Zucchini and Pesto Pita Pizza

This is one of those throw-together-whatever’s-in-the-fridge type of recipes that turned out  to be really tasty!

I am a huge fan of pizza, but after joining weight watchers and realizing how many dang points a slice of pizza is, I try to find creative ways to still get my pizza fix without all the points (the bulk of which come from the dough, FYI. Boooo).

Here is one such way: using a whole-wheat pita in place of dough.

I didn’t have any pizza sauce, but had a ton of basil so I decided to make my own pesto. If you’ve got a food processor, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and nuts (walnuts or pine nuts) you’re in business. Pesto is really easy to make. The only annoying thing, of course, is cleaning up the food processor after.

Homemade Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine basil and nuts in food processor; pulse a few times to mix. Add garlic, pulse a few more times. Add olive oil while food processor is running. Add the cheese if you want it, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stop and scrape down the sides of the food processor, and pulse a couple more times. Voila! This makes about a cup of pesto, which will keep for a week or two in the fridge. You can also freeze it if you want to keep it for longer!

In addition to the delicious fresh basil, I had ground cherries and zucchini from the farmers market! I had never heard of ground cherries before, have you? Here’s what they look like. Kinda like baby tomatillos. They actually are in the tomatillo/tomato family. You just pop them out of their little husk and eat them. Now, I am not a fan of eating straight up tomatoes, even cherry tomatoes. But these are sweet enough that I really enjoyed them. So yummy just to snack on. They would be a really good addition to homemade salsa, too.

For my little “pizza” I used pesto, baked zucchini, ground cherries, goat cheese, and mozzarella cheese. So good. This was just what I had, though. Feel free to use whatever you’ve got. It would be great with mushrooms, regular tomato, spinach, broccoli, squash, whatever. Also, if you want to cut down on points/calories, you could use tomato sauce instead of pesto.

Pita Pizza (serves 2)
1 whole-wheat pita, divided (cut all the way around the edge so you end up with 2 circles)
1/2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
Pesto
Olive oil
Ground cherries
1 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Slice up some zucchini and toss with just a little bit of olive oil (1 or 2 tsp). Season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake at 350° for about 10 minutes. (Just until they are softened up.)

Pop your pitas in the toaster oven, and toast halfway. You’re going to put it back in the toaster oven (or in the real oven) to melt the cheese once you’ve added your toppings, so you don’t want it completely toasted yet.

Spread each pita with pesto (about 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp per pita). Top with zucchini slices, ground cherries, goat cheese, and just a little bit of shredded mozzarella. Put it back in the toaster oven to melt your cheese, and serve right away!

1 serving = about 9 PointsPlus

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One-Year Blogiversary!

Happy Birthday/Blogiversary to my blog! One year ago today I did my first blog post, about a food I don’t even like (beets, blech), and with a picture that was horrible. What was I thinking? Good question. Since then, I have only posted foods that I love and have (hopefully) gotten a little better with the camera.

In honor of one year, I have a delicious fall treat for you: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars! So good. Of course, I found them on Pinterest (original recipe here). I was thinking they would be more like a cookie bar, but they turned out much more cake-y. Still, they were moist (sorry, but they were), flavorful, and delicious!


Seriously Yum

Best of all, I had pureed pumpkin in my freezer from a pumpkin I roasted last fall, and I finally got to use it up. OK, on second thought, maybe that’s not best of all. Best of all was savoring these delicious chocolate-y pumpkin-y bars.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars
2 cups flour (I like to use white-whole-wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp coarse salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar (I used roughly half white sugar and half brown sugar)
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
12 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 13×9 pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang over the handles. This is what the original recipe’s instructions call for, but I’m sure you could also just grease the pan and that would be fine.

Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat in the pumpkin puree. It’s going to look curdled, but don’t worry about it.

Now add the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (or use a knife because you never have toothpicks).

Cool completely in the pan. If you’ve used aluminum foil, once they are cool, you can use that to help lift them out of the pan. Otherwise just cut them into 18 squares. One square = 9 PointsPlus. (I know, I know. Eat it anyway. What else are those extra points in the week for?)

Put these out on your table when you have friends over, and they will not live to see tomorrow. The bars, that is. Not your friends. Although, I could see why you would want to kill your friends if they ate all of them.

Now, what are you going to do with that leftover pumpkin puree? I had half a cup left over, but if you use canned pumpkin for your bars, you’ll probably have about a cup left. This morning I had the brilliant idea to mix it into my oatmeal! I don’t have an exact recipe, per se, just some rough guidelines. But it was really good.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Oatmeal, prepared for two or four
Apple Cider (optional)
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Brown Sugar
Almond Milk
Pumpkin puree

Prepare your oatmeal as usual. When it’s almost done, turn the heat down to low. Mix in 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (for two. If you want oatmeal for four, add 1 cup of pumpkin). Mix in about a tablespoon of apple cider, a few good sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice, a few tablespoons of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of almond milk. (My favorite almond milk flavor is unsweetened vanilla.) Obviously, taste and add more of anything if necessary. Even though cinnamon is part of the pumpkin pie spice, I added a little more cinnamon on top of that.

Enjoy with a glass of apple cider. Yay fall!

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers

Ever made your own veggie burgers? We had always bought pre-made until we found this recipe last summer. Now this is our go-to burger. It’s really flavorful, packed with sweet potato, black beans, and spices. Even our meat-eating friends loved them! And for you vegan and/or gluten-free people, this burger is safe. Original recipe here.

If you think making your own veggie burger is going to be complicated, don’t worry. This recipe is really easy. The prep work is a little bit time consuming, but nothing too crazy.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers (Makes 6-8 burgers)

  • 15 oz black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 c cubed sweet potatoes (skin on)
  • 1/2 c frozen or fresh corn
  • 2/3 c finely chopped onion (1/2 medium onion)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/2 c cooked quinoa
  • 6 Tbsp rolled oats, partially ground (we use our coffee grinder to grind them)
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Before doing anything else, you’ll want to cook your quinoa, and steam your cubed potatoes. For the quinoa, just follow the directions on the box. To cook the potatoes, I usually put them in the microwave sprinkled with a tiny bit of water and microwave for 5+ minutes, until tender.

Preheat the oven to 375° when you’re done cooking your quinoa and potato.

Wondering what quinoa is? First things first, it’s pronounced keen-wa, and it is really good for you! It is a great source of protein, and contains all 8 essential amino acids (I don’t really know what that means, but it’s probably good). You should be able to find it in any grocery store. Try it as a substitute for rice in any recipe; you can also substitute it for the pasta in my pasta salad.

Back to the recipe!
1. After you’ve rinsed and drained your beans, mash half of them in a bowl until it is paste-like. After they are good and mashed, add in the rest of the beans, and very lightly stir/mash just until combined. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mash your cooked sweet potatoes, but leave it a little bit chunky. While each cube should be mashed, you don’t want the creamy texture of mashed potatoes.
3. Stir in the salt, pepper, oregano, coriander, chili powder, cayenne (if using) and olive oil, until combined.
4. Mix in the onion, garlic, corn, black beans, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and ground oats, until just combined. Feel free to taste at this point and add more spices if you think it needs more kick.

Using your hands, form the mixture into balls and flatten into patties, between 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick. We usually make 6 patties, but you can make up to 8.

Place the patties on a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the burgers halfway through.

We usually serve on a bun with pepper jack cheese and ketchup. It’s also good with avocado and/or roasted red peppers!

If you make 6 patties, each burger (without bun & toppings) is 4 PointsPlus. If you make 8 patties, each burger is 3 PointsPlus.

Summer Squash & Black Bean Tacos

Hi, remember me? …. Me either. Yes, I’ve been gone forever! Forgive me! It’s been a crazy summer, one whole month of which was spent traveling to four different states, all over the country (Washington, Maine, Massachusetts & Tennessee, if you’re curious).

I’ve been meaning to update my blog  for weeks, but me being a classic 9 on the enneagram (if you’re not familiar with the enneagram, google it! It’s fascinating. I am a 9 down to a tee!), I have trouble getting things started back up once I haven’t done it for awhile. But thanks to the encouragement of many friends, I’m back in action.

For a quick lunch today, I rustled up some leftovers: black beans, summer squash, zucchini, salsa, and corn tortillas. It made for a delicious, easy, and filling lunch. I didn’t measure anything, so these are rough estimates. Change it up as you please.

Squash & Black Bean Tacos
1/2 a can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 – 1/2 cup salsa
1/2 small-medium summer squash, diced
1/2 small zucchini, diced
1 Tbsp plain greek yogurt (you can use sour cream if you don’t have yogurt)
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1-2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
Corn tortillas
Dash of cayenne pepper
Pinch of cumin
Dash of chili powder
1 Tbsp canola oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté squash, zucchini, and onion with the oil. Add some salt & pepper, and your spices. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until onions are soft. Stir in the beans, salsa, and yogurt. Turn the stove off and keep the pan on the burner to stay warm.

Now grab another pan to heat the tortillas, and turn heat to med-high. Heat each corn tortilla on each side until soft. If you have a gas stovetop, you can actually just hold each tortilla over the flames for a few seconds so they get a little crispy. My friend grew up in Ecuador, and he tells me this is how they do it in South America… much more auténtico.

Fill each tortilla with a little bit of the squash & black bean mix. Top with cilantro and shredded cheese. Enjoy!

Bacon, Pizza Two Ways, and a Little Life Update

It’s been far too long! I confess I have been distracted by many things in the past month. I know life updates are not my usual blog post topic, but last weekend Ric and I graduated from seminary, Ric recently got a new job, and we will be moving to the ‘burbs in a few short weeks!  Lots going on around here. In the midst of all this, my poor blog has been forsaken. I do apologize.

I also have a confession to make…

I ate meat for the first time in four years.

Bacon … the gateway drug  meat.

Let me explain. The main reason I am a vegetarian is because I do not want to support the majority of the meat industry, whose business practices are shady, and who treat farmers horribly, and sell questionable meat packed with antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids, and who knows what else. (Google probably knows.) Animals are raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation); they are packed in with hundreds or even hundreds of thousands (in the case of chickens, for instance) of other animals, with no room to move around. This negatively impacts the environment, pollutes waterways (potentially harming people), and harms the animals themselves. They get sick easily, which necessitates the antibiotics, and are basically standing in their own filth. Disgusting. For more information about the whole dang meat industry, I suggest watching the documentary Food, Inc. OK, done ranting.

For the past few years, my church has had a partnership with a local farm. We personally know the farmer, and we often buy eggs from her. She comes to our church a couple times a month and sells meat and eggs. We know that she has a small family farm and they are dedicated to raising hogs in their natural environment. They do not use growth hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. And it makes a difference. They produce quality meat that tastes great. If you’re in Chicago, you can find C&D Farms at farmers markets and other locations, listed on their website. We had bought some bacon from Crystal, the farmer, for a big family brunch. I figured I knew exactly where it came from and that I could trust its quality, so I ate it. And it was delicious.

All of this to say, I still consider myself a vegetarian, but you may find me eating some meat from a local farm once in a blue moon.

OK… confessions of a bacon-eating vegetarian out of the way. Time for pizza.

If you know me, you probably know how much I love pizza. I think I could eat pizza every day. I might if it was in any way healthy.

I’ve got two pizzas for you. The first, Ric made, and the second was my creation. I wasn’t very specific with amounts for ingredients, because you can decide for yourself how much you want on your pizza. That’s the great thing about pizza — you can throw whatever you want on some dough and call it good!

Pizza #1: Tomato and Asparagus with Goat Cheese (yum)

Look at that beauty!

Ingredients:
pre-made pizza dough
asparagus
cherry tomatoes
goat cheese
olive oil
garlic (optional)
herbs for flavoring (oregano, basil, or we used herbes de provence)

Before making the pizza, you’ll need to blanch your asparagus. Blanch is just a fancy word for giving your asparagus a quick bath in boiling water. Blanching helps preserve the yummy flavor, crisp texture, and bright green color. First, prepare a bowl with ice and cold water and set aside.

Next, Bring a pot of water to a boil on medium-high heat, drop your asparagus in, and cook for 2-5 minutes (until it turns bright green). Remove the asparagus with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them in the bowl of ice water. This will stop them from cooking any further.

Now, get your dough and stretch it out. We get our dough from Trader Joe’s (of course). And even though I know wheat is healthier, we usually get the white dough because it’s easier to work with and tastes better.

Drizzle your dough with olive oil. Spread with minced garlic if you’re into that. Top with asparagus (you can cut them up if you want; we just left them whole), crumbled goat cheese, tomatoes and herbs. Consult the dough packaging for cooking instructions.

Pizza #2 Potato and Asparagus Pizza (mmm, carb-y)

Ingredients:
pre-made pizza dough
1 large potato, boiled and thinly sliced
asparagus
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche
2 tbsp. olive oil
garlic
parmesan cheese
goat cheese, aka the love of my life (sorry, Ric)
herbes de provence (a blend of rosemary, thyme, and marjoram)
salt and pepper

Boil your potato until soft, and cut into thin slices. Blanch your asparagus using the directions above.

Stretch out your dough. Drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil and cover in garlic slices. Season liberally with fresh cracked pepper, and just a little bit of salt.

Cover the dough with potato slices and drizzle those with the remaining oil and the cream. I consulted another recipe for the amount of cream and it suggested 1/2 cup, but I used just under that amount. I suggest starting with 1/4 cup and adding more as needed. Once you’re done with the cream, season the potatoes with herbes de provence.

Lay the asparagus over potatoes, and sprinkle goat cheese and parmesan cheese over everything. Use as much or as little as you like.

Bake at 425° for 35-40 minutes, until cream is bubbling and dough is golden brown around the edges.

Voila!

Guilt-Free “Ice Cream”

Another delicious dessert post for you. But this time it’s healthy. Seriously.

No sugar. No dairy. This recipe really only requires one ingredient plus one or two others if you want to add some flavor. Are you ready?

Frozen banana. 

Yep.

By some crazy miracle, when you blend frozen banana in the food processor, it turns into the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Really! Discovering this recipe is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. OK, so maybe not the best, but it’s up there. Because I love ice cream. Love it, love it, love it. I hardly ever keep it in the house, though, because I would probably eat the entire container by myself. But this recipe is something I can feel good about eating, even though it tastes just like ice cream. Genius.

I am in the habit of keeping sliced bananas in the freezer for smoothies, protein shakes, and this recipe. You will probably want to do the same so you can make this “ice cream” whenever you want. The following recipe is purely a starting point … you can really put anything you want in there to flavor it however you like.

Banana “ice cream”
3-4 bananas, sliced and frozen (slice before freezing)
A spoonful of peanut butter
2-3 tsp. cocoa powder

For this recipe, you will definitely need a food processor. The blender is not gonna cut it. Unless you have a seriously powerful blender.

Put your bananas into the food processor, and blend.

At first, it will looks like this:

It will be kind of grainy. Keep going. You will probably have to stop blending once in awhile and push the banana down with a spatula.

Be patient with it. For awhile it seems like nothing is happening and the banana is just spinning around and around. Just wait. I promise, it will happen. After a while of spinning, the banana at the bottom will start to get very smooth, and then the rest will follow. It’s actually really cool to watch it happen.

Here’s what it will look like when it’s the right consistency:

See how smooth and creamy it is around the sides? But if you look in the middle, you can see there is a big chunk of frozen banana. This happens every time. This last stubborn chunk doesn’t seem to want to break down, and it just keeps spinning around. You will probably have to stop and push it down/break it up a little bit to speed up the process.

Once it is completely done, you can add your flavor.

Like I said, add whatever you want. I usually stick to peanut butter & chocolate because it’s my favorite combo with the banana. But you could add fresh fruit like raspberries or strawberries to make more of a sorbet; coconut; chocolate syrup instead of cocoa powder… whatever you want. Go crazy.

The result is a smooth and creamy soft-serve-like treat that could definitely pass for ice cream. Just without all the calories. If you want it less soft-servey and more ice-creamy, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.

Yum!

For the Love of Cupcakes

I have long had a love for cupcakes. I mean, how could you not? Delicious cake and frosting-y goodness all wrapped up in the perfect, individual size. Yum!

I don’t often post sweets on the blog. Not because I don’t love them (oh, trust me, I do), but because I find baking to be much more difficult than cooking. Everything has to be so precise. If your butter is too soft or too hard, forget about it. There is so much that could go wrong. The first time I tried to make cupcakes from scratch, I had to throw away the entire first batch. It was a complete and miserable failure.  My butter was still too hard and it didn’t combine with the batter correctly. Therefore, they did not bake correctly. I wish I had a picture to show you the horror of these crappy cupcakes.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve learned some tricks. OK, so maybe they’re not tricks. Maybe this is just common baking knowledge, but, if you are new to baking there are some things you should know. Your butter and your eggs should be at room temperature, which requires a few hours of sitting on the counter. If you did not plan ahead, don’t worry. Check out this great blog post at My Baking Addiction for tips on how to speed up the process.

So, what is the yummy cupcake pictured above, you might ask? Well, it actually started out as something completely different. I had planned to attempt this recipe from Annie’s Eats (key word being “attempt”). Looks incredible, right? Well, turns out, it’s not so easy to make. The cake part is easy. Done and done. But homemade caramel? A nightmare. If you can make successful caramel on your first try, you deserve an award. I think caramel is one of those things that you have to have a lot of practice at, and I also hear a candy thermometer comes in handy. I had neither practice nor thermometers on hand, so my attempts at caramel burnt. Twice. On each try, it actually never even got close to turning the golden-brown caramel color. I just had a clear, gooey substance for a long time, and then it burnt and got all chunky and crystallized. Luckily, the mess cleans up easily with hot water, since it only consists of sugar and water.

Caramel nightmare behind me, I decided to scrap this lovely caramel swiss meringue buttercream idea, and just do plain old buttercream frosting. Forging ahead — that’s what mediocre bakers like myself must do in times of trial. I tossed the caramel pot in the sink, and moved on to buttercream.

In the end, I wound up with a delicious cupcake. The cake part is from Annie’s original recipe. I got the buttercream frosting recipe here, and added a couple ingredients of my own.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes (makes about 32 cupcakes)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2¼ cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
2¼ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. brewed coffee*
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup of salted butter (at room temp)
3 teaspoons of vanilla
4 cups of confectioners sugar
Cinnamon & Nutmeg (optional)**
Finely chopped dark chocolate for garnish

*If you don’t love the taste of coffee, don’t worry. Your cake won’t taste like coffee. It just adds a richer flavor.

**I did not measure the cinnamon and nutmeg… I just wanted to add some flavor, so I sprinkled some in, and sprinkled some more until I was satisfied with the taste.

Start with your cake first. Preheat the oven to 350°F, get out a couple cupcake pans, and put your cupcake liners in place. Using an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until blended. Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until everything is completely blended together.

Pour batter into cupcake liners so they are just a smidge over halfway full. Bake for about 18-20 minutes. You’ll know they are done if you lightly touch the middle of a cupcake and it bounces back. If it feel squishy and the batter hasn’t risen much, give it a couple more minutes.

While your cupcakes are baking, you can make your frosting. Once you’ve cleaned out your mixing bowl, add the butter. Mix on medium-low until the butter is all whipped up. Add confectioners sugar a little bit at at time. When the sugar is all mixed in, add cream and then vanilla. Then, you can sprinkle in some cinnamon and nutmeg.

When your cupcakes are cooled, frost away! I don’t have a frosting kit, so I use a ziploc bag. Just cut the tip of one bottom corner of the bag, put the frosting in, and get to frosting.

The frosting is so rich and sweet and delicious with the incredibly dark chocolate cake.

I will let you in on a little secret: the best way to eat a cupcake. When I was younger, I noticed my mom eating cupcakes this way, and I’ve followed her example ever since. Peel off the cupcake liner (duh), and split the cupcake in half by pulling the bottom part of the cupcake off. Take the part you just pulled off, and stick it on top of the frosting, making a cupcake sandwich.

Ta-da!

By sandwiching it, you get equal parts of frosting and cake in each bite. In my mind, there is no other way to eat a cupcake. Enjoy!