Mushroom and Zucchini Mozzarella Bake: A Perfect Vegetarian Summer Dinner by Kelsey Vlamis

mozzarella bake, vegetarian dinner, summer dinner, heirloom tomatoes

For those of us that are passionate about food, one of summer's greatest joys is all the fresh produce. But that doesn't mean we're all trying to eat raw salads everyday, nor does cooking your farmer's market finds waste their freshness. Fresh, in-season produce has a superior taste to it's out-of-season versions, both when enjoyed fresh and when cooked.

And so, this dish is really the perfect celebration of that superior taste, relying mostly on summer squash and heirloom tomatoes -- both of which are literally bursting with flavor this time of year. It's also crazy simple and totally healthy (I suggest making it on a Sunday and eating the leftovers during the week!). I served it over quinoa and lentils, because I liked the textural and nutritional differences each provided, but feel free to use one or the other, or something entirely different. I think the heartiness and chewiness of farro would go amazingly with this. And you certainly wouldn't go wrong pairing it with some crusty sourdough bread, a great option for a casual, backyard dinner shared with friends.

This recipe was adapted from Half Baked Harvest's Tomato and Zucchini Halloumi Bake. I altered it by making it vegetarian, and subbing mozarella for halloumi, because $$. Enjoy!

mozzarella bake, vegetarian dinner, summer dinner, heirloom tomatoes
mozzarella bake, vegetarian dinner, summer dinner, heirloom tomatoes

Mushroom and Zucchini Mozzarella Bake

serves: 4-6
active time: 20 minutes
cook time: 10 minute simmer, 15 minute bake
total time: 45 minutes

1 yellow onion, diced
8 oz mushrooms, chopped (I used baby bellas)
2 small zucchinis, thinly sliced into rounds
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
salt + pepper
1 tbsp cumin
1.5 tbsp paprika
1/2 c red wine
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 c basil, chopped
8 oz mozzarella, sliced into rounds
handful heirloom cherry tomatoes (optional)


Cook quinoa and lentils (or grain/legume of choice). Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in oven-safe skillet. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 4 min. Add mushrooms and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 min. Add zucchini and sauté until soft, about 4 min. Add chopped tomatoes, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Add wine and parsley. Cover and simmer until tomatoes are soft and have released their juices, ~10-15 minutes, removing lid halfway to let mixture reduce.

Add basil and mix well. Cover with even layer of mozzarella slices. Sprinkle with cherry tomatoes if desired. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until mixture has thickened somewhat and mozzarella has browned, about 15-20 min.

Let cool slightly before serving. Garnish with more fresh parsley and basil, and fresh cracked pepper. Plate quinoa and lentils, and top with the mozzarella bake.

mozzarella bake, vegetarian dinner, summer dinner, heirloom tomatoes

Food Trip: Maui & The Maui Foodist Bucket List by Kelsey Vlamis

When asked to think of Maui food, you probably imagine fresh pineapples and fresh poke--and understandably so! It would be a disservice to yourself and to the island to not enjoy those little wonders while visiting the Aloha State. But there is a lot more to Maui cuisine, something I quickly learned during two long, food-centric trips. I was doing research (read: eating anything and everything) with my man-friend for his book, The Foodist Bucket List: Maui, which compiles the island's top 100 edible adventures, from farm to fork. If you're headed to Maui (or just enjoy reading about food) I can't recommend the book enough--it's funny, useful, and truly a joy to read. In the meantime, I've narrowed down my own (much shorter) list of must-try Maui food. I stuck with more casual options (you don't need me, or anyone, to tell you Mama's Fish House is excellent), and I've divided it up by location for convenience. Enjoy!

maui coast

Hana Highway

Coconut Glen's: Truly an oasis on the long, winding, Road to Hana, the small colorful shack that is Coconut Glen's serves freshly made coconut-based vegan ice cream, made from coconuts harvested in the adjacent rainforest. Passing this place up is a grave mistake, for vegans and dairy-lovers alike.

The Upcountry

La Provence: Butter and carbs and more butter. I know, it's not exactly the picture of a Maui vacation. But do not visit the upcountry without stopping at this small, authentic French bakery. Get there early, as the baked goods often sell out before 9 am. Order the quiche, finish with the almond croissant, and start your day in the upcountry off right.

la provence maui quiche
la provence maui

Surfing Goat Dairy: What if I told you there was a magical, tropical place, with prancing baby goats, expansive ocean views, and flights of farm-fresh goat cheese? Well, this place exists and it's called Surfing Goat Dairy.

Grandma's Coffee House: The perfect, local, family-run spot for a classic breakfast, with delicious food (go for the weekend benedict special), a quaint patio, and killer island views. Plus, they've been growing, processing, and roasting (in-house!) their organic coffee since 1918. What's not to love?

grandma's coffee house


Makawao Sushi and Deli: Ben's Rainbow Roll. Absolutely loaded with crazy-fresh fish, hand-rolled by Ben himself, and served by his wife in this small, unassuming, deli-style restaurant. That's all.


Paia Bowls: Tucked away off the busy streets in this once quiet hippy/surfer town is this perfect little acai spot, with 100% acai bowls, yummy toppings, reasonable prices, and the cutest plant-ridden patio to enjoy it all on.

acai bowls paia
acai bowl maui

Paia Bay Coffee: The most perfect Hawaiian coffee shop imaginable. Also tucked away off the bustling Paia streets, this coffee shop is a lush, tropical plant-filled paradise, free of tourists and full of fresh Maui air... and great coffee.

Mana Foods: Think Whole Foods, but way smaller, more local, totally Hawaiian, and actually community-based. The perfect little grocery store to fill up on any and all food needs--like fresh, beautiful, local produce for snacking, or packing a sack lunch before hitting the road to Hana.

hana sack lunch
mana foods kula strawberry


Poi By The Pound: You can't go to Hawaii without trying actual Hawaiian food--which, contrary to popular belief, is not fresh fruit and fresh fish. Classic Hawaiian food is more like spam, white rice, mac salad, pork, and poi--a strangely textured taro root paste. Go to Poi By The Pound, try the kalua pork, the lau lau, the poi, and embrace Native Hawaiian culture.


South Maui Fish Company: The. best. poke. ever. Not the best poke I had in Maui, not the best poke I've had from a food truck, just the best. The freshest-tasting and most perfectly-textured poke I've had. Period.

south maui fish co poke


Choice Health Bar: The beloved Hawaiian acai bowl may not find any greater glory than the version that is offered at Choice. A massive bowl of thick purple acai with plenty of granola, bananas, coconut, and more. Not to mention, healthy and vegan salads, plate lunches, and bowls. This place is the real deal.

choice health bar acai


Most importantly, don't forget to look out for serendipitous discoveries of fresh ripe fruit still hanging on the tree--a very common occurrence all over the island. After all, the overwhelmingly lush and abundant landscape is the true wonder of a place like Maui, and is the reason it has so much good food in the first place. So, as always, shout out and mahalo to Mother Earth.

fresh maui papaya
iver foraging

Any spots you love in Maui that I missed? Let me know! :)

Salted Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies by Kelsey Vlamis

Here's something you've probably never heard before: My mom is the best cook I know. Okay, I know everyone says that about their own mom. But I challenge anyone who doubts me to try my mom's veal with pine nuts, her lobster-vodka sauce with homemade 8 finger cavatelli, or her inexplicably addicting rack of lamb (I think her seasoning must include trace amounts of cocaine? idk for sure). While her savory dishes are some of the best I've ever had, don't even get me started on her desserts.

I say this whole-heartedly, her desserts are on another level, and for all my life all of my friends lucky enough to experience them have agreed. This has served as both a blessing and a curse: I am greeted with mounds of heavenly rich desserts every time I come home; I also am near-incapable of fully enjoying dessert made by anyone else (including myself), because as my boyfriend has heard countless times (and has been annoyed by ever since we met), "It's good, but you need to try my mom's."

In the past couple years, my mom has adapted an oatmeal cookie recipe to create the most insanely delicious cookie I've ever had, littered with too-much chocolate chips (if such a thing were possible), and chewy pieces of homemade toffee. In the spirit of fall, and the salted caramel trend that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, I adapted this recipe from hers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy my mom's.

Salted Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies
makes about 24 large cookies

for the apples
2 cups raw apples (I used fuji), chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (about 2 apples)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon brown sugar

for the cookies
1 cup (or two sticks) butter
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 + 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick-cooking oats

for the caramel drizzle
1/2 - 1 cup salted caramel

scant 1/2 cup of cooled caramel, roughly chopped into small pieces

make caramel*
I've used this recipe for dry caramel, and this recipe for wet caramel. If you've never made caramel before, wet caramel is typically easier to make than dry (though the end result is basically the same).

sauté apples
If desired, skin apples (I didn't), and chop into 1/2 inch cubes. Set a skillet over medium-low heat and add about 1-2 tsp butter/oil. When warm, add apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and sauté until soft but not mushy, about 5 minutes.

prepare cookie dough
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat together until well blended. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat again until blended. Stir in oats, sautéed apples, and chopped caramel (if desired**) until evenly distributed.

bake cookies
Scoop dough and drop onto greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Size your scoops at 1/2 - 1 rounded tbsp, depending on preference. Bigger scoops will take slightly longer to cook. Bake about 10-12 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for 3 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.

drizzle caramel
Once cool, drizzle warm caramel over cookies, using as much or as little as you prefer [as far as I'm concerned, more is more ;) ]. Full disclosure: I actually drizzled more caramel over these cookies after I took the photos.

*If you have never and do not want to attempt homemade caramel for this recipe, you can use a thick, store-bought caramel sauce instead. Preferably one that hardens up a bit at room temp.
**Adding chopped pieces of caramel to the cookies add an extra caramel chewiness that I love, however, can result in some divots in the cookies where the caramel pieces melted during baking. While totally delicious, the cookies will look less perfect/uniform. I like it that way :) but it's your call!

Butternut Squash and Sage Galette with Cornmeal Crust by Kelsey Vlamis

I realize that butternut squash and sage isn't exactly a ground-breaking combination, but the flavors complement each other so well that I couldn't resist throwing them in this cornmeal crust. I only recently started making galettes, and honestly, I'm not sure why it took me so long. Or why no one ever told me how easy it was? I honestly want to scream it to anyone who will listen. GALETTES ARE EASY AND VERSATILE AND DELICIOUS SO JUST MAKE ONE NOW. But first, let's talk about squash.

Squash is one of the easiest foods to buy local and in-season.

A couple weekends ago, we went to the farmers market and bought about 12 squash of differing varieties: butternut, acorn, squash that look like pumpkin, squash that are cute in an ugly sort of way. We keep them stored in a cool, dry place (behind the couch in the corner of our living room), and expect them to last us until the spring.

This is the original beauty of winter squash: that they can be harvested in the fall and used to feed us throughout a long winter. Though the necessity of such foods is less prevalent now that we can just pop over to the grocery store whenever we want, buying squash locally when it is in season and using it throughout the winter is an extremely feasible sustainable food choice.

While this butternut squash and sage galette is not the healthiest one you can make to use your up your local squash, it's delicious, simple yet impressive, and made entirely of very real food. Basically, as far as indulging goes, this is about as good as it gets. Finally, this galette would make a great side dish or appetizer (especially for Thanksgiving day!), but could also pass as dinner between three people, if served with a side salad.

Butternut Squash and Sage Galette with Corn Meal Crust
makes about 6 slices of galette

for the crust
3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour (I used all-purpose, feel free to sub gluten-free or whole-wheat)
salt + pepper
10 tbsp butter, chilled, chopped into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup of water, plus more if needed
1 egg, mixed well for egg wash

for the filling
1 tbsp butter
2 1/2 cups squash, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1 medium butternut squash)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2-2 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1/8 cup goat cheese

toppings (optional)
3-4 tbsp butter
8-10 fresh sage leaves

for the crust
Prepare crust 1-24 hours before baking. Combine cornmeal, flour, and salt and pepper in a large bowl until incorporated. Add cubes of chilled butter to bowl with dry ingredients. "Cut" the butter into the mixture, using a pastry cutter, fork, food processor, or your hands. If it is taking too long, or the butter begins to warm, pop it back in the fridge for ten minutes before proceeding.*

Once the butter has been cut into small pieces (about the size of beans), and is spread throughout the mixture, add 1/4 cup of water and stir to combine. If mixture is too loose, and more water 1 tbsp at a time, until it coheres. Once mixture is cohesive, transfer to a floured surface, form dough into ball, and knead 2-3 times. Form dough into a thick flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and set in the fridge to rest at least 1 hour.

for the filling
Warm butter (or cooking fat of your choice) on a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and caramelize, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy in some places, about 12-15 minutes. Add butternut squash and sage to skillet and stir well. Cook until squash is tender. Once everything is soft and slightly browned, add salt and pepper to taste, then remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove chilled crust from fridge and transfer to a well-floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the crust out into a large, rough circle about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer dough to parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread or crumble goat cheese onto the crust, leaving about 2 inches from the edge. Scoop the squash and onion mixture onto the goat cheese. One side at the time, fold the ends of the crust back over the top of the filling, creating as many edges as you want (I did five). Brush the surface of the crust with the egg wash, and transfer to oven for 40-45 minutes or until crust is browned all over.

optional toppings
While galette bakes, add butter to a small pan over medium heat. Once butter is shimmering and begins to bubble, add fresh sage leaves, allowing to fry for about 3o seconds on each side, before removing and transferring to paper towel. Allow the butter in the pan to cook, stirring often, until it is distinctly brown with a nutty fragrance. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to small bowl. When galette is finished, drizzle it with browned butter and top with the crispy sage leaves.

notes *The crust needs to maintain a colder temperature in order to prevent the butter from melting. The in-tact pieces of butter are key to creating a flakey crust. At any point in time when working with the crust, if you feel it has been out too long or has cooled down too much (even once you've started adding the filling), feel free to pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes before proceeding.

Meal Prep Idea: Healthy Egg Salad With Purple Cabbage and Pumpkin Seeds by Kelsey Vlamis

I've decided to start a category for posts that specifically include "meal prep" ideas, mostly because I've had some friends ask for suggestions on how to eat healthy. I realize that when many people hear "meal prep" they picture body builders and personal trainers steaming 10 pounds of broccoli, boiling 15 sweet potatoes, and grilling 20 chicken breasts all at once, to be consumed in perfect portions throughout the week and in between their daily sweat-inducing workouts. For us mere mortals, the idea of consuming the same and relatively plain foods day after day, meal after meal is simply unattainable--perfect body potential be damned. I'm here to tell you that meal prep doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to eat blah chicken or soggy broccoli to prep easy, healthy meals for a week at a time. I promise there is a better way.

I spend a few hours, typically on Sundays, prepping food to be eaten throughout the week. Yes, a few hours--usually between two and three, depending on what I'm making--which seems like a small price to pay for not having to cook the rest of the week and yet still having bomb combinations of healthy food to eat for every meal. It's also not very active cooking, so I can usually get work done at the same time.

My meal prep typically consists of 5-6 different preparations of grains, proteins, fats, and carbs. Usually some combination of roasted vegetables. A raw vegetable salad. A grain and/or legume of my choice, sometimes in flatbread form. A couple different protein dishes. Sweet potatoes. Etc. It changes week to week depending on my mood and what's in season. Better yet, the different combinations I can make with all of the things I prep means different meals throughout the week--you just have to be a little creative.

Take this egg salad for instance. This time I put it on homemade sourdough with crisp raw kale. Sometimes I dip crackers in it (side note: I am convinced there is no better store-bought cracker than Mary's Gone Crackers; the ingredients cannot be beat). Sometimes I spread it on homemade dosas. Sometimes I mix it in with grains and vegetables. Sometimes I put on a bed of greens. I think you're getting the picture...

The point is, here is one awesome, easy thing you can make in advance and eat throughout the week as you please. Simplicity, flavor, and healthiness all included.

Healthy Egg Salad With Purple Cabbage and Pumpkin Seeds
makes about 5-6 servings

8 eggs
1/4 cup plain yogurt (any type you prefer, I use full fat)
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
4-5 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 of one medium onion)
1/2 cup purple cabbage (about 1/4 medium purple cabbage)
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
salt and pepper

Hard boil the eggs using your preferred method. In the meantime, chop your onion, cabbage, and garlic, and prepare other ingredients. When eggs are cooked, cooled, and peeled, chop them into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. Transfer eggs to bowl and add yogurt, mustard, dill, and garlic. Mix well. Once incorporated, add onion, purple cabbage, pumpkin seeds and salt and pepper to taste.

This egg salad is so easy to make that I hardly think it requires a recipe. I included measurements for those who really think they need it, but I implore to you to scoop the ingredients on freehand and taste as you go--I make this egg salad a little differently every time, and I like it that way.