The Allison (one sandwich)

I have a couple sets of discussion questions that I use once a week with my high-schoolers as a warm-up exercise. My kids affectionately call Wednesday "cube day," and they get a lot out of sharing their ideas and listening to their classmates' opinions. Sometimes though, they get frustrated with me. I'm the one who always has follow-up questions about the question before I can even answer the question.

For example, this past week, a student pulled the card that asked, "What would you eat for your last meal?" My question was, "But why is it my last meal?" Of course, the card provides no further information, so my student shrugged and said, "I don't know. It just is." Obviously, the reason I'm eating one final meal would heavily sway my choice of victuals. Am I dying? Then it'll probably be a last-hurrah indulgent sort of meal. Am I on death row? And then following that, am I actually guilty? If I'm guilty, I'm probably too mournful to eat much. If I'm innocent, then I'm swallowing whole popcorn kernels to see what happens in the electric chair. Is this my last meal because a meteorite is about to hit Earth? Then I'll probably go with whatever the hell I can find in the pantry or whatever is leftover in the fridge. As much as I like to cook, I'm pretty sure my pre-Apocalyptic frame of mind will not include gourmet cooking. Let's get real here.

So by the time I run through my follow-up questions, my students are usually glassy-eyed as they fight off yawns. For that particular question, I never even arrived at an answer because there were too many variables to allow me to land on a solid decision. I left it at, "I guess it depends," and we moved on to the next card.

This afternoon, however, I realized what my real answer would be: The Allison. The Allison was off-handedly mentioned in a previous post before it was named. Originally inspired by a sandwich from Lititz, Pennsylvania's adorably cozy Tomato Pie Cafe, I've since named my version after my good friend Allison, who once sang its praises (possibly literally -- I don't remember).

So yes, the Allison would be my last meal. It feels more sinful than it is, it's comforting, and it's just unusual enough to be special. As I've said before, I love unexpected flavor combinations, and this sandwich's amalgam of brie, raspberry jam, sprouts, and egg certainly fits the bill. My philosophy of flavor pairings is like my feelings about introducing two friends from different areas of your life at a party: As long as you've got a mutual connection in between, everything will be fine. Here, raspberry jam doesn't seem like it would match well with eggs, but raspberry jam adores brie, and brie jives with eggs, so everybody is happy. And sprouts are the peppery, bold confetti that gets the party going!

Okay, so I probably haven't seen confetti at a party since I was about ten. And maybe I haven't been to many parties at all lately. Fine! I'll be in the corner eating my sandwich.

Click here for a printable version.

You will need:

  • Two slices of multigrain bread (I recommend sunflower bread)
  • Raspberry jam (preferably with seeds)
  • Sliced brie cheese
  • Two eggs
  • Microgreens (I love using a mixture of sprouts)

Steps:

  1. Toast the bread.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the eggs however you prefer. (I love mine scrambled and fluffy.)
  3. When the bread is toasted, spread the jam on one side and lay the brie on the other. Place the eggs on top of the brie, pile the sprouts on top of the eggs, and then put the jammy toast on top. 

This sandwich tastes best if you assemble it when everything is hot and eat it straight away. (Just keep a look out for that meteorite.)

 

Autumn farro salad with maple vinaigrette (2+ servings)

Have you tried farro? Made from hulled grains of three ancient forms of wheat, cooked farro remains chewy and soaks up flavors easily. It provides a solid dose of protein and fiber and can stand in for quinoa or rice in many dishes. Whole-grain farro requires pre-soaking and a longer cook time, but semi-pearled farro cooks up in about the same time as rice. It can be cooked in the same way as pasta -- in boiling water until al dente and then drained. Follow package directions for the best results.

This particular version was based on a recipe from The Gluten-Free Goddess, although using farro instead of quinoa took away its gluten-free status! I wanted a firm, nutty grain that could stand up to the chilly-weather flavors of the other ingredients. Here's my spin on her recipe:

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 cup dry farro, cooked in broth and cooled
  • About a cup of baby spinach or other baby greens, roughly chopped
  • 1 large pear or apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • A handful of dried cranberries (If you can find the orange-flavored variety, they're especially delicious here!)
  • 1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or something similarly mild)
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Place the farro, greens, fruit, and pecans in a large serving bowl.
  2. Add the oil, vinegar, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste to a jar with a lid. Cover and shake to combine.
  3. Pour the dressing over the farro mixture and toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature as a main dish or a side salad.

This goes well with pita chips, especially Trader Joe's cranberry and pumpkin seed version!

Spanakorizo with white beans (4 servings)

If you're trying to cook plant-based meals more often, Robin Robertson's One-Dish Vegan is an excellent resource. Filled with easy, creative, and filling recipes, it provides a variety of animal-free ideas that won't bust your budget or use up an entire evening in the kitchen. The recipe below comes from the book, and I already can't wait to make it again. The starchy rice and creamy beans work together to make a surprisingly silky, substantial dish, and the flavors of lemon, dill, and oregano brighten things up. Enjoy this Greek-inspired recipe tonight!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups dry long-grain brown rice
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (use a gluten-free broth to make this Celiac-friendly)
  • 4 cups chopped fresh spinach (thick stems removed)
  • 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill

Steps: 

  1. Add the oil, rice, onion powder, oregano, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and broth to a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high until the mixture boils; reduce to low, cover, and simmer 25 minutes.
  2. After 25 minutes, stir in the spinach and beans; continue cooking for about 10 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.
  3. Fold in the mint, lemon zest, and dill; allow to stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.

Savory slow-cooked beans (8+ servings)

Happy Easter, readers! I've risen from obscurity to bring you another delicious vegetarian recipe.

If you have a slow cooker, you know it's a magical thing. You just load in the ingredients, set the time and temperature, and go about your day, returning to find a delicious, flavorful meal hours later. Although I tend to immediately think of soups and chilis when I want to use my slow cooker, I've found that beans are another easy go-to option for my Crockpot. This recipe can be customized in infinite ways, and the tender, savory beans can then be used in many different recipes or served as is. These beans freeze beautifully and reheat nicely, too.

You will need:

Basic requirements

  • 1 lb dry black beans, pinto beans, or other similarly-sized beans, picked through for debris
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 jar (15-16 oz) salsa, any variety
  • 1 tsp salt

Optional flavor boosters:

  • 1 bay leaf
  • a palmful of dried herbs and/or spices: oregano, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chipotle powder, paprika, etc.
  • liquid smoke
  • hot sauce
  • chopped onion, carrot, celery, and/or potato
  • minced garlic
  • halved olives
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil

Secret final ingredient (after beans are cooked):

  • a splash of lime juice

Steps:

  1. Place the four basic ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  2. Add in as many ingredients as you like from the "optional flavor boosters" above, customizing add-ins to your own taste. (I love smoky beans, so I almost always add smoked paprika and liquid smoke. I love the richness a glug of olive oil adds, and if I use an onion, I usually keep it in big pieces to avoid overpowering the beans' flavor.)
  3. Give everything a stir and set the slow cooker for 9 hours on low.
  4. At the end of the cooking time, add in the lime juice. If you want to add a handful of chopped fresh herbs (cilantro is especially nice), do that now, too.
  5. Serve the beans in any way you like! (See some options below.) If you're serving them as-is, you might want to add some more salt. If you're using the beans as part of another recipe, you probably don't need more salt.

These beans can be used in a huge variety of ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make burrito bowls (as in the last picture above) by serving the beans on top of brown rice with roasted corn, chopped avocado, and any toppings you like (sour cream, cheese, green onions, cilantro, etc.).
  • Serve them alongside scrambled eggs, more salsa, and tortillas for a savory breakfast or brunch dish.
  • Blend them into soup for a light and quick meal.
  • Fold them into enchiladas.
  • Add them to your favorite chili recipe.
  • Use them in a potluck salad.
  • Make a spicy casserole.
  • Turn them into tacos.

If you don't like spicy heat, you could make these with a mild salsa or even substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for the salsa. At less than $1.00 a serving, you can't beat the ease and convenience of this recipe.

Spanakopita stuffed potatoes (4 servings)

Spanakopita, much like my last name, isn't as difficult to pronounce as it would seem at first glance. Pronounced "span-uh-co-pih-tuh," this flaky Greek pastry is stuffed with cheese, onions, and spinach, a heavenly combination. In this Eating Well remix, the pastry's stuffing gets cozy with the fluffy insides of a crisply-baked potato. Melty feta and creamy potatoes? This girl couldn't get much happier.

I halved the original recipe since I needed only four servings, and I swapped onion powder for the chopped onion to mollify my drama-bent insides. I also didn't reduce the oven temperature for the second round of baking, since I like my feta extra golden, but if your oven runs hot, you might want to. The only drawback of this recipe is budgeting enough time to bake the potatoes, allow them to cool, and then bake them again. When this girl wants potatoes, she wants them NOW!

I like to imagine Tina Belcher pronouncing it "spanakopit-uhhhhhh."

Click here for a printable recipe!

You will need:

  • 2 medium russet potatoes (8-10 oz each), scrubbed
  • 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cups chopped spinach or other greens (thawed and drained thoroughly if frozen)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion powder (preferably toasted onion powder, if you can find it)
  • 3 Tbsp part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Preheat over to 400°F.
  2. Use a fork to pierce each potato several times. When oven is up to temperature, place the potatoes directly on the center rack and bake until tender. (This could be anywhere from 50-75 minutes. Spuds can be unpredictable.)
  3. While the potatoes bake, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach/greens and garlic to the pan. Cook and stir for a few minutes until the greens cook down and get soft. Add in the oregano and onion powder and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
  4. Once the potatoes can be easily pieced with a knife, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. Keep the oven on.
  5. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle with an oven mitt, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop the insides out into a bowl, leaving a bit of flesh on the skins so they hold their shape. Place the empty skins in a baking dish and set aside for now.
  6. To the bowl of fluffy potato insides, add the ricotta, the feta, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir and mash until the potatoes are relatively smooth. (I did fine with a wooden spoon.) Fold in the cooked greens.
  7. Stuff each potato half with a quarter of the spinach-potato-feta filling. (Don't be surprised when your potatoes are stuffed full enough to threaten toppling over!) Return the stuffed potato halves to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the feta is golden brown on top.

Pair these with a crisped-up Field Roast sausage or a side of meatless meatballs and you're good to go!