Low Calorie Pizza. It’s a thing.

Spring has finally sprung!  That means the flowers are blooming, the weather is perfect, and my birthday is mere weeks away.  It also means that Summer is also mere weeks away and this is L.A., so we all have to start prepping our beach bodies (even if we don’t go to the beach because traffic is terrible, and who wants to spend an hour driving to the beach, and another hour parking, on a weekend?).

Okay so maybe we don’t all need beach bodies, but we also don’t need pizza every day, even though we wish we could sometimes. I mean, it’s the world’s perfect food, right?

But I was doing some Pinterest-ing the other day and saw some recipes for a pizza crust made of cauliflower.  What!  Cauliflower!  I’ve been kind of obsessed with cauliflower lately as a low-calorie potato substitute, but could it possibly sub in for my beloved pizza crust?

It starts with taking some cauliflower and pulsing it in a food processor until it’s chopped into a fine powder.

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Sidenote: At this point you could use it as a substitute for rice! So many options for a simple vegetable!

Now you have to get as much water as possible out of the cauliflower so that you can get a crispy crust. So microwave it for a few minutes and then lay it on a kitchen towel to cool.  When it’s cool enough, wrap the towel around and squeeeeeeeze until  you get as much water out as possible.  It will be a surprising amount. You’ll be left with these dry cauliflower crumbles.

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In a bowl, mix the cauliflower with 1/4 cup parmesan, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/2 a teaspoon each of dried basil and dried oregano, along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few red chili flakes.  Oh and most importantly, one egg!

Mix it all together and lay it on parchment paper.  Form into a pizza-like shape.  This is the best because you don’t need to roll out dough.  I’m terrible at rolling out dough.

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You bake it in the oven for 10 minutes until it’s nice and golden brown.

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Then, add your toppings, and pop back in the oven for 7-8 minutes until the cheese is golden brown. I added (turkey) pepperoni and mushrooms.  And look what you get:

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A pizza!  Look you can even slice it!

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Now, how did it taste?  Surprisingly good.  The crust was really solid and the whole thing was actually very satisfying.  I didn’t miss the bread at all!  It’s no replacement for regular pizza, of course, but it’s actually so easy to make that I would prefer making this type of crust at home rather than regular pizza crust.  Plus then I won’t feel guilty about eating the whole thing.  Not that I did that, of course…

You can find the recipe I used here.

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Sausage & Potato Pie

When you think back on your life, and the things you’ve done, it’s amazing to realize how much information actually gets stored in your brain: song lyrics from those one-hit wonders in the 90’s, the names of people you haven’t spoken to since kindergarten, and the way to finish Super Mario Bros. 3 in under 20 minutes, which I mastered when I was 10.

Yet, the other day I tried to remember the name of an actress as I was watching her on TV, and my brain just couldn’t access the information I knew was in there.  It’s so fascinating to me that I thought about getting a cognitive science degree in college.  At least, I think I did.  I can’t remember.

And just FYI, it was Elizabeth Banks whose name I couldn’t remember, despite my adoration for her. Idiot.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that your brain stores random memories for some reason, and today’s recipe is related to one of those.  I remember it so vividly.  I came home from school, this is maybe junior year of high school (Go Pirates!), and my mom was making a Sausage and Potato Pie that she found in some random cookbook, because it looked good.  It smelled amazing, and was so delicious that between the two of us we ate most of it before my dad got home from work (sorry, Dad!).

I remember what it looked like, what it smelled like, what it tasted like, and yet this is the only time I ever had it. I’ve had the recipe with me for about 20 years, and I’ve never tried to make it myself. Maybe I thought it was too unhealthy, or maybe I didn’t want to ruin the memory.  But now I have a blog so risks must be taken!

It turns out it’s not as unhealthy as I thought, because there are a lot of vegetables in it! At least that’s what I am telling myself.

It starts with sautéing some zucchini, red peppers, garlic, fresh and dried basil together.

IMG_7104Guilt free, so far.

Next you add the sausage.  The recipe calls for Italian sausage, I used chicken Italian sausage, because, you know, I’m healthy…maybe healthy-adjacent.

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While that is cooking it’s time to slice the potatoes.

IMG_7115Potatoes just get me.

Once the sausage mix is all cooked, it’s time to assemble the pie!  It goes like this: a layer of potatoes, a layer of sausage/vegetable mix, and some cheese. I used an Italian cheese mix to keep with the theme, and parmesan. Lots of parmesan.

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Look at that. You just know it’s going to be sinful…ly delicious. Repeat the layers again, finishing with potatoes on top.

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Wrap it in foil and bake it for 40 minutes. Take the foil off and bake for another 10 minutes until the top layer is nice and crisp.

At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do, unless TRAGEDY STRIKES!

At this point, MY OVEN BREAKS. Just decides to stop heating up. Imagine the fury! After throwing a wine glass into a fireplace in rage  (I like to think my life is a telenovela), I remember I have a toaster oven. Not ideal, but it’ll get the job done.

Assuming your oven doesn’t break, you will be left with a whole pie that looks something like this:

IMG_7160Crispy perfection!

The good news is that it is delicious, filling, and totally amazing.  The better news is that my childhood memory of it is still intact, and that I will totally make it again.

If my brain remembers how to do it.

SAUSAGE & POTATO PIE

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
4 medium size potatoes
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, Monterey Jack, or other combination of cheeses.

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skilled over medium-high heat.  Add peppers and zucchini, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Add garlic, pepper, fresh basil, and dried basil. Sauté 2 minutes more.

4. Add sausage, breaking up any clumps. Sauté until no longer pink. About 5 minutes.

5. Toss sliced potatoes in the other tablespoon of oil. Spread 1/3 of the potatoes over the bottom of a 10 inch pie pan, or a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ baking pan.

6. Spread half the sausage/vegetable mixture on top. Then add half of the cheeses.

7. Repeat layer one more time with another 1/3 potatoes, the rest of the sausage/vegetable mixture, and the rest of the cheese. Finish with a layer of potatoes on top.

8. Cover the pie with foil and put in the oven for 40 minutes.

9. Remove the foil, and bake another 5-10 minutes until potatoes are nice and crispy brown on top.

10. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes.

11. Eat and hope your brain remembers this delicious moment for the rest of your life.

Wintery Mac and Cheese

At the risk of sounding too Oprah about it, I have to say, there is a lot in life to love.  For example, the weather in Los Angeles is amazing, I have a very loving partner, two adorable dogs, and really great friends.  I love all of it.

But above everything else comes my true love:

Macaroni and Cheese.

For me, there’s nothing more satisfying, comforting, indulgent, and happiness-inducing than cheese covered pasta.  When done right, it can transport you to a place some* have described as pure nirvana.

(*I’m probably the only one who has said this)

Conversely, there is nothing more disappointing than mac and cheese done poorly. You know, like when you’re at a restaurant and that Lobster Mac and Cheese sounds delicious, and you order it, and it comes and you’re so excited, and then you bite into it and remember that lobster and cheese don’t always go well together, and the sauce is too thin, or too thick, or the wrong cheese was used, and- well you get the point.

There’s nothing quite like homemade mac and cheese, and (not to sound too cocky) I happen to be pretty good at it. It’s what I bring to potlucks and it’s always a hit.

A few years ago I invited some friends over for dinner and was presented with a list of various dietary limitations, which included onions, tomatoes, garlic, any citrus, basically everything fun to cook with. Normally I don’t accept requests, but I happen to like these people a lot, so I didn’t cancel.

Fortunately mac and cheese is a dish that you can adapt in endless ways.  You can use different cheeses! Different pastas! Different vegetables!  You can cook it in a pot or bake until it’s crispy! It’s always exciting enough to use exclamation points!

This dinner took place during the winter, so I wanted something especially warm and inviting. I decided on butternut squash and kale as the vegetables, and for the cheeses a mix of mozzarella, smoked gouda, and nutty manchego.

The next part happened purely by happenstance. I was at Trader Joe’s, with my hand on a bag of whole wheat pasta, when I saw the brown rice pasta right next to it, and it called to me.  So I took a chance and bought that instead, and let me tell you, it was the best decision. The pasta is lighter than wheat pasta, so it made the entire dish feel less heavy and didn’t give you that feeling like you had a hunk of cheese in your stomach after that second helping.

I also used 1% milk in my bechemel sauce, which is blasphemy. I’m not a pro bechemel maker, and 1% sounded healthier, but hey whatever.

First I roast the butternut squash:

IMG_6889Crispy and sweet!

While that’s roasting you can lightly braise the kale and boil the pasta.

Then shred all the cheese.

img_6871Yet another reason I love my food processor.

Next, make a simple bechemel sauce.

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Then add the cheeeeeeeeeese!

IMG_6881I mean…

Then, add the kale, the squash, and the pasta.IMG_6892*SWOON*

You could eat it at this point, it would be delicious.  But if you like those crispy edges, like I do, onward.

Empty the pot into a baking pan, and top with some bread crumbs.  And then bake until golden brown.

IMG_6895Basically, I die.

Cut a piece off, take a picture to show your friends, and then eat the other 90% you left in the pan while no one’s watching.

IMG_6903I ate all the rest.

Wintery Mac and Cheese

INGREDIENTS
1 lb Organic Brown Rice Pasta (available at Trader Joe’s)
2 bunches kale
1 lb butternut squash (cut into 1 inch cubes) – (if you want to cheat, get two packages of pre-cut butternut squash in the vegetable aisle)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups 1% low fat milk
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
1 cup shredded Manchego cheese
2 slices whole wheat bread
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a roasting pan, lay out the butternut squash.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper, get down and dirty and toss it all together with your hands.  Roast the butternut squash 30 minutes or so, until soft and slightly caramelized.  Be sure to toss the squash once during roasting.

3.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions (be sure to salt the water!).  Drain and set to the side.

4.  While the pasta and squash are cooking, wash the kale, remove the tough stems and slice into 1/2 to 1 inch strips.

5. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add the kale and chicken broth.  Season with salt, and toss lightly.  Cover and braise the kale until it has wilted down, about 10 minutes (it will still be a bit crunchy even after all that braising).  Drain when finished.

6.  Remove the crusts from the slices of bread and pulse in a food processor until you have fine bread crumbs.  Place in a bowl, toss with a little olive oil and set aside. You can also use store bought breadcrumbs.

7.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir with whisk until well incorporated.  Keep stirring until mixture thicken, about 2-3 minutes.

8.  Add the milk.  Whisk slowly, but continuously.  As the milk warms, the sauce will get thicker.  When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready.

9.  Add the mozzarella, gouda, and manchego cheeses.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

10.  Fold in the roasted squash, the braised kale, and the cooked pasta, and toss all together until everything is deliciously covered in the gooey white sauce.  Make sure to sample it…you know, to make sure it tastes right.

11.  Pour mixture into a baking dish large enough to handle all the goodness, and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top of that.

12.  Place in oven for another 20 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

13.  Remove from oven and serve.

14.  Call your friends and tell them they should come over because it’s so amazing.  Just make sure you don’t eat it all before they arrive.  Oh and tell them to bring wine.  It’s only polite.