I have learned to cherish leftovers in a whole new way over the past seven months. Things can get crazy over here (in the best kind of way) trying to juggle school, teaching, blogging, working, AND attempting to have some kind of a social life. As much as I love making new recipes and playing around in the kitchen, I very often have to rely on leftovers to be my meals, or to become the ingredients for new meals.
This kind of makes me feel old. I used to cook new recipes on weekdays regularly, but I think those times are dwindling. I just don’t have the same time or energy I used to… WHAT IS THIS “BEING AN ADULT” THING AND HOW DO I END IT?
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.
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 3 cups peeled and chopped butternut squash (about 1 small squash)
- 2 tbs. melted butter
- 1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 egg
- 1 tbs. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb. lean ground turkey
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup cooked kidney beans
- 3/4 cup sweet corn kernels
- 1 canned chipotle pepper, minced + 3 tsp. sauce from the can
- 2 tbs. tomato paste
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. cumin
- Preheat oven to 400˚F.
- Bring potatoes and squash to boil in a pot of water.
- While boiling, heat olive oil and garlic in a deep skillet over low heat.
- Add ground turkey, raising heat to medium. Break up meat and stir until browned.
- Add onion, stirring occasionally until onions begin to soften and become translucent. Add beans and corn.
- Stir in minced chipotle, chipotle sauce, tomato paste, and broth. Make sure the liquid combines evenly.
- Once broth has mostly cooked off, add paprika and cumin, and stir to combine. Lower heat, and let sit for a few minutes.
- 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.
- 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)!
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until topping begins to brown.
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.
- 3-4 Gala, Macintosh, or Honeycrisp apples (or a combination)
- 2 tbs. coconut oil
- Apple Pie spice blend
- 2 slices nitrate-free pork or turkey bacon
- 1/2 tbs maple syrup
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3/4 cup extra sharp white cheddar, shredded
- Preheat oven to 225˚F.
- Using a mandoline or sharp knife, carefully cut the apples into very thin slices.
- Arrange apple slices on baking sheets that have been lined with foil and greased (I use coconut oil spray).
- 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.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of apple pie spice over the apples, then follow with a sprinkling of cinnamon.
- 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."
- Cook your bacon in a frying pan over medium-high heat, flipping until cooked through and browning on both sides.
- Remove from heat. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to let cool and dry.
- Remove half of the leftover fat from your pan.
- Add maple syrup, and stir to combine.
- Add rosemary, cooking on medium heat until rosemary leaves become dark and crispy.
- Carefully transfer rosemary to the same paper-towel lined plate as the bacon.
- Once bacon and rosemary have cooled, chop them to your liking and set aside.
- Assemble one layer of apple chips onto a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle on half of the cheese and rosemary/bacon mixture. Repeat.
- Return nachos to oven until cheese begins to melt. Put the oven on broil for 1-2 minutes, or until cheese starts to bubble.
- Remove from oven and serve immediately.
In my first week as a graduate student, I realized that I haven’t really been properly warned about a lot of really RANDOM things. In no particular order:
1) Nobody warned me that on some days, my violin just won’t love me back.
2) Nobody warned me that ceramic knives are just as good at slicing fingers as they are onions.
3) Nobody warned me that someone would come to my door claiming to be MY electric company and SOMEHOW convince me to sign up for a DIFFERENT electric company. (Note to self: Don’t be so nice – you live in New York now. Your idea of “rude” is everyone else’s normal.)
4) Nobody warned me that I would see TIM GUNN in the book store while going to pick up How Sweet Eats’s new cookbook. I have also seen him in public once before, at a train station in Philly. Unfortunately, my outfit was not “making it work” either time, so I’ve never gone up to him. Potentially awesome selfies with Tim Gunn: 2. Awesome selfies with Tim Gunn? 0.
5) After a few weeks of not getting to yoga, nobody warned me that this evening’s yoga class would be changed from “Mixed Level” to “Vinyasa.” Woops. My legs are gummi worms.
6) Finally, nobody warned me that organic whole chickens cost upwards of $27.00. Can’t a girl just get her roasted chicken on without having to file for bankruptcy? Damn. So, instead of doing the wise thing and buying the chicken and having meat for the week, yours truly bought a half pound of wild sockeye salmon for $9.00 and had enough fish for two meals… Practical. But what I did with that salmon. Ooooh, what I did with that salmon…. Crispy Honey Maple Dijon Salmon (serves 1-2) (GF):
- 1/2 lb. wild salmon, whole or cut into 2 filets
- 1/2 tbs. dijon mustard
- 1/4 tbs. pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp. honey
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
If making two filets, cut salmon in half before preparing. With the skin side facing down, coat the flesh of the salmon with a sprinkling of olive oil, spreading to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Combine mustard, maple syrup, and honey. Drizzle on top of salmon. In a skillet over medium-low heat, place the filet(s) skin side up so that the flesh is being seared. Cook until the flesh becomes light orange all the way up to the skin, about 5-7 minutes. I covered the pan in the last minute or so to speed along the process. Remove the skin, and then remove the filets from the pan to serve. I served it with coconut cilantro jasmine rice and a kale-onion-garlic stir fry. One super tasty example of when frugality just isn’t necessary.
I do have plenty of good tidbits to report, however.
1) I was able to free up my afternoons and leave more time for building up a private teaching studio here in New York City. Anybody need some violin lessons? 🙂
2) I met up with an Instagram friend, Drew (@thatviolakid) and went busking in Washington Square park last week, which was a BLAST. Drew is an incredibly talented violist at Juilliard, and regularly offers useful, inspirational tips for his Instagram followers. How fortunate that I’ve only been in school for a week, and already I’m meeting wonderful musicians and having great playing opportunities! It was also fascinating to observe the culture on the streets of NYC while standing in one place. It all just plays out in front of you.
3) I won a string lottery at school orientation, and coincidentally won a pack of the gut strings I already use (which are super expensive but yet I still justify buying repeatedly, because they sound like butter and honey made a baby in audible form). For the freakin’ WIN.
5) I currently have breakfast plans tomorrow at a place called “Oatmeals.” Which is, as you may have guessed, an OATMEAL BAR. I heard about the place through a fellow blogger, and I literally could not imagine a more perfect food establishment.
6) It’s September, so it’s time for pumpkin to start reappearing. Which means summer is fading, which is FABULOUS, because I’m kinda done with summer. The season was pretty good to me in general, but I had to turn my life upside down in the middle of it. So to me, the return of pumpkin is vaguely symbolic of a return to normalcy. Therefore, I did two awesome things to honor pumpkin this week.
First there was this stack of super sexy whole wheat pumpkin pancakes. With a syrup pour that might be borderline NSFW.
Pumpkin Spice Pancakes (makes 8 mini pancakes):
- 1/2 cup whole wheat or oat flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract (may sub. vanilla)
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- ~1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tsp coconut oil, divided
Combine all ingredients (except almond milk/coconut oil) in a small mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add almond milk until the batter is a pourable consistency (~1/3 cup, probably more). Over medium heat, melt half of the coconut oil in a large skillet or griddle pan. Create four small pancakes using a 1/4 cup measure, and flip when the edges look dry (about 2-3 mins each side). Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with pure maple syrup.
Then, I made oil-free pumpkin bread. It turned out kind of dry, so I won’t give you a recipe. But it has been awwwwwesome re-toasted in the morning, and I’ve been putting alllll of the things on it. And by all of the things, I mean different flavors of peanut butter. Usually with blueberry jam. But sometimes with roasted bananas. I can be adventurous.
Speaking of roasted bananas, I also figured out that they are more than amazing when put on COLD cereal. If you were ever into banana-flavored milk as a kid (or even if you weren’t… this is better) you NEED to try this.
Roasted Bananas (Vegan/GF):
- 1 large ripe banana, sliced into coins
- 1 tsp. coconut oil
- cinnamon to taste
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Warm the coconut oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add bananas. once they start to sizzle, add cinnamon and vanilla. With a ripe banana, no need for any added sweetness!
Okay, so I’m ALMOST out of things to share with you, but if you’re still with me and haven’t already left the building, here’s one more recipe. The last thing I’ve noticed being a graduate student is that I’m no longer in such a hurry to be an adult. Yes, the drive to succeed and build a career for myself is all still there, but I miss the days when I was a happily oblivious six-year-old and didn’t know what bills were and how to pay them. And when I was six years old, I also loooooved chicken nuggets. Dinosaur-shaped nuggets, to be specific. But now that we know what actually goes into those chicken nuggets, I prefer to pass. See? Life was so simple when I didn’t know what pink slime was (side note: does anybody really know EXACTLY what it is? I think that’s why it’s so scary…). And last week, after a long day of really hard placement tests, all I wanted to do was go back to first grade. So I made tofu nuggets. AND baked curly fries using my veggie spiralizer. If I’d only had a coloring book to go along with this meal, I would have been set.
Tofu Nuggets (Vegan/GF):
- 1 block extra-firm tofu, drained of liquid
- 1/3 cup oats
- 1/3 cup organic yellow cornmeal
- Extra virgin olive oil (~2 to 3 tbs. total)
- Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning, cayenne pepper, sea salt, and pepper to taste
Cube the drained tofu into thick chunks, about 1 inch long x 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. In a food processor, combine cornmeal and oats. Pulse until oats are crumbly. Add smoke seasoning, cayenne (sparingly!), sea salt, and pepper to taste. Toss the tofu cubes in about 1-2 tbs. of the oil, then transfer cubes to a bowl with the oat mixture, and toss gently to combine, being careful not to break up the tofu. Prepare a large pan with a very slight coating of olive oil. With the heat on medium, place the nuggets into the pan, rotating them occasionally until all sides are golden brown and crispy. Served here with some Annie’s organic ketchup, the baked “curly fries,” and garlicky kale.
…OK, I lied, there’s one more thing.
Make a mixing bowl salad. Put roasted chickpeas on it. (1 can chickpeas rinsed and drained + olive oil + salt + pepper + smoke seasoning in a 425˚F oven until creeeespy. Toss frequently and monitor to prevent burning.) Oh so fresh, oh so healthy, oh so satisfying.
And now, off to go find that coloring book.
Back-to-school season. It’s a time for new backpacks, pencils, and books, and a time for that new jean jacket that you wear on the first day “because it’s Fall,” but in reality, is pretty weather-inappropriate. It’s also the return of lunch-packing season.
I have a love/hate relationship with packing my own lunches. On one hand, I love knowing it’s healthier and that the portions are better. And, I feel way more organized when I have my own food packed away. But on the other hand, I just really stink at creativity when it comes to packing lunch. I think to myself, “What if I actually looked forward to something new in my lunch? What if it wasn’t always some variation on greens + protein + beans + grains + avocado + hotsauce? WHAT IF?! The struggle is
real completely first-world.