Loaded Veggie Tacos

IMG_2813Being from Texas, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t crave a good taco on at least a weekly basis.  Tex-Mex or some variation of it always finds its way into my weekly menus all-year round.  Instead of heading out to the local restaurant and consuming an entire of basket of chips in the first five minutes of sitting down (it happens to the best of us) before even digging in to your queso-sopped entree, stay in and  enjoy some fresh, healthy, and filling tacos.  These are a vegetarian meal, but I promise you won’t even remember that meat is normally the principle ingredient in a taco because there’s so much good going on  in every bite.  I always prefer soft corn tortillas over flour because I can usually have two for the nutritional equivalent of one, but feel free to switch things up.  Another winning point of these little envelopes of flavor is how gorgeous they look on that white plate overflowing with every color and texture of food you could imagine.  Did I mention there’s goat cheese? I know some people aren’t a huge fan, but I am a firm believer that God created goats for the sole purpose of making goat cheese.  Oh, and you can have dinner on the table in literally fifteen minutes. What’s not to love?

Serves 4 (2 tacos each)

Ingredients

8 soft and thin corn tortillas

1 can black beans, reduced sodium (drained and rinsed)

1 T olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

4 cloves chopped garlic

1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, sliced

1/2 small head red cabbage, sliced into long strips

1/2 c plain fat free Greek yogurt

Fresh lime juice

salt/pepper to taste

2 t ground cumin

1 t ground chipotle chili powder (or regular chili powder)

large handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Chipotle chunky salsa

Directions

Saute the onion in the olive oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over low-medium heat until very soft and lightly caramelized (about 10 minutes), adding the spices and half of the garlic the last few minutes.  This would also be a good time to add any other veggies you had on hand such as bell peppers, zucchini, or mushrooms.  Add the beans and continue to cook until everything is heated.  For the yogurt (sour-cream fake out) sauce, combine yogurt, fresh lime juice to taste, the reserved garlic, and salt/pepper to taste.  That’s it! Now load up your tacos with the onion and bean mixture, red cabbage, avocado slices, crumbled goat cheese, a generous dusting of cilantro, dollop of garlic lime yogurt and a drizzle of chipotle salsa.

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Becoming a Pizza Pro

If I’ve ever had you over for a food get-together of sorts, chances are I’ve made my homemade pizzas the main event.  Ever since my sister and I traveled to Italy two years ago, my hunger for artisan pizza and how to perfect it has been a never-ending project.  Since good, authentic pizza is one of my top comfort foods, I never get tired of it.  I’ve never made a pizza that let me down, and I always leave the night with a fresh appreciation for interesting flavor combos, a new level of perfectly blistered crust, and surrounded by happy people I love.  Many people think of homemade pizza-making as something beyond what’s possible with their limited kitchen experience or simply are fine leaving such a seemingly daunting task to one of their foodie friends.  I’m here to tell you that you can have the confidence to create a beautiful night of imperfectly perfect pizza that you can proudly deem “from-scratch.” Another tasteful and healthful benefit of making your own pizza is you know exactly what’s going into it as opposed to the mysteries of sodium-loaded (yet still bland) sauce, piles and piles of cheese (low quality mozzarella trying to cover up sub-par toppings), and dough that wasn’t hand-kneaded just hours before eating (like yours will be).  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Now onto some of the pizza making tips that really take it to the next level.

1. HEAT! Seriously, this is what makes a pizza great.  If you go to any pizzeria, those ovens are usually close to 1000 degrees and the pies get flash-baked for less than three minutes.  So unless you’re cooler than me and have your own wood-fired pizza oven in your backyard, your kitchen’s oven can be maxed out to give you that perfect pizzeria crust.  I have a pizza stone that I really believe is a key player for the perfect crispy crust, but if you don’t want to invest in that for $20 or less, a baking sheet/pan that’s been preheated with your 500 (or as high as it will go) degree oven for about thirty minutes will give you similar results.  I’ve also grilled my pizza which can be even better, and I might make a later post about that as an option.  To maneuver a delicate pizza in and out of that fiery furnace, I recommend a lightly floured with a sprinkle of cornmeal pizza peel (those giant wooden “spatulas”).  Usually ten minutes (max – just check periodically to make sure nothing is burning) or until the crust is lightly charred and the cheese is bubbly.

2. As far as ingredients go, try to resist the urge to load up one pizza with every single topping that you love. Your pizza won’t be able to handle all that love at once and will give you a soggy crust.  When I make pizzas, I typically will have 2-4 different kinds, each with no more than about 3 different toppings. That way, I can experiment with different flavors and try to make all my guests happy.  Since I am a self-proclaimed “flexitarian,” I’m not known to have a meat-lovers pizza, but I do love the occasional splurge on prosciutto or pancetta for my pizzas.  The main thing here is to have fun and play with toppings that YOU like, but don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things.

3. I’m a fan of light sauce.  Again, to not weigh down your beautiful hand-made dough, but also so you can actually taste that dough as well as the individual toppings or maybe that specialty cheese that would otherwise be drowning in sauce.  I usually have a general menu of one tomato sauce-based, one pesto, and one “white” (no sauce – just maybe an herb/oil brush or ricotta base).

Those are essentially the basics! I’m attaching the link to the whole wheat dough that was the first dough I made, and I’ve stuck with it.  Adjustments I make are to usually divide it up into two or three pieces because I’m a fan of thin crust, as well as sometimes freezing the dough balls before I let it rise for a later day.  Then I just take it out about 4-5 hours before to allow thawing and then rising.  Dividing it up can make the same size pizzas, just with the crust being 1/2 or 1/3 as thick.  I also like to mix in a pizza seasoning (basically just S/P and italian herbs).

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/thin_crust_pizza_dough.html

Here are some of my creations to get you thinking, but I didn’t want to post pizza “recipes,” because that’s the fun of pizza making! It really is an art-form because you create YOUR work with your hands, your imagination, and your friends. If you have any specific questions, just comment on this post, and I’ll try to answer them.

Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan

Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan

Ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons

Herbed ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons

Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)

Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)

Grilled veggie

Grilled veggie

Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto

Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto

Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion

Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion

Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil

Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil

Now go make some pizza. Tonight.

Balsamic Strawberry, Avocado, and Goat Cheese Sandwich

 

 

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The beauty of this quick and simple lunch is that it tastes like you should’ve paid at least $10 for it at a specialty cafe, and the flavor and texture combination is spot-on: mellow avocado, creamy and tangy goat cheese, and warm, sweet strawberries. If you have fresh mint or basil on hand, that would take it over the top.  Seriously, your taste buds will thank you for the welcome change from the mundane PB&J or turkey and mustard.  I served mine with a spinach salad topped with fresh blueberries, rosemary and black pepper flavored almonds (Blue Diamond brand), and a light raspberry vinaigrette.

Ingredients

2 slices lower calorie whole wheat bread (Sara Lee Delightful or Nature’s Own are my picks)

3-4 strawberries, thinly sliced

2 t balsamic vinegar

1/2 of a small avocado, sliced/mashed (or 1/3 of a large)

1 oz. goat cheese (plain or garlic herb seasoned)

salt, pepper, additional herbs/seasonings

Directions

Spread the goat cheese on one slice of the bread, season, and toast both pieces for a few minutes until nice and crunchy (the fillings are all soft, so you need a good contrast).  Saute the strawberries in a pan sprayed with cooking spray over low/medium heat.  Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan, and cook just until the berries are a little soft and warm.  Spread the avocado on the other slice of bread, top with balsamic strawberries, add any fresh herbs you have on hand, and take that first creamy-cruncy-tangy-sweet bite!