Moroccan Spiced Roasted Cauliflower & Sweet Potato

For the past three years, August has been an anxiety-ridden time for me.

It always began with the first Target back to school commercial, which happened, uh, in JULY.  I would immediately rush to change the channel and then swear off going to any store that sold school supplies for at least three weeks.

The presence of Halloween costumes, autumn-scented candles, pumpkin recipes, and orange paraphernalia would continue to escalate my fears until the first teacher work-day in which I could no longer be in denial about the fact that summer.was.over.

This year, of course, is different. I'm going back to school as a student, not a teacher. While I've had plenty of nerves about my new role as a student, I can't say that they compare to the pressure in preparing a classroom and curriculum for 100 students. I will always respect teachers and their continual efforts in providing a meaningful education for their students. 

The first few weeks of school are going to be a time of adjustment for me as I navigate how to manage my time, (Class, reading, MORE reading) so I will be keeping things simple on the food front. 

Simple as in a limited number of ingredients that are thrown together in thirty minutes or less.  These Moroccan roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes are a perfect example. I was so in love with the Moroccan Chickpea Stew I made last winter that I wanted to create something with similar flavors this fall. (Yep, I said it. I'm admitting that it's fall.)

Other than the lengthy list of spices (which you could shorten), this is a ridiculously-easy-to assemble recipe. Just throw everything on a baking sheet, toss liberally with olive oil, and roast to carmalized vegetable perfection. The sweet potato makes this hearty enough for a vegetarian lunch, but you could use it as a side-dish, or even add some yogurt sauce, crumbled goat cheese, and pita bread and turn it into a dinner meal. 

Good luck to students and teachers starting school on Monday!

**The colors aren't off here. The tumeric lends a lovely yellow hue to the cauliflower. :)

Moroccan Spiced Roasted Cauliflower & Sweet Potato

1 large head cauliflower, chopped
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
6-8 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ginger
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450.

In a small bowl, combine all the spices and the sugar

Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Spread out chopped cauliflower and sweet potato amongst the two baking sheets.

Drizzle olive oil over both pans, then sprinkle with spices. Use your hands to toss the vegetables and make sure everything is evenly coated in oil and spices, adding more oil if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through to avoid burning.

Creamy Chicken Fiesta Rice

I realized that the recipes I've been posting may have given the impression that I'm a vegetarian.  I haven't posted a recipe with meat in it since the rice with butternut squash, kale & bacon, which was 6 months ago. The recipes I post do generally reflect how I eat, (Lots of vegetables and whole grains accompanied by plenty of baked goods/desserts) but I do cook meat at least once a week. (I have a meat-loving husband, after all.)

I guess I feel the way I cook meat (usually chicken) is not terribly exciting and/or worthy of a blog post.   I leave that for other more experienced chefs and bloggers. Do you really need to see what I whip together in 30 minutes on a random Tuesday?

However, recently a post by Local Milk on what we really eat, also known as the quick and dirty, inspired me to share a typical week night dinner with you.  Let's be honest, we all don't have an extra hour for pizza dough to rise or a cake to bake on a week night.

To me, ideal week-night dinners can be made in an hour or less. They involve one or two pots and pans MAX. They have grains/protein/vegetables all together in one bowl. They have cheese. (kidding, on that last one, kind of...)

Anyway, this creamy chicken fiesta rice meets all those criteria. It's loaded with fresh veggies, lean chicken and brown rice, while still being a little bit indulgent with some cream cheese mixed in and monterrey jack and avocado (duh!) sprinkled on top.

I'm trying to take advantage of this fresh summer produce as long as possible, so I used fresh corn and tomatoes, but if you're making this in the winter months (or just in a hurry), you could easily substitute a can of mexicorn and a can of tomatoes with green chiles.

Speaking of every-day-kind-of-things, since I have previously written about my week when everything went wrong, I wanted to share some things that went right this week. On my drive home from the grocery store yesterday, I was suddenly struck by the number of small acts of kindness I had received from strangers this week.

There had been a sale on avocados at Whole Foods (5 for $5!) which I pounced on like a cheetah to its prey, as did several other people.  I waited patiently for a plastic bag to carry my loot as a man in front of me procured his, but once he took the bag off the rack, he handed it directly to me. Just to be nice! It made my day.

Earlier in the week, I was leaving a parking lot during the crazy after-work-rush-hour time and at two different points, two different people stopped and let me in. For no other reason than to be kind.

The day before that, I was making the drive from Charlotte to Durham, which I always attempt to do without stopping to go to the bathroom, but alas, my miniscule bladder rarely allows me to do. No longer able to hold it, I stopped at a gas station and walked inside, at which point I was in the oh-my-god-I'm-going-to-pee-on-myself-if-I-hold-it-another-second stage. I walked straight to the bathroom door and opened it, only to discover there was already a woman inside with her three-year-old son. Did I mention there were no bathroom stalls? AWKWARD.

Then I turned around and noticed there were two other women waiting in line, which made me feel like an oblivious idiot. When the woman and her son came out of the bathroom, I apologized profusely, and she brushed it off like it was no big deal. Afterward, one of the women waiting in line let me go in front of her. All of this was completely undeserved on my part.

These little acts of kindness happened in instances when I truly needed them, and served, for that one moment at least, as a way to change my mood and perspective. Too often, I go about my day consumed by my own thoughts and problems, but I was humbled by these strangers who chose kindness over their own needs.

What about you? What small acts of kindness made you grateful this week? What are your go-to week night dinners?

Creamy Chicken Fiesta Rice

3 ears of fresh corn on the cub, kernals removed carefully with a sharp knife
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a red onion, minced
1 medium green pepper, minced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup brown rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup salsa, plus 2 tablespoons
4 ounces cream cheese (I used jalapeno cream cheese)
3 chicken breasts
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded monterrey jack cheese
1-2 avocados, cubed

**I use regular brown rice in this recipe, which requires water to boil and the rice to cook for 45 minutes. To speed things up, you can use instant or quick cooking rice**

In a large ziplock bag or container, combine chicken breasts, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Let marinate for anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours.

Pour chicken stock and 2 tablespoons salsa into a medium sized saucepan. Once it boils, add in the rice, cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 45 minutes.

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and turn heat to medium.  Add chicken breasts. Brown on each side, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, then remove from pan and cut into bite-sized pieces.

If necessary, add an extra tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add onions and tomatoes, cooking until both are beginning to soften, followed by the green pepper and corn. Sprinkle with remaining cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. Cook until green pepper is desired consistency, then add cream cheese, salsa and black beans, stirring until cream cheese is melted.

Add cooked chicken and rice and mix well.

Top with shredded monterrey jack cheese and avocado.

Recipe inspired by Gimme Some Oven.

Coconut S'More Bars (Gluten-Free and Paleo friendly)

Does this post's title make you nervous?  Fear not. No paleo dieters around here.

Paleo does seem to be the in diet these days, and while I know a few people who are doing it and understand the general concept, bread and cheese are two of my life staples. The idea of giving them up kind of makes me want to hop on a flight to Paris where I can subsist on an unending supply of baguettes and strong cheese.

Why am I posting a pseudo-paleo recipe, then, you ask?

I love food of all kinds. I love experimenting. And I LOVE dessert that tastes decadent without necessarily being so. Thus my research into the paleo craze focused, unsurprisingly, on what you CAN eat in the dessert category.  What I found was encouraging. As part of the paleo diet, you are allowed to have (in moderation) dark chocolate, honey, coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut flour, almond flour, and gelatin, which to me, immediately brought to mind the idea of a s'moresesque dessert with a coconut macaroon bottom, dark chocolate center, and marshmallow top. (I also just realized that yesterday was National S'mores Day? Did you know that existed?)

To be completely transparent, my version is not technically paleo, as I used store bought marshmallows instead of making my own, and I used sweetened coconut instead of unsweetened. If you want to make the legit version, you'll have to make your own paleo marshmallows, which looks fairly easy, and use unsweetened coconut with a little extra honey.

Paleo eater or not, if you're a healthy-loving-dessert-person like me, you will adore these grain-free, almost processed sugar-free coconut s'mores bars.

Also, if anyone knows how to cut through marshmallow dishes without the sticky stuff ending up all over your fingers, the dish, and any utensils, please let me know. I tried the sharp/wet knife trick to no avail.

Not that I complained about licking the sticky chocolaty marshmallow off that spatula....

Coconut S'More Bars (Gluten-Free and Paleo friendly)

2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup dark chocolate chips
5 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (If using unsweetened, add an extra tablespoon or two of honey)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond flour/meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. (or line with parchment paper, if you have it)

In a medium bowl, combine coconut milk, coconut oil, shredded coconut, almond flour, baking soda, honey, vanilla, eggs and salt.
Pour mixture into prepare pan, and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until center is set. Remove from oven. Turn the oven to broil and move rack to upper third of the oven.

Sprinkle dark chocolate chips in an even layer over the coconut mixture, followed by the mini marshmallows.  Broil for 1-2 minutes, watching very closely. Remove as soon as the marshmallows are toasted.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut into bars.

Coconut Base adapted from Living Healthy with Chocolate.

Inspired by Top with Cinnamon.

Multi-Grain Pizza Crust with Flax Seed & Coconut Oil

Holy pizza.

A little over a year ago, Adam and I were on our honeymoon in Kauai, Hawaii.  We still dream about the beach and the pool at our resort, along with the fresh squeezed fruit juices that we drank every morning for breakfast.  But, as strange as it sounds, one of the things we reminisce about the most is the amazing pizza we ate. 

I don't even remember the name of the little pizza place that we went to, but I remember that we had hiked all day and were ravenous. We ordered 2 pizzas to go, took them back to our room, and commenced eating an embarrassingly large number of slices. We went back two days later and did the same thing. 

What distinguished this pizza from the many others we've had in the United States was the crust. It was a multi-grain crust made with with coconut water and coconut oil harvested on the island. It was soft, chewy, nutty and completely crave-worthy. 

As with the many recipes I have sought to recreate this year, I was nervous about attempting to replicate this crust, not to mention the fact that recipes involving yeast and kneading tend to make me feel like an even more inept cook than I already am. 

The dough started out like this:

And after an hour of rise time, it looked like this:


I divided the dough in half, spread it out on two cookie sheets, and let it rise for another 45 minutes.  Then, I stretched the dough out a little more and precooked it at 450 for 8-10 minutes.

Then it was time for toppings.

Roasted eggplant with onions and garlic for me.

Pepperoni, green peppers, and onions for him.

And the cheese, always the cheese. If you are going all out and making your own pizza dough, please buy the fresh mozzarella cheese and slice it yourself. The big gooey globs of melted mozz kind of make the whole thing worth it.

More pictures of pizza, because I can.

The crust is healthy pizza perfection. Crispy on the edges, soft in the middle, with a satisfying nutty crunch of flax seeds that makes you feel just a little bit healthier for ingesting so many a reasonable number of slices.

I will admit that the coconut flavor is not particularly strong in the pizza, in fact I didn't really notice it at all. It's a fun addition, but you could easily use olive oil instead. I must insist, however, that you use the flax meal and flax seeds, as they are the standout in this crust. 

This is a fun weekend recipe that you can assemble with friends. The two pizzas we made could easily serve 5-6 people. 

You can't look at this photo and tell me you don't want a slice. 

Multi-Grain Pizza Crust with Coconut Oil and Flax seed

2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup luke warm water
1/2 cup luke warm coconut water
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 whole flax meal
1/4 cup whole flax seeds

Liberally grease a large bowl and 2 cookie sheets.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, milled flax and flax seed. In a large bowl, combine the warmed water, coconut water, coconut oil and yeast.  Add flour mixture to the water mixture and begin kneading by hand. Knead for about 5 minutes or until dough is slightly soft and sticky.

Place the dough in the greased bowl, cover and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Divide the dough in half and lightly press out into desired shape on the cookie sheets. (If the dough is not stretching as large as you would like, don’t panic! You can stretch it again after it rises.) Cover and let rise for an additional 45 minutes or until noticeably puffy. Preheat oven to 450.

Stretch dough out to desired size. Spray dough with non-stick spray and bake (without toppings!) for 8-10 minutes.

Remove from oven. Top with desired toppings and bake again for an additional 8-10 minutes or until crust is slightly browned and cheese is melted.

(If you’re obsessed with the bubbly browned cheese like me, you can turn the broiler on for the last minute or two. Just watch it carefully so as not to burn it!)

For the Eggplant pizza:

1 medium eggplant, thinly sliced
¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese

While the dough is rising, lay eggplant slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer of slices with plenty of salt. Allow to drain in the colander for 30 minutes.  Use paper towels or hand towels to remove excess moisture from eggplant.  Lay eggplant onion, and garlic in an even layer on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 425 for 10-15 minutes, flipping slices over at least once.

To assemble the pizza, spread a layer of sauce, then top with veggies and cheese. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

For the Supreme Pizza

1 green pepper, thinly sliced
¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese

Lay the green pepper and onion slices out on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10-15 minutes, stirring about halfway through.

To assemble the pizza, spread a layer of sauce, then top with pepperoni, followed by veggies and cheese. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Pizza dough adapted from King Arthur Flour.