Vegan Manicotti

photo 4photo 7I love CARBS!! Pasta is seriously my weakness in life and during pregnancy I have never wanted it more! I few weeks ago manicotti was literally the only thing that I thought about… Luckily I have a super healthy, super vegan recipe that makes my soul dance!! Like for reals, I'm dancing right now just thinking about eating this meal!! Yum, yum, YUMMMM! On top of actually tasting really good, it has zero added oil, no added sugar! Now, I know there is the ongoing great soy debate, but my research tells me that non-gmo soy in it's whole form[tofu, miso, tempeh] is a great addition to your diet 2-3 times a week. Tofu is a great sauce of protein, calcium, and iron, all super important for your health, but even more so when you are carrying a little one!! Enjoy!!
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Serves 2 (doubles easily)
8 manicotti noodles
“Ricotta” Filling
1 package organic[ALWAYS] super firm tofu, pressed*
2 cups frozen kale, defrosted and strained
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of dried basil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the noodles until they are mostly cooked, but still have a more crunch than al dente about 8 minutes. They will finish cooking in the oven, you don’t want soggy noodles. Heat the kale up and strain out all the extra water. In a food processor or blender mix all of the ricotta ingredients until it’s a smooth paste resembling cheese. Stuff cooled noodles with the filling. I like to use a spoon to push the filling all the way through. No one wants a bite without filling, boo. Cover with sauce and pop in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Serve with a salad and extra sauce!
*Pressing the tofu is important for this dish, you don’t want any moisture from the tofu to ruin the consistency of the “ricotta” filling. So I wrap the tofu in a few layers of paper towels then a kitchen towel. I place a heavy pan on top of the tofu with a few heavy cans and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Presto!photo 6

Presto Pesto Magic

Blissful  Happenings  Pesto Shoot - 38 Blissful  Happenings  Pesto Shoot - 42 Blissful  Happenings  Pesto Shoot - 45 Blissful  Happenings  Pesto Shoot - 46 Blissful  Happenings  Pesto Shoot - 49photos by Kelsey Erin Photography

I am a real deal Italian and I love being Italian. LOVE. IT. I was insistent upon keeping my very Italian last name when I got married because it was so important to me! My people are the creators of some pretty epic food, I mean pasta is magic! Literal, magic. This pesto is super easy and will have even the pickiest of eaters swooning! It's great with pasta [recipe to follow], veggies, breadsticks, or even a replacement for mayo! The possibilities are endless!!! This oil-free version is seriously guilt-free! So enjoy, and enjoy often!

Makes enough to coat 2 pounds 'o' pasta!

3 cups loosely packed basil

2 cups loosely packed spinach

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 huge garlic cloves

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of veggie stocks

a few solid pinches of salt to taste

Blend in a blender until smooth. Yep, that's it. AWESOMENESS. I know, right!?

Eggplant Parm

vegan-eggplant-veggie-plant basedI'm Italian. I'm vegan. Many Italians would say that this is a physical impossibility. 5 years ago I would have probably agreed, but now here I sit a real live Italian girl who hasn't had milk, cheese, or eggs for over 4 years. I haven't gone mad or evaporated into thin air, I've managed quite nicely! I'm so much healthier and clearer, but I still love Italian food… like, a lot. Luckily, Italians aren't all meatballs and bolognese! I have adapted many of my mom, Sandy's, recipes, but the hardest was her eggplant parmigiana. I thought it would be impossible, but alas it wasn't!! Here is my healthy, vegan eggplant parm. You're welcome!! Serves 4-6

2 large eggplant, peeled and sliced thinly

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

1 1/2 cup of veggie broth

1 package of Daiya vegan mozzarella*

4 cups of marinara sauce, recipe below or a really, really good jarred sauce

2 3/4 cups Trader Joes plain breadcrumbs (you could easily sub Gluten Free crumbs)

2 teaspoons of garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried basil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. I like to mix up my own flavored bread crumbs, so in a mini-prep I blend up the breadcrumbs, garlic powder, parsley, and basil. Mix then pour into a bowl. In a separate bowl mix veggie stock and ground flax seeds until they form a gloppy egg like mixture. Start coating the eggplant in the flax egg, then the breadcrumbs and place on a sheet tray. It's a painstaking process, but soooo worth it. Place trays in oven and cook for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Resist the urge to eat them all.

Then in a 8x8 baking dish, with a spoon spread a thin layer of sauce across the bottom. Layer in the baked eggplant. Top with another thin layer of sauce and 1/3 cup(or up to 1/2 cup if you like it gooey) of the daiya cheese. Continue like this. I like 4 layers. I top with sauce and no cheese because vegan cheese tends to back funny when it's exposed directly to heat. You can keep this in the fridge for 2-3 days or even freeze. When you are ready to bake heat the oven to 350 and cook  covered for 25 minutes, then uncovered for another 20. Serve with more sauce!!

Sandy's Red Sauce
Serves an army
2 32 oz cans of tomato sauce (I like Muir Glenn’s flavor)**
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 small onion, chopped fine (optional)
1 cup fresh basil, chopped in a fine chiffonade
dried oregano
dried basil
sea salt, pepper

Start by using 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or if you are a weirdo like me and trying to cut out oil, use 1-2 tablespoons of water. Add all of the garlic until fragrant. Be careful not to burn!!! Watch closely! Once it’s going, add onions and cook until translucent. Then add a big ole handful of salt, a few turns of the pepper mill, and 2 teaspoons each of dried oregano and dried basil. Stir for quick second and then add the tomato sauce. Mix throughly. Add another generous handful of salt. Once it’s nice and bubbly, reduce the heat to low and cover for 1-4 hours. Make sure and check on it regularly, burnt sauce SUCKS!!! At the very end, add the fresh basil until wilted. Use for your eggplant or with your favorite pasta!! I’m a big fan of eggplant parm with a side of rigatoni and red sauce. I’m starving now. Dammit. Someone make me some sauce!!

*Note: I'm not a huge fan of vegan cheese at all. Ever. Even the best quality vegan shreds are processed and they rarely taste great, but Daiya is far and away the best melting cheese and it really tastes yummy in this recipe which is meant as a special treat! That being said it would taste super delicious without the cheese too!! Then you could truly enjoy this meal guilt free!!! YUM!

**Yet another note: You can go old school and buy whole San Marzano tomatoes and blend them until smooth and start with that as your base. I use quite a bit more sea salt when I make it this way. We don’t do a super sweet sauce in my family! Bring on the sodium!!

Let's Hug it Out...

carbs, goooood.I’m one of those people that could work 40+ hours, go to book club, zumba, and have 3 dinner dates planned in a week and still find time to watch tons of TV. It’s a rare gift and as I have no 40 hours to work... You get it. One of my favorite shows is Extra Virgin on the Cooking channel. It follows beloved New York native and super famous actress Debi Mazer and her dreamy Tuscan husband Gabriele Corcos. They absolutely love each other, they are so entertaining to watch, and, oh yeah, they make awesome food! Debi knows her shit. If you haven’t seen this show it’s definitely worth a peek.

People often get confused as to why I watch food shows when clearly I can’t eat a majority of the food, but truth is I LOVE Cooking Channel. I love seeing what flavors chefs put together and then work them into my own lifestyle! Nerd!!!! Yep, but I make hella good food!

On a recent episode, Debi and Gabrielle cook for Adrien Greenier. That’s right, none other than Vinnie Chase himself and to my surprise one of Debi’s creations was practically made for me, omit parmesan cheese and you have a vegan delight. Check out the recipe here! Make it gluten free by using brown rice or quinoa pasta. Make it oil free by using veggie stock in place of the oil. The perfect way to enjoy the tail end of tomato season and bonus, it has peas. Everyone loves peas. Fun fact: The Captain buys a bag of frozen peas errrry time he goes to grocery store. It's a compulsion. Anywho, it's delicious and your taste buds will thank me and Debi-- but mostly just Debi...