Eggplant Polpette!

Happy Thursday, my loves!

I’ve been fully vegetarian (with the exception of fish occasionally) for over a year. I honestly don’t ever find myself missing meat.

Except meatballs. I could wax poetic about the joys of meatballs. The thought of a life without them makes me sad. Partly, because they taste so amazingly delicious. But mostly because my grandmother made the world’s most amazing meatballs and just the smell alone can transport me to her kitchen, where she’d be frying meatballs while I played at the table and my grandfather yelled in from the living room in broken English. They’re pretty much the taste of happiness.

20130313-140928.jpgThere’s Grandma, frying up meatballs!

Grandma used ground beef/pork/veal, eggs, and bread as her base. Then she mixed in copious amounts of sultanas (or raisins) and pignoli (or pine nuts), and fried them in a cast iron pan half full of olive oil.

I became resigned to the fact that I would never again taste the deliciousness that is a meatball. I’ve tried a few frozen vegetarian meatballs, but they all taste like, well, frozen meatballs. Ick. And I’ve been hesitant to try a veggie meatball recipe since all that I’ve seen look like they would taste very different than the meatballs in my head.

So imagine the joy I felt when my mother mentioned seeing a cute little Italian grandmother on The Chew making vegetarian meatballs (the link is right here. Click it. Watch the video, then read the recipe and come right back!).

Isn’t Mama T adorbs? I made a few modifications* to the recipe (doubled it, made it gluten free, added sultanas).

Here is my modified version, complete with a photos and nutritional information for both baked and fried versions.** (This made 32 meatballs. The calorie count is per meatball.)

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You’ll need:
2 eggplants
1 1/2 cups (more or less, depending on humidity in the air and moisture level of eggplant) of seasoned gluten free breadcrumbs***
2 cups of finely grated pecorino
A few handfuls of sultanas
Gluten free all purpose flour for dusting
Olive oil for frying (unless you’re baking)****

Cut eggplants in half, place skin side down in a pan half full of water. Simmer, covered, until soft (maybe 20 minutes). (If you watched the video, like I told you to, you already know this.) remove from pan, and place in colander, flesh side down. Let drain for one hour (or longer– eggplant absorbs a lot of water).

Once drained, chop the eggplant up (skin and all) and dump in bowl. Also dump in cheese and breadcrumbs. Mix it all up really well, them add sultanas. Form the mixture into balls and coat lightly in gf flour.

If frying: heat about a half an inch of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, and fry meatballs until dark golden brown, turning to get all sides (frying meatballs is really a labor or love). Drain on plenty on paper towels.

If baking: preheat oven to 400. Place meatballs on a parchment lined baking sheet, and spray with a tiny bit of olive oil. Bake until done (seriously, that’s what my grandmother would tell you). About 15 minutes should do it.

Serve with your favorite sauce, with or without pasta! Enjoy!

xoxo,
Elle

*Why modifications? Two reasons. One, I’m gluten free. Two, as the descendant of many Italian cooks, I can’t follow a recipe to the letter. Or won’t. Whatever. Cooking is personal and I truly believe that you should put your own spin on anything you make.

**I cook for health probably 90% of the time. This time I was cooking for nostalgia, so I fried.

***All of the gluten free breadcrumbs I’ve tried are pasty and weird, so I’ve started making my own. Just toast sliced gf bread, blitz it in the food processor, season to taste (I use granulated garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, sea salt and pepper), then dry them in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.

****I don’t care who says you shouldn’t fry in olive oil, I do it and I’m not stopping. It’s healthier than vegetable, canola, or corn oil. Yeah, it smokes so you man up and open a window.

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Elle’s Favorite Snacks

My criteria for snacks are pretty simple: they must be delicious, healthy, convenient, and as minimally processed as possible. Oh and they must be vegetarian. Preferably vegan. And I’m conducting a gluten free experiment (partly for health and partly for Lent– whatup my Catholic peeps!), so they’ve also got to be gluten free. Simple, right?

Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Harry explains that Sally is the worst kind of girl? A high maintenance girl who thinks she’s low maintenance. Just popped into my head for some reason. Weird.

Back to snacks…

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I do most of my shopping in Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but I’m fairly certain that all of the snacks I’ve mentioned are available everywhere now. With the exception of the 50% less salt almonds. Why is Trader Joe’s the only store that realizes we want an option in between salted and unsalted? I want a little salt sometimes, please!

(And I know you can make your own kale chips, but let’s be real here. Ain’t nobody got time for that!)

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Sadly missing from the above photo is hummus and red pepper strips since the worst has happened and I ran out of both.

(Hint– life is easier if you cut a crapload of celery, carrots, and pepper strips when you come home from the store. There are many days a week when it’s so easy to grab a sandwich bag full of those veggies and a little container of hummus or nut butter, throw it in my purse and lunch is done!)

What are your favorite snacks?

xo,
Elle

Elle’s Spanakopita

I LOVE spanakopita. It is by far my favorite thing to order at a Greek diner, even though I’m sure the way they make it includes about seven sticks of butter and five thousand calories. Enter homemade healthified spanakopita. And quick! This took maybe an hour start to finish!

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Elle’s Healthified Spanakopita

1 bag frozen chopped spinach
1 bag frozen chopped kale
1/2 package phyllo dough (or however much you think you need), thawed
1 package reduced fat feta cheese, crumbled
2 small onions, chopped
2 eggs plus 1 white, beaten
2 heaping tablespoons chia seeds
Olive oil spray
Salt and pepper to taste
(I purchased all of the above from Trader Joe’s.)

Thaw your spinach and kale, then squeeze all the liquid from it. Chop it up a little smaller if there are larger stems of kale. (I’m lazy and didn’t want to dirty a cutting board, so I did this with shears.) Let that stuff hang out on the side and preheat your oven to 350 F.

Sauté your onion in some olive oil. Once it is soft, translucent, and starting to brown, add the spinach and kale to the pan. Sauté all that together until the leaves are dry and heated through. Dump that into a bowl and let it hang out.

Spritz your 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ square pan with some olive oil. Lay down a sheet of phyllo, fitting it to the corners of the pan. Spritz lightly with olive oil. Repeat this process with about four or five more sheets of phyllo. (While you’re working with your phyllo you should cover it with some plastics wrap and a towel so it doesn’t dry out.)

Now, go back to your bowl o’ leaves. Stir the feta in and then check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Now stir in the eggs and chia seeds. Dump the whole pile into your phyllo lined pan and smooth it out.

Now you’re going to top the whole thing with about 6-8 sheets of phyllo, spritzing with olive oil in between each layer. In all honesty, I do this very haphazardly.

Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, covering halfway through. Once the top is golden brown remove from oven and let cool. This really tastes best at room temperature or refrigerated.

Enjoy!

xo,
Elle

Truffle Scrambled Eggs With Goat Cheese

You guys, I’ve discovered the perfect meal for any time of day. These eggs are as amazing for a decadent breakfast as they are for a simple lunch or dinner.

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Truffle Scrambled Eggs With Goat Cheese

2 whole eggs plus 1 white, beaten with a splash of water (I urge you to use cage free organic eggs. More responsible and they taste better.)
1-2 ounces goat cheese (Trader Joe’s Chèvre with Honey is spectacular here.)
1-2 teaspoons truffle oil
Chopped parsley or chive
Freshly ground black pepper

Spritz your nonstick pan with a little olive oil and pour eggs in. Immediately dot the goat cheese and parsley or chive on the eggs and scramble with a rubber spatula to desired doneness. If (like me) you like your eggs firmer, the goat cheese will start to run a bit. That’s okay.

Spoon eggs onto plate, drizzle with truffle oil, top with black pepper, and salt to taste.

Feel free to double, triple, or increase to whatever quantity you need. Since this is a quickie meal for me, I make it in teeny single girl quantities but that doesn’t mean you have to!

Serve with some hearty whole grain toast (like Ezekiel) for breakfast or a lightly dressed mesclun salad and glass of Cab for dinner. You’ll be doing a happy food dance by your second bite, I promise.

xo,
Elle

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding…Yum!

Guys, if you haven’t discovered chia seeds, you’re missing out. Unlike flaxseeds, they don’t need to be ground to be digested, are high in protein and fiber, and they absorb about a million times their weight in liquid. Which means if you soak them in something slightly sweet, creamy, and yummy, they turn into a tapioca like pudding that makes a great dessert (or breakfast, for that matter) with some fruit.

I’m going to give you a super easy recipe for chia seed pudding. Here’s the nutritional info (for 1/6 of the recipe, not including any caloric sweeteners you may use):

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Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

1/2 cup chia seeds
2 1/2 cups milk (I use unflavored almond milk)
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
Sweetener to taste (I use either a squirt of agave nectar or a couple packets of Truvia–think 3 to 5)

Mix everything together. Use a whisk or the cocoa is never going to combine with the liquid. Once the mixture seems to be thickening a bit (after a minute or two of mixing), cover and refrigerate.

In an hour or two, you have delicious pudding!

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This will last up to a week in your fridge. If it gets too thick, just stir in a splash or two of your milk of choice. Enjoy!

xo,
Elle

Elle’s Favorite Sanguiches

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Yes, I say “sanguich” instead of “sandwich.” Yes, I know this is wrong. No, I do not care in the least.

Let’s move on from idiosyncratic pronunciation to something really important. How ridiculously, insanely, magically delicious tomatoes are during the month of August. I can’t get enough of them. Deliriously ripe tomatoes are the focus of three of the four sandwiches above (and have been the focus at least 75% of the meals I’ve been eating this month).

I implore you to try the sandwich formulas I’ve listed above while tomatoes are still this good. You’ll thank me, I promise.

PS, Everything above is totally vegetarian and could easily be made vegan except for the top left if that’s your thing.

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Elle’s Pesto Tuna Salad

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I have to be honest, I’m not a fan of mayo-y tuna salad. I prefer an O&V tuna salad, or just a bit of mayo like I’ve used here. The addition of pesto really adds a sweet freshness to the tuna. This serves two, increase as necessary.

Elle’s Pesto Tuna Salad

2 cans of albacore tuna
2 ribs of celery, chopped small
1/2 a large tomato, chopped
2 Tbsp of mayo (I use one made with olive oil)
1 Tbsp of pesto
3 Tbsp (or more if nec) of Elle’s Light White Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 tsp dry mustard (or dijon)
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together everything except the first three ingredients. Mash that into the tuna, then add the celery and tomato. Serve over a bed of baby spinach with whole grain crackers.

Enjoy!

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Sweet and Smoky REAL Popcorn

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Guys, I had a revelation about popcorn this week. It was twofold. The first fold was that microwave popcorn does not taste that good. The second fold was that most of the popcorn I buy is probably genetically modified. I know, horrifying! I don’t want to eat that crap!

I also remembered my parents making popcorn in a pot when I was a kid, so I decided to give it a whirl. What a fantastic experiment! I’ve been making plain buttered/salted (Earth Balance buttered, that is) and this deliciously savory sweet and spicy mix. This one is like the popcorn version of fancy warm bar nuts.

Here’s how:

In bottom of pot, toss organic popcorn kernels (enough to cover pot), a dab of Earth Balance (or a little olive oil), a generous pinch of sea salt, and a generous grind of African Smoke Seasoning from Trader Joe’s (this stuff tastes like the powder on barbecue chips).

When I say “generous” I mean generous. Whatever salt and seasoning you put in the pot right now is what is going to season all the popcorn.

Keep heat low and cover pot. Once it starts popping, shake the pot every few seconds so the kernels don’t burn. (Remember Jiffy Pop? Shake it like that!)

Once the popping has slowed down to a pop every few seconds, remove from heat. Now, stir in a little melted Earth Balance (this is vegan butter, btdubs. Feel free to use dairy butter if that’s your thing) and a generous grind of Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Sugar. Stir it up and enjoy!

Happy snacking!

xo,
Elle

PS, Just a friendly word of advice: wait until the pot is cool to attempt washing it. I learned that lesson the hard way via a wicked painful steam burn on my thumb.

Smoothie Time!

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I’ve worked out a new smoothie method, which is infinitely better than the hand blender method I had been using.

First I dump some almond milk and kale in my new Oster (with a glass–not plastic, yay!– beaker) and whir it around until it all the kale is completely ground into the milk.

Dump in frozen fruit (bananas and pineapples here), ground flaxseed, blend, and sip!

So much less work than my past smoothies!

xo,
Elle

Elle’s Incredible Orzo Salad

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People rave about this orzo. It is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and the best dish to bring to a potluck, holiday meal, or barbecue. (I’ve brought it to all three, and served it at home as a simple side with a piece of grilled fish or tempeh.)

Here is the recipe, which doubles well if necessary.

1 pound regular or whole wheat orzo, cooked according to package directions, run under cold water, and cooled a bit
8 ounces of feta, crumbled*
An 8ounce bag of arugula (If baby variety, leave as is. If leaves are large, tear ’em up.)
1 bag dried cranberries, orange or regular (5 or 6 oz)
About 1/2-3/4 cup any of these: pine nuts, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds
Juice of four lemons
Extra virgin olive oil (maybe 1/4 cup? More if it seems dry.)
Sea salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste (I like Trader Joe’s Flower Pepper for this.)

Dump everything in a bowl. Mix. Serve, or chill to serve later. If you refrigerate for a while, I recommend adding more olive oil and lemon juice before serving.

*This can easily be made vegan by leaving out the cheese or substituting either finely grated vegan mozz, or firm tofu that has been pressed and soaked in olive juice.

Enjoy!

xo,
Elle