a balanced plate with room for dessert


Lightened-Up Spinach Artichoke Dip

I love chips and dip. Taco dip, guacamole, salsa, French onion, hummus… I’m the weirdo hovering by your dip bowl at the party. Hovering? More like hoovering. I really want to host a chips and dip dinner party. I don’t know if anyone would come, but I could probably eat the entire spread myself. Just sayin’.

Lightened Up Spinach Artichoke Dip |

Spinach artichoke dip is one of my favorites to dip in, but all that cheese – oh goodness. I did my best to lighten it up while still keeping that to-die-for richness. I opt for fresh spinach, but feel free to sub in a package of frozen chopped spinach; just make sure to thaw and drain it before stirring it in.

Lightened Up Spinach Artichoke Dip |

Lightened-Up Spinach Artichoke Dip

8 ounce bag baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained chopped
8 ounce package reduced-fat or fat-free cream cheese
1 cup plain fat free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoon light mayonnaise
8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
tortilla chips

  1. In a medium pot, combine, spinach, garlic and artichoke hearts. Cook over medium heat until spinach is just wilted. Stir in cream cheese, yogurt, mozzarella, Parmesan, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted and ingredients are blended.
  2. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
  3. Slow cooker instructions: place ingredients into a slow cooker and heat on low for 3-4 hours or high for 2 hours. Stir well before serving.


Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns)

I think making these buns might have been the biggest mistake of my life. They’re just too dang good and I crave them constantly. The first batch quickly dwindled to nothing – I sent a bun or two off to my family and to Mike’s parents and sent a half-dozen off with Mike. I was left staring at four buns. I tried to make them last as long as possible, but I have to be honest… they lasted four days. Maybe less.

Baked Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns) |

I think these buns might be the first thing I will ever put on my monthly “must make” list. I rarely make repeat dishes. It takes a good dish to warrant a second visit into my kitchen more than once a year. It takes a stellar dish to make a visit a few times a year. A dish that I want to make every month? Unheard of, until now.

Baked Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns) |

I just can’t explain why I loved these buns so much. It’s a combination of the slightly sweet, mostly salty filling surrounded by an impossibly soft, fluffy, yet chewy bun. The texture of the buns is partially due to the tangzhong (roux) made from combining flour with water and milk. The tangzhong  is incorporated into the dough and the endresult is a bun that’s… well, good.

Baked Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns) |

I made this dish for this month’s What’s Baking. The host for August is Ali from Sparks from the Kitchen. She challenged us to bake up something to represent our heritage.  I waffled between making dan ta, an egg custard tart, and feng li su, little flaky cakes encasing a pineapple filling. I don’t know how I ended up making neither of those and instead making the char siu bao, but I don’t regret my actions one bit. I loved char siu bao growing up, and I love them still. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Buns)

for the buns:
6 cups bread flour, divided
2/3 cup water
1 1/3 cup milk, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted

for the filling:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups diced char siu (Chinese BBQ roast pork)

for garnishing:
1 egg beat with 1 teaspoon water (egg wash)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  1. To make the tangzhong (roux/flour paste), mix together 1/3 cup flour, 2/3 cup water, and 1/3 cup milk in a small saucepan until well combined. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens up and has the consistency of a thick yogurt. The temperature of the roux should not exceed 150°F. Remove the mixture from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine 5 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the tangzhong/flour paste, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, and melted butter. Stir together to form a soft dough. Knead by hand for 15 – 20 minutes. If your dough is sticky and not coming together, add the remaining 2/3 cup flour a little at a time until your dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Lightly grease a large bowl. Place dough inside and turn to coat. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place and let rise for 60 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, get started on the filling. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the honey, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and dark soy sauce. Cook until mixture starts to bubble, stirring frequently. Stir in the chicken stock and flour until well combined. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the diced roast pork. Set aside to cool.
  5. Separate the risen dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 4-inch circle, leaving the center slightly thicker than the edges. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the middle of each circle. Crimp them closed, making sure they are tightly sealed. Don’t fret if they’re a little ugly – the crimped side ends up on the bottom, hidden from judging eyes 😉
  6. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Lay the buns seam-side down on the prepared baking sheets and let rise for another hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until buns are golden brown. Let cool slightly before eating.


yields 16 buns. recipe slightly adapted from The Woks of Life


Fresh Pineapple Salsa

I’ve been loving the spring weather this week. All the snow is gone and the temps have been warm enough for me to run in a tee. Mike and I are hoping to take advantage of this weather by going on a nice, long hike and with the pups this weekend and then grilling out after. Fingers crossed that the forecast is wrong and that it doesn’t rain!

This pineapple salsa is sweet with the perfect amount of heat. It’s super versatile, too. I ate it with chicken, with pretzel thins, and even just straight-up with a spoon.

Fresh Pineapple Salsa |

Fresh Pineapple Salsa

1/2 pineapple peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a large nonreactive bowl, stir together pineapple, onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus

Hummus is one of my favorite snack foods. It’s so, so easy to make, but I’m guilty of buying hummus when I’m feeling extra lazy. The store-bought hummus is good, the store-bought spicy hummus is even better, but this homemade spicy hummus tops it all.

Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus |

Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus

2 – 15 ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup olive oil
3 limes, juiced (about 1/3 cup)
2 jalapenos, seeds removed and chopped (use 1 jalapeno for a mild hummus)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

to serve: fresh cut veggies, pita chips, tortilla chips

  1. Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


Baked Sweet Potato Chili Cheese Fries

I. love. fries. Like, really love fries. I like to pretend that I’m not fully aware of how bad they are for you and always get fries at restaurants. Well, not always… more like 90% of the time. The last time I turned down fries was a couple months ago at a German restaurant. I opted for liver dumpling soup instead :-P. The last time I was out and had an option, Mike and I were in Milwaukee. I could choose between cottage cheese, fruit, or fries. I actually asked about the fruit first, but it had cantaloupe in it and I found out about a year ago that whenever I eat cantaloupe my throat and ears get really itchy. So… that wasn’t going to happen again. Long story short, I chose fries. 

I could have fries with every meal and be happy. In fact, I could have fries as  my meal and be happy. 


That’s what I did. I made a meal out of these and I don’t regret it one bit. 

baked sweet potato chili cheese fries |

Baked Sweet Potato Chili Cheese Fries
adapted from Joy the Baker

2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
1/4 cup corn starch
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle chile pepper powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon grill seasoning
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 fresh jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 green onions, sliced

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Lightly grease two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. 
  2. Cut sweet potato into 1/4-inch slices. Stack slices and then slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Repeat with remaining sweet potatoes to cut fries. 
  3. In a  medium bowl, whisk together corn starch, chili powders, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, ground cumin, and chipotle chile pepper powder. 
  4. In a medium bowl, toss fries with olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and grill seasoning. Sprinkle cornstarch mixture over fries and toss to combine. 
  5. Divide potatoes between the two prepared baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes, until fries are crispy. Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven for about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and place fries onto serving platter. Sprinkle with jalapeño slices and green onions and serve hot. 


Spinach Dip

As many of you know, we have been getting a TON of cucumbers. As much as I love cucumbers dipped in Sriracha hummus, there’s only so much I can eat before I start getting tired of it! Thank goodness for Heather over at In Her Chucks who introduced me to her spinach dip recipe!

I was a little skeptical at first because of the ingredients in it; I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a powdered soup or dressing before. I decided I would give it a try because I was just that sick of hummus. Turns out, it was a great decision!  Mike and I ate it for dinner on Sunday night with some cucumbers and it was the perfect light dinner after a day of beer-drinkin’ and burger-eatin’.

Spinach Dip
slightly adapted from In Her Chucks

1 10 oz box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed very dry
2 1/2 tablespoons of Knorr Leek Recipe Mix
2 1/2 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp dried dill
  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Serve immediately with cut up vegetables or refrigerate until serving.



Avocados were on sale at the grocery store and I just couldn’t pass up the chance to make some guacamole. We devoured the entire thing in about 3 days using Manny’s Tortilla Strips (the absolute best) as the mode of transportation to get from the bowl to our mouths. Soooooo good! Maybe next time I’ll actually get around to making some Mexican food to go with it.


Best Guacamole

4 avocados, peeled, pitted, and mashed
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4  pinch ground cayenne pepper

  1. In a medium bowl, mash together avocadoes, lime juice and salt. Mix in onion, cilantro, tomatoes, garlic and cayenne. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving.