Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

DSC_0878

Hello readers! I’m just going to jump right in because I’m so excited for this post. I don’t say this often because I’m cooking literally all the time, but this recipe tops the charts for me. One of my favorite dishes I’ve ever come up with. While this dish is really simple, there’s a lot going on, so let’s break it down a little.

Last week I made a batch of classic basil pesto. I first used it for a simple pesto fusilli pasta with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini and roasted red peppers. Yummy no doubt, but pretty standard. So for the remainder of the pesto, I wanted to come up with something new and original. While at a restaurant a couple weeks ago, I had a delish Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil and it was just divine. Additionally, Chop’t (my go-to fast-casual restaurant for inventive and fresh salads) recently added a summer seasonal salad plate that combines the classic Caprese flavors with sweet peaches. A Caprese-style dish with basil pesto and peaches was obviously the direction I needed to go. But the question was, how to make it a meal? Why not toss the pesto with nutty brown rice and make it a rice bowl!? Perfect.

DSC_0899

When I put this dish together last night, Matt was definitely skeptical. I have tried peaches in savory dishes a handful of times, so I wasn’t quite as worried as him. But still, I was eager to see if my recipe came together as deliciously as I had imagined. Short answer, it did. Matt and I both absolutely loved it. The ripe and juicy peaches with the savory basil pesto worked together in perfect harmony. And who doesn’t love mini balls of fresh mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes? The last touch was to add mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Ugh, so good. I’m totally obsessed. It’s summer in a bowl!

DSC_0910

I love this dish too because not only are the flavors out of control, but it’s also a balanced and light meal that I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty eating. It’s naturally gluten-free due to the brown rice and packed with fresh produce (aka tons of vitamins and nutrients). Because of this, I definitely consider it to be a “detox meal”. Yes, it has cheese. But that doesn’t stop me from calling something healthy. No way.

Warning, I’m about to go on a mini rant.

I got a comment on my Instagram one time because I had hash-tagged “healthy” on a simple cage-free-vegetarian-fed-egg and cheese sandwich on a sprouted grain English muffin. Side note: I love commentary, especially commentary that sparks healthy debate so know I’m not lashing out because of a controversial comment. Anyway, the commentor simply said “cheese isn’t healthy”. Since then, the whole “cheese is not healthy” issue is something that really bothers me. Not only because I love cheese and find that it can make many meat-free meals more satisfying, but also because it’s such a  ridiculous notion. Processed cheese in excessive quantities, not good. Anything high in fat and sodium in excessive quantities, not good. Natural, calcium- and protein-rich cheese in moderation? Go for it. The word “healthy” is subjective and can be defined in countless ways. To label cheese as unhealthy is a major generalization that doesn’t take a lot of factors into consideration. Net net, please do not generalize all cheeses and place them automatically in the category of “unhealthy”. At least not to me.

DSC_0871

Anyway, I think I’m getting a little bit hangry here, and I have leftovers from last night’s Caprese Bowls calling my name. Screaming my name actually. Gotta go!

Caprese Bowls with Pesto Rice & Ripe Peaches
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 20-50 min (depending on rice cooking method)

Ingredients

1 cup dry Brown Rice or 2 cups cooked Brown Rice
Sea Salt
1/3 cup Basil Pesto (get my recipe here or use store bought)
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 ripe Peaches, pits removed, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (I used Bocconcini, or bite size mozzarella, each ball halved)

To Make

Cook rice according to package instructions. Cooking dry rice takes about 45 minutes, frozen cooked rice or pre-cooked rice works too. If cooking dry rice, use 1 cup rice with 2-1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Meanwhile, prepare pesto (if making from scratch, store bought works too). Cut peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella. Toss greens with vinegar. Divide dressed lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Evenly distribute peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella over greens.

When rice is finished cooking, add pesto to rice and stir until well combine. Scoop about 1/2 cup pesto-rice onto each bowl. Serve with a fresh basil garnish if desired.

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

DSC_0896

My recent vacation to my family’s summer cottage in Canada was super inspirational in terms of cooking and food. To no one’s surprise we ate well and often, and had a blast in the kitchen along the way. The inspiration for this post came from spending time cooking with my mom, who is the master chef in my life. She is the queen of delicious, simple and inventive cooking and, somehow, everything always tastes better when she makes it.

DSC_0933
One of my favorite meals from the trip was my mom’s loaded pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and fresh basil. She’s not inventing the wheel with this one, as pesto pasta is pretty standard, but watching her throw it together in a matter of minutes made me wonder why I wasn’t taking advantage of how easy a pesto pasta comes together. I’ve said it before, I need more recipes that can be thrown together in a pinch with minimal effort, and this pasta dish falls under that category. I’ll talk more about the specifics of her awesome loaded pesto pasta in a later post, but today, I’m just focusing on the actual pesto.

DSC_0920

In addition to my mom’s pasta, I’ve been seeing and eating pesto everywhere these days. My favorite pizza place in Williamsburg (Vinnie’s) uses a pesto vinaigrette as the dressing on my favorite salad, and while driving from our cottage to the Toronto airport we stopped for lunch where I had an amazing Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil. Finally, on a recent trip to St. Louis, I ordered a pizza at my fave spot (called Pi) that drizzled pesto on top just before serving. It’s clear that a go-to pesto recipe is a must.

DSC_0874
I’ve made pesto before, although it’s been awhile, and I’ve seen it made on TV loads of times. It’s quite simple and always pretty much the same. Use a food processor to blend the seven uncooked ingredients and you’re done. Yes, that’s it. It’s literally a five to ten minute process. Those seven ingredients are basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Taking a tip from my girl Ina Garten, I used a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts, but you can use one or the other if preferred. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan is ideal, but I used pre-grated from Whole Foods this time because I didn’t feel like adding another step to the process (the easier the better!). The last thing I will say about pesto is that, in order to keep it looking fresh and bright, remove all air before storing in the fridge or freezer. I find that a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto before covering with a lid is the way to go.


So without further ado, my recipe for classic and simple basil pesto, to be used on anything from pasta to pizza to salad.

Happy summer and happy Friday!

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto
Serves: 8 (2 tbs per serving)   Start to Finish: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (use 4 cloves if you absolutely love garlic)
1/3 cup total Pine Nuts and/or Walnuts
2/3 cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste (I used 1 tsp each)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

To Make

Combine basil, garlic and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until fine. While food processor is on, drizzle in olive oil. Add Parmesan, pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well combined.

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

Cheap & Easy: Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza

Cheap & Easy: Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza

DSC_0346 2

In our household, Friday night is always dinner date night. Although Matt and I eat dinner together just about every night, there’s something about Friday night (or any night without work the next day) that feels so much more relaxed and intimate. You can really focus on the food, enjoy a couple drinks without fearing the early morning alarm clock, and fully relax. For date night, we always switch it up; choosing to go out to dinner for some date nights, ordering delivery for some and, of course, cooking some date night meals ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, but I’m starting to think I like the homemade, reclusive version of date night the best. Why? Because not only is it more comfy and cozy, but it’s also so much cheaper.

DSC_0333

Last Friday, before date night, I made a quick trip to Whole Foods where I was able to pick up the few ingredients needed for this easy and delicious meal, Spinach & Feta Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust. You may be thinking “Whole Foods? Cheap?” Yes, because just about all of the ingredients for these pizzas are available in the Whole Foods 365 version. Now, if you don’t know about 365 brand products, you’re doing Whole Foods all wrong. I’m constantly hearing how expensive Whole Foods is, and I agree that there are definitely pricey products and brands at Whole Foods. But that’s where 365 comes in. 365 is the Whole Foods generic brand, and one that can be trusted in terms of quality ingredients at a great price. You can get everything from pasta, dairy and spices to canned beans, fresh spinach and frozen entrees. Literally, the store is stuffed to the brim with 365 products. If you go to Whole Foods and focus on only buying 365 brand products, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at the register. Trust me, you will be.

DSC_0314

So anyways, the pizza turned out uber flavorful and delicious, and it was ready in a pinch. I simply sautéed the the spinach with oil, fresh garlic and salt, and then layered it onto the store-bought whole wheat crust with marinara and double cheese. A quick 10 minutes in the oven the pizza is ready for devouring. I just love this pizza. Sautéed spinach and garlic is already one of all-time fave foods. Add salty feta, gooey mozzarella and a crispy crust? Winner winner [pizza] dinner.

DSC_0328

This will be my last post until the last week of July. I’m so happy to say that I’ll be MIA next week as we are leaving tonight for our rustic lake house in Canada. It’s in the middle of nowhere and I couldn’t be more excited to get away (check out my Instagram throughout the week to experience this heavenly place, it really can’t be described). And when I return, I have a super exciting announcement to make. Intrigued? You’ll just have to wait. So enjoy the weekend and this upcoming week and definitely make this pizza. You won’t be disappointed!

Garlicky Spinach & Feta Pizza
Serves: 2-3*   Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

22 ounces Pizza Dough, approx. (I’m using Whole Wheat for added nutritional value)
1 cup all-natural Marinara Sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Mozzarella
1/2 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
1 tablespoon Olive Oil, plus more
1 bag fresh Baby Spinach
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly minced
Sea Salt, fine-grain
Corn Meal (optional)
Crushed Red Pepper Flake (optional)

To Make

Refrigerated dough should sit out for at least an hour prior to baking. Place ball of dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Leave at room temperature for 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Make garlicky spinach topping. In a medium skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 cloves minced garlic over medium heat. When garlic begins to sizzle, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add fresh spinach leaves, tossing to coat with garlic and oil. When the spinach has wilted slightly, or after about 1 minute, add 2 teaspoons water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the spinach, toss to combine. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, remove from heat.

Spread dough out to the fit the size of a large sheet pan (use whatever shape pan you want and/or divide dough between multiple pans, this amount of dough should make one large pizza or two smaller pizzas).

Lightly oil baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle a thin layer of corn meal evenly over oiled pan. Place dough onto pan, readjust shape as needed.

Evenly spread sauce over the dough, leaving a thin ring around the edges untouched. Evenly distribute about half of the spinach mixture over the sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella and feta over spinach. Top with remaining spinach. At this point I like to sprinkle the crust with a little bit of salt and also add a dash or two to the whole pie, that’s optional though.

Bake pizza for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

* Matt and I ate, combined, about 3/4 of the pizza for dinner, with side salads. We were stuffed. It could’ve easily served 3 people with a side salad too. Without a side of some kind, I would plan on 1 pizza for every 2 people.

DSC_0344

Buffalo Cauliflower & Brown Rice Bowls (vegan optional)

Buffalo Cauliflower & Brown Rice Bowls (vegan optional)

DSC_0387

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.

DSC_0399

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.

DSC_0383
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.

 

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

DSC_0239

It’s been about 10 days since my last blog post and I couldn’t be happier to get back in the groove. Since coming back to NYC after a fabulous vaca in my hometown of St. Louis, life has seemed a bit crazier than normal. Maybe it was a few days without cooking gas and hot water (long story), maybe it was the inevitable homesickness that comes after going back home and spending time with my parents, or maybe it was an abnormal amount of items on my to do list last week. Most likely, it was a combination of all three and I was in need of a recharge. You see, I’m a creature of habit and routine makes me feel in control. So because routine is hard to come by as an adult, if I’m feeling a bit out of control, I need to center myself by refocusing on the things in my life that are routine. Thank goodness for Saturday, it was just what the doc ordered.

DSC_0263

Matt spent most of the day playing golf this past Saturday which gave me the day to gain some control. Morning yoga, lots of iced coffee, a trip to the farmers market and quality time in the kitchen. Amazing. But the most amazing part? The simply scrumptious goat cheese and veggie topped toasts I made for lunch using fresh and local bread from the farmers market. The flavors in these toasts are out of control. Tangy goat cheese, sweet basil, bright roasted cherry tomatoes and slow cooked red onion come together to create a total masterpiece. And so simple too!

DSC_0230

I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity lately. I actually think about simplifying my life quite often. Whether my apartment or my wardrobe, it’s definitely a work in progress but I try to take steps toward decluttering and cleansing whenever possible. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about simplifying my food and recipes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a complicated recipe that takes hours of time and loads of energy. After all, the kitchen is my happy place. But I really want to come up with delicious and wholesome meals that require less ingredients and less work. I can see my future and it’s going to be busier than ever, so I really have no choice but to start now to come up with lots of easy go-to dishes that allow me a little time in the kitchen to decompress while also getting healthy, clean food on the table quickly and seamlessly.

DSC_0237

Making a toast (aka an open face sandwich) is the perfect base for a simple dish. You can really top a good quality slice of bread with any combination of flavors. It’s kind of like a pizza, kind of like a sandwich, so what’s not to love? This recipe for Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes and Red Onion is the first of many toast recipes and the perfect dish to kick off my effort to create delicious and simple recipes for when life gets crazy.

DSC_0212

DSC_0217

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomato & Red Onion
Servings: 4   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
2 cloves Garlic, peeled & minced
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
1 large Red Onion
8 ounces Plain Goat Cheese
1/3 cup fresh Basil Leaves
4 thick Slices Fresh Bread (I love the whole wheat Peasant Round Loaf from Baker’s Bounty)

To Make

Remove goat cheese from fridge to soften.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut tomatoes in half. In a bowl, toss tomatoes with chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread tomatoes out onto baking sheet in a single, closely packed layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, toss, and bake again for another 30-35 minutes.

When the tomatoes go in the oven, start caramelizing the onion. Slice onion into half moon slices (1/4″ to 1/2″). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add onions, toss to coat with oil and to separate the layers. Cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low or medium-low. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons water to onion. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and sweet. Add a tablespoon or two of water if the onions are getting too dry.

While tomatoes and onions cook, mix goat cheese with chopped basil leaves. Set aside. When tomatoes and onions are cooked, remove from heat to cool. Drizzle one side of each bread slice with 1/2 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Toast in toaster oven or under broiler until lightly golden and crisp.

To assemble toasts, spread each slice of bread with 1/4 of the herbed goat cheese mixture. Divide tomatoes and onions evenly over toasts. Serve cold, warm or at room temp. Garnish with more fresh basil.

Meatless Meal Plan: Car Camping for Two

Meatless Meal Plan: Car Camping for Two

DSC_0181

Matt and I are really big on camping. And when I say that Matt and I are really big on camping, I really mean that Matt is a camping pro and I’m along for the ride. That’s not to say I don’t love it though. I actually grew up spending my summers glamping (glamourous, more comfortable camping) on my family’s island in Ontario, Canada. While it wasn’t totally “roughing it”, going to Canada definitely made me super comfortable in nature and without the comforts of civilization. The only electricity on our little island comes from a small generator, which is rarely on. To get to the nearest major grocery store takes hours, and the nearest convenience store is a 40 minute boat ride away. On the island, we spend our time reading, playing cards, hiking, fishing, cooking, eating, napping, crafting and exploring. We sleep on old beds in ancient screened-in cabins, perfect for star gazing as you fall asleep, and we spend mornings sitting around the campfire, looking out over the beautiful Canadian wilderness. Sounds magical, right? To me, it’s heaven. In fact, we’ll be heading to Rickey Island in just over a month. Can’t wait.

Sitting by the Water
My favorite spot while camping last weekend, right by the water.

In addition to our trips to Rickey Island, Matt and I always find time to do a little camping on our own. We’ve hiked to camp, we’ve canoed to camp, and we’ve car-camped. Car camping is my personal favorite, because you can take more stuff and leave the food and valuables in the car. It just makes it a little more relaxing and a little easier, ideal for a short weekend camping trip. And that’s exactly what we did last weekend. Matt and I joined some of his University of Vermont friends and had a wonderful 36 hours hiking and chilling on the water. This campsite, called Black Bear Campground, was totally awesome. One of my favorite campgrounds so far. It’s located in Phoenicia, a small town near Woodstock, New York. There were beautiful hiking trails, a wide, flowing creek running along the edge of each campsite, and a couple resident black bears. Yes, we saw a black bear and her cub at Black Bear Campground. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? (I hope everyone picked up on that song reference). After our morning hike, I spent most of Saturday on a chair overlooking the creek with a beer in my hand. It was just lovely. I even saw a group of fly fishers waddle through and one of them caught a fish right in front of me! So cool.Whole Food Camping Menu.jpg

Fly Fishers
View from our campsite. You can see the fly fishers!

Anyway, being a whole foodie and cooking addict means that I’m not bringing just any old food supply. One of my favorite activities while camping is the food part! I like planning it, executing it, and most importantly, eating it. So what does a vegetarian whole-foodie bring camping that will satisfy both her and her carnivore boyfriend? Well that’s what this post is all about! Four meals and a few snacks that blend together the essential elements of camping food…simple, fun and satisfying. I’ve even included packing tips and essential utensils, to make prep even easier.

 

DSC_0233

Matt and I didn’t arrive at the campsite until 11pm on Friday night, so we didn’t need to worry about Friday night dinner (we ordered pizza while packing up at home). Then for lunch on Sunday we headed to Woodstock for a sit down lunch. Basically this meal-plan covers all the food we needed for all of Saturday and Sunday morning (essentially one full day of camping, plus an extra breakfast before hitting the road on the second day). Use this as a guide and fill it in how you see fit…that could mean an extra dinner and lunch or maybe s’mores supplies for a classic camping dessert by the fire.

Hummus Sandwich

DSC_0227

DSC_0193
I hope my tips, tricks and pics inspire you to get outdoors, take advantage of summer and get a quick camping trip like ours on the calendar. Camping Shopping ListPrep at Home

For Two Egg & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwiches and Home Fries

Cut potatoes and half the onion into a medium dice. Toss with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a thin layer of olive oil to a skillet. Add potatoes and cook over camping stove or fire pit, stirring often to prevent burning. Honestly, ours got super crispy and a bit black/burned on the bottom but they still were amazing! You could also try cooking the potatoes in a foil packet over the camp fire. We didn’t want to start a fire because we were leaving after breakfast to hike, we used a camping pan and a portable flame.

Peel and slice 2 hard boiled eggs. Slice 2 ounces cheddar cheese. Use egg and cheese slices to make sandwiches on the English muffins. Season egg slices with cheese. You can griddle the sandwiches in a skillet/pan over a portable stove top or over a fire pit. Or wrap the sandwiches in foil and heat over the fire. Always be extra careful about burning food while camping, it happens easily.

For Two Hummus Sandwiches

Spread about 1/4 cup of hummus onto 2 slices of bread. Top each slice with 1-2 ounces crumbled feta and the reserved roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts. Top each sandwich with a second slice of bread. Serve with all-natural potato chips.

For Eggplant Burgers and Chopped Salad

Slice eggplant width-wise into 1/2 slices. Sprinkle each slice with salt, allow to sit for 15-30 minutes to let the salt draw out the bitter liquid. Brush each side of each slice with olive oil. Season with pepper. Grill slices on a grate over the fire pit until soft and tender. On a BBQ it takes 3-5 minutes preside, over a fire pit the time will vary depending on the fire. When slices are almost cooked, top with 1 ounce slices fresh mozzarella cheese and allow to melt. Slice tomato. Stuff buns with 1 or 2 eggplant slices, a slice of tomato (seasoned with salt), and basil leaves (or a hefty seasoning of dried basil).

Dump mason jar filled with salad into a large bowl and toss. Serve with burgers.

I also bought a 1/3 lb beef patty for Matt. We grilled it with the eggplant and he topped his burger with both the patty and an eggplant slice.

For Almond Butter & Banana Sandwiches

Spread about 2 tablespoons of Almond Butter onto each of two slices bread. Drizzle with honey or agave (a little goes a long way. Slices bananas and layer over almond butter. Each open faced or top with another slice of bread. I prefer open face (less bread).

DSC_0198
The view of Phoenicia, New York while hiking.

Rich & Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce

Rich & Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce

DSC_0235

Happy Friday, everyone!

If you read my last post sharing a delicious recipe for Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls, then you know that I served these delicious “meatballs” with a homemade Vegan Vodka Sauce. The sauce was so tasty that I just had to share the recipe. And just in time for the weekend, the best time to spend some relaxation time in the kitchen.

With everything I have going on in my life (work, blogging, yoga, social life, etc.), I’d be crazy not to take advantage of shortcuts when it comes to food and cooking. A tasty jar of red sauce (made with only natural ingredients, of course) is one of those shortcuts that I often take advantage of. But still, nothing compares to a homemade tomato sauce bursting with fresh Italian flavor. So when I have the time to make my own tomato sauce, I’m all over it.

DSC_0261

When thinking about the sauce I wanted to make to go along with the veggie balls, I really wanted to experiment with a new homemade (and vegan-friendly) sauce. Vodka Sauce was an easy choice for Matt and me because we’ve been talking about making our own version of vodka sauce for some time now. Adding vodka to a freshly made tomato sauce was simple enough, because I’ve made red sauce a million times and I always have vodka in the freezer. The real question was how to achieve the richness, creaminess and beautiful pink color of a traditional vodka sauce…without using cream.

DSC_0188

Let’s get something straight. I love real cream. On weekends, I always treat myself to iced coffee with a splash of half-and-half. And there’s nothing like a whipped cream frosting on a moist cake. But not for this recipe. Why not use cream? Well, not only do I like the challenge of omitting dairy from recipes, but I also like to keep some days and meals dairy-free for the health and ecological benefits. So for this sauce, I’m going cream-free.

DSC_0181

To replace the rich cream, I decided to try a vegan cream made from raw cashews. Since I’ve never made cashew cream myself, I used a recipe from Beard & Bonnet as a guide. It was so simple, just soak the cashews and then grind them up with water, lemon juice and salt until a delectably smooth cream is formed. Easy enough. While the cashews soaked I made the red sauce and vodka portion of the sauce.

DSC_0225

This sauce is classic. Fresh plum tomatoes, lots of garlic, yellow onion and a blend of dried Italian seasonings. Not so classic is my use of coconut oil, rather than olive oil or butter. I find that coconut oil has the richness of butter and creates the subtle sweetness that I love about vodka sauce, without adding dairy or sweetener. I love what the coconut oil does for this sauce, so although it may sound strange, it’s worth a try.

DSC_0237

I hope everyone has a super Friday and lovely weekend! And if you feel like kicking Sunday dinner up a notch, why not try this amazing vegan vodka sauce.

Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 2 hours (45 minutes active)Ingredients2 tablespoons Coconut Oil
4 cloves Garlic
1 yellow Onion
2 pounds Tomatoes (I used Organic Plum Tomatoes)
1 cup Water (plus more if necessary)
2 teaspoons Sea Salt*
1 teaspoon Dried Basil
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flake
1/3-1/2 cup quality Vodka**
1/4-1/2 cup Cashew Cream (get Beard & Bonnet’s recipe here or my adaptation below)

To Make

Cut tomatoes and onions into a fine dice. Finely mince garlic.

Heat coconut oil and garlic over medium heat, allow garlic to sizzle for 1-2 minutes. Add onion. Cook onion and garlic for 6-8 minutes. Add tomatoes, water and seasoning. When liquid boils, reduce to simmer. Simmer covered for 90 minutes. You can leave the sauce with some texture or you can use a food processor or emulsion blender to get a smoother consistency (I like something in the middle so I use an emulsion blender to break it up a little bit).

To make vodka sauce, carefully mix vodka into the hot (or reheated) red sauce (or 2 1/2 or 3 cups of any red sauce). Add 1/2 cup vodka. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until alcohol is cooked off. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 cup vegan cashew cream (see recipe below) or 1/4 cup dairy cream. You can add more or less cream depending on your taste.

*adjust salt according to personal taste
**i used 1/2 cup of vodka and I could definitely taste it, in a great way. 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup will work, just with a lighter vodka flavor. Your call!

Cashew Cream Recipe (adapted from Beard & Bonnet’s recipe)
1.5 cups raw, unsalted Cashews
1 1/4 cups water (more or less)*
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice (or half of a large lemon)
3/4 teaspoon salt (more or less)

Soak raw cashews in a bowl of filtered water for 1-4 hours. Add soaked cashews to a food processor or high powered blender. Add water salt and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.

I used a food processor and it took longer than I expected. I had to stop and hand stir/scrape the bowl a couple times. When in doubt, just keep blending.

*start with 3/4 cup water and add more as needed

Vegan Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls

Vegan Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls

DSC_0275

When I think of some of my favorite meals from my meat-eating days, classic Italian meatballs definitely top the list. Whether on a sub sandwich, over pasta or even on pizza (shout out to Dewey’s Pizza in STL), meatballs are the bomb.

Whenever my parents come to visit me in NYC, one of their go-to eateries is The Meatball Shop. It’s a favorite of mine as well, and I’ve been lucky enough to live within walking to two of their locations over the past five years. The concept of this trendy yet casual local chain of restaurants is actually really cool. Using dry erase markers, you choose what you want by “checking it off” on a laminated menu. You choose the type of ball (beef, pork etc) and the sauce (pesto, cream, tomato etc.) and then the preparation (hero, over pasta, alongside steamed spinach etc).

DSC_0261
Whenever I say that I love The Meatball Shop, I’m undoubtedly asked how that is possible when I don’t eat meat. Easy answer. One of the ball options is a delicious veggie ball, and I like it best as either a hero sandwich or in “the kitchen sink” market plate form. No matter what preparation I choose, when choosing a sauce, I always go for the classic tomato sauce with a side of their silky parmesan cream sauce.

DSC_0199

I think subconsciously the idea for a veggie ball hero with tomato cream sauce was inspired by my typical order at The Meatball Shop. And it was a delicious idea. I spent literally all of this past Sunday in the kitchen making my own veggie balls, vegan cashew cream and a homemade vodka sauce. I always love spending hours in the kitchen, but this particular meal turned out perfectly, so this was a long but particularly rewarding cooking sesh.

DSC_0241

The recipe I’m sharing in this post is one of my favorite ways to make veggie balls, a Roasted Eggplant and White Bean Veggie Ball.

The inspiration for an eggplant-based veggie ball comes from Matt. A year or two ago, Matt made us a batch of roasted eggplant balls stuffed with fresh mozzarella, and they were so tasty. My variation uses the roasted eggplant and then I also added some white canellini beans for a protein boost and some hearty substance.

DSC_0300
These meat-less meatballs are my favorite for a few reasons; they are super flavorful and yummy, they stay together and hold their shape, and they contain no eggs dairy making them vegan friendly.

But mostly I love them because of how delicious they are. The balls get their amazing flavor from sweet roasted eggplant, fresh basil, and lots of garlic. Other than all-natural whole wheat bread crumbs and some additional seasoning and a bit of olive oil, that’s all you need to create these fabulous balls. I recommend making a double batch and use them in different ways throughout the week. I should’ve made a double batch on Sunday because this batch was gone by Monday.

Italian Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 2 hours (20 min active time)

Ingredients

2 pounds Eggplant
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Sea Salt*
1 can Canellini Beans, drained & rinsed
15 fresh Basil leaves
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs, divided (I like Whole Foods brand)
1 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast (optional)**
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Olive Oil

To Make

Slice eggplant into 1″ discs. Cube each disc into 4-10 cubes, depending on disc size. Soak eggplant in a bowl of cold water for 45-90 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse eggplant cubes and drain in colander. Use a clean towel to remove excess moisture. Toss eggplant cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, tossing half way through cooking.

Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Allow eggplant to cool slightly. I put it in a the food processor with the top on for a few minutes to release some liquid. Combine eggplant, canellini beans, basil leaves, 4 cloves garlic and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Pulse until a smooth mixture begins to form, be sure to keep a little texture. Pour eggplant mixture into a bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Form eggplant mixture into balls (I used a 1/4 cup measure for each). Toss each ball in the breadcrumb & oil mixture. Place coated balls on a parchment lined baking sheet. I got 9 balls out of this batch.

Bake balls at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Turn heat up to 425 degrees and cook for another 25 minutes or until crisp and golden, flip half way through

*adjust salt according to personal taste
**if you choose not to use nutritional yeast, you may need to replace it with more bread crumbs

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

DSC_0254

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

DSC_0223
I’m not big on calorie counting for a couple reasons. First is because I’ve spent so much time calorie counting throughout the years that I have a pretty good sense of roughly how many calories are in most foods, allowing me to be unconsciously aware of how much I’m eating. I also don’t like counting calories because I think it can take the fun out of eating a cooking. And lastly, I don’t like counting calories because I find it to be misleading in terms of choosing an unhealthy food over a healthy food just because they are equal in calories. With that said, when trying to trim down and debloat, I’ve found that it happens much faster if you’re staying within a low-to-moderate calorie range. So when detoxing I stay within a 1,500-1,900 calorie range, typically shooting for around 1,600. Obviously this varies by person, but I’ve found this to be a sustainable, satisfying and effective range for myself.

DSC_0199

DSC_0211
So the question is, what kinds of delicious and healthy foods do I eat during my detox regimens. Today I’m sharing my recipe for a super tasty pita pocket sandwich that clocks in at about 445 calories. I made these for both Matt and I to bring to work on Monday, and I kid you not, Matt actually called this sandwich one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Matt is the ultimate meat-eater-man so for him to say something so light and healthy is also super yummy means a lot.

DSC_0234
These pita sandwiches are a super simple combination of homemade white bean spread, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh baby spinach, all stuffed into a Demascus Bakery Whole Wheat Pita Pocket. I buy these pitas at Whole Foods and I like them because they are all-natural, made with only pronounceable ingredients, and cost just $1.50 for a pack of four. When I discovered these pitas, my commitment to a whole-foodie life got so much easier.

DSC_0246

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

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

Ingredients

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

To Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of Basic: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Best of Basic: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

DSC_0205

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.

DSC_0182
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.

DSC_0186
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.

DSC_0189
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

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

Vegan Verde Crack Sauce

DSC_0185

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.

DSC_0230
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!).

DSC_0222
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.

DSC_0173
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.
DSC_0192
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

DSC_0182

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”