All posts by jmlevine91

Roasted Peppers and Shaved Balsamic Brussels Sprouts Personal Pizzas

Pizza is one of my favorite comfort foods, but it doesn’t have to be unhealthy.  For dinner last night I made two personal pizzas from scratch in 30 minutes.

The pizza on the left (above) is one that my mom always made for us as a snack.  The red sauce is substituted with basil pesto, which is then layered with thinly sliced red and yellow sweet peppers.  We use feta cheese because it compliments the pesto.  I’m not exactly sure why to be honest, but I like the creaminess of the cheese with the herb flavors from the pesto.

Recently I have started to slowly go gluten free.  This is not for weight loss, but there are many other health benefits to reducing your gluten intake or going completely off gluten.  This is a highly controversial argument that I do not want to get into now, but for this reason I have substituted a traditional pizza crust with sprouted corn tortillas for both pizzas.  If you love flatbread than this is the move for you.  The crunch is phenomenal.

The pizza on the right (above) was inspired by my newly discovered love of brussels sprouts.  I think this is rather ironic because two months ago I would not touch the stuff.  I mean,  come on, they smell a little on the sulphuric side if you catch my drift (pun intended).

If you’re not a brussels sprouts fan yet, you must try shaving your brussels.  This is a fancy term for slicing them thinly.  I only used about 4-5 brussels because the tortilla is relatively small.  Since brussels sprouts (the “s’s” keep throwing me off) take longer to cook than peppers, I sautéed them in coconut oil over medium-low heat until they were a little brown, about 10 minutes give or take.

I also used pesto for the sauce on this pizza because  I love pesto, and who knew, but brussels taste amazing with pesto.  Here, I layered on the feta cheese before the other toppings because there are no rules when you are making a pizza.  Next, the brussels sprouts go on top.  Try to spread them out as much as possible so they roast in the oven a little more.  That will give the sprouts a nice caramelized look and flavor.

Once you have assembled your pizzas, pop those babies into the oven at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.  Every oven is different so you will want to look for more brown on your sprouts and softened peppers.  The next time I do this, I think I would roast the peppers a few minutes before assembly because they were not done roasting when the sprouts were, although the pizzas were still both delicious.

The final step is to drizzle the brussels sprouts pizza with a little balsamic, and eat!

If you have any questions about the gluten free diet or options feel free to contact me.  I love a good foodie chat.


Blueberry Jalapeño Salsa

Spring is in the air in Wisconsin. The forecast for Sunday says 60 degrees, and I fully plan on celebrating the return of the sun. What a better way to ease back into warmer weather with a refreshing salsa made from blueberries?

There are signs of spring in Madison, WI
There are signs of spring in Madison, WI

I love this recipe because it really hits the trifecta of flavors combining sweet, savory and spicy in one dish.

This recipe was originally inspired from Meg from A Dash of Meg, but I tweaked the ingredients a little bit.

You will need:

1 1/2 c of fresh blueberries

1/2 lime

1/2 jalapeño

1 clove of garlic

3 T minced onion (or to taste)

Salt (to taste)

Normally chunky is good, but last night I was in the mood for something a little more smooth so I decided to chop all of the blueberries.  Meg advises to leave some blueberries whole.  I thought it might be challenging to keep a whole blueberry on a chip, but in retrospect my problems would have easily been solved with Scoops (the ultimate party chip).

I think the next time I make this recipe I will leave some jalapeño seeds in for added spice, but originally I deseeded and finely chopped 1/2 a jalapeño.

Next, add 1 clove of minced garlic, the onion and the juice of 1/2 a lime.  Lastly, add salt to taste.

These measurements may need to be adjusted to personal preference.  It was difficult to balance out the sweetness of the blueberries, the spiciness of the jalapeño and the savory combo of the lime juice and salt.  However, your hard work (of taste testing) will pay off because this is one of the most addicting and refreshing salsas I have ever tried.

If you don’t love blueberries as much as I do you can also substitute some berries with diced peach or mango.  Imagine this on top of your next fish taco. Yum. I might have to make fish tacos now.


*** Recipe serves two people

Imitation Lofthouse Cookie Sandwiches

From garage to international business, Lofthouse cookies has flourished since 1994.  I remember my first bite of a Lofthouse cookie.  It was the Valentine’s Day Pink Frosted Sugar Cookie.  I made a mess of the sprinkles, but the incredibly soft sugar cookie melted in my mouth and it’s one of my favorite treats to date.  Lofthouse now offers a variety of colors for the different seasons and holidays.  My favorite cookies are still the pink frosted!

On Valentine’s Day I decided to tackle an imitation Lofthouse cookie recipe I found on Pinterest, courtesy of the Authentic Suburban Gourmet blog.



Tip of the day: FREEZE YOUR LOFTHOUSE COOKIES!  I put the leftover cookie sandwiches in the back of my freezer (to hoard for myself obviously) and I couldn’t control myself.  The cookie is so soft that it doesn’t freeze and the frosting slightly hardens.

I used homemade Italian meringue buttercream frosting for the filling in these cookies.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe, but this one is pretty close!

I highly recommend doubling the recipe because I always run out and the frosting will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

A final note on the baking instructions:  I cut out my cookies with a standard-sized shot glass, and baked them at 400 degrees for 5 minutes.  You have to really watch these cookies because the bottom browns quickly.  Remove them from the oven when the top of the cookies are puffed up, but the bottoms are still white.  Place them immediately on a cool surface so the pan does not continue to cook the cookies.  In this case, pale is better!

Savory Baked Yams and Roasted Asparagus


As a full-time college student, sometimes I find myself in a vegetable root.  Between late nights studying in the library and rushing from class to class, I just want comfort food, especially in the depth of a Wisconsin winter.

How exactly do you define “comfort food”?  I would say hot — because it’s about ten degrees outside —   cheesy, creamy and buttery.  Yes that definitely covers it.

What if I told you this dish has all the comfort without the extra fat of traditional cheesy, creamy and buttery foods?

Here is what you need to recreate this comforting winter snack or appetizer:

Baked Yams

  • 1 yam per person
  • Foil

Roasted Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of asparagus per person
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Feta cheese (or preferred topping)

I love looking at a short recipe list, and this dish is as simple as it appears.

  1. Turn the oven to 400 degrees.  Rinse the yam to remove dirt and pierce a few times with a fork.  Wrap in foil so the top of the yam is still exposed.  Place the yam on the middle rack.  Set the time for 80 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the white end of the asparagus (by snapping off the hard end) and toss the leftover heads in olive oil.  Arrange the asparagus heads on a foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. When the yam has about 20 minutes left, put the asparagus in the oven as close to the middle rack as possible (beneath the yams).
  4. Let cool for about ten minutes before serving.
  5. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and feta cheese, then serve.

Baked Squash Chips

Its 11 PM on a Sunday night in December, and you’re studying for your hardest final exam Monday morning.  The late night munchies are starting to creep up on you, and you reach for a bag of potato chips and…. STOP right there!  Lets think about this choice for a second:

  1. You are probably not actually hungry, but stress speeds up your metabolism.
  2. Eating promotes a feeling of calmness and satiety.
  3. Potato chips will not make you fill satisfied, but probably increase your cravings.
  4. The salt in potato chips will make you feel thirsty, and you will be more likely to reach for that ice cold, sugary soda.

Luckily, I have a quick solution that will satisfy the most intense late night cravings for sweet and salty goodness: Baked Squash Chips.

Squash is one of my favorite fall vegetables to cook with.  You can add it in soup, roast it and throw it into your veggie lasagna, make a squash puree, and now you can make chips.  You will need your squash of choice (I like butternut), salt, and olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking pan with tin foil or parchment paper.  Now you have the option to peel the squash or not, I have done it both ways and I do not have a preference   Thinly slice the squash with a sharp knife or mandolin.  I like using a mandolin because then all of the slices are the same width.  You can find these for cheap at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls in the cookware aisle!

Toss your squash slices in a bowl with olive oil so they are evenly coated.  Arrange the slices on the baking pan so they are not touching.  However, these chips will not spread like cookies so they can be fairly close together.  Sprinkle a little salt over the chips for a little extra flavor.  Salt in

moderation is not bad for you, and it can actually have beneficial effects for some people.  If you are on a no salt diet, use a different spice/ herb such as rosemary or thyme.  Bake for about 20 minutes or so depending on the thickness of your slices.

There you go!  Now you have a healthy late night snack that will leave you feeling satisfied.  You could also serve these delightful chips as a side with a salad or wrap.  Salty and sweet truly is the best of both worlds!

Pesto Baked Chicken

This Pesto Baked Chicken recipe is great because it takes very little time to prep and there are very few ingredients involved.  You will need:

  1. Raw or frozen chicken breasts (one per person)
  2. Your favorite pesto (I like Buitoni’s)
  3. Tomatoes, sliced (2-3 slices per breast)
  4. Fresh mozzarella, preferably sliced not shredded

Before you start preparing the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet in foil.  It is important to use a baking sheet with sides because the juices of from the chicken will run while its baking.  Place your chicken breasts on the prepared baking pan.  One of the beauties of this meal is that it is so simple to make

for one person, or to add more chicken breasts on the pan for last minute guests.  If you are using frozen chicken breasts you do not need to let them thaw, but consult the package directions for baking time.

Now that your chicken is on the pan, spread the exposed side of each breast with the pesto.  I LOVE pesto so I always use double the amount you need, which is only about 2 tablespoons per breast.  Place the pan in the preheated oven, middle rack, for about 40 minutes if the chicken breasts are frozen.  You will probably only need 25-30 minutes for raw chicken breasts depending on their size.

With 3-5 minutes left for baking time, top each chicken breast with the sliced tomato and slice mozzarella.  Once the cheese is melted you can remove the breasts from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe is so simple and so versatile.  It is really great for a last minute gourmet meal.  Instead of pesto you could use tapenade, butter, or another favorite sauce.  You can substitute the tomatoes for another vegetable and you can use any type of cheese.

Serve with a side of rice or vegetables and enjoy!

Salmon Burgers with Lemon Risotto

I always love a good burger in the summertime!  There is just something about firing up the grill and flipping a couple patties.  It reminds me of summer cookouts and tailgating with my friends.  One of the great things about burgers is that they are so versatile.  You can use just about any meat and stuff them with whatever your heart desires.  Personally, I’m going through a bit of a seafood phase.  I’ve never actually cooked seafood before, more specifically fish, so I thought I would start with a nice salmon burger.  I’m very pleased with the recipe I found on the internet.  It’s quick, simple and delicious.  Here is the link for Kalyn’s Kitchen “Grilled Fresh Salmon Burgers with Caper Mayonnaise“.  I made a few minor alterations to Kalyn’s recipe:

1.  I replaced the whole wheat breadcrumbs with gluten free breadcrumbs.

2.   I used scallions in place of the chives.

3.  I did not have Sriracha sauce so I substituted it with Frank’s Hot Sauce.

I was able to get about 4 large patties and 2 small patties out of the ground salmon mixture.  I also experimented with the caper mayonnaise and it turned out to be delicious.  I would highly recommend trying it with the salmon burgers.  My only thought is that the saltiness of the capers may be too overwhelming for some people, and next time I think I will put the caper mayonnaise through a food processor so the capers get pureed and more evenly distributed throughout the mayonnaise.

Now, you absolutely cannot have a barbecue without sides.  Potato salad, mashed potatoes, corn, you name it!  And since I was experimenting with the salmon burgers, I decided I may as well continue my experimentation further.  My first thought was what is a good accompaniment for salmon?  I instantly thought of lemon.  I did a little more research on the web, googling salmon and lemon, and I found quite an array of recipes for lemon salmon risotto.  Well I already had the salmon, so I went with the lemon risotto.  Before this occasion, I had never made risotto.  The task seemed daunting and too time consuming.  I am so happy that I rose to the challenge because my lemon risotto turned out beautifully.  It was citrusy and cheesy and everything that I had hoped for.  I used this “Lemon Rosemary Risotto” recipe from  Again, I made a few alterations to make the risotto my own:

1.  I used Arborio rice instead of Carnaroli.

2.  I completely forgot the rosemary when I was grocery shopping so I just left that out, and it did not affect the recipe.

3.  I cooked the rice on a lower heat for about 25-30 minutes instead of 18.  It took a little longer for the rice to reach the creamy, risottoesque consistency.  Also, I ran out of vegetable stock so I had to used a little bit of hot water to finish the stirring process.

I am so excited to make risotto again and experiment with different “add-ins” so to speak.  This recipe could probably serve 6-8 people.  Next time, I would love to try the lemon risotto with a simple, grilled salmon filet.  The salmon burger with the caper mayonnaise and the cheesy, lemon risotto was a little rich together for my taste!  However, they were both very delicious experiments.  I especially love the salmon burger because it is such a great way to introduce seafood into your diet.  Fish is so healthy when it is eaten the right way.  If you don’t care for fish or other seafood, try this burger recipe and it might just grow on you.



Confession time, I absolutely love leftovers.  You know food is really good when you are excited to eat it the next day and the next.  Well here is one idea of how you can spruce up your leftover salmon burgers: PUT IT IN A SALAD!  For dinner I made a fresh salmon chopped salad.  This was a last minute idea, so I was happy to find an abundance of ingredients in my refrigerator that go great in a salad with salmon.

  1. Iceberg and spinach lettuce
  2. Red onion
  3. Tomato
  4. Avocado
  5. One salmon patty

For the dressing, I just used leftover caper mayonnaise.  It went really well with the avocado and red onion flavors.

On a side note, my mom has this awesome bowl for making chopped salads.  You literally put everything into the bowl and use a cutting tool that resembles a pizza cutter to chop everything together.  This is a lot less work than chopping everything by hand.  I will try and find out where she bought it from.

For breakfast tomorrow, I think I will try eggs benedict with salmon.  Bon appetit!

Coco-nutty Cupcakes

Hey everyone!  I hope you are having a beautiful Mother’s Day weekend and a happy Saturday at that.  If you are a Jimmy Buffet fan in the Midwest region than you have another reason to be celebrating as well.  Tickets for Jimmy’s annual Alpine Valley show have finally gone on sale.  WOOOOO!  Thanks to my amazing dad, I already have my seat reserved for August 25th.  You won’t want to miss this one guys.  Wisconsin has the absolute best weather in August and it’s a perfect way to end the summer with family and friends.  Incase I have persuaded you to join us Parrot Heads, here is one of the sites where you can get your tickets: Click Me

The celebration continues in my house with some honorary Jimmy Buffet baking.  Oh yes, we are already gearing up for the infamous Alpine Valley pre-show fiesta!  These Coco-nutty Cupcakes are perfect following a Cheeseburger in Paradise.  They are sure to make Jolly Mon Sing.  You have been forewarned, this recipe contains a little rum, but hey, what Parrot Head doesn’t want to wast away in Margaritaville?  Okay that was the last one I promise, just trying to get everyone in the island spirit!

Now PLEASE bare with me here, I am still trying to perfect this recipe, but I think these are my best batch yet!  One of the reasons I love these cupcakes so much is because they are so incredibly moist.  I’m also a huge Key Lime Pie lover and I used some fresh key limes in this recipe to give the cake a little extra tang.  The crunchy, toasted coconut combined with the  sweet and tangy cake creates a really nice flavor.  I have even turned people who hate coconut into coconut lovers!  So, without any further adieu, here is the recipe:



  • 2 cups flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 box Betty Crocker Supermoist Vanilla cake mix
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • Spiced rum (to taste)


  • Betty Crocker vanilla frosting
  • Juice of 1-2 key limes
  • Spiced rum (to taste)
  • Confectioner’s sugar

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine the flaked coconut and condensed milk.  In a separate, larger bowl, beat the water, oil and eggs.  Like I said before, I love the tangy key lime flavor, so I added a splash of juice to the cake mixture, about 1 key lime.  Then, slowly mix in the Supermoist Vanilla cake mix.  I like to add the rum last so I know what I’m getting myself in to.  In this last batch I added about 2-3 teaspoons of Meyer’s rum to the mix; however, the key lime flavor definitely overpowered the rum.  I probably would have been safe adding at least 2 more teaspoons.  Be careful, it is VERY easy to overdue it!  Better start with little amounts and add more.

Next, line some muffin tins with baking cups and fill them about half-way, no more than three quarters.  I think muffins are so much prettier without the cups; that way you can see the gorgeous cake color and texture, but this filling tends to sink to the bottom, so you definitely don’t want to go birthday suit style with these treats.  Now add a generous teaspoonful of the coconut and milk mixture to the top of each cup.  Don’t worry, the filling will sink as the cupcakes bake.  You can bake these cupcakes on the middle rack for about 20 minutes.  The top of the cake will be a little moist when they are done, but firm.  Look for a golden-brown coloring around the edges.

While your cupcakes are baking, prepare the frosting.  I am still looking for a worthy buttercream recipe, so for now, I just use Betty Crocker’s pre-made vanilla frosting.  Personally, I LOVE it!  I am so one of those people who dip their finger into the frosting can and go to town.  However, I would love any frosting recipe suggestions.  Empty the frosting into an electric mixer along with the juice of about 2 key limes, and about 3-4 teaspoons of rum.  Again, this balance of ingredients is all according to personal preference so do not be afraid to experiment!  Depending on how you want to frost the cupcakes, you may need to stiffen the mixture with some confectioner’s sugar.  However, if you decide not to add confectioner’s sugar, chill the frosting for about twenty minutes before frosting the cupcakes or else you will have a runny, nutty mess.  On another note, the cupcakes must be COMPLETELY cooled before you start frosting!  This is very important.  Take from someone who has learned the hard way many times.

For a final touch, I toasted some leftover flaked coconut in the oven for about 15 minutes or so.  You can sprinkle this right on top of the frosting.  If you want to make these delectable creations even more fun, try adding a sugared fruit slice or maybe an umbrella.  For you Jimmy Buffet fans, my dad suggests turning the fruit slice into a shark fin!  What a great idea, the possibilities are truly endless.  I really hope you all have fun with this recipe, and if you’re feeling courageous enough, come join us at Alpine Valley in August.  It’s sure to get a little nutty!

Fins up Parrot Heads!

S’mores in Mason Jars

Mason jars are my new obsession!  There are so many creative things you can do with them, especially related to food.  Check out this awesome webpage for some inspiring ideas: 50 Different Foods You Can Put in a Jar.

The only recipe I have tried so far is the “S’mores Cake in a Jar”, and it was absolutely delicious.  I have adapted this recipe from how sweet it is.


  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • pinch of salt

Melt the butter and mix in the crumbs and salt.  Grease the bottom and sides of 4 jars, and press the crumb mixture into the bottom of each jar.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


  • 1 1/8 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)

Mix all wet ingredients together.  I opted for a healthier cake by substituting the milk and heavy cream with Almond milk.  I left out the sour cream and added a little more butter to keep the balance of ingredients.  In a separate bowl mix all dry ingredients together.  Then gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture.  Divide the cake batter between the 4 jars with the crumb mixture.

Place the jars in a baking dish and add 2 cups of water to the bottom of the dish.  Bake for about 30 minutes.

Press a few marshmallows into the top of each jar.  Broil them in the oven until golden brown or slightly melted.  This will happen very quickly, so keep an eye on your marshmallows, only about 1 minute or so is necessary.  On my first try the marshmallows exploded everywhere!

BBQ Chicken

School is out and summer is right around the corner!  Now who doesn’t love a good summer barbecue?  These are my favorite social events of the summer.  Barbecues bring friends and family together to listen to good music and eat amazing food.  Unfortunately, the weather does not always cooperate with your party plans, especially living in the Midwest.  Just the other day it was a steamy 80 degrees out, and in a matter of minutes, the sky was hailing!  So if the weather decides to “rain on your parade”, then you can make this simple barbecue chicken in your kitchen, no problem!

I am excited to say that this was my first, successful chicken dish!  I always thought that raw chicken seemed a little gross and intimidating.  So I did a little research on how to cook the perfect chicken, and I found this awesome webpage: How to Cook Moist & Tender Chicken Breasts Every Time.  I’m telling you, this is fool proof!

However, since I was going to cook the chicken in the oven to get the barbecue sauce nice and caramelized, I tweaked the steps a little bit.

First, season the chicken to your liking.  I just salt and pepper each side to keep things simple for my first experiment.  Next, I browned the chicken breasts in a skillet for about 30 seconds-1 minute on each side.  Remove the chicken from the pan.  I decided to chop up about half a white onion and sauté it with olive oil in the skillet to give the chicken a little more flavor.  Once the onions are close to caramelization, return the chicken to the skillet.  Add water to the skillet, put the lid on, and steam the breasts for 10 minutes.

Transfer the chicken breasts to a sheet pan covered with foil.  It is best to use a pan with sides incase the sauce decides to run off the foil.

For the barbecue sauce I mixed my favorite Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce, Hickory Brown Sugar, with a little honey.  I used about a cup of sauce for 4 strips of chicken.  You kind of have to eye ball it and make a little extra incase.  Then, use a grilling brush to baste one side of each strip with your sauce.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  Continue turning each breast every 5-10 minutes or so and continue basting with the sauce.  I broiled the chicken breasts for the last 5 minutes to get a crispier skin.

The hardest part about this recipe is not drying out the chicken!  So watch it carefully and enjoy your barbecued meal!