Spicy Cashew Queso Dip


A venerable party staple, queso dip is delicious and addicting. It is not, however, healthy. Typically made with Velveeta, which is full of colors and preservatives, it’s not even considered actual cheese. So what’s not to love about a version that is also delicious and addicting, but truly good for you?

The combination of cashews and nutritional yeast gives it the cheesy taste and spices, jalapeños, onion and tomato give it the queso treatment. Whirred up in the blender until creamy smooth and warmed up on the stove, it will satisfy all comfort food cravings you may have and will be gobbled up at any party where it’s served. Enjoy!



Spicy Cashew Queso

½ tablespoon neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, vegetable)

1 medium jalapeño pepper, diced

½ cup diced onion

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours, then thoroughly drained (this softens them up so they will blend to a creamy smoothness)

½ cup water (filtered, if you don’t have good tasting tap water)

One 4 oz. can diced green chiles, drained

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon taco seasoning, homemade or store-bought

½ teaspoon turmeric

Salt to taste

½ of a 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add jalapeño and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Place cashews, water, chiles, nutritional yeast, taco seasoning, turmeric, and salt in blender. Blend until completely smooth, stopping blender to scrape down sides occasionally. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.

Transfer cashew mixture to a medium saucepan. Add jalapeño-onion mixture and tomatoes. Over medium-low heat, stir occasionally until hot. Transfer to a bowl and serve with chips or raw vegetables.

Makes about two cups of queso.

 

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Sushi Rice Crostini


When you hear the term rice cake, a crunchy, dry, tasteless round with the texture of styrofoam may come to mind. Not so in this case, in fact, here I prefer the term rice crostini. Sounds a little more sophisticated, fancy even. And the opposite of dry and tasteless. Topped with creamy avocado, piquant peppers, and other fresh veggies, these “crostini” are as pretty as they are delicious.

This fun little appetizer comes from the April issue of Food & Wine Magazine. Intrigued by small rectangles of golden rice, I left the magazine open to that page and kept coming back to it. The other day I bought sushi rice for the first time in my life and got to work on the recipe.

Cook the sushi rice either by package directions or in a rice cooker if you have one. I used mine, it’s hands-off, and no matter what type of rice you’re making, it turns out perfectly every time.

The toppings can be switched out to whatever you prefer. If you’re not vegetarian, you could use sushi grade tuna, along with the veggie toppings.

One thing to note, the “crostini” are best topped and eaten soon after they come out of the oven. Also, the recipe is easily halved. I made a half batch and used an 8×8 square baking pan. If you do make a full recipe and don’t have a quarter sheet pan, just use two 8×8 pans. You’ll need to do a little planning ahead because once the rice is in the pan(s), it must be chilled for at least eight hours (mine was in the fridge for close to 24). Enjoy!




Sushi Rice Crostini

From the April issue of Food & Wine Magazine

6 cups cooked sushi rice, cooled

3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Cooking spray

3 tablespoons neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, avocado)

Suggested toppings:
Chopped avocado
Hot & sweet cherry peppers, sliced
Shaved carrots
Sliced scallions
Arugula
Flakey sea salt, such as Maldon
Tamari (which is gluten-free) or soy sauce for dipping

Line a rimmed quarter sheet pan with plastic wrap, leaving 2 inches of overhang on all sides.

Place rice in a large bowl. Stir together rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl until salt is dissolved. Drizzle over rice; gently fold together. Lightly pack rice into a 1-cup dry measuring cup; invert onto prepared pan. Repeat with remaining rice, creating 2 rows of 3. Moisten hands slightly; gently press rice into an even layer. Place another piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of rice; press firmly into a compact, even layer (1/2 inch to 5/8 inch thick). Fold overhanging plastic wrap over top, gently pressing on top and smoothing outer edges. Chill 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. with oven racks in middle and lower third of oven. Remove baking sheet from refrigerator. Unwrap plastic wrap and remove top piece on rice; invert rice onto a work surface (I used a large cutting board). Remove plastic wrap from back.

Cut into about 56 (1 1/2- x 1-inch) pieces. (For clean slices, dip knife into warm water, and wipe clean often.) Lightly coat top of rice pieces with cooking spray. Brush 2 rimmed baking sheets evenly with the oil. Place 28 rice pieces, cooking spray–coated sides down, on each oiled baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until crisp and lightly golden, 14 to 20 minutes. Flip and top immediately. Makes 56.

Honey-Glazed Sweet Potato Steaks with Brussels Sprouts


I’ve noticed the word steak applied to portabella mushrooms for years, and more recently, to cauliflower, but a new one to me was sweet potato steaks.

This wonderful recipe was found in a Food & Wine Magazine article about Baltimore-based chef Spike Gjerde, who approaches local sourcing like no other. For instance, instead of olive oil and lemons, he uses locally-grown and pressed oils and vinegars in his restaurants, thus providing more opportunities to area farmers and producers.

There were several of Gjerde’s recipes included in the article that sounded amazing like Baked Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Dried Persimmons and Potato Soup with Sage Butter and Rye Crumbs, but Honey-Glazed Sweet Potato Steaks with Brussels Sprouts intrigued me the most, plus, it was by far the healthiest.

The recipe, as written, only serves two, and it’s really more of an appetizer or small plate quantity, so double it if you want a full meal or if serving as a starter for a small dinner party. Most of the prep can be done ahead of time and the dish comes together quickly after that.

The coating on the sweet potatoes is an addictive bit of crunch and the drizzle of honey that finishes them caramelizes nicely and will have you scraping your plate to get every remaining drop. The less sweet Brussels sprouts are the perfect pairing with their browned bottoms and nutty, savory flavor. Enjoy!


Honey-Glazed Sweet Potato Steaks with Brussels Sprouts

From Food & Wine Magazine, March 2019

Be sure to use a cast-iron skillet for this recipe; it maintains heat and will result in beautifully caramelized honey and well-cooked Brussels sprouts.

1 (1-pound) sweet potato, peeled

1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, or avocado)

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, halved top to bottom

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons clover honey, divided

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut sweet potato lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slabs. Place the 2 center-cut potato slabs on a cutting board; reserve remaining sweet potato pieces for another use. Score 1 side of each slab in an 1/8-inch-deep diamond pattern.

Stir together ginger, 3/4 teaspoon salt, coriander, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Rub mixture evenly on both sides of sweet potato slabs.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high until smoking, about 3 minutes. Add oil, and swirl to coat bottom of skillet. Add sweet potatoes, scored side down, and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip and arrange Brussels sprouts, cut sides down, in a single layer around sweet potatoes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons honey; transfer skillet to preheated oven.

Roast until sprouts are tender and cut sides are caramelized, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove sprouts from skillet, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and set aside. Return skillet to oven; continue roasting until sweet potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 more minutes.

Remove skillet from oven, and drizzle sweet potatoes with remaining 1/4 cup honey (I used most, but not all of the honey). Tilt skillet, and baste sweet potatoes until honey caramelizes and sweet potatoes are glazed, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer sweet potato steaks to serving plates. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and drizzle with remaining caramelized honey in skillet. Top with Brussels sprouts. Makes two servings.

Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup

A number of years ago my mother-in-law Ginny, who is a wonderful cook, gave me a copy of a soup recipe clipped from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The name of the soup was missing from the clipping, and on it, Ginny had written “Mushroom Soup.” With her recommendation, I knew it would be good.

A simple soup with uncomplicated ingredients, it surprises you with nuanced flavors and way above run-of-the-mill deliciousness. Each time I’m a bit taken aback by such great results from something this quick and easy—a perfect example of a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts!

As we’ve been teased with a tinge of fall weather, I decided it was time to share a good soup recipe. After a quick google search for the actual name and origin, I found it was featured in the Pioneer Press in 2011 and is called Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup. Apparently there was a popular downtown Minneapolis skyway restaurant back in the day called Café Metro and this came from their cookbook. With the large amount of paprika, no wonder it’s got Hungarian in the name!

The only tweaks I made to this super healthy soup were to decrease the broth from 10 to 8 cups, used fresh herbs instead of  dried, and included a combination of smoked and regular paprika. With the finishing touches of fresh lemon juice and dill, the depth of flavor will satisfy and I’ll bet it’ll be on your table more than once this soup season. Enjoy!


Hungarian Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups green pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 3/4 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

2 3/4 teaspoons paprika (I used a mixture of smoked and regular)

4 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (either cremini or button work well)

1/4 cup tomato paste

8 cups vegetable broth

2/3 cup uncooked barley

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ½ tablespoons fresh dill or 3/4 teaspoon dried dill

In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft. Add green pepper, carrots, thyme and paprika. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their liquid. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Add barley. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the barley is tender. Season with the salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice and dill. Ladle into soup bowls. Makes about 10 servings.

Zucchini Fritters


Okay folks, it’s that time of year, when zucchini begin their annual attempt to take over the world, or at least our gardens. Co-workers will bring bags of it to work and beg you to take some. Zucchini bread will show up on the break room table multiple times.  You can buy a shopping bag full dirt cheap at the farmers’ market. It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!

What to do with this abundance? Here’s a recipe that will use up a pound of the stuff and have you wanting more so badly you’ll put it in your regular rotation until zucchini season is over, and then you’ll be sad.

After finding this recipe last year, I bought zucchini each week at the farmers’ market, something I’ve never done before. Great as an appetizer for a summer dinner party, but just as good as a weeknight supper. Accompanied by a salad, you’ve got your quota of veggies and then some. Leftovers with a poached egg for breakfast are incredibly good!

The key to making these little cakes of deliciousness as crispy as a fritter should be is getting as much water out of your shreds as possible. The salt you mix the shredded zucchini with draws out the water and you’ll be able to wring out more than you ever thought possible. Last night I made a double batch and must have squeezed out over two cups.

Before draining

Before draining

After water squeezed out

After squeezing out water



The topping recipe included, along with the crisp fitters, creates a combination that will make you want to keep a full batch of these babies to yourself and eat them all (which is what I set out to do last night when I made that double batch for just Pete and me—although I did have a few left over).

I should point out this recipe is the reason we are now growing zucchini in our garden. More fritters for us! Enjoy!

Zucchini Fritters

  • Servings: makes about ten 2 1/2 inch fritters
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Recipe from the Smitten Kitchen

1 pound (about 2 medium) zucchini or a combo of zucchini and yellow squash

1 teaspoon coarse or Kosher salt, plus extra to taste (decrease to ½ teaspoon if you only have fine salt)

2 scallions, split lengthwise and sliced thin

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used half all-purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Olive or another oil of your choice, for frying (I like grapeseed or avocado oil)

To serve (optional, but really not, in my opinion—go for it!)
1 cup sour cream or plain, full-fat yogurt (Greek yogurt is perfect!)

1 to 2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Pinches of salt

1 small minced or crushed clove of garlic

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Place a baking sheet on the middle rack.

Trim ends off zucchini and grate them either on the large holes of a box grater or, if you have one, using the coarser shredding blade of a food processor (that is, if you have more than one shredding blade; mine has two).

In a large bowl, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Wring out the zucchini in one of the following ways: pressing it against the holes of a colander with a wooden spoon to extract the water, squeezing out small handfuls at a time, or wrapping it up in a clean dishtowel or piece of cheese cloth and wringing away (the dish towel is my preferred method). You’ll be shocked by the amount of liquid you’ll lose, but this is a good thing as it will save the fritters from sogginess.

Return deflated mass of zucchini shreds to bowl. Taste and if you think it could benefit from more salt (most is lost in the water), add a little bit more; we found 1/4 teaspoon more just right. Stir in scallions, egg and some freshly ground black pepper. In a small dish, stir together flour and baking powder, then stir the mixture into the zucchini batter.

In a large heavy skillet—cast iron is ideal—heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop small bunches of the zucchini mixture onto the skillet (I used a #30 cookie dough scoop) a few at a time so they don’t become crowded (I did four at a time in a 10” skillet) and lightly nudge them flatter with the back of your spatula.

Cook the fritters until the edges underneath are golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. If you find this happening too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. Flip the fritters and fry them on the other side until browned underneath again, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain briefly on paper towels then transfer to baking sheet in the warm oven until needed. Repeat process with remaining batter, keeping the pan well-oiled. It’s best for the fritters to have at least 10 minutes in the oven to finish setting and getting extra crisp.

For the topping, if using, stir together the sour cream or yogurt, lemon juice, zest, salt and garlic and adjust the flavors to your taste. Dollop on each fritter before serving. These fritters are also delicious with a poached or fried egg on top.

Do ahead: These fritters keep well, either chilled in the fridge for the better part of a week or frozen in a well-sealed package for months. When you’re ready to use them, simply spread them out on a tray in a 325 degree F. oven until they’re hot and crisp again.

Chive Mint Pesto


There’s a patch of chives in front of our cabin that grows like crazy; not sure why it’s so prolific—could be it’s just as happy to be there as we are. I try and remember to cut some to bring home every time we’re there, but it seems like half the time I forget.

This time I remembered, and I brought home a lot! It’s especially nice if the chives are flowering their light purple blooms, so pretty and edible too—a mild onion flavor that works beautifully as a garnish on whatever you’ve used the chives in.


With this volume of chives, the first thing that came to mind was making pesto. I’ve made a
rustic chive pesto in the past, but this time I decided to do the more conventional pesto method, in the food processor. And with my mint and basil plants needing a trim, I opted to include a good amount of mint and a little basil.

Following the basic pesto recipe I’ve used for years, but subbing in chives and mint in place of basil and throwing in a shallot for good measure, the result was wonderful! On pasta, as a marinade for grilled vegetables, on pizza, in mashed potatoes, eggs, sandwiches, the uses are endless.

As in other pesto recipes I’ve shared in the past, there’s no cheese, which is not typical for pesto, but with the olive oil, it seems rich enough in my mind already, so I do without. Feel free to include some parmesan if you’d like.

This recipe makes a big batch that would be hard to use between Pete and me in the week or so it lasts in the fridge, so I froze half. Pesto freezes well and it’s nice to have on hand for whipping up yummy recipes at a moment’s notice (a quick defrost in the microwave and your frozen pesto is ready to use).

The bonus is I have enough chives left over to make a couple loaves of buttermilk chive bread—I can’t wait!

Chive Mint Pesto

  • Servings: makes 3 cups
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2 cups firmly packed fresh chives

1 cup fresh mint leaves, or a combination of mint and basil, firmly packed

1 cup chopped walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or a combination, toasted

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients, except olive oil, in bowl of a food processor. Process until combined. Scrape down sides of food processor bowl.

With food processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until mixture is completely blended. Scrape down sides again and give it a final pulse or two. Taste, and add more salt or lemon juice if necessary.

Keeps in the fridge for a week or so, in the freezer for a couple months. Makes about 3 cups.

Cauliflower Taco Meat


The humble cauliflower. That funny looking vegetable I hated as a child, continues to surprise me. First there was cauliflower pizza crust, then Buffalo cauliflower, cauliflower steaks, and now, wait for it…cauliflower taco meat!

Replacing the spicy ground beef in traditional tacos, this mixture of cauliflower, mushrooms, walnuts and bold seasonings amps up the deliciousness and it’s a healthy mix of superfoods to boot! What’s not to love? And I swear, even if you think you don’t like cauliflower, mushrooms, or walnuts, if you like tacos, you will like this.

I stumbled upon the recipe at Pinch of Yum, one of my favorite food blogs (and their photography is amazing!). Intrigued, I knew what I was going to make with that head of cauliflower in the fridge. The only thing that made me hesitate was the two cups of walnuts the recipe called for. I know walnuts are super healthy, full of good fats, omega 3s, and loaded with antioxidants, but they also pack a wallop of calories, which I certainly don’t need. Since mushrooms are so meaty, especially cremini mushrooms, I decided to replace half the walnuts with them. The result wowed us!

And don’t limit this yummy mixture to tacos; it would make a great filling for burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, frittatas, taco salad and on and on. My mind is now working on a way to make this, with different seasonings, into a mixture for Italian recipes, lasagna, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, and stuffed peppers. And sloppy joes! I bet that would be wonderful!

The taco “meat” ingredients involve just a quick series of pulses in the food processor and then a half hour of baking, followed by a couple minute broil, then a sprinkling of fresh lime juice. While it’s in the oven, you can prep your taco accompaniments, so this is very doable on a weeknight after work. Plus, it reheats really well, and leftovers will not go to waste. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Taco Meat

Adapted from this Pinch of Yum recipe

3 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh squeezed lime juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Place all ingredients except lime juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse on and off until the texture of cooked ground beef. I found it easier to get the right texture by doing this in two batches, half of each ingredient in each batch. The first time I made it I did it all at once and half of it was almost like a paste—still tasted great, but just not the right texture. Transfer mixture to the baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once at the half-way point. After the 30 minutes, turn oven to broil and broil 8-12 inches from broiler for a minute or two. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of lime juice and toss to distribute it.

That’s it. The “meat” is ready to use in tacos, burritos, taco salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, or whatever your heart desires. Reheats well and keeps several days in the fridge. Makes about 4 servings.