SAAG PANEER -Surprisingly Simple!

fullsizerender-20SAAG PANEER is one of my favorite dishes to order when we go to Indian restaurants. And, as it turns out, it’s quite easy to make.

One thing to bear in mind when shopping for the spinach is to buy the amount specified in the recipe – 20 ounces. It may look like enough to feed an army, but spinach wilts down tremendously when cooked.

I recommend making the paneer cheese ahead of time – even a day or two – before serving. This gives the cheese plenty of time to drain.

NOTE: In reading through the directions, you may be tempted to skip the separate cooking steps and just throw everything into the pot at once. Don’t! The onions take longer to cook than the jalapeño and garlic, which takes longer than the tomato. Cooking things in stages allows the ingredients to end up at their peak of flavor.

SAAG PANEER – makes about 1 quart

  • 1½ quarts whole milk
  • 2 cups buttermilk, divided
  • 1/2 T salt
  • 20 oz fresh spinach leaves
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 jalapeño, finely minced (remove seeds and ribs)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 14 oz tomatoes, chopped (fresh or canned)
  • 1/2 cup cashews, toasted, divided

To make the paneer cheese, heat whole milk just to a boil. Stir in 1½ cups buttermilk and 1/2 T salt. Remove from heat. Let sit 10 minutes to coagulate. Line a colander with 3 layers of cheesecloth and set in sink. Pour in milk and let drain 15 minutes. Bring the 4 corners of the cheesecloth together to form a sack. Gently twist to expel more liquid. Finally, hang the bag for several hours to complete the draining process. To do this, tie corners together, insert some sort of stick (such as a long wooden spoon), and rest the ends on something tall enough to allow the sack to hang freely. Be sure to place a container underneath to catch the liquid unless you’re doing this over the sink.

Thoroughly wash spinach – it can be very muddy. Place in a large bowl (you may need to do this in batches), cover with a plate, and microwave for 3 minutes. Discard liquid.

In a large skillet or saucepan, melt butter. Add in cumin, coriander, paprika, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne. Stir over medium heat for 30 seconds to bloom spices. Add in onions and 3/4 tsp salt. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add in the jalapeño and garlic, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add in tomatoes and cook 3 more minutes.

Chop 2/3 cup of the cooked spinach – I use my kitchen shears for this. Set aside.

Into a food processor or blender put the unchopped spinach, half of the cooked tomato mixture, 1 cup water, and 1/4 cup of the cashews. Pulse several times to purée. Pour back into saucepan with the other half of the tomato mixture. Add in the chopped spinach and remaining 1 cup of buttermilk. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook 5 minutes to heat through.

Cube the paneer cheese into 1/2″ pieces. Stir into the spinach mixture.

Serve over rice, topped with cashews.



carrot-feta-salad-textIn our house we have broccoli nearly every night. It’s fast, it’s tasty, and it’s healthy. But sometimes one has to shake things up a bit.

So I came up with CARROT FETA SALAD to expand our horizons. No cooking is involved and can be made ahead of time. BTW, this recipe is a success at potlucks.

NOTE: Shred the carrots yourself rather than buying pre-shredded. If you have a food processor, it can be done in seconds. If you don’t have a food processor, the holidays are coming up so put it on your list. I use mine nearly everyday!

CARROT FETA SALAD – makes about 3 cups

  • 1½ cups carrots, shredded
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup canned mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 T honey
  • 1/2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 T lemon juice
  • pinch salt

Put carrots, feta, oranges, and cranberries in a bowl.

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, lemon juice, and salt. I use a mini-whisk for this – a spoon just won’t blend the dressing as well. Pour dressing over carrots and mix.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

CASHEW CRISPS -The Forgotten Nut!

cashew-crisps-textBelieve it or not, sometimes I crave a chocolate-free cookie. That’s a pretty bold statement from a certified chocoholic – but, there it is.

CASHEW CRISPS are a simple little cookie that go well with a cup of tea, coffee, or a big glass of cold milk. They’re easy to make and perfect for kids who want to help. This recipe makes about 4½ dozen cookies – the more hands to roll dough-balls, the better!

NOTE: If you like these cookies, next time make extra and freeze the uncooked dough balls for future use. I always like to have extra baked goods at the ready!

CASHEW CRISPS – makes about 4½ dozen

  • 3/4 cup salted cashews
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 T molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Toast cashews. Put in blender or food processor, then pulse until finely ground.

Melt butter and combine with sugar, vanilla, and molasses using an electric mixer. (If you don’t have an electric mixer, hand mix vigorously.)  Beat in cashews, then beat in the egg.

Add in flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, blending just until flour is incorporated. Let dough rest half an hour.

Roll into 1″ balls. Place on greased cookie sheet (unless using non-stick).

Bake at 350º for 10-11 minutes. (Cookies bake faster on a dark sheet.)

CHEESE BREAD – A Slice Of Goodness!

cheese-bread-textIt’s hard to beat bread and cheese. Add onion and bacon (fake, of course!) and – wow!

Cheese Bread is a quick bread, meaning there’s no yeast, kneading, or rising to deal with. However, there is a little bit of cooking (the onions and fake bacon), 45 minutes of baking, and 40 minutes of setting before slicing. So, while “quick” is a technically correct term, it does take some time.

However, don’t let that stop you – Cheese Bread is very easy to make and definitely worth the wait.


  • 2 slices fake bacon (I use Morningstar)
  • 1/2 cup onions, chopped
  • 3 T oil (I use vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1¼ cup milk (I use nonfat)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 4 oz Gruyère cheese, cubed in 1/2″ pieces

Note: You can make your own sour cream by whisking together 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 T fresh lemon juice until thickened, then adding 1/8 tsp salt.

Slice the bacon in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/4″ pieces. Heat oil in skillet and fry the bacon until browned. Keep your eye on it – it burns quickly! With slotted spoon, remove bacon to plate, leaving oil.

Fry onions in same skillet as above, until golden.

Grease a loaf pan (I prefer a dark metal one to ensure a crispy crust) and sprinkle half of the Parmesan evenly on bottom.

In large mixing bowl, combine flour, cayenne, salt, pepper, and baking powder. Stir in the bacon, onions (with the oil), and Gruyere.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg. Whisk in the milk and sour cream. Add this to flour mixture and gently combine.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, spreading so it’s of uniform thickness. Sprinkle on remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake in preheated 350º fahrenheit oven for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let set in pan for 5 minutes. Run a dull knife along the sides and invert onto a wire rack. Then right the loaf and let cool 40 minutes before slicing – otherwise, it falls apart. The bread looks and tastes so good that waiting is very difficult – but try to restrain yourself.





beef-like biscuit cass text

Fake meats (or “faux” for you fancy people) have not only expanded my cooking repertoire dramatically, but they also help keep me from falling off the vegetarian wagon.  When you grow up eating meat, AND really like the taste, it’s sometimes hard to resist. Fake meats have talked me off the ledge many times when I was tempted by a burger commercial.

There are quite a few really good imitation products out there now. Yes, there are some real duds, but search around and you probably can find ones that you like. They’re so common now that even the average supermarket carries, at least, a brand or two.

All that being said, I limit my use of these foods to once or twice a week – they are a processed food, after all.

Beef-like Biscuit Casserole is a kid favorite. It’s, also, one of mine. The recipe calls for making a biscuit dough. If this idea fills you with fear, then buy a tube of biscuit dough in the refrigerated section. But, honestly, it’s really very simple and I recommend giving it a go.


  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 12 oz fake ground beef (I use Morningstar Grillers Crumbles)

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  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 T fresh basil, chopped  (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 T butter, cold
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind – I use nonfat)
  • 4 oz medium cheddar, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Early in the day I try to remember to remove the Crumbles from the freezer to thaw so it cooks faster. Don’t worry if you don’t – it’ll still cook if it’s frozen.

Heat oil in a 10″ skillet and sauté the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add the fake ground meat, 1/2 tsp salt, oregano, dried basil (if using fresh, don’t put this in yet), and tomato sauce. Bring to simmer, cover, and let cook 10 minutes. Stir now and then, particularly if fake meat is frozen. If using fresh basil, stir it in after the 10 minutes cooking time, to retain its flavor.

Remove lid from skillet, and skillet from heat. Let cool while you prepare the biscuits. (Deep breath!)

If you have a food processor, place flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper in the workbowl. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Cut butter into 4 or 5 pieces and add to workbowl. Pulse about 7 times to break up the butter so the mixture becomes cornmeal-like.

If you don’t have a food processor, put flour, salt, pepper, and cut-up butter in a bowl. Using 2 knives, cross-cut until mixture resembles cornmeal (a pastry cutter won’t work – the cold butter will just bend the tines…been there, done that!).

In medium sized bowl, beat egg and milk together. Add in flour mixture and gently stir until blended. Empty dough onto floured surface and, with floured hands, knead dough 10 times. Don’t over-knead or the dough will toughen.

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.

Divide dough in half. Take one half and cut it into 1/4″ slices. Lay them out on the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish. With fingers, press the dough pieces together so they cover the entire bottom of dish.

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Sprinkle on half the cheddar cheese.

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Spread “meat” sauce evenly on top.

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Sprinkle on remaining cheddar and the Parmesan.

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Flatten the remaining biscuit dough with your hands or a rolling pin to about 1/4″. Cut dough into several pieces – the number and shape is up to you. Lay them out on top of casserole.

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Bake at 400º Fahrenheit, uncovered, for 20 minutes – until biscuits are golden.

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Let set for about 10 minutes before serving.


eggplant polenta text3

My boys grew up watching me cook up a storm on a daily basis. I baked whole wheat bread (sadly, quite often the slices kind of fell apart as you ate it – this was before I understood about gluten), juiced 400 lbs of organic apples every fall, and made pasta and baked goods from scratch.

To my chagrin, they showed no interest in learning how to cook. Until now. Yay! Both my sons have finally grasped the benefit to health and pocketbook by cooking from scratch. Last night my oldest made a delicious, fast, and easy polenta topped with eggplant and Parmesan.

Thus, the student becomes the teacher.

Of course, like all cooks, I made a couple of changes. As it’s zucchini overload season, I decided to incorporate this prolific squash into the recipe (one can only eat so much zucchini bread!). Also, I exchanged Fontina cheese for most of the Parmesan. It has a nice melty property.

NOTE: With a little forethought, you can shave half an hour off the cooking time for the polenta. All you need to do is combine the cornmeal and water the night before (or even the morning of) and let it soak (just soak – no cooking yet) until you’re ready to make dinner. This step takes seconds and you save half an hour!

EGGPLANT POLENTA – makes about 4-6 servings

  • 1 cup medium grind cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1¼ tsp salt, divided
  • 28 oz can whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb eggplant, unpeeled & cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into quarter moons
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 3/4 cup Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Soak cornmeal and water the night before or the morning of preparing this dish. This will expedite cooking dramatically. If you don’t do this, you’ll just have to allow more cooking time – it could take an hour to absorb the water and be soft enough to eat.

Either way, cook the cornmeal, its water, and 1/2 tsp of the salt uncovered over a medium flame, bringing it to a boil. Then decrease heat to medium/low. Stir often, but not continuously (unless you have nothing better to do).

While the polenta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium flame in large skillet. When it shimmers (the sign for when it’s hot enough), add in the eggplant, zucchini, and 1/4 tsp salt. Sauté for about 7 minutes, stirring often, until browned. Turn off heat.

Add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds with the heat off (this prevents scorching the garlic). Turn the heat back to medium, and stir in the tomatoes (with its juice) and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook another 2 minutes to thicken a bit.

To serve: On either individual plates or a large platter, layer the polenta, topped with Fontina, the eggplant mixture, fresh basil, and then sprinkle with Parmesan. Let set a few minutes so the Fontina gets nice and gooey!


orzo asparagus text

Orzo is a pasta (yes, a pasta!) that I love, but rarely use – mostly because I forget about it. When I want a rice-like ingredient, my mind goes to…rice.

Orzo has the same chew as white rice, and is only slightly bigger. The benefit is it cooks much faster – about 9 minutes. So if you want to make a risotto – which takes a lot of time and attention – consider using orzo. It will be found in the pasta section of the market, of course.

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE, like many dishes, can be tweaked to your desires and what you have in the house. Switch the asparagus for red pepper, peas, or mushrooms. Cashews can be exchanged for the almonds. And the orzo can be traded for barley, sorghum, or…rice. The possibilities are endless.

NOTE: If you decide to use mushrooms, cook them until most of the liquid evaporates. This will be longer than the 3 minutes for asparagus.

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE – makes about 2½ cups

  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo
  • 1 T butter
  • 6 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk (see NOTE below)
  • 1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

NOTE: 3/4 cup evaporated milk is half of a 12 oz can. You can freeze the unused half, double the recipe and use the whole can, OR use a 5 oz can and add 3 oz of milk to it (even nonfat).

Boil about 2½ water (it doesn’t need to be exact) and pour in the orzo. Cook until it’s slightly underdone (check after 7 minutes) – it will continue to absorb liquid when mixed with the evaporated milk, so it doesn’t need to be completely cooked. Strain out the excess water using a colander or hand strainer.

While the orzo is cooking, wash and slice the asparagus. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté asparagus for about 3 minutes over medium flame. Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from heat to prevent scorching the garlic.

Add the cornstarch, salt, and pepper to the asparagus, blending well. Pour in the evaporated milk and return to medium flame. Stir until thickened – about 3 minutes. Add in cheese.

When cheese is melted, stir in the cooked orzo. Taste for seasoning, correcting, as needed.

When ready to serve, mix in the almonds. Don’t do this ahead of time or they won’t be as crispy.