The Hungry Musician

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Chipotle Butternut Squash Shepherd’s Pie

If I were to try to come up with a list of quintessential Fall flavors, I think “spice” would be on the top of the list. Even more important than pumpkin, you say? Well… Yeah. Let’s be honest, pumpkin without spice is kinda like halloween without candy. You can try to fool yourself, but it’s just not as delicious.

Pumpkin spice is also EVERYwhere. And you have to branch out sometime, right? How timely that this month’s Recipe ReDux challenge, “Spooky Spices,” challenged us to do something new with spice. I have never made a Shepherd’s Pie either, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re not exactly the first thing you think of when you hear the word “spices.” But I don’t like going with the norm, so here we are.


I first got the idea while sitting in the airport this weekend waiting for a delayed flight. I was watching “Cutthroat Kitchen” on Netflix (which, by the way, is the best show EVER) and the contestants had to make Shepherd’s Pie amidst a whole slew of sabotages. One guy got his potato privileges revoked and used egg whites to make a meringue topping (ew), and another guy was forced to replace all his protein with beef jerky (EW). This got me thinking, though – what would I have made? It’s fall, and there are so many beautiful varieties of squash available. And so, it was decided – butternut squash Shepherd’s Pie.


For the filling, I used a spice that’s kind of “spooky” for me – Chipotle. I have used dried chipotle powder before (like in this empanada recipe) but I’ve never gone hardcore and used the actual pepper. So, I bought a can of chipotles. Hooooly moly. So spicy. So smoky. Sooooo delicious. I also used another “spooky” ingredient, but it wasn’t a spice – butter. I. KNOW. I don’t think ONE recipe on this blog so far has included butter. But, slowly and surely, I’m starting to appreciate “real” foods that are also for once-in-a-while use, like butter and full-fat dairy products. As long as we don’t go into full Paula Deen mode, butter and I will probably keep our relationship in a healthy place.

This dish came out so unbelievably flavorful and delicious. It’s not your typical Shepherd’s Pie… Dare I say it may be better? The chipotle makes the filling stand-over-the-skillet-and-nosh good, and the squash makes for a deliciously smooth, sweet, and fluffy topping. Can you say go-to meal until further notice? It’s THAT good.


Chipotle Butternut Squash Shepherd's Pie
Serves 8
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Prep Time
45 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
45 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
  1. 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
  2. 3 cups peeled and chopped butternut squash (about 1 small squash)
  3. 2 tbs. melted butter
  4. 1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  5. salt and pepper, to taste
  6. 1 egg
  7. 1 tbs. olive oil
  8. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  9. 1 lb. lean ground turkey
  10. 1 large red onion, diced
  11. 1/2 cup cooked kidney beans
  12. 3/4 cup sweet corn kernels
  13. 1 canned chipotle pepper, minced + 3 tsp. sauce from the can
  14. 2 tbs. tomato paste
  15. 3/4 cup chicken broth
  16. 1 tsp. paprika
  17. 1 tsp. cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  2. Bring potatoes and squash to boil in a pot of water.
  3. While boiling, heat olive oil and garlic in a deep skillet over low heat.
  4. Add ground turkey, raising heat to medium. Break up meat and stir until browned.
  5. Add onion, stirring occasionally until onions begin to soften and become translucent. Add beans and corn.
  6. Stir in minced chipotle, chipotle sauce, tomato paste, and broth. Make sure the liquid combines evenly.
  7. Once broth has mostly cooked off, add paprika and cumin, and stir to combine. Lower heat, and let sit for a few minutes.
  8. Once squash and potatoes are cooked through, drain thoroughly. Mash until smooth with a fork, and then add the butter and cheese and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Once the mixture has somewhat cooled, add egg and combine well.
  9. Pour meat mixture into a casserole dish and distribute the squash topping evenly over the top. Be sure to lock in the meat mixture, so none of the juice will bubble up to the top (learned this the hard way)!
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until topping begins to brown.

Pumpkin Spice Noodle Kugel (Dairy Free)

“By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the National Pasta Association and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

As a born-and-raised member of a Reform Jewish family, I know how and what it’s like to consistently leave family events in pants that are suddenly 3 sizes smaller. Especially after Yom Kippur, which was last weekend. 

For those unfamiliar with this Jewish holiday, it’s the “Day of Atonement.” We fast for 24 hours to repent, and then consume two days’ worth of calories once the sun sets and the day is officially over. I never QUITE understood that. I mean, doesn’t it kind of defeat the logic of having just said you’re sorry for every bad thing you did during the year, to then go and eat ALL the things?  Also, nowhere in the Torah is it written that “you shall each consume one too many sesame bagels with whitefish salad, and half of a brisket.” But, overeating tends to be one of our greatest (?) talents, and this tradition is certainly no exception! And of course, any occasion to eat all together as a family is also one to celebrate (translation: …overeat).


When I heard that this month’s sponsored contest for the Recipe Redux was being hosted by The National Pasta Association, I think “excited” was an understatement. Everyone loves pasta – literally. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t. I personally love pasta, because you can do SO much with it. It’s quick, easy, versatile, and helps you get in your carbs! I like carbs.

It’s apparently National Pasta Month this month, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by eating a ton of pasta. So, when my mom called to tell me we would be hosting this year’s break-fast and she wanted me to cook, I knew exactly what to do.


Noodle kugel is one of my favorite Jewish cultural dishes of all time. It’s a casserole type of thing made with egg noodles, eggs, and usually cream or cheese with a buttery streuselesque topping. Basically, a custardy, egg noodle crumble, which can be sweet OR savory. Awesome, right? Now, we’re trying to thin things out a little bit, so some exchanges had to be made, but the recipe still kept ALL of its flavor. It was indeed quite awesome.

For this dish, I decided to go into FULL ON yoga-pants-and-Uggs-wearing, top-knot-sporting Autumnophile mode. You guessed it: Pumpkin Spice. It’s like, so Fall, I legit can’t even. What’s better than pumpkin, spices, pasta, and a flaky, nutty, golden crust? WITH RAISINS THAT HAVE BEEN COOKED IN BOOZE SPRINKLED ALL THROUGHOUT? …How about all of those things in a dish that you can feel good about?


If it were acceptable to hug a kugel, I would hug this one. If it were acceptable to marry a kugel, I would marry this one. (Take note scruffy Jewish doctors, circa 6’0″ – you have some competition.)


Pumpkin Spice Noodle Kugel
Serves 16
A healthier twist on a classic Jewish dish!
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
  1. 1 lb. whole wheat egg noodles, cooked
  2. --
  3. 3/4 cup red wine
  4. 3/4 cup raisins
  5. 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  6. 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  7. 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
  8. --
  9. 1 cup pumpkin purée
  10. 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  11. 1/3 cup coconut cream*
  12. 1/3 cup honey
  13. 6 eggs (opt. 3 eggs + 6 whites)
  14. 1 + 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  15. 1 tsp. cinnamon
  16. --
  17. 2 cups organic corn flake cereal
  18. 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  19. 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  20. 1/4 - 1/3 cup honey
  21. Cinnamon to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Drain completely and let dry.
  3. While noodles are cooking, bring wine, raisins, and spices to a simmer in a large saucepan. Lower heat, and stir occasionally until wine is thick, syrupy, and completely reduced. Remove from heat.
  4. Combine pumpkin and coconut oil and whisk to combine.**
  5. Stir coconut cream, honey, eggs, and spices into pumpkin mixture.
  6. Add raisins and noodles to pumpkin mixture and toss to coat.
  7. In a separate bowl, combine the corn flakes, walnuts, honey, and coconut oil.
  8. Grease a large, shallow casserole dish with coconut oil or nonstick spray. Add pumpkin noodle mixture to the dish, and sprinkle the corn flake topping evenly over the noodles. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until the mixture is totally set and the topping is golden brown.
  1. *To get coconut cream, leave a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight to separate. The cream is the solid part.
  2. **Make sure your pumpkin puree is at room temperature before adding the coconut oil, or else the melted oil may solidify!
Adapted from Jenessa's Dinners / Meal and a Spiel
Adapted from Jenessa's Dinners / Meal and a Spiel

Organization ≠ Perfection: A Journey in Self-Discipline

When I decided on a whim last year to apply for graduate school right away, the process was exactly as crazy as you would expect. It seemed as if there was so much to accomplish, and so little time in which to accomplish it. I mean, life always feels that way, right? And sometimes, it’s true. But other times, it really does only FEEL that way. So, I bought a planner. I started organizing my day into chunks, hour by hour, in order to fit in everything I needed to do. This seriously changed my life forever. To this day, I still make daily, handwritten schedules. On some rare days, I am able to follow them to a “T,” but when I can’t, I love the security of knowing my own time like the back of my hand, and being able to see it in writing when I don’t. What can I say, I’m the daughter of a professional organizer (literally).

 Having this kind of awareness of my own schedule keeps me productive and accountable. However, as you may recall from a post I wrote about a year ago, this system has already backfired on me once. I got caught up trying to be this perfectly scheduled robot, and when I couldn’t do it (surprise!), I felt like a failure. I was forgetting about this little thing called “life” that happens, which DOESN’T come made up of calculated hours with predetermined outcomes. There’s ebb and flow, and there is ALWAYS room for error somewhere.

Now, let me tell you about another handy little tool I keep close to my heart: a practice journal. When I was preparing repertoire for graduate auditions (…and summer festival auditions, and a senior recital – AAACK!), the journal helped me to keep track of how I was using my practice time. I was able to keep myself accountable, and control my time management and concentration better in the practice room. Lo and behold, I got into graduate school, (some) summer festivals, and had a pretty successful recital.  This little guy was my new best friend in the whole world… Or so I thought. 

As best friends sometimes do, we parted ways for a bit this summer. Then, summer faded into school, and my schedule started up once again.

This week, I was to bring the complete first movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto to my lesson. My own personal goal? To bring ALL 21 pages memorized. It was a task I believed I could handle if I organized my time. Besides, at least half of it was already memorized. So, out came my little buddy PJ. I wrote down my weekly goals, broke them down into daily goals via sections/pages, and then designated them over the week based on how busy my schedule was each day. I also included time each day for reviewing every section, hopefully ensuring that I wouldn’t “lose” my work from one day to the next. (See picture above.)

Then, my plan backfired. It backfired so. Freaking. Hard.

Last night, I was reviewing my work from the week - a plan executed straight out of my practice journal. At that moment, I realized that I hadn’t played the first half in a few days. “No big deal,” I thought. “It’s already memorized!” …Not as well as I’d thought, apparently. By this point, it was too late to fix. Besides, I was already behind in memorizing the second half. I had been SO caught up in making every passage perfect that I had accidentally neglected spots that I didn’t even KNOW needed work. So, I spent my evening on the verge of a full-fledged Sarah-style breakdown. I’m only kind of dramatic sometimes.

So, I shared my struggle with practice journaling from this week with my teacher prior to playing my lesson, and she explained that it was because the approach I’d taken had been too mathematical. Deep down, I knew this, but to hear the words out loud made so much sense. In my attempt to work hard this week, I actually ended up overworking the wrong things. So, what did I learn from this?

My practice journal, similar to my planner, is NOT a vehicle with which to attempt perfection, because perfection IS NOT POSSIBLE.

During my audition process, I used PJ very well as a reference, logging hours, and taking notes on what needed work – AFTER the fact. By predetermining what I THOUGHT needed to get done this week (which in reality was absolutely unrealistic, and in hindsight, unnecessary), I really screwed myself over and made myself nuts for no reason. Goal setting is only productive when the goals are in reach. Lofty is one thing, but impossible is another.

This brings me to the moral (and title) of this post: Organization ≠ Perfection. “Perfect” doesn’t exist… It’s just REALLY not a thing. The reason why we organize and budget our time is to achieve OUR BEST. Clearly, my own personal best for this week was not quite where I thought it could be – and that’s OK. But my over-calculated approach and inflexibility affected my ability to see that and get results. 

They say hindsight is 20/20, but I’m happy to say that my foresight is catching up. Going into this week (and every week from now on), I will make a promise to myself not be concerned with having every note be perfect every time. I will not let myself get frazzled, and will practice mindfully. I will continue to use my practice journal to set long/short-term goals, but will NOT over-calculate or sacrifice the music as a result. Also, if my goals end up being unreasonable, I will have the good sense to reevaluate them and keep the integrity of the final product in mind.

With that said, I’m off to practice some Tchaikovsky! ;)


Spiced Apple and Candied Rosemary Nachos

You guys.





I don’t know why, but I feel like the Recipe Redux monthly challenges have become an excuse for me to go all out. I’m a fairly new member, so maybe the enthusiasm will fade out eventually… HA, who am I kidding. GIVE ME ALLLL OF THE CHALLENGES.

This month’s challenge was called “Get Your Dehydrator On.” It’s kind of funny, because when I saw that, my VERY first thought was, “I really don’t drink enough water.” It’s true. I try, and then don’t. Can I submit a recipe for how to make a me? One dehydrated violinist coming right up.

Then I got serious (for once) and went through all the things in my mind I knew I could dehydrate in my oven, since I don’t have a dehydrator. My first thought was fruit leather. I’ve been seeing DIY fruit leathers everywhere, and even considered making a healthy rainbow fruit rollup made with all different colored fruits. (I should still do that…) But fruit leathers take 6-7 hours to bake on like 25˚F, and ain’t NOBODY got time for that in a graduate classical performance program. 

And so, my mind wandered again, this time to something with fall flavors, because I am THE reason for memes about annoying autumnophiles.

Apple chips. YES! Now we’re talking. But apple chips by themselves are just so… Eh. I thought of making some dipping sauces, but also… Eh. And then I just did word association to see what I could do with my [apple] chips:

“Chips — Salsa?” Meh.

“Chips — Hummus?” Haha. Ew.

“Chips — Queso Dip?” Nope.

“Chips — Guac?” Maybe… but no.

“Chips — Nachos?” …OH YES.


Apples and cheese are actually a KILLER combo. Why do you think they put them together on cheese plates?! So now I had my idea – but what else goes with fruit and cheese? Meat and herbs. Ok. I was going to use sage, but my local market didn’t have any, so rosemary it was. And well, bacon goes with just about everything I could think of, so that was easy. The sweet and savory combination just sounded like too much to handle. It almost was.

Now… I know, bacon. It’s not the first thing you think of when you hear “healthy.” But bacon (without nitrates, preservatives, or junk added) is widely considered a “real” food. Which makes it A-OK in my book, at least for a once in a while type of thing. And these nachos really really REALLY wanted me to make an exception for them.

And that candied rosemary? I broke rules. I reserved a bit of the bacon fat, added maple syrup, and cooked the rosemary leaves in it… Ok, I’ll just call it what it actually was – FRYING. The end result yielded crunchy-chewy candied rosemary leaves from heaven though, so I’m not at all sorry. 

Also, you can stop worrying and feel good about the whole thing, because the “chips” are really just fruit. Right? Right.


Spiced Apple and Candied Rosemary Nachos
Serves 2
Don't question it. Just do it.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
  1. 3-4 Gala, Macintosh, or Honeycrisp apples (or a combination)
  2. 2 tbs. coconut oil
  3. Apple Pie spice blend
  4. Cinnamon
  5. 2 slices nitrate-free pork or turkey bacon
  6. 1/2 tbs maple syrup
  7. 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  8. 3/4 cup extra sharp white cheddar, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 225˚F.
  2. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, carefully cut the apples into very thin slices.
  3. Arrange apple slices on baking sheets that have been lined with foil and greased (I use coconut oil spray).
  4. Sprinkle coconut oil evenly over all the apples. I had two baking sheets, so I used 1 tbs. per each. Rub the coconut oil in to make sure it's evenly distributed.
  5. Sprinkle a thin layer of apple pie spice over the apples, then follow with a sprinkling of cinnamon.
  6. Bake for about 1 hour, flipping the apples halfway through. If any apples start to brown before the hour is up, remove them early and let them cool to avoid burning. Let all the apple chips cool out of the oven and dry out for about 10 minutes before assembling the "nachos."
  7. Cook your bacon in a frying pan over medium-high heat, flipping until cooked through and browning on both sides.
  8. Remove from heat. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to let cool and dry.
  9. Remove half of the leftover fat from your pan.
  10. Add maple syrup, and stir to combine.
  11. Add rosemary, cooking on medium heat until rosemary leaves become dark and crispy.
  12. Carefully transfer rosemary to the same paper-towel lined plate as the bacon.
  13. Once bacon and rosemary have cooled, chop them to your liking and set aside.
  14. Assemble one layer of apple chips onto a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle on half of the cheese and rosemary/bacon mixture. Repeat.
  15. Return nachos to oven until cheese begins to melt. Put the oven on broil for 1-2 minutes, or until cheese starts to bubble.
  16. Remove from oven and serve immediately.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough “Ice Cream”

You’ve seen it on Pinterest.

I know you have… It’s everywhere.


Banana “ice cream” is a huge fad now, and for good reason – you can do pretty much anything with it, and it (basically) tastes like you’re eating soft serve ice cream. And I LOVE that, for a lot of reasons. Need I count the ways?

  1. It’s a great way to sneak in a serving of fruit, especially if you’re not a banana person. The cold temperature takes out most of the banana-y flavor. Take it from a person who’s not a fan of eating bananas by themselves. 
  2. It’s naturally sweet. Just like meee! (…If it’s a Friday and I’ve eaten recently.)
  3. It’s dairy free, for all those sensitive tummies out there.
  4. No fancy equipment needed. There are some fun contraptions out there specifically designed for banana ice cream, but an electric OR manual food processor works just as well.
  5. It’s another way to use up those spotty, soft bananas. 
  6. You can add anything you want into or on top of it. Healthy Coldstone? YES. PLEASE.
  7. My favorite part – it’s SINGLE SERVING. You use one frozen banana, and then don’t have to fight the irresistible pull of a carton.


After all this glorification of banana ice cream, I WOULD be lying to you if I said that it’s exactly the same as ice cream. Ice cream certainly has its special time and place – like, melting over the top of a warm slice of pie on Thanksgiving, or when the Mr. Softee truck comes by on July 4th. Or, when you and your friends want to cry together and watch movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels. (Ben and Jerry’s was a stereotypical post-breakup staple in college for our group of friends, second only to the Whole Foods salad bar… We weren’t very consistent.) For the other 99% of your life though, I promise that banana ice cream can perfectly satisfy your frozen dairy craving.


This recipe is so simple, I almost feel bad calling it a recipe. But I swear to you, it actually tastes like cookie dough ice cream. I ate this about 3 times last week, and regret absolutely nothing. So go forth, and go bananas.



Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough "Ice Cream"
Serves 1
Cookie dough ice cream alternative with a raw, vegan, no sugar added, dairy free base!
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Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
5 min
  1. 1 banana, frozen in coins
  2. 1/3 date and cashew bar, chopped (I used a "Cashew Cookie" Larabar)
  3. 1 tbs. dark chocolate or carob chips
  4. ~1/2 tsp. almond milk or water, if needed for blending
  1. Add frozen banana, chocolate, and date bar to a food processor, blending on low until bananas are smooth. If the mixture is too crumbly, add almond milk or water to assist with blending. If you want chunkier mix ins, blend bananas first until almost smooth, then add the chocolate and date bar and pulse until broken up. Serve immediately.
  1. For easier blending, freeze the banana coins on a flat surface or spread out individually in a freezer-safe bag.