Easy Caprese Salad

This one goes out to all my Italian family and has a special place in my heart. Growing up, almost all of my extended “family” was Italian. I loved this, because we are not one iota of Italian. A little Czech, a little Native American, a smidge of Irish… but we definitely got to enjoy the family/food-centric-lifestyle of a big Italian family. My mom’s parents owned a mushroom farm, and for decades the mushroom industry was (and still is!) sustained by several prominent Italian families, many of which became our own.

I can tell you, this was absolutely more of a blessing than it was a curse. On the upside – everyone was your ‘cousin’! Go to the grocery store? See your cousins! At a party? Call them all your cousins! Half of them aren’t really your cousins, but it’s easier to explain than saying “my mom grew up with their mom Lisa and she dated Lisa’s brother for a year but then he married Patty… so that’s my Aunt Lisa.”

Generations grew up alongside each other, and the grandparents had their kids, who played alongside each other, married into another big local family, had kids and did the same thing all over again. Your network of people who care about you is your entire town. It’s a great thing.

On the downside… your family is your entire town. You’ve got so many “cousins” that you have to do a family tree run-through just to make sure you’re in the clear if you plan on going on any dates. Speaking for a friend.

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While there were plenty of dinners filled lasagnas and raviolis, and Seven Fish feasts to attend at Christmas, nothing is as simple (and equally delicious) as this salad. You don’t need any secret spices or coveted recipes by your Nana (but…. I need to find someone to give me a Gnocchi recipe… i’ll have to do some investigating…), you just need a big platter, the freshest Mozzarella, and some tomatoes and basil from your garden. Throw in some salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic and olive oil, and you have a fancy salad that looks beautiful anywhere.

That was basically a walkthrough of this recipe…. no, really! But i’ll still post how to arrange it. it is literally 2 steps – best simple salad ever.

Caprese Salad

Serves 6-8, small portions

Prep time: 10 min

Ingredients

  • 2 cups small mozzarella balls, in water
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ~ 2 tsp basil, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • pinch of fresh minced garlic (optional – literally just a PINCH – you do not want to overpower the salad)

Directions

  1. Mix mozzarella and cherry tomatoes in a bowl, stirring to get some of the tomato juice around.
  2. Add garlic (if using), then balsamic vinegar, then olive oil. Stir to coat salad. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I let mine sit for at least 20 minutes to marinate, but you can serve immediately.

Enjoy!

-S

Back to Basics… Garlic Parmesan Orzo

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I’m really not a pasta person. Orzo though, let’s talk about that for a moment. Those cute little flat jawnies are really adorable, honestly. Not too starchy, and they mix well with other ingredients to make a flavorful side dish. I’ve got a  ton of orzo recipes, but this weekend I was in need of a basic side that wouldn’t overpower our main dish (which I will be sharing soon!), and this is my go-to. While this is definitely not paleo, it’s a favorite of mine that I want to share with you all.

I’ve been running around a lot recently, doing my normal routine… you know, over-booking myself, trying to re-create the wheel for no reason, wasting time doing things I know can be done by others… pretty run-of-the-mill for me. As I was scrambling to make this dinner that had so many steps and parts to it, I realized I didn’t leave a lot of  time to make a hearty side dish that would feed all of the people eating dinner. Not only did I not have the brain power left to think of something in 15 seconds, I didn’t want it to be crazy strong in flavor and compete with my chicken. This is where one of my essentials comes in: a basic, yet tasty, side dish with orzo.

I always keep a big jar of it on hand because it’s quick and easy, but there’s so much else you can do with it. This little side dish only took about 20 min total to finish, and it has all of my favorite things…. Garlic, garlic…. And a smidge (a heap, really) of Parmesan. (Note: Vegan parmesan can be substituted, but since it isn’t actually dairy-based, it won’t melt the same way. This could be remedied with adding a bit more olive oil, but you want to be careful that you don’t end up with “greasy” orzo.)

I love adding fresh Parsley from my little herb boxes on my balcony (that I now realize I’ve neglected in this heat…. Hope they aren’t upstairs all sad and crunchy L), which really adds to the colors in the dish. Orzo keeps well in the fridge too, and I love throwing it in a pan with some chicken the next day to make a little stir-fry.

Case in point – sometimes it’s just not worth trying to make things complicated. Going the simple route, which can be the easy route, is hard for some people, including myself. This is not just limited to cooking, but can also be your job, your friends, your relationship, or your education. We’ve been trained to believe that “if it’s easy, it isn’t worth it, and if it’s worth it, it isn’t easy.” While that definitely holds true for some things, why go through your life thinking that this mantra applies to everything?

Here’s some homework. Aside from making this simple little orzo dish, I want you to take one thing you do daily or weekly, and re-evaluate it. Can it be done more easily, or can it be done differently so that you enjoy it? Are you stuck doing it because it’s a habit; does it actually serve you? If you can simplify one thing, no matter how small, you’re on the right track. Literally, there is nothing to small. Personally, I switched to a pencil eyeliner this summer, because it’s too hot to stand there and use my liquid eye liner. I don’t want my wings to melt off the side of my eyes in this 95 degree heat, I don’t feel like standing there waiting for it to dry… small victory, but a victory no less.

Garlic Parmesan Orzo

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups orzo
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2  gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • ½ cup grated or shredded good quality Parmesan
  • ~1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste. Start with a ½, and continue to add if more is needed
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Directions

  1. In a large frying pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and onion. Sauté the onion for about 3-4 minutes on medium heat, until it starts to brown. Add garlic and orzo and a pinch of salt, cooking for another 3-4 minutes until slightly browned (but not burnt!).
  2. Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Turn to low and cover, allowing to simmer for about 15 minutes. I never ignore the pan though – I’ve found that different brands of orzo take different times to absorb, so more water may be needed. The orzo should be al dente; not chewy, but not super mushy. If you find it’s done but you still have too much moisture, turn the heat back up to medium, sautéing and stirring with the lid off until most of the liquid burns off…. Then put back down to low heat.
  3. Add parsley, salt and pepper – stir to combine. If you used low-sodium broth, you may need to continue adding salt until you get some flavor. Always start with less, so that you don’t over salt 🙂
  4. Right before serving, add Parmesan, stirring throughout to ensure consistency. Optional: Add some fresh parsley to garnish.

Enjoy!

-S

Hasselback Potatoes… “Prana Potatoes” (Vegan)

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I’m not sure why, but this side dish always reminds me of football. I guess maybe since some potatoes are like little mini footballs? I’ve seen so many variations on Pinterest about a “super special game-time treat”, but since I really don’t care (unless it’s Penn State, and even then… I don’t care a whole lot) about football, why wait for the Superbowl to make something like this? Why wait for any occasion? As long as you have the time, treat yourself to some peace and quiet and make a snack. I’m learning how increasingly important it is to slow down sometimes, and I made a few of these a little while ago, wrapped each one up and pawned them off on everyone I could. If you see me approaching you with a potato wrapped in foil, I come in peace. I made a few variations that I’ll share over time, but this one is one I made for a friend who is vegan.

As I write about this potato, I just want to emphasize how important it is to dedicate time  out of your busy day, or week, to take a pause… a potato pause. Remember that you are human, you can only do one thing at a time, and if that thing isn’t benefiting you, strengthening you, preparing you or teaching you, then stop doing it. I try to pack a LOT of stuff into my day, which is made harder by my self-imposed/non-negotiable bedtime of 9:30. Even so, I still try to take 20-30 minutes to read a book, make some tea, or have a 90’s Alternative jam session at the kitchen table. You wouldn’t drive a car with a cloudy windshield or empty gas tank, so why try to can’t operate the same way physically? You wouldn’t make it very far.

With that said, set some time aside in your day and make yourself a prana-potato. Namaste.

Vegan Parmesan Hasselback Potatoes

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Prep time: 30 min

Cook Time: 80 min (total)

Serves: 2

Note: non-vegan equivalents can be subbed for this recipe; I made one for myself that was non-vegan with butter, real Parmesan and a bit of cheddar, and it came out quite delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 large russet potatoes, rinsed/scrubbed
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tbsp vegan butter or olive oil
  • ~1/4 cup Vegan Parmesan, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp Himalayan or sea salt, or more to taste (I really like salt…..)
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp parsley, minced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Coat potatoes in vegan butter or olive oil, and cover with foil. I don’t scour the edges or poke them with a fork in this case, since I don’t want to compromise the potato skin for when I slice it later. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Once cooked, take out of the oven, uncover and set aside to cool and to allow the skin to dry a little, in preparation for slicing.
  3. While the potatoes are cooling, cut your onion in half (length-wise, top to bottom). I start slicing opposite from the fuzzy side, so that it stays together all the way through cutting. Sauté on medium low heat until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.
  4. Add garlic, and mushrooms to pan, ensuring you’re stirring to prevent them from burning. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper, paprika and parsley. Continue to cook for 5-7 minutes, until everything starts to brown.
  5. Separately, mix the 3 tbsp olive oil with your ¼ cup vegan parmesan – it should form a paste. Set aside.
  6. Meanwhile, get your potatoes on a cutting board to slice. There’s a few schools of thought here – I’ve done it both ways. If you’ve got a flatter potato, you can use two chopsticks underneath the potato to prevent from cutting all the way  through. Personally, I’m just very careful and make sure I cut them very sloooooowly. Cut the potatoes into very thin slices – if possible, about 1/8 inch. You want the bottom of the potatoes to have all the slices still attached.
  7. Drop oven temperature down to 400 degrees. Place potatoes on greased cookie sheet or in a baking dish. Brush with the remaining tbsp of olive oil or vegan butter, and add a generous pinch of salt and pepper over the surface.
  8. Spread half of the vegan parmesan/olive oil paste throughout the slices on each potato, being careful not to detach each of the slices.
  9. Add your toppings, tucking the mushroom and onion mixture in between the slices. It won’t all fit, so I just throw whatever doesn’t right top of the potato. Optional: sprinkle a little extra vegan Parm on top.
  10. Bake for another 20 minutes, until toppings are golden brown. Serve with some Maple Ginger Salmon.

Enjoy!

-S

Garlic Tahini Kale, a.k.a. “No New Friends” Salad (Paleo, Vegan)

fullsizeoutput_22cThis salad idea came upon me when I visited a certain nationwide chain of healthy food stores. This store is wonderful and I often like spend my life’s savings each time I visit, but since they charge what really feels like $57 per pound for their salad-bar food, I decided to make my own version myself. And then I decided to spend  the leftover money on a new sports bra from Athleta. Money well spent… but I realize it’s likely more money than just buying the damn salad. I’ll make sure I wear my bra when I eat my salad, just to prove a point. This salad also has the nickname… cue Drake voice… “No New Friends” Salad, because it is a bit STINKY…. stinky in the best way ever, who needs new friends?! Just don’t plan any dates or business meetings after eating this salad, unless you don’t like the people. In that case, eat the whole bowl and then sit really close to them while whispering them sweet-nothings like Marilyn Monroe.

On a more serious note, I honestly think kale is the most underrated leafy green out there. It’s popular, but aside from being trendy, there’s so many great things about kale.

It’s super high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, calcium, iron, and beta carotene… so many vitamins.  I think beta carotene is the most important, because it’s said to help fight against skin cancer…. and I love the sun. According to Dr. Drew Ramsey, MD, TEDx alum and member of Dr. Oz’s ShareCare, kale also contains phytonutrients called sulfurophane which helps your liver detox, as well as kaempferol, which is belived to help you keep your youthful glow. Well, you know what they say… closer to kale, closer to God.

They don’t say that, actually. That’s embarrassing.

Garlic Tahini Kale, a.k.a. “No New Friends” Salad

Prep time: 20min

Total Time: 20 min

Serves 8-10 people

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized head of curly kale, stems removed
  • 1/4 cup tahini, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce, or gluten-free tamari, may need more to taste
  • 6-7 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

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Directions:

  1. After removing the stems, chop kale up, loosely so it’s easier to bite. No one wants to eat one giant leaf, that’s hard. Once chopped, put in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a smaller bowl, mix tahini and soy sauce, and stir until evenly mixed. Add garlic, continue to stir. Add lemon juice, also stirring. Slowly drizzle olive oil in until emulsified.
  3. Here’s where things can get a little dicey, but note, this does NOT impact the flavor. After adding the lemon juice, sometimes the dressing “curdles”, or separates. I don’t know why, but I would imagine it’s likely due to the citrus. As long as your ingredients are fresh, you shouldn’t need to worry. You won’t notice once it’s on the salad. Taste your dressing, and add more lemon or soy as needed. I doubt you’ll need more garlic, but you can add more if you think it needs it.
  4. Drizzle dressing over kale and stir thoroughly – it’s easiest with tongs. To make sure everything is coated, I really mix it up well for a few minutes. On the flip side, if you have too much dressing, just add more kale. Do whatever you want, this salad is just the greatest.
  5. You can serve immediately, but this is always the first thing I make so I can let it marinate on the counter while I cook other things. That way, the flavor really soaks in.

Enjoy! And don’t forget to comment and tell me about how yours came out 🙂

-S