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
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
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
After about a month, I’m back in action here on radiatefoodvibes.com. Time flies even more than usual lately. As I continue the very early phases of building my own brand and my own business, in addition to learning everything and anything I can about professional cooking, my personal recipe development has slipped a bit. But now I’m back at it.
Today’s post is a veganized recipe of the white chicken chili I made for a client this week. I loved the creaminess and richness of this hearty chicken chili combined with the sweet crunch of the fresh corn kernels. All I needed to do was omit the chicken. I then decided to take it even further and omit the cream as well (aka veganize it). I’ve been going a little heavy on the dairy lately and a detox-friendly soup is exactly what my body is craving right now. So no cream in this one (although I have the option to add it in the recipe below). You may be wondering how I achieved the creaminess without adding dairy or gluten (yes, it’s also gluten-free). No brainer. I turned to my beloved coconut milk and it worked perfectly.
This White Three-Bean Chili is creamy, satisfying, filling and nourishing. I also consider this dish to be detox-friendly (you know, for when you’re trying to balance out an indulgent weekend or healthily shed a few pounds). This is because it’s packed with complete protein and fiber thanks to the beans and the corn.
Beans make up the bulk of this chili. I use three different types of beans in this recipe, all of which are great sources of gut-cleansing fiber and energizing protein. Corn is sometimes confused for a vegetable, but it’s actually a grain. Not only does corn add flavor and texture to this chili, but it also combines with the beans to form a complete protein. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids required by the human body. Animal proteins (meat, dairy, eggs) are complete on their own, so when eating a plant-forward diet it’s essential (pun intended) to eat a variety of plant-based protein sources to ensure you’re getting all nine essential amino acids.
Although this recipe can be made year round using canned or frozen corn, I recommend cooking up a batch ASAP to fully take advantage of the fresh summer corn that’s in peak season right about now.
White Three-Bean Chili
Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, small diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, small diced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 cups all-natural vegetable stock
1 4-oz can diced green chilies (I used mild)
1 14-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 ears fresh corn, husked, kernels cut off (approx. 1.5 cups)
1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (or use heavy cream if desired)
1 tablespoon arrow root powder or other starch of choice such as corn or potato (omit if using cream)
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
4 radishes for garnish, sliced or matchsticked (optional)
Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, celery and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until onions begin to release moisture. Stir occasionally.
Add chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander and black pepper. Stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add 3 cups vegetable stock, beans, corn kernels, green chilies and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Add up to 1 additional cup of vegetable stock to achieve desired liquid to solid ratio.
Turn off heat. Stir in coconut milk or heavy cream. Return to heat, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, mix together 1 tablespoon arrow root powder (or other starch) with 2 tablespoons cool water. Mix well to form a “slurry”. Add slurry to soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon lime juice and sea salt to taste. I added another 1/2 teaspoon or so of sea salt.
If using heavy cream instead of coconut milk – be careful not to full-on boil the cream after adding to the chili, it could curdle (yuck). I recommend adding a tablespoon of the hot chili liquid into the cream to temper it before adding to the pot. You can omit the arrow root slurry if using cream instead of coconut milk. The soup should thicken with just the cream and a quick simmer session.
As I was saying in my last post, my focus these days is making healthy and clean eating easy for everyone. Whether trying to lose weight or just wanting to take advantage of the amazing health benefits that come with clean eating, the transition simply won’t happen unless it’s both convenient and delicious. This is where meal prep comes in. Having prepped ingredients in your fridge/pantry and knowing what to do with them will make your new clean eating lifestyle effortless.
Last week I used my Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl as the perfect example of this concept. Cooked quinoa, roasted cauliflower, simple pickled red onions, avocado and peanut sauce come together to make a plant-based, satisfying and tasty meal. It’s packable for lunch on-the-go. Or easy to throw together for a quick dinner, as long as the components were easy-to-prep or pre-prepped. As promised, I’m sharing another recipe that uses a few of the same ingredients. This is meant to show you how versatile these basic components are to transform into completely new meals, keeping things fresh and interesting.
For this super yummy (and vegan) burrito bowl, I’m using quinoa, pickled onions and avocado, just like in the Satay Nourish Bowl. But this time, I’m using roasted peppers instead of cauliflower, some canned black beans and my easy roasted tomatillo sauce to make a totally new and super delish meal. The key to plant-based, dairy-free and meat-free cooking is including multiple flavors and textures. Creamy avocado, refreshing tomatillo sauce, acidic pickled red onions, flavorful peppers and hearty black beans keep your tastebuds satisfied while providing your body with protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Now, for today’s health and nutrition lesson focusing on a toxic compound known as BPA and how to avoid it…
Black Beans are a great source of meat-free protein, fiber, copper, folate, manganese and phosphorus. I love beans because they make reaching protein intake goals easy, even when not consuming animal products. Plus, adding the starchy texture of black beans makes meals texturally satisfying. When using beans from a can, which I do almost exclusively, I recommend choosing an organic variety. Additionally, when choosing any canned products, be sure the lining is made without BPA (Bisphenol A). Why? Because BPA is a synthetic compound that has been shown to disrupt the human endocrine system (aka the system of ALL human glands and the hormones these glands produce). Sadly, BPA is everywhere these days (even in cash register receipts). It’s virtually impossible to avoid completely, but because BPA builds up in your system and can last for generations, it’s important to avoid it as much as possible. Intake of BPA through eating and drinking is likely the biggest culprit, and cooking for yourself using BPA-free products is a great way to reduce your risk of side effects. Yet another reason why cooking for yourself is so beneficial.
Burrito Nourish Bowl with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 50 minutes
1 small-medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3+ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup dry quinoa
3-4 peppers, I like 4 poblano for spice or 3 red bell peppers for sweet or mixed
sea salt, fine grain
1 lb tomatillos
1 large clove garlic, peeled
2 packed tablespoons cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish, optional)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 avocados, diced or sliced
**If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own tomatillo sauce, no problem! Use a store bought Salsa Verde. Check the ingredient list to make sure all ingredients sound whole and appetizing. Even better? Go for organic.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make pickled red onion (get the full recipe here). In a small bowl, combine 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/3 cup water and 3/4 teaspoons sea salt. Mix until salt is dissolved. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion. Toss to coat. Add additional vinegar and water, in equal amounts, to cover onions (you shouldn’t need much). Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Or make ahead…I always have pickled red onion ready to go in the fridge. The longer they sit, the better they get.
Roast peppers. Remove stem and seeds from peppers and cut into strips. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, tossing once. You could also roast whole peppers over an open flame, steam in sealed paper bag for 10 minutes. Remove charred skin, seeds and stem, and then cut into strips.
Also roast whole tomatillos at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, toss, roast for another 15-20.
Blend with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1 clove garlic and 2 packed tablespoons of cilantro (2 handfuls). Add additional salt to taste.
Meanwhile, cook quinoa. Add 1 cup dry quinoa, 2 cups water and 3/4 teaspoons salt to a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cover with lid. Simmer for 14-15 minutes, until excess water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit, still covered, for 10-15 minutes.
Combine black beans with 3/4 teaspoon salt and hot sauce to taste (I used about 2 teaspoons for 2 cans). Heat on stove top or in microwave I f desired.
To make each bowl, layer 1/4 of cooked quinoa (about 2/3 cup), 2/3 to 1 cup of black beans, 1/4 of the roasted peppers, 3-4 tablespoons pickled red onions (plus pickling liquid to taste), 1/2 of a sliced/diced avocado and 3 tablespoons tomatillo sauce.
As I practice more and more with healthful, diet-restriction-friendly recipes (you know – vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc.), I find more and more ways to use cauliflower. From cauliflower “steaks” to cauliflower “rice,” the possibilities are seriously endless. A healthy, grain-free version of fried rice is one of my latest projects. Grated cauliflower, diced carrots, yellow onions and chopped red bell peppers make up the bulk of this dish. Then I add flavor with organic, cage-free eggs, a simple tamari-based sauce and a garnish of fresh scallions. For a genuine paleo/whole30 version, simply use coconut aminos instead of tamari. But for me, an organic soy-based tamari does the job perfectly.
When I think about it, many of the recipes I make are inspired by takeout and delivery classics, and this dish is the perfect example. Making your own “takeout” at home is much healthier than ordering out, and cheaper too. But for people who have dietary restrictions, it’s sometimes the only option to be able to enjoy favorite foods and cuisines. A grain-free/gluten-free lifestyle is the driving force behind this dish, but it also qualifies as vegetarian, dairy-free and, if using coconut aminos instead of tamari, paleo-friendly. Serve with a selection of proteins like grilled chicken, vegetables, tofu or steak, and you’ve got a meal that’s customizable enough (and delicious enough) to please a crowd.
Now, let’s go over a couple of my favorite health-supportive benefits of this recipe’s star, cauliflower.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and one of my all-time favorite vegetables, mostly because it’s super versatile. Cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, kale and arugula) contain glucosinolates, a chemical that contains sulfur. When broken down during digestion, glucosinolates turn into compounds associated with anti-cancer effects. Cauliflower is also a great source of fiber, aiding in digestion, and also a great source of Vitamins K & C. Cauliflower is high in several powerful antioxidants, which are essential in providing adequate defense to your cells, which is believed to help your body in fighting off illnesses such as cancer.
Grain-Free Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
Serves: 2 (main) or 4 (side dish) Start to Finish: 25 minutes
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil (organic preferred), divided
4 cups raw cauliflower rice*
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain, divided
2 tablespoons tamari (use coconut aminos instead for paleo/whole30 version)
2 eggs (cage-free, organic preferred)
chopped scallions, garnish (1-2 scallions is enough)
Note: You may want to use a non-stick skillet or wok for this recipe. My stainless steel pan worked well for this recipe with no sticking/burning issues, but a non-stick skillet will be more fool-proof.
Prep carrots, peppers, onion and garlic. Using a box grater or food processor, grate large cauliflower florets into cauliflower “rice.” Use the stem portion of the florets too.
Crack eggs into a bowl and scramble with a fork. Set aside.
Heat 1.5 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots, peppers, onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon sea salt to pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until vegetables have softened and released liquid. Add grated cauliflower and ginger to pan. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until moisture from cauliflower is released and evaporated.
Add tamari (or coconut aminos) to pan, toss to coat, and cook for about 2 minutes, until excess moisture is removed. Push cauliflower aside and add remaining oil to open space in pan. Add scrambled eggs to oil. Frequently use a spoon to cut through liquified eggs in order to rotate uncooked eggs into the heat. Just as the egg solidifies (after about a minute), mix the cauliflower mixture into the eggs. Season with sea salt to taste (I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon) and cook for 1-2 minutes, until excess moisture is gone.
Garnish with scallions, serve immediately.
*1 head of caulifower is plenty for this recipe. You can also purchase pre-riced cauliflower in the freezer and/or produce section of many supermarkets.
Benefits of Cauliflower
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.
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.
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?
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
2 balls pizza dough (get my quick & simple recipe here, yields 2 balls)*
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 include 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 added vegan variations too.
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: 45 minutes
2 medium heads cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces swiss cheese, sliced (vegan? Try VioLife cheese slices)
1 cup organic sauerkraut
3/4 cup full-fat, plain yogurt (mayo, vegan mayo or cashew cream also work)
3 tablespoons 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 (or bread of choice)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut cauliflower into steaks by slicing the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically through the stem. Then, moving out from the center cut, to slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. You’ll get two “steaks” from each cauliflower. Cut the remaining cauliflower into florets and save for another meal.
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.
*You can also cook the cauliflower steaks fully in the oven for about 35 minutes, flipping halfway through OR cauliflower slabs can 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/soggy when eating
Year 2017. It’s here. And I’m happy to say, so far so good. For me, last year ended and this year began in the best way possible, with the whole family in St. Louis together. It was a beautifully lazy 10 days, highlighted by lots of tasty food, an HBO’s West World marathon and excursions to the St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum and an epic historic mansion on SLU’s campus. This trip was a far cry from the old days, when coming home for the holidays meant going out with friends and painting the town red and green. Confession – I was already asleep when midnight hit on New Years Eve this year. Oops. But honestly, I’m not complaining. I think it says a lot about me and where I am in my life. At 28, my focus and priorities have changed for the better, and I’m starting the New Year off excited, confident and ready.
It’s crazy that last New Years I was still working in corporate fashion in New York City wondering where exactly my life was going and if that’s even where I wanted it to go. I don’t remember fully, but I imagine that last year’s resolution was to figure out a different career and life path. And although I most likely forgot about the “resolution” within days, finding a new path happened none the less. So here I am, about to graduate from the Natural Gourmet Institute as a certified chef specializing in health-conscious and sustainable cooking and eating. I mean, I have no idea where this path is taking me, and there’s much to do in terms of sorting out this new career and this new dream. All I know at this point is that I’m up for the challenge.
Resolutions, in my opinion, are a somewhat silly concept. On the one hand, I completely understand the mentality of an annual fresh start to get life on track, in whatever way makes sense to an individual person and their needs. So around this time of year, I can’t help but think of things I could improve on in the New Year. On the other hand, more often than not, my life-changing resolution bites the dust within in the first two weeks of January, and the words “New Years resolution” are not used again until the last two weeks in December, when I choose a new resolution for the next year. I may end up accomplishing my goal by year’s end, or I may accomplish a different goal by year’s end. The point is, by year’s end, I don’t even remember what exactly my resolution was in the first place, so why even make one? Good question. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I will continue to make a New Years resolution every year. Can’t hurt, right?
So what is my life-changing resolution for the coming year? This wasn’t a hard decision to make. I feel like a lot of my life is under control, at least for the moment, and there’s just a couple things on my mind. First, as I just mentioned, is sorting out my new career path. But honestly, resolution or not, I don’t really have a choice in the matter. So my other resolution option was the clear choice, and that is to get my stress levels under control, naturally. As I get older, I (and those closest to me) have noticed that I tend to over-think and worry…about everything…constantly. I believe that part of this trait comes from my desire to be in control and from my fear of things I can’t control. But no matter where the stress is coming from, stress is extremely hard on the body and mind, and it can be detrimental to short- and long-term health. Additionally, high-stress definitely won’t help as I embark on this new chapter in my career and life. So, it was decided. I must make stress the enemy of 2017 (happy, mom?). There are two keys to naturally controlling my stress levels; daily meditation and consistent yoga practice. I know first-hand that both of these techniques positively benefit me, so making them a consistent part of my daily and weekly routine can do nothing but help this issue (and other issues, whatever they may be). I’ll try to keep you updated on my progress.
In any case, health seems to be the underlying theme of many resolutions. So you may expect this post to feature a light and healthy meal to appeal to those health-based resolutions. But I’m choosing a different direction for my first post of the New Year. I’m choosing to share my favorite concoction from while I was home for the holidays. Although this isn’t “low cal” or “low fat,” it still fits into my definition of healthy. It’s meat-free, uses organic butter, organic whole milk and organic flour, and gets added nutrients from fresh mushrooms and flavorful garlic. It’s clean, it’s pure, and it fits perfectly into a balanced and health-supportive diet. I made this gravy on Christmas morning and once more later in the trip, and let me tell you, it was a hit. I am always disappointed at restaurants, when I see biscuits and gravy on the menu, because it sounds so delicious, but I know I can’t eat it because it most likely is made with sausage. So when my mom asked what I’d like with the biscuits on Christmas morning, I knew immediately that it was time to create a vegetarian-friendly, southern-style white gravy recipe made with only the highest quality ingredients. Oh man, was that a good decision.
Now, I’m not saying to eat this rich white gravy on the daily, but on special occasions (like Saturday morning), it’s an indulgent but wholesome recipe that’s sure to please anyone’s taste buds. But it’s all about balance, people! Balance, balance, balance. It’s the only way a satisfy a health-obsessed foodie like myself. So stay tuned for lighter and more detox-friendly recipes, I always have those in the works. But for now, happily realize that richer foods made with more health-supportive and high-quality ingredients should always be a part of a balanced, healthy and delicious lifestyle. That’s good news, right? You’re welcome and Happy New Year!
Vegetarian Southern-Style Mushroom Gravy
Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 15-20 minutes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup roughly chopped portobello mushroom (approx. 1 lg cap)
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms (remove stems, approx. 5 mushrooms)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, divided (plus more to taste)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (approx. 2 large cloves)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 pinches nutmeg
Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for 5 minutes, until mushrooms are reduced by about half. Set aside.
In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just starting to turn golden. Whisk in flour, 1 tablespoons at a time, until a smooth paste forms. Continue cooking, whisking frequently, for about 3 minutes.
Whisk in whole milk in 1/2 cup increments. Once all milk is added, stir in cooked mushrooms, 3/4 tsp salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue to stir frequently until gravy has reached a thick and rich texture, 3-5 minutes. Add more salt to taste, then remove from heat.
Serve gravy over biscuits (obviously), over chicken (if that’s your thing), or a pan-fried cauliflower steak (genius). I served this batch over Immaculate brand organic ready-to-bake biscuits with some steamed baby spinach.
If gravy gets too think, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached.
There are salads, and then there are SALADS. I’m talking super yummy, satisfying and healthful salads, filled to the brim with flavor, texture, and nourishment. A salad like this answers the body’s desire for fresh, clean, and nutrient-rich meals, to offset all of the richer and more indulgent meals we (I mean, “I”) enjoy eating. Salads like this are definitely a staple in my diet, and this one is a particular favorite of mine. There’s sweetness from the roasted apples, depth from the caramelized onion, freshness from the greens, richness from the cheese, and a punch of flavor from the delish sherry vinaigrette (my new basic dressing for everything and anything). Trust me when I say, this salad won’t disappoint.
When creating a super satisfying “big salad” (Seinfeld reference), there are a few elements that I almost always include. There’s always something a bit sweet, there’s always something (or a few things) that adds richness and complexity, there’s always a balanced dressing, and there’s always an abundance of protein and fiber. But protein is the focus of this post.
I’ve decided to focus on meat-free protein sources for a few reasons. The first reason is that I get this question a lot, how do you get enough protein as a vegetarian or a vegan? Short answer, easily (sometimes I even eat too much protein by accident). The second reason why I’m focusing on protein today is because my class recently started our nutrition-specific lectures at school (Natural Gourmet Institute), and I’d like to pass on the basics of protein to all my lovely readers. And thirdly because this particular salad highlights almost all of the meat-free protein source categories, so it only makes sense to use it as a reason to talk about meat-free protein. So here we go!
The first question I want to answer is, what does protein do for us? Protein is one of three essential macronutrients required for life and function (the other two are carbs and fat). Protein, as most know, is a building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. But protein is also essential for important bodily functions such as metabolism, fighting off infections, and the creation of enzymes and hormones. Additionally, protein is also needed for proper brain function and clear thinking. So basically, protein is super-duper important. But what is protein?
Protein is a source of amino acids for our body. Our bodies require 22 different types amino acids in order to function. 13 of these required amino acids are naturally produced in the body. But 9 of them are not produced by the body, which means these 9 ‘essential amino acids’ (EAA) need to be given to the body through ingestion (aka eating and drinking). Complete protein foods, like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, include all 9 EAA’s in sufficient quantities (easy enough).Point is, if you eat meat and dairy, it’s simple to get all those essential amino acids. And there are a handful of vegan complete protein options, including quinoa, chia seeds and buckwheat. However, most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly protein sources do not include all 9 EAA’s. We call these ‘incomplete proteins’.
The issue is, as a vegetarian, I can’t eat quinoa all-day-every-day. Don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa, especially in this salad. But variety is the spice of life! No worries though. The cool thing here, is that you can combine incomplete protein sources to create complete proteins. All plants contain protein, therefor all contain amino acids. To get complete proteins, simply combine multiple protein sources. For instance, black beans + brown rice or whole grain bread + almond butter or whole grain pasta + kale & pine nut pesto or millet pilaf with pecans and baby spinach. Basically, grains are combined with veggies and legumes (nuts, seeds, beans), creating whole and complete protein sources.
For this particular salad, I used quinoa, so other ingredients weren’t necessary to create complete protein. But I added beans anyway for texture, additional protein and fiber. Then I added even more protein with fresh baby spinach and brie cheese. See? So much protein! All of which are vegetarian, most of which are vegan.
So there you go, a brief summary of protein. To recap, protein is absolutely essential for a healthy and strong body and mind. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs are complete proteins, providing all essential amino acids in one swoop. Multiple incomplete proteins (most grains, vegetables and legumes) should be combined to create complete proteins. And veggie-friendly protein sources are countless, you just have to know when and how to combine them. And if you’re still wondering where meat-freers get protein, just take a look at this salad. Gang’s all there!
Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing
Serves: 3 mains or 6 sides Start to Finish: 1 hr
3/4 cup dry quinoa
Sea salt, fine grain
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large apples (like gala or honey crisp)
1 can organic kidney beans (1.5 to 2 cups cooked beans)
3 ounces Brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 large romaine heart, washed and chopped
10 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe follows)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons organic maple syrup
1 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (1 teaspoon chopped garlic)
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teasooon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Add quinoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1.5 cups water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover. Cook until quinoa is tender, about 13 minutes. Set aside, still covered, for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl to cool.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in sauté pan. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until onions are caramelized, about 45 minutes. Add water to the pan when it gets dry, 3-4 tablespoons at a time. When onions are caramelized and the pan is at a dry phase, remove from heat. Transfer to container for cooling.
While onions cook, remove core and cut apples into big bite-size chunks. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread onto parchment lined baking sheet. Roast apples in oven until tender, 25-30 minutes, tossing once during cooking.
Drain and rinse beans. Wash and prep lettuces.
Make dressing. In a blender or using and immersion blender, blend all dressing ingredients until smooth and creamy. Season with sea salt to taste.
This can be a tossed salad or a composed salad. When all components are ready (quinoa, caramelized onions, roasted apples, beans, Brie cheese and dressing), divide among portions of romaine/spinach and drizzle with dressing to taste. Or toss all components together just before serving. Go easy on the dressing at first, you can always add more or serve more on the side for those who like lots of dressing.
*the components to this salad should be at room temp or chilled before tossing with lettuces.
**double recipe to feed a crowd or to keep around for future dinners and lunches in a pinch.
***sherry vinaigrette, caramelized onions, roasted apples and quinoa can all be made up to 3-4 days in advance. Store each component separately in tightly sealed containers and refrigerate.
Growing up, my family went on two long vacations a year, always to the same two places. In March we head to Boca Grande, Florida where we stay in a beautiful house or condo on a private beach. We spend the 2+ weeks sunning and exploring the cute shops in town by day, and by night indulging at the same delicious restaurants or having fun cooking at home. In the summer, we make the trek to our family island in Canada, which is pretty much glamping. Canada is rustic, but it’s comfortable, familiar and completely relaxing.
On the other hand, Matt grew up adventuring to new locations and foreign countries on vacations with his family. I was so stoked when Matt and I decided to take our first real vacation, just the two of us, to a place neither of us had been, Costa Rica. I’d never done an adventure-style vacation like this so I honestly, and embarrassingly, had no idea what to expect. But Matt took the reigns, made the plans and reservations, and we used my brief time off between quitting my job and starting school to go to Costa Rica.
Although here were a couple nights where we stayed in very humble hostels as we traveled from one place to another, we spent the majority of our trip in two places; first in Monteverde in the Cloud Rainforest and then in the surfer beach town of Santa Teresa.
In Monteverde, we took the suggestion of Matt’s uncle and stayed at the remote and breathtaking lodgings of El Sol. El Sol was an incredible experience to say the least. We stayed in a brightly colored private cabin complete with mini kitchen and a front porch looking out onto the rolling hills of the Cloud Rainforest. Our fresh and authentic Costa Rican meals were delivered to our door at the requested time by the friendly and accommodating staff. My favorite meal was the delicious breakfasts consisting of rice, beans, handmade corn tortillas, farm-fresh eggs, cheese and fried plantains. Like omg, so amazing.
Our favorite activity while staying at El Sol was the epic horseback ride through the wilderness with only the two of us and our guide. We stopped for a swim and a delightful lunch at a remote waterfall and had a total blast. We also enjoyed exploring Santa Elena, the small and rustic town just a short cab ride away from El Sol. It was definitely worth the 30 minute walk from the main part of town to a more remote part of town where we enjoyed lunch at Stella’s Bakery and coffees at the Monte Verde Coffee Center. In the main part of town, we were exceptionally pleased with our meal at Taco Taco, where my fried avocado tacos and hibiscus iced tea were to die for. One night we had drinks at another gem, Tree House restaurant. Although we didn’t eat there, the drinks were delish, the atmosphere was very unique and cool, and the live music was so much fun.
From El Sol we traveled to Santa Teresa, a beach town in the Puntarenas province situated near Mal Pais and Montezuma. We traveled during the wet season, considered the slow or low season in Costa Rica. We found that some restaurants and shops were closed or had weird hours, but overall we liked the low season because the foliage and greenery were robust and there were far fewer crowds and people to deal with. We zipped from town to town and to each activity on our rented ATV (sooo much fun), and spent our days hiking in the beautiful Cabo Blanco Reserve, the first reserve in Costa Rica, and hiking to each of the three waterfalls of Montezuma. Our day in Cabo Blanco was my absolute favorite day. We made the four hour round trip hike to the most beautiful and pristine beach I’ve ever seen, and because it was a protected beach and because it was the low season, we were the only people there. Incredible. We wrapped up our afternoon with an amazing Mexican lunch at the beach front restaurant, Habenero in Santa Teresa. The food, the view, and the friendly staff were all on point. We actually ended up going back to Habenero for drinks one night and dinner on another as it’s the perfect place to enjoy the Costa Rican sunsets.
In Santa Teresa we stayed at the Funky Monkey Lodge which pretty much epitomized what I envisioned Costa Rica to be. The Funky Monkey is a bit rustic, but in a cool surfer-beach-y way. Our private bungalow was the perfect place to hang out while the afternoon rains of the wet season poured down. The Funky Monkey is situated just off the main drag, in the thick of the action. And the sushi there (served on Wednesday and Saturday nights) was nothing short of amazing. On the topic of food, our meals in Santa Teresa were out of this world. The fresh fruit smoothies at every restaurant were enough to keep me satisfied. But I didn’t have to rely on the smoothies for satisfaction. To make things easy, here’s a simple and straightforward list of my favorite places to eat in the area…
The Bakery, Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, our favorite breakfast spot that also serves lunch and dinner (a local favorite, always popping)
Habenero, Santa Teresa, beachside dining at a luxurious lodge, typical (but exceptional) Mexican food
Cafe Social, Santa Teresa, fast-casual stop for fresh breakfast/lunch wraps, sandwiches and salads
Zwart Cafe, Santa Teresa, casual breakfast and lunch spot serving up super healthy food in a dreamy art gallery
Case Del Mar, Santa Teresa, lunch and dinner spot in a super cool outdoor/indoor space with brick-oven pizza and the best fruit smoothies (lemon-pineapple was the bomb)
Burger Rancho, Santa Teresa, popular family-friendly lunch and dinner joint, small and charming setting with a long list of burger options
Zulu Restaurant, Santa Teresa, delicious falafel and Mediterranean specialties like hummus and shwarma
Cocolores, Montezuma, beach front dining with exceptional and eclectic food and an unassuming entrance
My trip with Matt to Costa Rica was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Although I have a new found appreciation for the comfort and familiarity of traveling to the same places over and over again, there’s something exciting and fulfilling about seeing and experiencing new places, especially those that push me out my comfort zone. I’ve learned that there are two things I need to fully enjoy a vacation. Of course, fresh, inspiring and delicious food is the first must. And the second must is suitable lodgings that I look forward to going back to between activities. A part of me wishes I was more laid back about hostels and the bed I sleep in while traveling, but that’s obviously not who I am. However, I don’t need to stay in the most luxurious hotel either. All I need is a place that feels clean and where the ambiance is comfy, cozy and inviting. Although there were two nights of semi-questionable hostel lodging, El Sol and Funky Monkey both exceeded my expectations and I would go back to either one in a heartbeat.
As I said before, the most important aspect for me when traveling is being able to eat my way through the experience (shocker). The fresh, healthy, farm-to-table dining that was emphasized in each of the restaurants we visited was awesome.
This trip was a learning experience and a full-on adventure that opened my eyes to a completely different culture and way of living. I can confidently say that Costa Rica is worth the trip, especially for the traveler with a big appetite for scrumptious food, a love for nature and wildlife, and the need for tons of beachy fun in the sun.
Yesterday was a very big day for me. A day that marked the beginning of an end and also the start of a new chapter. You see, for the last five years, ever since graduating from college, I’ve worked in New York City for the same fashion company. More recently, I decided that fashion is not the field for me, and that I needed to make a switch to an industry more in line with my passions, ideals and values. So yesterday, I gave my boss notice that I wouldn’t be returning to Ralph Lauren come September, as I’ll be pursuing a career and a life dedicated to wholesome and healthy cooking and living.
Although I’ve known about this move for a bit, there’s something about saying it out loud, without hesitation, to everyone, even coworkers, that makes it feel real. I feel free and excited. I feel like I’m finally starting to find my way. My first step in this journey is to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, a nationally recognized culinary school focusing on healthful cooking. So I’m going back to school (amazing) and taking my life in a new direction. I seriously couldn’t be more thrilled.
In addition to the freedom to fully announce and embrace the next phase of my life, I also had a great day yesterday because of dinner. That sounds weird (or maybe it doesn’t if you love eating as much as I do), but hear me out. When deciding what to do for dinner last night, I had only one requirement. It had to be ready quick so Matt could eat before leaving for rec hockey (and so I could enjoy a night of relaxing and watching Bravo). I raced through Whole Foods, grabbing refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough, a big beautiful eggplant, a ball of fresh mozzarella and a jar of marinara, knowing that I could pull these ingredients together with little thought or effort.
As soon as I got home I sliced the eggplant and got it into the oven. Once finished, I piled on the sauce, roasted eggplant, mozz, and some finishing touches, and my roasted eggplant and fresh mozzarella pizza was ready for the oven.
After a long 10 minutes, I took it out and was seriously taken aback by how good it looked. My eyes darted to the balcony, and to my delight, I saw daylight, which means adequate food-photography lighting. On a night when a blog post was the last thing on my mind, the stars aligned and I accidentally came up with a delicious recipe and the pictures to go along with it. Awesome.
So here I am, everything seemingly falling into place; both my life and a delicious Eggplant Pizza post. I have no idea what the future holds, which is kind of scary. But, of course, that’s life; an ongoing series of ups, downs and unknowns. All I can really do is cherish the ups, learn from the downs and enjoy the whole ride, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.
Eggplant Parmesan Pizza
Serves: 2-3 Start to Finish: 45 minutes
1 15-16 oz package refrigerated Pizza Dough, I used whole wheat*
1 Eggplant, about 1.5 pounds
1 cup Marinara or Pizza Sauce
6 ounces Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Garlic Powder, optional
Remove dough from fridge, allow to sit at room temp for an hour or so.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Trim eggplant ends and slice width-wise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle each side of each slice with salt and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Dab off excess moisture and place in a single layer onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly coat each side of each slice with olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes, flipping once during cooking.
When the eggplant is about 10 minute from done, form dough into desired shape. Place onto pizza pan or baking sheet that’s been brushed with a little olive oil and dusted with cornmeal. I used a circular pizza pan this time for a thicker crust.
Top crust with an even layer of sauce. Slice mozzarella and cut into big bite size pieces. Remove eggplant from oven and turn the oven temp up to 500 degrees. Place the eggplant discs evenly over the sauce (I cut them in half to make placement easier). Top with mozzarella and grated parm.
Optional step: brush olive oil onto crust and season with sea salt and garlic powder.
Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is crisp and cheese is starting to brown.
*of course you can use homemade dough too, get my recipe here (use 1/2 batch)