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.



Cauliflower Banh Mi Sandwich

For anyone who is unfamiliar, the banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich served on baguettes spread with pâté or spicy mayonnaise and stuffed with various marinated meats, cucumbers, herbs, and pickled veggies. I’ve seen vegetarian versions made with either tofu or tempeh and even though they looked delicious, I’d never had one.

Then a couple weeks ago in my Facebook news feed, I saw a post from the local co-op sharing for Meatless Monday a cauliflower banh mi from the Minimalist Baker, aka Dana Shultz. I was familiar with her blog and even have one of her cookbooks, so I knew this would be a solid recipe. It’s vegan and if you want it to be gluten-free, all that’s needed is swapping out the baguette for a gluten-free one or do it as a lettuce wrap. I was intrigued by a cauliflower version and put it on my must-make-soon list.

The first time, I made everything on a weeknight after work and by the time it was ready, we were famished. I then realized much of it can be prepared in advance. The pickled veggies taste better made a day or two ahead anyway, and you can chop up the cauliflower florets and make the aioli the night before, which is what I did the second time. This time we were able to sit down to dinner before we were so hungry we wanted to eat our fists!

Truly an amazing recipe, it definitely makes my list of top five best sandwiches I’ve had in my life. Spicy, crunchy, saucy, sweet and sour—all delicious. When you’re done eating, you’ll want more! Even those who aren’t big on cauliflower are going to love it. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Banh Mi Sandwich

Adapted from this Minimalist Baker recipe

Pickled Vegetables (best made a day ahead)
2/3 cup rice vinegar

1/3 cup hot water

½ teaspoon fine grain salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2/3 cup thinly sliced or shredded carrot

1/3 cup thinly sliced or shredded daikon, red, or watermelon radish

3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (like Sambal Oelek)

1/3 cup tamari, coconut aminos, or, if no need to be gluten-free, soy sauce

1 ½ tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 ½ tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon neutral oil (avocado or grapeseed)

4 heaping cups cauliflower florets cut in bite sized pieces

½ cup vegan mayo (Vegenaise or Mindful Mayo brands are both delicious!)

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce

2 small baguettes (gluten-free if that is a concern) or large lettuce leaf, used as a wrap

Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, parsley, mint—your choice—I used parsley and basil)

Thinly sliced cucumber

Fresh or pickled sliced jalapeño (I use Trader Joe’s Hot & Sweet Jalapeños)

To make the pickled veggies, shake vinegar, hot water, sugar, and salt in a glass jar until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add carrot and radish and push down to submerge. Cover jar and refrigerate; they’ll keep a couple weeks.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Make the cauliflower: Whisk together in a medium bowl the chili garlic sauce, tamari, maple syrup, lime juice, and oil. Add the cauliflower florets and toss to evenly coat.

Heat a large, oven-proof (preferably cast iron) skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, using a slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to pan, reserving most of the liquid in the bowl.

Cook the cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Then add most the of the reserved marinade to the pan, but save a little for serving. Toss to coat. Place pan in the oven and bake until cauliflower is crispy and caramelized, about 15 minutes.

While cauliflower is cooking, whisk together aioli ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

Chop your herbs, slice the cucumbers and jalapeño.

Halve your baguettes horizontally and place them in the oven, cut side down, directly on rack, during the last five minutes of the cauliflower cooking.

To assemble sandwiches, spread aioli on both sides of baguette. Top one half of baguette with cauliflower and drizzle some left-over cauliflower marinade. Top with pickled vegetables, cucumber, herbs, and jalapeño. Cover with top half of baguette. Have a napkin on hand too. You may have not use all the cauliflower and will probably also have leftover pickled veggies. Makes two sandwiches.

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
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.

Cabbage, Onion, and Farro Soup

Last week I got a new cookbook,
Six Seasons—a New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg. It’s a heavy, hard-covered, almost 400-page tome that has tons of beautiful food photos, with recipes broken down into seasons, and summer gets three divisions (early, mid, and late), thus the  title.

Because I love cooking seasonally, of course the first recipe I made was from the Winter section. They all sounded wonderful, but something about this hearty soup got my attention. The cabbage and onion are caramelized and result in a sweet richness that was unexpected. And truth be told, it really doesn’t taste like cabbage. The farro makes this a full-meal-in-a-bowl and the flavor combination is warm and comforting just like a winter soup should be.

As with most soups, it is even better the next day, or next three days of work lunches this batch provided. Each day at lunch I kept saying to myself, “This is so good, this is so good!” Any recipe that makes me do that just has to be shared! Prepare to be amazed at the flavors you create. Enjoy!

Cabbage, Onion and Farro Soup

Ever so slightly adapted from Six Seasons—a New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg.

Notes: If you want to go vegan, just omit the cheese; it’s still outstanding as I found out the third day when I forgot the Parmigiano-Reggiano. And if you don’t have farro, barley would be a good substitute or brown rice for a gluten-free version.

1-pound cabbage, savoy or green (I used green—couldn’t find savoy)

¼ cup Extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided, and more for drizzling

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 healthy sprig rosemary or thyme (I used thyme)

1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar (I used red)

2/3 cup uncooked farro

About 4 cups vegetable broth, homemade or store-bought (I used Edward & Sons Not-Beef Bouillon cubes)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cut out the cabbage core and finely chop it. Cut the cabbage leaves into fine shreds.

Heat ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the cabbage core and onion, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften and becomes fragrant, but not at all browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes until the garlic is soft too.

Add the shredded cabbage leaves and rosemary or thyme. Cover the pot and let it steam for a bit to soften the leaves, then toss the cabbage to help it wilt and soften more.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until the cabbage is very tender and sweet, about 20-30 minutes. When the cabbage is ready, stir in the vinegar. Taste and adjust with more salt & pepper, if necessary.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the farro and cook, stirring constantly, until the farro is lightly toasted and fragrant, 5-8 minutes.

Stir the farro into the cabbage mixture and add broth. Adjust the heat to a lazy simmer and simmer until the farro is tender and all the flavors are married, 25 to 35 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice. The soup should be very thick, but if it seems like it needs more liquid, add another ½ cup water or broth (I added about ½ cup more broth). Taste and adjust with more salt, pepper, or lemon juice. Remove the rosemary or thyme sprig.

Serve soup in shallow bowls, with a shower of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil (I skipped the olive oil drizzle). Makes 4 generous servings.


Tofu Bulgogi

Bulgogi, a Korean dish typically made with beef or pork, is super easy to veganize. Switching out the meat for tofu, which easily absorbs the delicious marinade, makes for a dish with all the bold flavors and textures minus the meat.

Several years ago, my sister-in-law Jeannie shared this recipe on Facebook and it sounded so good, I made it immediately. Pete and I both loved it, but for some dumb reason, I didn’t make it again.

Recently Jeannie made a beef bulgogi for a family get-together and I was instantly reminded of that wonderful tofu version—making it again was a high priority and I knew I needed to share it as a blog post.

As with many traditional dishes, there are almost as many different recipes as there are cooks, but this one is definitely a winner. Vegetarian or not, your taste buds and tummy will be happy you made it. Enjoy!

EZ Tofu Press

Tofu Bulgogi

Slightly adapted from this Allyson Kramer recipe

Recipe note: Mirin is a Japanese rice wine similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content. It can be found in Asian markets, the Asian section of well-stocked grocery stores, and on Amazon.com. If you can’t find it, a sweet marsala wine will work as a substitute.

One 16-ounce block organic extra-firm tofu (water-packed, not vacuumed packed)

4 green onions, chopped, both white and green parts

3 cloves garlic, minced

Half a large onion, sliced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root

2/3 cup reduced sodium wheat-free tamari or use soy sauce if gluten-free isn’t important

4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

¼ cup organic sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons mirin (see recipe note above)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Half of a medium pear, shredded on a box grater (include skin—no need to peel)

Peanut oil for pan frying (or other neutral oil)

Cooked brown or white rice

Toasted sesame seeds

To remove excess moisture from the tofu, place the tofu block between a couple layers of paper towels and set on a cutting board. Top with another cutting board and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes or a couple cookbooks. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Alternately, use a tofu press for the same amount of time.

Meanwhile, make marinade: In a medium bowl, mix tamari, sesame oil, sugar, black pepper, red pepper flakes, mirin, and rice vinegar. Stir in shredded pear.

Cut drained tofu block in half and then slice into thin strips. Layer strips in a deep container and top with green onions, garlic, onion and ginger. Pour marinade over tofu and vegetables. Cover and marinade in refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

When ready to start to cooking, drain marinade off into a measuring cup for easy pouring. Spoon vegetables off tofu into a bowl.

Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium to medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of peanut oil or other neutral oil. Once oil is hot, add some of the tofu strips to pan in a single layer (you’ll have to do this in batches). Top with some of the veggies and pour a little marinade over tofu and veggies to just barely cover tofu. Cook until most of the marinade has cooked off and bottom of tofu is nicely browned. Flip tofu slices and cook a few more minutes until the underside is browed.

Serve tofu and vegetables over steamed brown rice. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Makes about 4 servings.

Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

Even though it’s been years since turkey has been on my Thanksgiving table, I still love many of the dishes that traditionally go with it. Cranberry sauce is one of them. I used to make an Ocean Spray version that was more of a relish, uncooked and made in the food processor with orange. It was good, but this year I was craving a cooked sauce.

I came across a recipe with bourbon and thought that sounded swell—almost cocktail-like. Works for me! Alas, that recipe called for a pound of sugar, which seems like it would sweeten any tartness right out of those cranberries, taking away their best quality.

After a little more looking, I found this one; much less sugar and still has the bourbon. Plus, it incorporates orange, like that old tried and true relish. I could tell this was a winner while cooking it (I just may have licked the spoon after stirring, and yes, more than once). Where has bourbon in cranberry sauce been all my life?!? Enjoy!

Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

Adapted from this Savory Sweet Life recipe

One 12-oz bag fresh cranberries

¾ cup orange juice

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 ounces bourbon

Zest of half an orange, for garnish

Place all ingredients, except for the orange zest, in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook on medium-high for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has reduced, stirring occasionally. Cranberries will burst open. I had to turn the heat down after about 5 minutes or it would have boiled over. Just lower it to a heat that keeps it bubbling, but not boiling over.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Mixture will thicken as it cools. May be served chilled or at room temperature. Sprinkle with orange zest just before serving. Serves about 6.