowls like this. In fact, last night for dinner I made Mexican rice bowls with roasted potatoes and peppers, cabbage, shredded cheddar and marinated tomatoes. When it comes to “bowls”, the possibilities are endless. Whenever I don’t know what to make, I start with a starch like rice or orzo pasta and simply add toppings according to a theme (Mexican, Greek, Italian, Asian etc.). That’s actually a really good tip if you’re ever struggling with what to cook. I use it all them time.

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If you’re new to rice bowls, this is a great one to start with. The spicy, crispy cauliflower compliments the fresh veggies and creamy sauce perfectly. It feels so indulgent, but it’s really very balanced. And it’s also a lot easier than it sounds. These bowls are seriously so yummy and I highly recommend trying them out, STAT. I know I can’t wait to make them again.

Buffalo Brown Rice Bowls
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 1 hour 15 min

Ingredients

1 batch Buffalo Cauliflower (get recipe here)
1 cup Brown Rice
Sea Salt
8-10 ounces chopped Romaine Lettuce
10 ounces Cherry Tomatoes
2 large Carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 cup Dressing (get my creamy blue cheese dressing here or use the vegan recipe below)

Creamy Vegan Dressing
1 cup Vegan Mayonnaise (I like Follow Your Heart brand)
2 teaspoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 tablespoons unsweetened non-dairy milk or water (+ more to consistency)
3/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dried Parsley

To Make

Make rice. Add 1 cup brown rice, 2 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt into a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to lower simmer, cover. Simmer for 35-40 minutes. Remove from heat when all water is absorbed, allow to sit, still covered, until ready to assemble bowls.

While rice simmers, preheat oven to 450 degrees and get the Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” started (get recipe here).

While cauliflower bakes, make dressing by combining all ingredients for vegan dressing (ingredients above) or make my yummy blue cheese dressing (get recipe here). Set aside.

Prep veggies. Wash & chop lettuce. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Prep carrots as desired. I like making “carrot shavings” for salads. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off long strips of carrots, then run your knife through the strips to make shavings.

When cauliflower and rice are finished, assemble the bowls. Divide lettuce into 4 bowls. Top each bowl with brown rice, tomatoes, carrots, buffalo cauliflower “wings” and 2-4 tablespoons dressing.

 

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

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For awhile now I’ve been wanting to recreate the Mexican Goddess Dressing from the infamous Chop’t restaurant, a fast casual, create-your-own-salad chain that has pretty much taken over the lunch scene in New York City. Although it moves fast, between the hours of 12 and 2pm on a week day, the line is literally out the door. And it’s easy to understand why. Chop’t is seriously amazing for so many reasons. A friendly and efficient staff, fresh and high-quality ingredients (many of which are locally sourced), and the most amazing salad dressing of all time, their totally addictive Mexican Goddess Dressing.

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Because of their Mexican Goddess, I actually get the same exact salad every single time I go. Every. Single. Time. This tart, slightly spicy, super flavorful vegan dressing is more like a thick sauce. Not only could this sauce be used as a salad dressing, but it would also work beautifully as a dip for tortilla chips, as a salsa in burritos or as an enchilada sauce. I’ve seriously dreamed of all the possibilities, so naturally I made my own version of it (finally!).

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The base of my Verde Crack Sauce is freshly roasted tomatillos. Tomatillos are similar to green tomatoes in appearance and have a refreshing tart flavor. Along with the tomatillos, I also roasted the jalapeño pepper to add some depth and heat. You can control the heat by using one or two jalapeños and removing or keeping the seeds (the seeds are where the heat is). Cilantro, garlic and lime juice are added for even more flavor, and finally, I throw in a rich and creamy avocado.

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This is a great sauce to keep in the archives. In the last week I’ve used it as a salad dressing, a dip and as a suave for my scrumptious, tortilla-free zucchini enchiladas (recipe coming soon). I have a feeling I’ll be making this vibrant sauce all summer long.
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Vegan Verde Crack Sauce
Serves: 4-6 (as a dip or dressing)  Start to Finish: 20-30 min

Ingredients

1 lb Tomatillos
3-4 tbs chopped Cilantro
1 Avocado
1 tbs Lime
1-2 Jalapeños (depending on desired heat level)
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2-1 tsp salt (to taste)

To Make

Remove papery tomatillo skins and rinse under cold water. On a foil lined pan, broil tomatillos and jalapeño (whole) until the skins are blistering and partially blackened, and the tomatillos have released some juices. I broiled for about 20 minutes, flipping once half way through. Every broiler is different though so refer to my picture.

Add tomatillos and juice to a food processor. Remove the stem of the jalapeño and remove seeds if desired. I left half of the seeds in to give a bit more spice. Add jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, garlic and olive oil to the tomatillos in the food processor. Process for 10 seconds or until smooth. Add avocado, process for 5 seconds or until well blended. Season with salt and pepper (to taste). Process for 5 seconds.

Use as a salad dressing, as a sauce for smothering just about anything, or as a dip with any of your favorite Southwestern and Mexican dishes.

*Makes about 1.5 to 1.75 cups

Best of Basic: Avocado Toast

Best of Basic: Avocado Toast

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I was long distance chatting with my mom the other day, and because our conversations often revolve around food, she was raving about an avocado toast she recently had for lunch at a cafe in my hometown, St. Louis. She then proceeded to ask how to make Avocado Toast. I could feel my face twist up as I thought, “It’s pretty self explanatory, no?” But before saying anything out loud, I quickly realized that, to her point, there’s a difference between smashed avocado slathered on any old slice of bread and a real Avocado Toast. So my mom wants to know how to make the best version of a real Avocado Toast? Challenge accepted. Continue reading “Best of Basic: Avocado Toast”

Greek Style 7-Layer Dip

Greek Style 7-Layer Dip

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House warming party success! Matt and I had such a blast last weekend breaking in our new apartment with all of our New York  friends and quite a few cocktails. Although the party didn’t get started until 9:30pm or so, I still wanted a solid supply of delicious apps and snacks around to satisfy the inevitable munchies. And because I’m fearless, I whipped up two main appetizers that I’d never attempted before, except in my imagination’s kitchen of course. Continue reading “Greek Style 7-Layer Dip”

Lighten Up: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

Lighten Up: Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

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Crudités platters are often seen as the boring but required member of any party’s munchies spread. But that’s not at all how I see a good old veggie platter. In fact, I’m the girl at the party who heads immediately to the crudités platter. I’m not the girl that makes a plate of raw carrots and cherry tomatoes and considers herself full. I’m the girl who just stands there, dipping veggie after veggie into whatever creamy dip sits in the center of the platter. That is until I realize I’ve eaten about a pound of mayo. But then I dismiss that thought, telling myself that I burned 600 calories crunching and munching my way through the stacks of bell pepper, snap peas, and celery.

This love of fresh crudités and creamy dip is not just reserved for parties. I actually find myself craving sliced veggies and some kind of creamy, decadent dip, like Green Goddess or classic Ranch, on a regular basis. Lately, my dip of choice has been a lightened-up version of one of my faves, Blue Cheese Dip. And that’s the recipe I’m sharing today, my own special recipe for a creamy, dreamy (lightened up) Blue Cheese Dip.

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When it comes to healthy eating, I believe in balance and moderation. Because of that, the base of my dressing is equal parts low-fat, plain Greek yogurt and organic mayonnaise. This combo cuts the fat without losing the indulgent flavor I love. If you so please, cut out the mayo even further, or entirely, for an extra light and healthy dressing. Next comes red wine vinegar, some simple seasonings, and, of course, crumbled blue cheese. That’s it! Simple, delicious, versatile.

I use this blue cheese dip (dressing, sauce, etc) in countless ways, not just as a companion for fresh veggie sticks or chilled roasted veggies. I’ve also used my blue cheese dip with my easy buffalo falafel patties, as a spread on a veggie burger and as a dressing on chopped salads or coleslaw. I just love this dressing.

Lightened Up Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing
Serves: Start to Finish: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients
12 ounces combined whole milk yogurt (greek or traditional) mayonnaise and/or sour cream*
1 tablespoon vinegar, red wine or white wine vinegar both work
1/2 teaspoon each fine-grain sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and garlic powder (or garlic granules)
1+ tablespoon milk or water (optional, + more to consistency)
6 ounces blue cheese crumbles

To Make

In a small-medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. I like to use an immersion blender to create a smoother texture. Serve chilled as a dip, dressing or spread.

*I like the richness and thickness of this recipe because it works on everything from salads, as a spread on sandwiches, and as a dip for veggies, wings, etc. For a thinner consistency, add water or milk, a little at a time. If using traditional yogurt, the consistency will be thinner without needing water/milk. If using greek yogurt, mayo or sour cream, water/milk is likely needed to create desired consistency.

**I most often use only plain, full-fat yogurt for this. However, any combination of yogurt, mayo and sour cream for a total of 1.5 cups will work. My second favorite combo would be 6 ounces yogurt combined with 6 ounces mayonnaise.

Vegan ‘Shroom & Barley Soup

Vegan ‘Shroom & Barley Soup

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It’s April. Not a month typically viewed as stick-to-your-bones-soup-worthy. But I am once again reminded that my black and white vision of what the weather should look like during each month is totally irrelevant. Mother Nature does what she wants, and although she had the whole month of March to transition to true Spring, it’s still winter . You see, I can be patient with cold weather in March. But 40 degrees in April is just plain UGH.

However, instead of dwelling on my disappointment and unwavering desire to wear a skirt without tights, I decided to use this annoying down-coat-weather as a reason to make one last batch of hot and hearty cold-weather soup. What kind of soup? Something stick to your ribs, totally satisfying, and 100% healthy. Almost as fast as the idea for soup materialized, the thought of a vegan Mushroom & Barley Soup came to mind immediately. Back in the day, I loved eating my mom’s Beef & Barley Soup, and nostalgia typically drives many of my ideas. So my inkling to make a rich and flavorful batch of my mom’s soup (minus the meat) comes as no surprise.

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Soups are generally pretty simple. Especially when using store-bought broth. This soup is just that: simple. Sautéed vegetables, organic veggie broth, fresh thyme and barley. That’s about it. I use thyme here because I love the flavor of mushrooms and thyme together, and because I find that the combination adds richness and substance that would normally come from the beef. To add even more heartiness and substance, at the very end of cooking I add a cornstarch slurry, which thickens the soup beautifully.

My Mushroom & Barley Soup is definitely one to keep in the recipe box. It is not only super healthy, packed with fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, but it’s also vegan-friendly and oh so yummy. For dinner on Sunday, I made grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches to go alongside the soup, and for lunch leftovers I ate the soup with a couple hunks of bakery-fresh whole wheat peasant bread that perfect for dipping and soaking. Delicious. This soup is just plain awesome. So I guess I’d like to end this post by thanking Mother Nature for giving me the opportunity to create this recipe. But I’d still really like some 60 degree days in the very near future, ok?

Vegan Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves: 4-6   Start to Finish: 90 min.

Ingredients
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 large Carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice
1 large Onion, medium to small dice
2 large stalks Celery, cut into medium dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into medium dice
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
Salt
Pepper
1/2 lb Portobello Caps, cut into medium-large dice
10 ounces White Button Mushrooms, cut into medium-large dice
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Thyme leaves, divided
4 cups Organic Veggie Stock
1 cup dry Barley
2 tablespoons Corn Starch + 1/3 cup Water
3 teaspoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or preferred brand added to taste)

To Make

Prep and chop all veggies. I like the veggies big enough to see and taste, but cut to any size you prefer.

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add celery, carrots, onion, and red pepper to oil. Toss to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic to pot, toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper (I used 1/2 teaspoon of each). Cook for 5 minutes.badd mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon thyme and season with salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon). Cook for 2 minutes. Add veggie stock and dry barley to pot. Turn heat to high and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer until barley is cooked, 45-60 minutes.

With a couple minutes to go, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup cold water. When barley is fully cooked, add the cornstarch “slurry” mixture to pot. Add remaining tablespoon thyme and an additional 1/2 cup water (or more depending on desired consistency). Bring to boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until soup is thickened from cornstarch. Turn off heat. Salt to taste (I added 1/2 teaspoon) and add hot sauce. Note that the hot sauce adds a much need cut of vinegar, it does not make it spicy unless you add more than I did.

The soup is now ready to eat. Continue adding water if desired, to maintain ideal consistency. I like it super thick so I didn’t add any additional water.

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”