Vegan palak paneer

Listen, y’all know I love cheese more than my luggage. But sometimes, especially after an epic cheese-fest, I recognize the need to cut back. A little. I stumbled across this recipe for vegan palak paneer on Food 52 and thought “Well, I think I hate tofu, but with curry…”

Turns out, curry covers everything – I actually like this dish just as much, if not more, with tofu vs paneer (plus, tofu is easier to find.) Even better, I discovered recently that the tofu isn’t even necessary! Less palak paneer then and more…Indian creamed spinach?…not the same ring, but still delicious.

Delicious Indian dinner - Indian BBQ pork, vegan palak paneer, cauliflower rice and naan.
Delicious Indian dinner – Indian BBQ pork, vegan palak paneer, cauliflower rice and naan.

Especially since this was part of a larger Indian dinner, I figured the protein wasn’t needed. I also used fresh spinach because I got a great deal at the Costco, but would absolutely use frozen in this unless you hit a sale. (2.5 lbs, for real, is a lot of spinach.) One last note on coconut milk – I have discovered, as of late, the magic that is full-fat coconut milk. It’s so…CREAMY. Which sounds dumb and obvious, but I swear, it’s a little mind-blowing. So since you’re being so good about eating your greens – and coconut oil is health food and all – I’m saying go for it.

You’ll need:

  • 2.5 lbs of fresh spinach or 4 10 oz bags of frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry (you are cooking the spinach quite a bit, so frozen is really fine here.)
  • 2 15 oz cans coconut milk (I prefer using at least one full fat, as it really adds to the creaminess of the dish)
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, cubed – optional (I have included it in the past, but didn’t here as I served it with another protein.)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 T coconut oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 T curry
  • salt and pepper to taste

Get cooking:

  1. If using fresh spinach, cook in batches until wilted down, squeezing as much excess water from cooked spinach as possible. If using frozen, defrost and squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside.
  2. Heat coconut oil over medium heat, and saute onion until browned, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Add other spices and cook 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add spinach back in, along with coconut milk and tofu (if using). Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Serve over rice with naan.

Cauliflower rice

I find myself, in general, super skeptical of fad diets. Oh don’t misunderstand – I’m not judging. I’ve tried the Jillian Michales 7-day detox water, whipped up more than one green smoothie and hopped on the spiralizer train. I’ve done chocolate brownie date bites and powdered peanut butter and, in fits of complete self-loathing, stevia brownies.

Some of these things have been total disasters (stevia’s aftertaste makes me very skeptical of its natural claim), but others were a pleasant surprise. (The brownie bites, while not brownie-ish at all, were nevertheless good, slightly chocolatey and imparted a fair amount of energy.) Spiralized veggies and spaghetti squash can be pretty good in certain dishes, and I’ve even found tolerance for the occasional green smoothie (though I’m always scavenging for a snack by 10.) Cauliflower rice was another fad I was prepared to hate. But the man loves him some fried rice, and while I’m really good about veggies in my diet, he is…less so.

Delicious Indian dinner - Indian BBQ pork, vegan palak paneer, cauliflower rice and naan.
Delicious Indian dinner – Indian BBQ pork, vegan palak paneer, cauliflower rice and naan.

Turns out, we like it a lot! (In fact, it was declared “one of the best thing to ever come out of my kitchen” from a man who would eat Cincinnati chili and shells and cheese until the end of time.) Like veggie ‘noodles,’ I would argue it’s no replacement for the real thing – but when you’re using rice as a vehicle to sop up something else – like in the Indian feast pcitured above – it’s perfect.

You’ll need:

  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped roughly
  • 2 T oil of choice (cater to cuisine)
  • 3-4 T spices as needed
  • A food processor

Get cooking:

  1. Pulse cauliflower florets in food processor until pebble-sized.
  2. Saute in oil for 7-10 minutes, checking texture (this is really a preference thing, however done you like it is how done it should be).
  3. Add in spices of choice and saute 1-2 more minutes.
  4. Serve with…anything!

BBQ pork – Indian style (slow cooker)

Everyone has that ‘favorite restaurant dish’ – every time you order something else (because variety is spicy and all that) it’s good, maybe even really good – but nothing lives up to that one amazing thing. At Graydon’s Crossing in Grand Rapids, that dish (for me) is the Bali pulled pork. I didn’t even consider I could attempt it at home until I was messing around on Pinterest. (See, sometimes those rabbit holes pay off.)


This is a slow cooker recipe, which means it’s pretty hands off and simple. You might even be tempted to skip the browning step, but in Indian cooking, toasting the spices really does make a huge difference. This recipe was part of a larger Indian feast, so I focused solely on meat and seasoning here – if you were serving it alone, I’d serve pita-like with naan and pickled veggies.

Recipe loosely adapted from http://myheartbeets.com/indian-style-pulled-pork/

You’ll need:

  • 3lb pork (either shoulder roast (more fat) or pork loin (lean))
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 T coconut oil or ghee
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2  fresh ginger, minced
  • 7-8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 T curry powder
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 T honey
  • ½ c water

Get cooking:

  1. Heat coconut oil over medium-high heat, add onions and saute until soft, 8-10 minutes.
  2. Add pork and sear until browned on all sides.
  3. Add seasonings and saute 2-3 minutes, until you can smell them.
  4. Add tomato sauce, water and honey. Transfer to a slow cooker and cook on high for four hours or low for 8.
  5. Shred meat, taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.
  6. Serve with naan.

Fresh 7-layer dip

You guys. This dip. ZOMG it’s like someone took your grandma’s 7-layer dip and gave it to a gourmet chef, who slapped it into shape like a boot camp sergeant. Not gonna lie: this dish requires a lot of stuff. But start to finish, I’d say this is doable in under an hour, if your chopping and multitasking skills are on point. (My wine handicap added a bit of time.) Technically, this dip is only 5 layers, but you can always add some tomatoes or olives or whatever else you like on your tacos.
Fresh 7-layer Mexican dip
Super tasty, very impressive, good as an app or a standalone meal.
This thing is a showstopper – the best appetizer at any party and totally appropriate for dinner, all on its own, with chips. Not kidding. It also goes pretty well with this. Thanks to Annie’s Eats for the recipe!
You’ll need:

Beans: 

  • 1/2 lb. chorizo
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans
  • 1/2 c chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Layers:

  • 1 1/2 c guacamole (Either prepared or homemade.)
  • 1 c fresh salsa (I used this fresh tomatillo salsa, but use your favorite.)
  • Crumbled queso fresco or shredded pepper jack cheese – as much as you want 🙂

Sour cream: 

  • 1/3 c sour cream (or plain greek yogurt)
  • 1 chipotle in adobo, chopped (seeded if you don’t want it super spicy)
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime

Get cooking:

Beans:

  1. Heat a pan over medium-high heat, add chorizo and cook 5-7 minutes, until browned and fully cooked.
  2. Add beans and stock, cooking for 5 minutes until stock reduces.
  3. Mash beans and set aside to cool.

Sour cream:

Mix ingredients together, adding salt or more lime juice as wanted.

Assemble the dip:

  1. Spread the beans on the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan.
  2. Top with guac, salsa, sour cream and cheese.
  3. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips or veggies.

Mexican pho

When one of your very best friends comes home from Maryland, you drop everything to make her whatever sounds good. And when she comes home in the fall, what sounds good is soup. And Mexican.
I wanted something simple to pair with this, and came across my pho recipe from last winter – clean flavors, fun toppings. And thinking Mexican made me think tortilla soup. Ta done – Mexican pho was born! This would be equally good with a quesadilla side, or even just queso and chips.
Mexican Pho
Simple and satisfying, it’s like the LBD of Mexican food – dress it up any way you want!
You’ll need:
  • 8 c chicken broth – low sodium
  • 2 c chicken (rotisserie leftover roasted chicken works – you can also add 2-3 raw chicken breasts and shred before serving)
  • 2 carrots – diced
  • 1 large onion – diced
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional lime wedges, minced cilantro, avocado, queso fresco, tortilla strips and jalapeño slices – to serve
Get cooking: 
  1. Place all ingredients (chicken broth through pepper) in a slow cooker and stir to combine.
  2. Heat on low for 4 hours, or high for 8 (you can cut the time down if your chicken is already cooked.)
  3. Serve with lime wedges and garnish with plenty of minced cilantro and jalapeño slices.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcakes with salted caramel cream cheese frosting

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to me to celebrate the people in my life, thus my obsession with birthdays. My awesome boss and friend, Kristi, is the cupcake queen – they’re her favorite. Since her birthday kicks off pumpkin spice latte season (I think you call it fall?), I thought these were a perfect fit.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
The pecans were a nice garnish, and you could totally add them (crushed) to the batter.

I used the Starbucks VIA packets instead of espresso powder (because that’s what I had), and the coffee flavor DEFINITELY came through. Feel free to back down for a more mild flavor. I also love a ton of spice in my pumpkin stuff, so again, use what suits your taste. These are a little on the dense side for cupcakes, but still had a really nice crumb, and were fairly easy to throw together. (Minus spraying powdered sugar all over my kitchen. Tips on how NOT to do that below.) The cupcake itself wasn’t overly sweet (the coffee helped) and my frosting wasn’t either. I prefer that, so I was really happy with how these turned out.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
Aren’t they pretty? Not professional grade, but salted caramel drizzle makes everything better.

 

The cupcake recipe is very lightly adapted from Annie’s Eats and the frosting is my own madwoman mishmash.

You’ll need

Cupcakes

  • 2 2/3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 T espresso powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 c canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T vanilla

Frosting

  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 c cream
  • 1/3 c salted caramel sauce + extra for drizzling (this is my favorite recipe)
  • 1/4 c softened butter

Get cooking

Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with liners. (These are moist. Not the time to scrimp on liners.)
  2. Whisk dry ingredients (minus sugars) in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat pumpkin, sugars, vanilla and oil on medium speed, then add the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Add the flour mixture, mixing on low just until it comes together. (Try not to overmix.)
  5. Use a standard scoop or measuring cup to fill liners 3/4 full and bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean, or with a few small crumbs.
  6. Cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Frosting 

  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
  2. Add all ingredients except powdered sugar – start whipping on medium speed.
  3. After 1-2 minutes, add the powdered sugar, slowly, continuing to whip. (Seriously, you will be like me and want to dump it all in at once. This is a bad idea. Powdered sugar is HARD to clean when it goes everywhere. Ahem. I’ve heard, anyway.)
  4. Chill 20-30 minutes.
  5. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes, and drizzle with salted caramel sauce.

Makes 2 dozen

Strawberry cheesecake tartlets

The older you get, the more people seem to dread, despise and passionately deny their birthdays. A marker of one year passed, one year older, one year closer to no more years. Which, from that perspective, is passionately depressing. But to me, birthdays are just that – days of birth. Without that day, there would be no you in the world, in the lives of people who couldn’t fathom that reality, who can’t imagine passing each day in their lives without you. It not about getting older – it’s about every person deserving a day to be celebrated.
Strawberry Cheesecake tarts
Handheld, perfect for passing, adored by crowds, these Strawberry Cheesecake tarts say “happy any day.”
Obviously, I celebrate with food, and treating people wth treats. While fruit and dessert and I have had a … rocky … past (chocolate is my homeboy, yo), I have a whole backlog of things in the “not dessert for me but for a fruit-dessert-loving someone else.” This recipe was in that file – grown-up pop tarts, easy enough to make in the morning, perfect for a summer work birthday. Unfortunately, I sent David to the store and he thought puff pastry sheets and shells were the same. So, a little improv and here we are. (Also, this improv was WAY easier.)
Strawberry cheesecake tart
Delicious strawberry cheesecake leftovers, in their glory.
You’ll need:
  • 2 c strawberries (1 lb. container)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 boxes puff pastry shells (12 total)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 t vanilla
Get cooking:
  1. Bake shells according to package directions.
  2. While they’re baking, slice your strawberries (thinly) and mix with 1 T sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip your cream on high (stand or hand mixer) until you start to see peaks.
  4. Add cream cheese, honey and vanilla – whip until well mixed. It will be a pudding like consistency. Taste for sweetness – I like a little bite, so feel free to add more honey or sugar.
  5. Once your pastry is done, let it cool and Hollow out around the tops with a paring knife. That should leave you with a little well for the cream and berries. If your well isn’t deep enough, go ahead and dig in a little (gently) with your fingers and pull out a few more pastry layers.
  6. Drain strawberries with a colander.
  7. Fill each pastry with cream. You will have some left over, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Top with strawberries. (You can get fancy here and do a pattern – I was going for speed and didn’t.)
  8. With the leftovers – spread leftover cream in the bottom of a 1.5-quart dish (or really anything about the size of an 8×8 pan.) Top with strawberries, then with the pastry tops. Not as cute of a presentation, but I hate to waste those tasty tops!
  9. The actual tarts serve 12, the rest probably an additional 4-8 (serving vs spoonful.)

Recipe adapted from: http://www.jacquelynclark.com/2015/04/09/strawberry-vanilla-cream-hand-pies/