Month: January 2015

meatless monday: saag paneer


How many people love Indian food? I know I go through fits where I can’t get enough. The delicate flavors matched with spice and fresh vegetables and superbly seasoned meat. Fantastic.

There’s one type of dish that always attracts my attention (whether on the buffet or the menu… yeah, I love an Indian buffet, whatever) and that is Paneer. Paneer is a sort of cottage cheese that’s simple, quick, salty, and gooey. It is usually found in cubes and can (allegedly) be found pre-made at the grocery. I made it fresh this time because I’ve always wanted to make cheese and the grocery didn’t have it. I think I will return to this treat again, maybe get a little more adventurous and make more complicated cheeses.

Saag paneer is a mainstay made with spinach and spices that make for a smooth dish that would almost fit in well on a country buffet. In fact, instead of traditional fenugreek leaves or celery leaves, I threw in some collards. They served mainly to fill out the spinach, but it is fun to know they are there.

All told this was a nice spicy something different for a meatless Monday that I know you will enjoy!

Saag Paneer

2 bunches spinach, chopped
1 bunch baby collards
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coridander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 gallon whole milk (non-uht)
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp vinegar
salt to taste

Begin by heating the milk in a large pan. Use a thermometer to make sure you do not overheat. The milk should come to a simmer around 200 degrees and get a little frothy. Remove from heat and add the juice and vinegar. It will begin to curdle right away. Let it sit 10 minutes. Stir to make sure the curds fully separate. Using a colander and cheesecloth, strain the mixture. The curds will stay in the cloth. Lift the curds with the cloth and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Open the cloth pouch and add salt to taste. Wrap again and place on a plate and shape into a loose square. Top with another plate and an addition weight (can, mixing bowl) and sit for 15 minutes minimum. The longer it sits, the denser the cheese will become. If you make ahead you can refrigerate for an even denser cheese.

cheese blob

While the cheese is setting, chop the spinach and collards. Heat a pan with olive oil and add the greens. Pour in about 1/2 cup of water and cover. Cook about 4 minutes and strain. Pulse about 5 good times in a blender or food processor.

In the original pan, heat some oilve oil and add the onion. Cook a few minutes and then add the garlic, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for about five minutes. Add the cayenne.

spice stir

Cut the paneer into cubes. In a separate pan, heat some canola oil and add the cubes. Roll then over a few times to brown slightly.

fry em

Then insert into the spice mix.

stir em

Finally, add the greens to the pan and stir. Add the cream and cover for 10 minutes or so. Serve with naan or rice.

Easy, flavorful, fresh Indian food at home. Happy Monday!

lunchbox life: thai peanut chicken salad in mason jars


Many of you may have seen this ingenious idea on Pinterest. I wish I could take credit for the delivery of this salad, but many pinners before me deserve that credit. I figured that it was about time for me to try out this upside-down salad trick, so I stuck to a familiar favorite: my thai peanut dressing. I’ve used this dressing for cold salads and warm noodles, and its umami appeal can make anything taste scrumptious. By using the cabbage, radishes, and celery from our CSA box and adding the bell pepper, cilantro, and green onion, I knew that this could be a visually appealing salad in a jar. When I cook recipes with an Asian flair, I prefer to use chicken thighs in lieu of breasts because of its fuller flavor and because many Asian restaurants use the thigh instead of the breast in their dishes.

The preparation of the chicken is easy and–I kid you not–makes it taste like breaded fried chicken. Even though you’ll only use 2 Tbsp. butter for five servings, the butter, salt, and pepper create a crust on the outside of the skinless chicken that is crispy and delicious. I’d make this chicken for dinner to add protein to any plate.

Thai Peanut Chicken Salad in Mason Jars

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs

2 Tbsp. butter

salt and pepper

1/2 head of cabbage, sliced

1.5 cups shelled edamame

about 1 cup finely chopped celery

about 1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

about 1 cup thinly sliced radishes

about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

about 1/3 cup chopped green onions

For the dressing:

2 Tbsp. crunchy peanut butter

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. fish sauce

2 tsp. Sriracha

1 tsp. rice wine vinegar

1 tsp. sesame oil

juice of 1 lime

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small mason jar. Place the lid on tightly and shake. If needed, take the lid off and microwave for about 15 seconds to break up the peanut butter. Put the lid back on, shake again, and set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp. butter over medium high heat in a large frying pan. Unpeel the chicken thighs and place them smooth-side down on a plate. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then put half of them seasoned-side down in the melted butter. Salt and pepper the smooth sides while the chicken is in the pan and let it cook on each side for about 6-8 minutes. When this batch is done, place them on a cutting board, melt the other Tbsp. butter, and repeat the process. Let all of the chicken cool on the cutting board before slicing.

While the chicken is cooking, chop the veggies.

To assemble, take 5 quart-size jars and pour 2 Tbsp. peanut dressing in the bottom of each jar. Next, evenly divide the edamame between the jars, then the bell pepper, then the radishes, then the cilantro, then the green onions. Slice the chicken lengthwise, then evenly divide it between the jars. Last, fill the remaining space with the sliced cabbage. Place the lids on all of the jars tightly and refrigerate.


tasty tuesday: oxtail fettuccine

Oxtail Fettucine

Happy Tasty Tuesday, food fans. Tonight’s post is a tale in comfort food, if a little out of the box. This is a dish that is sure to warm and fill you up on a cold winter night and its a way to have a nice stew without hours of work. By using a rice cooker and some varied liquids, you can have a bold, savory stew in a fraction of the time.

If you have not had oxtails before, you are missing a treat. They are not scraps, but rather meaty pieces of beef vertebrae that have a similar cooking process and flavor to short ribs. They often have a little bit of marrow that blends with cooking liquid to add flavor to the stew that cannot come from any artificial flavor. It may be a lot of work, but it is worth it.

But it is not without some time to spare, which is why I paired my oxtail stew with homemade whole wheat fettuccine. Oxtail stew is usually served over rice or maybe mashed potatoes, not pasta. But why not? I don’t know. Probably availability of ingredients, but the pairing works well, giving the dish a stroganoff like comfort appeal. You’ll surely enjoy it.

Oxtail stew

2 lb oxtails
Salt and pepper to cover
2 medium carrots, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Salt and pepper
6 cloves garlic, 4 diced, 2 whole
1 small can tomato paste
1 12 oz beer
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
4 bay leaves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp red pepper flake
Olive oil

In large pan, heat enough olive oil to cover pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot seasoned with salt and pepper and cook until it softens. Add garlic and cook 2-3 more minutes. Remove from pan.

Coat the oxtails in salt and pepper and sear on all sides in pan you cooked the vegetables in. Remove from pan and place in rice cooker.

Pour beer into hot pan with the meat drippings. Add the vegetables back to the pan and stir into the beer. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and seasonings and heat to a simmer. Pour the mixture over the oxtails in the rice cooker, cover and set to cook. This will need to cook for at least 45 minutes, until the tails a able to be pulled from the bone. Remove the meat from the pot and pull the meat and add it back to the pot with the bones and cook five more minutes.


When the pasta is ready, ladle spoon fulls of the stew into the bowls and toss. Top with Parmesan cheese and a whole oxtail if you choose. Oxtails are great for gnawing.

While the stew is cooking, you can make the pasta. Basic flour and egg mixture with salt, olive oil and basil for flavor. If you have a pasta roller, roll until it is almost as thin as it can go and then cut into fettuccine. I think making pasta is a lot of fun and has a great cathartic effect after a days work.

This is a great southern comfort dish with lots of great Italian flavors.Enjoy!

lunchbox life: chicken and black bean enchilada sweet potatoes


I realize that I have posted several recipes in the last few months featuring sweet potatoes, and I confess: I’m a fan. Sweet potatoes are full of nutrition, including fiber, which is a great feature for lunch. As I have preached several times before on the blog, fiber keeps you fuller longer because it take the body longer to break down, giving you plenty of fuel for your day. Sweet potatoes also have a naturally great flavor that is both sweet and savory. I’ve featured a turkey chili-topped sweet potato before for lunchbox life, and in a similar turn of events, this take on a favorite features enchilada chicken–yum–with even more fiber from black beans.

This recipe is pretty foolproof. I don’t always love using a slow cooker, but it’s a great way to make a good meal when you’re busy or when you don’t have a lot of time to commit to cooking. Since we had the day off, we ran several errands, so this was a wonderful way to create my lunches for the week.

Chicken and Black Bean Enchilada Sweet Potatoes

5 small sweet potatoes

2 large chicken breasts, fresh or frozen

1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into half moons

2 15 oz. cans enchilada sauce (I used La Preferida)

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained

4 oz. cotija cheese, small diced

1 green onion, thinly sliced

Set a slow cooker on high heat (4 hours) and add the chicken breast, sliced yellow onion, and enchilada sauce.

Three hours later, set the oven to 400 F. Wrap each sweet potato in aluminum foil and bake for an hour, then remove from the oven.

When the 4 hours are up on the slow cooker, use two forks to shred the chicken in the sauce. Add the black beans and stir to combine.

To plate, unwrap each sweet potato and place one in each container. Slice each lengthwise, then top with the chicken mixture. Evenly distribute the cotija cheese and green onions on top of each topped sweet potato.

meatless monday: huevos rancheros with sweet potato cakes

FullSizeRender(1)I”ll be honest: I don’t know how, after almost two years of blogging, that neither Alex nor I have done huevos rancheros for Meatless Monday. It’s one of the meatiest meatless meals around! With beans and fried eggs, do you really need chorizo, stewed pork, or chicken? The richness of the egg and robust flavor and texture of the beans provide plenty of protein here, and the sweet potato is a fiber-filled, plant-based carb to round out the meal. Mine disappeared in record time tonight.

I’ve written my recipe to be pretty spicy, so if you’re not into lots of heat in your beans, cut out the cayenne pepper. The natural sweetness of the sweet potato, however, nicely balances the spicy beans. The egg yolk does its part, too. If like me, you like a runny yolk, do that. If you’re not like me, and you like a firm yolk, cook your eggs a little longer. Make it your dish.

Huevos Rancheros with Sweet Potato Cakes

Serves 2; double or triple to accommodate your table

1 medium sweet potato

1 15 oz. can black beans

2 green onions

4 eggs

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. butter, separated

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 400 F. Wrap the sweet potato in aluminum foil and roast in the oven for one hour. Take it out of the oven and set it aside.

In a small pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Thinly slice the green onions, disposing of the bulbs at the bottom. Add half of the green onions to the olive oil, stir, then add the cayenne, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Next, add the black beans, stir, and bring to a simmer.

Go back to the sweet potato. Unwrap the foil and remove the skin of the potato. Dump the flesh of the sweet potato in a small mixing bowl and add 1/8 cup flour (reserve the other 1/8), half of the reserved green onion, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine. Form four patties from the sweet potato mixture and coat with the remaining flour. Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a large, flat-bottomed pan. Cook the sweet potato cakes for about 3 minutes on each side, then set aside.

Next, go ahead and begin plating–you’ll want to fry the eggs at the last minute. In two wide bowls, divide the black beans. Stack two sweet potato cakes at the 12 o’clock marker on your bowls.

Heat the remaining butter in another pan over medium heat. In two small bowls, crack two eggs each, being careful not to crack the yolks. You’ll cook two at a time, so when the butter is melted, add one egg bowl (two eggs) to the butter. Top with salt and pepper (chili powder optional), then place a lid on the pan. Cook your eggs to your desired doneness, then slide the two eggs out of the pan and onto your beans. Repeat with the other two eggs. Top each bowl with the remaining green onions. Enjoy!

lunchbox life: spinach and mushrooms with quinoa and turkey bratwurst

image1(5)Is everyone still hanging in there for January? How are those new year resolutions going? I know that after this past week of lunches, I am feeling so much better and so much less full from the holidays. Because of this, I decided do do another lunch heavy on the greens. If you’ve ever sauteed spinach, you know that it shrinks quickly, so this recipe of five servings calls for a whole pound of spinach. Fiber, folic acid, and protein are the stars of this leafy green, and yes–Popeye approves.

Spinach and mushrooms are a classic combination. Throw in some garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and you have some pretty tasty nutrition. Toss in some quinoa and top it with some protein and you have a complete meal. There is a shift in this lunch, however. Instead of making spinach the side dish, why not make it the star?

The turkey bratwurst I used in this lunch is made by Honeysuckle White, a brand found in many grocery stores. At about 160 calories per link, these brats are a nice addition of lean protein.

Spinach and Mushrooms with Quinoa and Turkey Bratwurst

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

5 turkey bratwurst links (I used Honeysuckle White brand)

2 Tbsp. olive oil (each Tbsp. separated)

1 lb. fresh baby spinach

2 lb. sliced white mushrooms

2 green onions, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

salt and pepper

Cook quinoa according the package directions; set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the turkey bratwursts and cook for about 8 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool.

In a large pot or deep pan, heat the other Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the garlic and 1 tsp. salt and cook for about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and green onions, stir to coat in the garlic and oil, and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir to combine. Next, add the spinach in batches. It will shrink quickly, so be ready to add more spinach when the pan allows for it. Add another tsp. of salt and 1 tsp. black pepper. Stir to combine spinach with the mushrooms until everything is evenly cooked; this only takes a few minutes, so be vigilant!

To plate: separated the spinach mixture into five containers. Slice each brat on the diagonal and arrange the pieces in a line to top the spinach.

meatless monday: curried carrot and sweet potato soup, grilled sweet potato bread, Fu ManBrew from Monday Night Brewing



Happy New year, everyone! I know more most folks this was the first work day of the year (not for me!), so I wanted to treat you to a nice warm bowl of soup and a crisp, cold beer– the perfect combination for the weather today that looked like a spring day with the cold bite of winter.

The carrot and sweet potato soup here is inspired by the big box we received from The Dirt Farmers. Golden, Purple, and Orange carrots went with half of a giant sweet potato into this soup that was hit with curry flavors to give it a warm, spicy bite. The root veggies were perfect vehicles for the big spices. The other half of the potato made its way into a savory bread similar to banana or zucchini bread, but with a buttery taste (even if no butter was used). By grilling the bread, it became the perfect bread compliment for the spicy soup, with just a little sweetness and nice texture. Avocado provided a nice creamy note to counter the spice as well. The dish was very well balanced.

The Fu ManBrew was perfect compliment. A witbier from Monday Night Brewing, a star of the Peach State Ale Trail, this pairing added some crispness and ginger notes that meshed with curry and ginger flavors of the soup. The complimentary flavors let the beer pick up notes from the soup while being cooling, not jarring. Being a bright, crisp witbier, Fu ManBrew added needed lightness to the meal that would have been very heavy otherwise. I highly recommend it.

Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
3 cloves garlic
1/2 large sweet potato, grated
Several sliced peeled carrots (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp curry powder (or mix of garam masala, turmeric, fennel, coriander, Cayenne, and pepper)
1 tsp red pepper flake
3 cups vegetable broth
1 dash rice vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the shallot and onions about 3 minutes. Add the potato and carrot and saute for about five minutes. Stir in the spices and heat another minute. Pour in the broth and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and heat another 20 minutes. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Finish by stirring in the cream.

Savory Sweet Potato Bread

1/2 large sweet potato (1 1/4 cups)
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
Olive oil to saute
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup suger
1 egg
2/3 cup canola oil
1 avocado
1/4 cup toasted walnuts

Grease a loaf pan and heat oven to 350.

Mix flours, baking soda and powder and salt.

Saute the shallot and garlic in oil for 2-3 minutes, allow to cool. Add to flour mixture

Grate the potato and stir in the egg, sugar and oil. Slowly mix in the flour until well mixed. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle can be cleanly removed.

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat.

Slice the loaf into 1/2 slices and place diagonally on the hot grill pan. Grill 4 minutes and rotate 1/4 turn and heat an addition 4 minutes.

Place the grilled bread in a shallow bowl and ladle soup around it. Garnish with sliced avocado and toasted walnuts.


Enjoy the warm flavors and happy new year!


lunchbox life: kale, roasted golden carrot, and chicken bowl with honey peanut sriracha drizzle

honey sriracha chicken

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you had a restful holiday full of friends, family, and relaxation. While some people returned to work this past Friday, many of us will make our triumphant returns tomorrow. Most of us have healthy eating on our minds, and while I hate to succumb to the early January health kick everyone seems to join, I offer a different view instead of eye-rolling or irritation: don’t we all want to correct our overindulgence from the holiday season? Isn’t that pretty normal? I think it’s pretty normal to consume a few extra snacks, desserts, and drinks in the month of December, just like it’s pretty normal to want to get back to healthy eating in January. So have no fear, healthy friends: I’m not judging you. I’m right there with you working to get back in my routine, and while I’m not jumping for joy to go back to work, I’m looking forward to getting back into my routines.

OK, sermon over. This week’s lunch shines with nutrition and is anything but boring. For the featured meal, I’ve relied on our awesome CSA box for inspiration. First, I was attracted to my favorite green, kale. I removed the stems, chopped up the kale leaves into bite size pieces and placed them in a bowl, drizzled it with about 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper, then massaged the kale for about 30 seconds to help break down some of the fibrous leaves.

We also  received some beautiful golden carrots, and when I peeled them, a bright, happy yellow flavor appeared. I quickly diced about five of the carrots, drizzled a touch of olive oil, and sprinkled some big flavors onto the pieces: 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and few grinds of black pepper. After roasting them at 400 F for about 20 minutes on parchment paper, I turned off the heat and left them in the oven to stay warm.

Next, I took two large chicken breasts and cut them lengthwise, about 1/2 inch thick, to create about 10 chicken breast “steaks.” I heat 2 tsp. canola oil in a large, flat-bottomed pan, then sprinkled one side of the chicken steaks with salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder (use as much/little as you like). In batches, I cooked the chicken for about 6 minutes on each side, seasoning side down. While the first side cooked, I sprinkled the other with salt and pepper. When all of the chicken was cooked and cooled, I diced them and set them aside.

Now, for the dressing. Combine the following ingredients in a small jar: 2 Tbsp. PB2 powder, 2 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce, 1 Tbsp. water, 1 tsp. honey, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper. Shake vigorously, then stir with a spoon to ensure that all of the peanut powder is integrated into the dressing. Shake again. You could certainly use 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter if you like, but PB2 is lower in fat and calories and is all natural, so I like to use it when I can.

To assemble: fill five bowls with massaged kale, then evenly divide the carrots and chicken between the bowls. Using a spoon, drizzle the dressing over the kale bowls, then devour. Yum!