You had me at pizza: Flourless, dairy-free pizza with a cauliflower pine nut crust and nut-based faux mozz

I need pizza. I really do. But the Whole30 means no pizza for mama on our Friday night pizza night (even though we make the best, fresh from scratch, whole wheat or gluten free home made pizza). What really defines pizza is the crust and the cheese, so really I am SOOL while on Whole30, but I can make something that is compliant and kinda like pizza. Now if you are looking for something that truly tastes like pizza, made from whole ingredients without some fancy machinery and lots of time, please tell me the secret because in my opinion, you can replace the crust or replace the cheese but not both at the same time. When I am giving myself a break from Whole30 and eating dairy or gluten every so often, I place the faux cheese on a real crust or real cheese on faux crust, and voila, healthier pizza that tastes like pizza. This is a very tasty Whole30 compliant oooey gooey dairy-free faux mozz on a flourless, gluten-free, dairy-free cauliflower crust. It is tasty and satisfying and hits the spot on Friday night pizza night.

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Nacho your typical nacho: Baked sweet potato chips with gooey vegan cashew cheez

I blame everyone else’s talk of football – I don’t pay attention to the sport nor does anyone in my household, but I can’t help but pay attention to what people are making for game day snacks (they are talking about food, how can I not pay attention?) As a result, I end up with cravings for food like nachos. But I try to avoid corn chips, tortilla or cheese in my diet, which pretty much eliminates the main components of nachos. Anyone who knows me knows that I refuse to be limited. Each limitation is an open door to creating something new – something, as my daughter says is “same same but different.” So I made baked sweet potato chips topped with a vegan gooey cashew based cheez, salsa, guacamole, purple cabbage, purple kale, tomato, avocado, cilantro, jalepeno and scallion.

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The squash look very different today: Gluten-free butternut squash, zucchini and sweet potato patties with a vegan zucchini, avocado, cashew aioli

I have been a bit homesick in the last few weeks. Maybe it was thinking about all the fun my cousins and brothers had over the holiday and missing the time spent together in 2015. Maybe it was missing my NYC friends and that community I had. Maybe it was missing the streets of NYC and my old apartment after seeing the building I lived in for 11 years in a scene in Mozart in the Jungle. On top of that, it was cold and I wanted to stay under the covers. Whatever it was, I wanted something comforting. But this whole food challenge does force me to think about how I can achieve comfort without relapsing into my old food habits. So I had to think about how I could make something that was tasty and veggieful with protein that could satisfy my craving and my body at the same time. And so a tasty snack and appetizer was born: Dairy and gluten-free butternut squash, zucchini, sweet potato patties with an avocado, zucchini and cashew aioli.

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I’m bout to get jalapeno business: Baked almond crusted jalapeno poppers with a faux cashew and pine nut based cheez

So I don’t follow, pay attention to or watch football (well, I should say US football. I do follow what football is to the rest of the world, especially around the World Cup). But one thing that I have liked in the past are the snacks and food associated it the game – the unhealthy, carb loaded, cheesy, fatty and sometimes spicy treats. Of course I almost never eat them. But with everyone so focused on football and speaking about it non stop compounded with the cold rainy weather and my current Whole30 restrictions, suddenly it is what I am craving. So what do I do – get down to business and make it my way – dairy-free, gluten-free, nut based and baked.

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Got Mushrooms? Cashew cream sauce with chanterelles, swiss chard and asparagus over spaghetti squash

I came home to find chanterelle mushrooms in the fridge. Chanterelles! They are golden looking, golden tasting, and golden priced. Typically priced at about $12-$14 per pound, they are an expensive mushroom. Their taste is delicate, but goes well with eggs and with cream. Since we had them, they had to be used – so I placed them into a cream sauce made from cashews, along with swiss chard and asparagus and served it over or mixed with spaghetti squash. What a heavenly meal.

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All about deez nuts (and dooz squashes): Gluten and dairy-free Spaghetti squash noodles with butternut squash cashew cream sauce, kale and pistachios

We have had an influx of visitors from back home in NYC (I love it!). And of course if people come over, I have to cook because that is just how I operate. Lately I have been swamped with work and toddler changes/tantrums, prepping my food every day for Whole30 and resisting that which I should not eat. So when guests come to town, if I don’t have anything prepped or time on my hands I need to come up with quick dishes. My fridge is overflowing with squash purees, so I decided to make her a pasta with a cayenne spiced pumpkin goat cheese sauce. My husband and friend loved it and I was drooling, frustrated I could not eat it. So of course I began to create a compliant recipe in my head and made it the very next day – gluten-free, dairy-free, white wine-free full of whole foods. Instead of spaghetti noodles, I used spaghetti squash. Instead of pumpkin, I used butternut squash just to change it up. Instead of goat cheese, I used cashew cream and nutrional yeast. Instead of white wine, I used lemon juice. And added kale and pistachios. Heavenly. I had three servings.

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It’s the great pumpkin cheezcake: Spiced lemon pumpkin cashew nut “cheesecake” with nut date crust

So one of the best parts about being married to an expat is that you get to go visit their family in their home country every so often. Every other year, around Christmas time, we go to France. While the food in France elicits nothing short of a mouthgasm, around the holidays with the multiple family parties and birthdays, it is rich, decadent and overwhelming.  I try to make a meal or a dish here and there to lighten the fare. I don’t speak French so I find sharing experiences and communicating through food a beautiful way to express love. I will make them food they will be pleased with because of simple tastes and aesthetic beauty – like apple roses that I upscale to make them unique. But I am Indian and I like spice and complex flavors full of good healthy ingredients – even for sweets (no flour, no refined sugar, no soy…whole food ingredients). So I came up with a spiced  lemon pumpkin cashew nut “cheesecake” with nut date crust.
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To dairy or not to dairy: Zucchini ravioli with ricotta cheez and leafy greens in sage “butter” sauce with cashew nut parm and toasted walnuts

Earlier this summer, I had dinner with one of my good friends back home in New York City who loves good food and knows good Italian. He took me to Via Carota where I indulged in the most perfectly cooked tortelli with nettle and ricotta in a simple butter sauce topped with parmigiano-reggiano. It was divine – my mouth still waters thinking about it. I will never be able to make pasta as perfectly fresh and aldente as that – and nor should I. Perfecting such an art would take an unnecessary amount of time and would require me to eat pasta daily (why would I not take advantage of such a talent if I had it). Instead, I can be a connoisseur of pasta and eat it sparingly because finding such exquisitely made pasta is not easy and often expensive unless you are lucky enough to know of a fine Italian home cook. Does it mean that I must be left to salivate over my dreams of such fine cooking until I can experience it again? For me, the answer lies in being able to create something similar that is healthy, nourishing, fulfilling that can be eaten often without guilt or regret. So I made a pasta-less ravioli using a zucchini wrapper and I made this two ways : with and without dairy, because sometimes this girl loves a bite of cheese. I stuffed it with a mix of leafy greens and either real ricotta cheese or one made from cashews, and topped with a sage infused ghee based butter sauce and topped with walnuts and either parm or dairy-free cashew nut parm.

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All we are saying, is give peas a chance: Fresh green pea falafel with vadouvan spiced cashew cream and zucchini-nut hummus

This has been a monumental week in American history. People in my family will have the right to share the same privileges that I do with my significant other and Americans will continue to have access to healthcare. There is nothing more important than health. If we are sick, we cannot take care of ourselves or others. Maintaining our health – mentally and physically – is of paramount importance to be able to contribute to others and the world. I suffer from chronic depression, and for the most part is not apparent from the outside, but it is a part of my life. As I near the completion of the fourth decade of my life, I am able to better recognize the signs and symptoms and try to work through it, rather than feed into it, literally. When I suffer through a period where it lays a dark veil over my eyes, I crave comforting food that does not make me feel better. So I make every effort to create food that both comforts me, but lifts me up so that I can continue to work towards brighter days. One way to brighten up my life, is to brighten up my plate. Recently, on a work trip to Chicago, I dined at Trencherman, and had the most amazing green pea falafel with grilled carrots and a coconut, hemp, vadouvan spiced cream. As I took my first bite, my first thought was “OMG” and my second thought was I need to make this, my way – gluten-free, dairy-free and full of protein. It was comforting, satisfying, and keeps me light and happy, even during darker times.
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If I knew you were comin’ I’d’ve baked a cake, so I made a raw vegan strawberry brownie tart instead

It was 4 PM. My husband called to tell me that he was stuck in traffic and that new neighbors were coming over for dinner at 6 – he thought he planned enough food but was not sure. I unable to host people for dinner and not have enough food – it just goes against my nature. I opened the fridge and strawberries fell out everywhere thanks to our recent strawberry harvest. The first thing that came to mind was chocolate covered strawberries, but I was really craving brownies…so I decided to make a nut-based vegan chocolate brownie tart with strawberry lemon cashew creme – gluten, dairy and soy-free using dates for sweetness.

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