Veggie Lover’s Pizza with a Crispy Thin Crust and Homemade Sauce

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In my opinion, no matter what your favorite pizza toppings are, the crust and the sauce will always be a crucial common denominator. The sauce should be made, at least in part, with fresh tomatoes, with plenty of garlic and herbs. The dough should be thin, crispy, and yet tender. (Sorry we are not taking any counter-arguments against these two rules for PROPER pizza at this time, you gluttonous deep-dish freaks.)

After a lot of experimentation, and many hits and misses, I was so pleased by how these turned out. And especially pleased that they were created without the need for special equipment like the stand mixer or a pizza stone. I used a 12″ oven-safe cast iron pan. As for toppings, I’m sure that is something you’ll want to personalize, as you can see from the photos, I made EVERYTHING pizzas. This included mushrooms, eggplants, kabocha squash, olives, peppers, corn, jalapeños, tomatoes, and fresh basil. If you are looking for ideas, here are some other combos I really like:

  • sliced shallots, sage, and thinly sliced mushrooms tossed in balsamic and black pepper
  • BBQ sauce, cilantro, roasted sweet potato, and red onions
  • Pesto and sliced tomatoes
  • jalapeño, caramelized onions and pineapple

Also pictured here, I used my cashew alfredo sauce and dropped blobs of it over the sauce, then spread them out a bit with the back of a spoon. It does add a little creaminess but I think the pizza is just as good without it!

Homemade Veggie Lover’s Pizza

Makes two 12″ pizzas

sauce*: 

4 big ripe beefsteak tomatoes

1/2 cup tomato paste

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

4 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced

5 sprigs basil

5 sprigs oregano

5 sprigs Italian parsley

some fresh ground pepper

You can always go the traditional route of dropping your tomatoes into boiling water for a few minutes and then plunging them into ice water to remove the peel. However, I prefer a different method. Chop each tomato in half and scoop out the seeds. Then, holding a cheese grater over a medium sized sauce pan, simply grate the pulp of the tomato right into, the pan, using it’s skin to protect your fingers until there is no pulp left. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes and by the end you have a tidy little pile of perfectly shredded tomato in your pan. Turn the heat on to medium and add the tomato paste, shallot, and salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every couple minutes.

During this time is a great opportunity to chop or prepare any toppings you may want to use and have them standing by.

*Note, this sauce recipe makes enough sauce for 4 pizzas, if I’m going to the trouble of making sauce from scratch, I like to make extra to use for pasta, lasagnas, whatever you might want it for the rest of the week! If you want to cut the recipe in half, just make sure to use a smaller sauce pan so it doesn’t burn from too much surface area.

Pizza Dough

1 package rapid rise yeast

1 cup warm water (110 degrees)

2 tsp sugar

2.5 cups of flour, plus one more cup for rolling

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1/2 cup for drizzling and oiling the pan

1/4 cup corn meal

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put your 10″-12″ cast iron pan that you plan to use into the oven as it heats. In a large bowl, combine the yeast, water, and sugar, and set aside for about 10 minutes to foam up. After ten minutes stir in the 2.5 cups of flour, salt, and 1/3 cup olive oil. Stir with a big spoon or fork until really well combined and pulling away from the sides of the bowl.

Sprinkle a generous amount of flour onto your work surface, knead the dough until it becomes smooth and doesn’t stick to your fingers as easily, adding more flour as needed. Just a couple of minutes. Using your fingers, start to press the dough into a disc shape.

This is basically what I considered war with my dough, it took forever to get right and only my fingers seemed to do the trick, not a rolling pin. Once it finally starts to obey and lay flat to approximately 10″-12″, carefully pull the cast iron pan out of the oven and drizzle it with some oil. Sprinkle the cornmeal over that. From here you should try to work relatively fast and try to get it into the oven as quickly as possible. Ever-so-carefully, lift your dough up and plop it into the pan, gently pressing it into place so that it retains it’s shape. Some have suggested folding it in half, then in half again, then unfolding it in the pan. I have found that to be a disaster. So just gently slide your hands under it and lay it down gingerly, like an expensive beaded dress.

From here, the crispiness is achieved by lightly drizzling olive oil around the edges of the crust and using the back of a spoon to gently smear it all over. You by no means have to use this much oil, it just depends on a waistline:crispiness internal dialogue that only you can have with yourself!

After that, spoon a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce over the dough and use a spoon to spread it evenly and thinly. Arrange your toppings on top of the sauce and then pop the pan in the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, keeping an eye for that perfect golden color on the edges.

When you pull it out of the oven, use a spatula to lift and slide the whole pizza onto a big plate. Wait a minute or two to cool then slice and enjoy!!!!

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Before going in the oven

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Corn Bread Muffins and Your Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

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I’ve tried to make corn bread several times with different ‘fail proof’ vegan recipes around the web, but they have all been pretty much the same– dry, too dense, un-flavorful, sad. So I decided to do something that I normally hate… experiments in baking! For once in this carefully measured medium, my instincts led me in the right direction. I started with Isa Chandra’s recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen, and worked my way toward a cake-ier and more complex flavor profile. The final iteration tonight nailed it! (don’t hate me Isa, I just have omnivores to please!)

So I hope you enjoy these little cornbread muffins. They are best served microwaved for 30 seconds or so with a little butter and maple syrup on top; or of course, fresh out of the oven, burning your fingers.

In case you are hosting Thanksgiving like me this year, I’ve got you covered! Here a are 9 more Thanksgiving recipes to add to your feast. I hope this helps. Happy Holidays and remember that it’s all about gratitude… and food. It’s really just about the food.

9 Thanksgiving Recipes to Make this Season:

Portobello Wellington

Porcini Mushroom and Farro Stuffed Honeynut Squashes with Toasted Hazelnuts

Savory Sourdough Stuffing

Harvest Bliss Bowl Salad

Winter Bliss Bowl Salad

Creamy Mac n’ Cheese

Maple Mustard Roasted Rainbow Carrots

Rosemary Focaccia 

Classic Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Sauce

Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

Makes about 24

2 cups soy milk

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 cup flour

2 cups cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

6 tbs maple syrup

1/3 cup expeller pressed coconut oil

4 tbs Vegan Egg  (you can buy this way cheaper at most health food stores)

3 tbs of melted Earth Balance

2 finely diced green jalapeños

1.5 cups fresh or frozen organic corn

Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners.

Combine soy milk and apple cider vinegar, give it a stir, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.

In another bowl, combine soy milk mixture and Vegan Egg and beat for a minute with a whisk until well combined. Then whisk in the maple syrup and coconut oil and Earth Balance (f you are using it.)

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and add the jalapeños and corn. Gently combine everything, with as little stirring as possible. You want it just combined smoothly, not beaten to death.

Spoon the batter into the liners. You can make them about level, they don’t rise very much. Bake for 15-20 minutes, till just set. If it makes you feel any safer, I just accidentally left my last batch in for an extra 15 minutes, and they still seem totally delicious, hmmm, one of the world’s mysteries. But yeah, aim for 20 minutes of bake time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Porcini Mushroom and Farro Stuffed Honeynut Squashes with Toasted Hazelnuts

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A little Thanksgiving inspiration for you! I found these honeynut squashes at the store, they are like mini butternuts! They fit in the palm of your hand, the perfect size for a side dish. Add something unexpected, colorful, and delightful to your thanksgiving spread this year. They were pretty quick and easy to throw together.

Porcini Mushroom and Farro Stuffed Honeynut Squashes with Toasted Hazelnuts

Makes 6 servings

3 honey nut squashes (you could also just use one big butternut)

1 tbs olive oil

a couple tablespoons of brown sugar

a dash of cinnamon

a dash of salt

2.5 oz dried porcini mushrooms

1.5 cups farro

3 cups of vegetable broth

1 tbs olive oil

6 cloves of garlic

a few sprigs of parsley

5 big sage leaves

a few sprigs of thyme

a sprig of rosemary

1.5 tbs vegan butter (optional)

1/4 cup white wine

salt and pepper to taste

1 handful of hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squashes in half lengthwise and scrape out the stringy seeds. Place them cut side up on a baking pan and rub all over with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar and salt. Sprinkle on a small dash of cinnamon. Bake until fork tender, about 30 minutes.

Soak the mushrooms in a bowl of hot water until softened.

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a medium pot. Add the farro and cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain any excess broth away.

Chop the garlic and herbs and mushrooms finely. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan and sauté the mushrooms for a couple minutes, then add the garlic, herbs, and butter. Sauté for a few minutes until the moisture is gone things start to stick to the pan. Then add the white wine and stir it in, scraping the bottom as you go, and cook another minute or two.

When the squashes are done, pull them out and scoop some of the farro mixture into each one. Spread the chopped hazelnuts on a baking pan and pop them in the oven for a few minutes to toast. Keep a close eye because they can burn quickly. Then top the stuffed squashes with the nuts. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Picnic Perfect Israeli Couscous

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It’s almost time for Thanksgiving! Whether you are hosting it yourself or just bringing a side dish to the celebration, why not offer your guests something just a little bit unexpected? While I know my dream of throwing a Moroccan themed Thanksgiving will never come to fruition, (my family likes to keep it traditional) I can still sneak in the occasional side dish with some Mediterranean flavors!

This is a great potluck dish because it can be eaten hot or cold. It has big, bright sweet and savory flavors and makes a pretty accompaniment on any plate. I originally created this recipe for an outdoor picnic brunch, hence the name, so as you can see it is a quite the versatile side dish!

Picnic Perfect Israeli Couscous

makes about 10 servings

3.5 cups vegetable broth

1 tbs olive oil

1 1/2 cups Israeli Couscous

1/2 cup orzo

1/2 cup quinoa

1/2 orange bell pepper, finely chopped

zest + juice of one small lemon

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/3 chives, finely choppped

1/3 cup mint leaves, finely chopped

1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup yellow raisins, roughly chopped

2 tsp red pepper flakes (or adjust to your spiciness preference)

1 tsp turmeric

salt to taste

1 additional splash of olive oil

 

Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot. Add the olive oil, couscous, orzo, and quinoa and return to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 10 minutes.

While that’s cooking, get all your other ingredients chopped up. Once the couscous mixture is cooked, stir in all the remaining ingredients. Keep the pot over the heat and stir for a couple minutes to let all the flavors really blend. Serve hot or cold!

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Chinese Chick’n Salad: A Flavor Explosion

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Sometimes you get a very serious craving and nothing else can get done until it’s satisfied. That happened to me with this Chinese Chick’n salad. Whether you chose to use faux chicken, some sesame baked tofu, or no protein at all, the salad itself also shines bright all on its own. I just love Gardein crispy tenders. They are like crack. Trader Joe’s makes a version of them as well. What can I say, I’m a sucker for vegan junk food.

I swapped out the traditional romaine for lacinato kale to give it some richer color and a formidable CRUNCH! The great thing about this salad as well, is that it holds up in the fridge, even if it’s already been dressed. This makes it a great leftovers-for-lunch-the-next-day meal. It’s also quick to throw together. And since we already have the faux chicken strips, this salad needed some healthy upgrades to off-set the greasy breaded tenders. This updated version of the salad gets a lot of added pizazz with a generous amount of fresh herbs. Gone are the canned syrup-soaked mandarin oranges and deep fried wonton strips. In their place we have fresh tangerine segments and crushed peanuts. Spicy, cool, nutty, crunchy, tangy, sweet, and refreshing, try the flavor explosion for yourself!

Chinese Chick’n Salad: A Flavor Explosion

Makes about 4 servings

1/2 head of green cabbage, finely shredded

10 leaves of lacinato kale, stems removed and finely shredded

1 cup shredded carrots

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and leaves chopped (about 12 sprigs)

1 bunch mint, stems removed and leaves chopped (about 12 sprigs)

1/2 bell, finely chopped

1/2 cup peanuts, crushed

12 gardein crispy tenders, or protein of your choice

1-2 tangerines, peeled and sectioned

Chinese Chick’n Salad Dressing:

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2.5 tbs peanut butter

2 tsp hot sesame oil

2.5 tb agave

1 tb coconut oil

Cook the Gardein strips according to the package. I put mine on a foil lined pan in the toaster oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Toss all of the salad ingredients together in a large bowl.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Taste it and adjust any flavors as needed. Pour the sauce over the salad and toss really well. The salad will shrink a bit in size as you toss so don’t worry if it seems like a huge amount of veggies when you start!

Once cooked, slice up the chicken strips.

To serve, put a big heap of salad on each plate. Top with chicken strips and tangerine segments. Sprinkle the crushed peanuts on top. DIG IN!

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Berry and Avocado Summer Salad with Barbecued Tofu

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I have been making this salad everyday for a couple of weeks now. It has all the perfect components for a summer dinner. The seasonal ingredients, the sweet and savory flavors, the cold ingredients easily thrown together in the kitchen, the hot ingredients cooked outside on the grill to keep your house cool, the bright happy colors- It’s summer in a bowl! If you don’t think you like tofu, you might not have tried it barbecued. I wouldn’t even say that it particularly tastes like barbecue sauce or feels like tofu. The sugar in the sauce caramelizes to a savory taste and the tofu firms up for a satisfyingly chewier texture. I like it better than tofu prepared any other way. This is an easy salad to throw together when you are having people over for dinner because it’s quick and looks so pretty. It is also packed with protein and  many healthy nutrients!

Berry and Avocado Summer Salad with Barbecued Tofu

Serves 2

6 oz of organic super firm tofu

1/4 cup barbecue sauce of your choice, or try this recipe if you want to make it from scratch!

3 cups baby arugula

6 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1 sprig of dill, finely chopped

2 green onions, finely chopped

1/3 red bell pepper, very finely chopped

5 strawberries, sliced

1/2 cup blueberries

1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced

1/3 cup raw walnuts

1/4 cup balsamic reduction (you can buy this at the store- usually labeled balsamic glaze- or make it by simmering balsamic vinegar over low heat until it thickens, about 15 minutes)

Optional: 1/4 cup olive oil (I found that the fat from the avocados and walnuts was enough fat for me but to each her own!)

 

If you have bought a block of tofu, slice off two 1/2″ thick slabs, and slather them in the barbecue sauce. Heat up the grill to medium high heat and grease it with a little oil. Once the grill is piping hot, lay the tofu slabs on there and grill for about 10 minutes per side, or until you get those nice dark grill marks.  If you don’t have a grill, you can put them in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. I even make these in my toaster oven to keep the heat in the kitchen to a minimum.

While the tofu is cooking, get a big serving plate and spread out the arugula. On top of the arugula, sprinkle the basil, dill, green onions, and bell pepper evenly. Then, layer the strawberries and blue berries evenly. Do the same for the avocado and walnuts. I like to make a nice pattern and space everything out in an even, radial design. But, if you are not crazy like me and just throw everything on there, it will still be just as pretty, haha.

Finally, drizzle with the balsamic reduction and serve with the barbecued tofu slab on top. If you want you can slice the tofu up, which is what I did after taking the picture.

Happy Summer!

 

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Zucchini Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce

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What is a life without pasta, am I right? It would be a sad thing indeed. And a bowl of pasta with a good marinara sauce is such a simple and happy food. The only downside? I personally gain five pounds when I so much as see the word pasta on a menu. Others of you I know have issues with gluten, or rightfully hate the cardboard taste of whole wheat pasta. Yes, it’s a cruel, cruel world we live in. So what is a person to do who dreams of eating pasta everyday while proudly squeezing into a tiny bikini? The answer is Zoodles. Zucchini noodles that is.

I was skeptical of zucchini noodles at first because I don’t particularly like the taste of cooked zucchini, (it tastes like fishy rotten garbage to me.) I also am not a huge fan of spaghetti squash, (soggy) and all those lovely pastas made with grain alternatives like quinoa and brown rice still have that high-carb weight gain effect on me as regular pasta. But then I got a spiralizer and discovered zucchini anew! This tool costs like $13 and works great on zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, etc to make beautiful angel hair-like tendrils. I mean, come on, here is one for $8, just get one. They are the most fun kitchen tool ever! (By the way, I have no affiliation to any brand, I just did a quick google search and found this one, buy any spiralizer you like!)

I have been making zoodles almost every single day for lunch and just tossing them in different kinds of sauces to change it up. (If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you will find a ‘Category’ drop down menu. Select the category of “Sauces, Dressings, and Marinades” and you will find 20 other sauce recipes!) Zucchinis are the perfect weight-loss food. They have a high water content and only 33 calories each, plus tons of vitamin C. Eating a big bowl of zucchini noodles is a great way to feel full and satisfied while burning fat. I am definitely seeing the difference on the scale.

There are two ways you can eat zoodles- raw or cooked. Because I live in the 100 degree weather of Los Angeles and I love raw food, I tend to just eat them raw. They have a little crunch and the high content of water makes me feel full. However, you can also heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and toss them with tongs till they are hot and softened. This is where they REALLY take on the roll of pasta as the texture transforms in the pan

The same thing goes for my marinara sauce. This sauce is geared toward those who strive to eat a largely raw food diet, because we all know how good for you raw veggies are! However, this sauce heats up beautifully and works great on pizza or in lasagna too.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, zucchini noodles and marinara? Sounds boring. So you want to take it to the next level? You really wanna go for that red, white, and green, monster bowl of Italian deliciousness?  Try adding some vegan alfredo and pesto sauce to  your marinara zoodles for an incredibly creamy and satisfying meal.

Zucchini Spaghetti with Marinara 

Makes 2 servings

6 medium zucchinis, peeled and spiralized

Marinara:

makes about 1.5 cups

6 roma tomatoes, with tough stem ends removed

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and then drained

6 cloves of garlic

1 tsp salt

1 sprig each of parsley, basil, and oregano

1 medjool date, pitted

After spiralizing the zucchinis, sprinkle a little salt on them and set them aside in a colander over a bowl or in the sink. They release a lot of water, which can dilute the sauce, so I like to let them drain for a bit, and right before serving a give them a little squeeze to release the moisture.

Combine all the marinara ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. So easy!

Ready to take it to the next level?

Vegan Alfredo Sauce

makes about 2 cups

1.5 cups raw cashews, soaked for a few hours in a bowl of water to soften. Rinsed and drained

1/2 tbs nutritional yeast

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tbs olive oil

a pinch of nutmeg

1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until very, very smooth.  As you are going, add a the water a few tablespoons at a time, until you get to that perfect Alfredo consistency.

And finally, the pesto recipe can be found right here!

Enjoy!

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Creamy Mac n’ Cheese

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Oh Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. The mystery of its Day-Glo orange color, the flood of nostalgia from its delicious orange powder, the squelching sound of the sauce filling the hollows of the noodles as you stir– it’s all disgustingly good. Except, of course, the fact that it’s basically processed poison. From the shit storm of chemicals and food dyes, to the controversial palm oil (goodbye orangutan habitats and rainforests), the outrageous amount of salt and fat, and of course, the dehydrated bodily fluids from mistreated animals. Way to kill my mac n’ cheese reverie Kraft! Jeez…

Oh well, there are other cruelty-free options out there on the shelves like those from Daiya or Earth Balance, but to be honest, they are gross. Fake cheese in general still has a long way to go. In my opinion the best thing you can do is not try to make ‘fake’ cheese sauce, but use real, whole ingredients to make a WHOLESOME cheesy sauce. Sure, it’s still aiming to be that flavor that you know and love, but it’s taking the whole food route, instead of the chemical one. The result is much more palatable and WAYYYYYY healthier. I think this recipe tastes way more like the mac n’cheese I grew up on than those store-bought fake cheese alternatives.

There was one sure-fire test that I knew this sauce had to pass before I could post this recipe. It had to pass muster with the only person I know who had consumed as much poundage of Kraft Mac n’Cheese growing up as I did myself– that is, my brother.

I’m proud to say that after tasting a spoonful of sauce I got an enthusiastic, “This is what I’m having for dinner, make me a bowl now!” In other words, two thumbs up. I have to humbly agree, it’s delicious. It doesn’t taste ‘fake’. Also, it just so happens to have 28 grams of protein in the whole recipe of sauce. That means that if you compare it to a serving size of Kraft’s, you get 10 grams of protein per serving compared to Kraft’s 7 grams. And let’s face it, you are going to eat 2 servings right!? The other great thing is that this recipe doesn’t use any fake butter or added oil, so it’s very low in fat! One more bonus, nutritional yeast is full of B vitamins, (what up B12) folic acid, and other lovelies. Throw in some quinoa pasta to the equation and you have yourself an actual, whole food, healthy and delicious dinner. It’s a mac n’ cheezy miracle.

Creamy Mac n’ Cheese

Makes 6 servings

3 cups of dry macaroni (or pasta shape of your choice)

1 small peeled sweet potato (hello orange color!) peeled and diced

1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped

1/2 cup of raw cashews (soaked in water for an hour, then rinsed and drained)

1/4 cup soy milk (or whatever non-dairy milk you like best)

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (found at any health food store or online, this ingredient is KEY)

1/4-1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid

1-2 tsp yellow mustard

1-2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 pinch of paprika

1 pinch of cayenne

Garnish: a few tablespoons of minced chives

Optional Bread Crumb Topping:

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

2 tbs olive oil (disclaimer: this partially negates those low-fat claims above)

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp black pepper

 

First off, cook pasta according to its package, which generally entails throwing it into a pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, fill another small pot with about 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the chopped sweet potato and onion and boil until fork tender, mine took about 15 minutes. When done, drain them from the water, while making sure to catch about a cup of the cooking liquid.

In a blender, combine the sweet potatoes, onions, cashews, soy milk, the nutritional yeast, 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, 1 tsp of mustard, and 1 tsp of salt. Add the garlic, paprika, and cayenne. Blend it until very smooth. Give it a little taste, you might want to add another teaspoon of mustard to make it tangier, and another 1/2 tsp of salt, depending on your own taste. You might want to add another 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. (I always liked a super thick sauce while my husband likes a thinner sauce, so it’s up to your own tastes!)

Get out a 9″x 13″ baking dish and pour in the cooked pasta. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss them together until thoroughly combined. You can either consider yourself done here or go for the topping!

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the topping ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Sprinkle the topping over the mac n’ cheese and put in the oven. Keep a close eye and take out when the bread crumbs have turned a nice golden brown.

Sprinkle with minced chives and enjoy!

P.S. This cheese sauce can be used on more than just pasta, pour it over broccoli or throw in some minced jalapeños and red bell peppers, maybe even some vegan butter and chili powder and pour it over tortilla chips for some epic vegan nachos!!!!!

 

vegan mac n'cheese

 

 

Roasted Red Pepper Lentil Hummus

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With the full wrath of summer upon us, I’m trying to eat as many cooling raw veggies as possible. But what to dip them in? Something light, healthy, and full of protein? Something delicious? I have just the ticket. I’m not too crazy for your run of the mill store bought hummus, it tends to be really high in calories for the tiniest bit, and made with things like canola oil. Even the better ones out there have some protein, but not a great amount. So I went about making this recipe that is light and delicious, with no added oil, and a lot more protein! Lentils are a great improvement on chickpeas in my opinion, more nutrient dense and less mealy. Lentils are also packed with folate- 1 cooked cup provides 90% of the required amount- and they are high in protein, potassium, fiber, and iron. So go ahead and cut up some carrots and broccoli, and feel free to snack to your heart’s content!

Roasted Red Pepper Lentil Hummus

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup dry red lentils
3 cups broth or water
1 small red bell pepper
1 small yellow bell pepper
2 red jalapeños
1/3 cup tahini
6 cloves garlic
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp salt
Garnish: Sriracha, a spoonful of pine nuts, and a pinch of paprika

Bring the lentils and water to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until soft. It’s ok to over cook them a bit since they will be blended anyway. I used about 1.5 cups of the cooked lentils for the hummus, so you might have a bit leftover.
Turn the broiler on in the oven and lay all the peppers on a foil lined pan. Broil the peppers until blackened on all sides, turning with tongs every few minutes to get all the sides. Once blackened, removed the peppers and place in a colander until cool enough to touch. Remove the blackened skins, stems and seeds. Add cooked lentils, peppers, and all remaining ingredients to a blender (except garnishes) and blend until smooth. Taste to see if you need to adjust the flavor. Top with a swirl of sriracha, pine nuts, and paprika, and serve with cut veggies and/or crackers.

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The California Sandwich

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Besides the perfect weather, striking landscapes, and culture of positivity and innovation, one of the best things about being a Californian is the food. Whenever I travel to another state I am reminded of how spoiled I am to live in this land of  plenty, and how much I depend on it. My husband and I are leaving on a 3 week road trip in a few days to travel the Pacific Northwest and beyond. We are going to drive up the coast of California, through Oregon to Portland, maybe even up into Washington, then through Idaho to Wyoming, visiting Yellowstone National Park, then Utah and down to Arizona and the Grand Canyon, and back through Nevada and home again. Then we will catch a flight to Kauai for another week. One whole month on the road with as many national parks and waterfalls as we can find! We will camp and back pack through the mainland, then do Airbnb rentals in Hawaii. It is going to be an amazing month! I can’t wait to see the beauty our country has to offer.
Having said that, I know that life on the road means lots of camping food like trail mix and canned beans. We are trying to do the whole trip on the cheap. So with a few days left before we depart, I wanted to treat myself to the bounty that Los Angeles and California has to offer, which is when I came up with the California Sandwich.

 

California cuisine is diverse and covers everything from barbecue to fine french fusion, but there are some common themes that have emerged over the last 20 years or so. Being one of the main sources of produce for the whole country, California cuisine is foremost fresh and vegetable-centric. The emphasis on local, seasonal fruits and vegetables harmonizes perfectly with our liberal-leaning, health-conscious demand for organic and sustainable food. We love to take casual foods like burgers, pizza, and sandwiches and turn them into gourmet delicacies that surprise and excite the senses. We love to ‘fancify’ the little details of a dish to make them cool and new. We also love to nail the presentation, we’re vain like that. And, our on-the-go culture is the perfect place for hand-held food to be eaten on the road, on a hike, and generally outside under the sun. This sandwich is my personal interpretation of all those things.
Starting with locally baked La Brea Bakery ciabatta and topped with seasonal California grown veggies, I notched it up with unusually gourmet details like the garlic-basil mayo, added local touches like a splash of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and of course the star of the show is the California Hass avocado. I just so happened to have some California State Golden Poppy toothpicks to top it off and I highly recommend eating this creation poolside and under the sun! I hope you’ll try it and get a taste of the golden state for yourself! Peace out dudes.

 

The California Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

1/2 loaf ciabatta bread, sliced into 2 loafs, each with a top and bottom

2 tbs vegan mayo (I like Hampton Creek’s ‘Just Mayo’, a San Francisco based innovator!)

2 cloves of garlic, minced or put through a garlic press

2 big basil leaves, minced (I used some from my own garden)

1 tbs olive oil

2 shallots, finely sliced

a splash of white wine

a dash of salt

2 big leaves of romaine, finely shredded

1 hass avocado, very thinly sliced

1 big tomato, very thinly sliced

a drizzle of balsamic reduction (I got this already made in a squeeze bottle at the grocery store but you can easily make it yourself by heating up some balsamic vinegar over low heat on the stove until it becomes thick and sticky.)

More salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Start by toasting the bread or even better, throw it on a hot outdoor grill for a few minutes until it’s toasty. Set aside.

Combine the mayo, garlic and basil in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small pan over low heat and add the shallots. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the splash of white wine to deglaze the pan and add the salt. Cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring to prevent burning. You want to cook them until nice and golden.

I split all the ingredients in half to make two sandwiches. (I ate both, that’s right!) When ready to assemble, start with the bottom half of the bread and slather with the mayo mixture. Sprinkle on the caramelized onions. Then, add the romaine lettuce. Top the lettuce with the avocado slices, then the tomato slices. Finally, finish with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and some final salt and pepper before topping with the other half of bread. You’ll notice we are alternating ‘sticky’ and ‘wet’ layers, so it all holds together better. To see a cool timelapse video of the sandwich assembly, check out my instagram post

And there it is! A taste of the golden state before your very eyes. I hope you like it as much as I do!

For similar recipes, check out my beloved bruschetta or BLT!

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