Savory French Toast Bites

Savory French Toast Bites

Savory French Toast Bites

For the Super Bowl this year I was charged with bringing a vegetarian appetizer to my friend Ariel’s party. Although I’m a proud meat-eater, I embraced her request and decided to have some fun with it, after all it is the biggest sport day of the year and not exactly a formal dinner.

The oh-so-fun-and-isn’t-it-cute appetizer I made was Savory French Toast Bites, adapted from Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeurves Handbook. The bites were perfect: a warm finger food that could also be enjoyed at room temperature and had a rich, savory flavor slightly reminiscent of pizza. Adding to my enjoyment was the other guests’ confusion when I told them it was French toast because these bites were nothing like the sweetened, dipped and fried bread enjoyed during brunch.

For starters, this version of French toast is baked and there is no sugar or sweetener involved. The savory ingredients consisted of roasted garlic, basil, tomato and Parmesan cheese – almost like a bread-pudding pizza. Finally, after baking I used a circle cutter to turn the French toast slices into bite-sized rounds, which made for a cute and appealing presentation that was just perfect for the Super Bowl.

And the best part was that there were plenty of yummy scraps leftover for the cook. Just sayin’.

Savory French Toast Bites

Savory French Toast Bites

Here’s the recipe:

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Transitioning to Fall with Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Spinach

Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Spinach

As sad as I am to say goodbye to summer, I’m equally excited to welcome the flavors of fall, my all-time favorite food season. This is the time of year when summer produce still lingers at the farmer’s markets (tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.) while the bounty of fall is just ripening: hearty root vegetables, dark leafy greens and best of all winter squash.

Spaghetti squash0007 Spaghetti squash0013 Spaghetti squash0010

My favorite varieties of winter squash are the delicatas and buttercups which are small and sweet, but it’s during this transitional time of the year that I crave spaghetti squash. I find it to be the perfect crossover vegetable providing a canvas for combining summer and fall flavors.

Spaghetti squash0014 Spaghetti squash0011 Spaghetti squash0012

In this case I mixed cooked spaghetti squash with sauteed garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach, making for a hearty, delicious and super healthy meal. The entire dish takes less than 20 minutes to make and the microwave does half the work. And it’s a fantastic as a vegetarian entree or side dish to chicken or fish.

Spaghetti squash0015

Here’s the recipe:

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Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Yummy superfood.

I’m so tempted to leave this post with just those two words that sum up this dish so succinctly, but then you’d miss out on what makes it so delicious AND healthy.

Quinoa Chickpea0002 Quinoa Chickpea0003

Back story: I went hiking last weekend with a group of friends. Yes, us city girls escaped for a weekend and traveled south to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL. We left Saturday morning and planned to have a picnic outside the park, then hike, and maybe picnic again. I wanted to make a dish that would travel well, offer much needed protein and carbohydrates to give us energy for the hike without being heavy, and suit the needs of my vegetarian friend.

This chickpea quinoa salad turned out to be the perfect solution. Not only is quinoa itself incredibly healthy and nutritious (and gluten-free), but the addition of fiber- and protein-rich chickpeas, along with summer vegetables like red peppers and corn, balance it out for a delicious and light grain salad.

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Oh, and did I mention it tastes great, too? Health and nutrition are important but so is flavor and this salad is a winner in all categories. Also, note that I call this recipe a “salad” because it can be served at room temperature but it’s also fantastic warm.

Here’s the recipe:

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Minted Grape Couscous

Minted Grape Couscous

Minted Grape Couscous

When you cook as often as I do it’s easy to forget a favorite recipe. Luckily, I have people in my life who remind me of these on occasion, as was the case last week when a client asked for the mint couscous that I had made for her a year and a half ago. I hate to admit it but I didn’t immediately remember the recipe so I dug through my files and eventually found the one she requested: minted grape couscous.

Minted Grape Couscous: toast couscous Minted Grape Couscous: minced red onion Minted Grape Couscous: toast almonds

It’s a refreshing combination of flavors with fantastic textures: sweet grapes, cucumber, red onion, lemon and lots of fresh herbs mixed with crunchy almonds and filling Israeli couscous.

I prefer to use English cucumbers because I find the skin more palatable and enjoy the color contrast, but regular cucumbers will also work.

Minted Grape Couscous: dice cucumber

As with most recipes I’m inspired by, this one was tweaked to fit my tastes and is quite different from the original, most notably that it has mint instead of cilantro, the addition of almonds, and calls for toasting the couscous prior to cooking. Sadly, I didn’t record the source in my notes to give credit so please let me know if you’re familiar with it.

Here’s the recipe:

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Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

I often get asked the question “why did you change careers to focus on food?” My answer is I love how food brings people together, that the need to eat is something we all have in common.

Cooking, however, is another thing entirely: I love to cook but for many people it’s a chore or something to be avoided like laundry (I apologize if you truly enjoy doing laundry). And cooking with other people? Well, let’s just say that’s icing, especially when it means I get to spend time with loved ones.

Tomato-Basil Sauce: season with basil, vinegar, sugar Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: serving

So when my sister called last week to ask if we (yes, she included herself) could cook dinner for our family on Sunday I was thrilled. The location would be at our parents’ house, a kitchen I know well. As for the food, her only request was for vegetable lasagna.

No problem! While I think we had different expectations for the meal (her: canned tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash; me: homemade noodles and tomato-basil sauce, farmer’s market vegetables) the highlight for both of us was working together, although I think it helped that I got to be in charge. Basically, it’s what my friend Lori would call a “potchke” meal, meaning a bit fussy with a lot of steps, but in this case it was also a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: cooked noodles Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: arrange eggplant Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: arrange summer squashes

And the roasted vegetable lasagna? It was amazing! Light and fresh with layers of sweet and savory flavors and aromas, it practically melted in my mouth.

At my father’s request I used less sauce than usual and have to admit it worked really well to make the lasagna light and summery. The recipe for tomato-basil sauce was adapted from “Takashi’s Noodles,” by Takashi Yagihashi (I worked on the book) and makes just the right amount of sauce needed for this lasagna.

Here are the recipes for Tomato-Basil Sauce and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna:

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