Budget Update & Meal Plan for March 26-April 1

This is the first week in my long stretch of tech weeks/internship weeks that will have me getting home later and be major shifts in my usual schedule.  I’m planning to do a lot more  meals in the slow cooker, and also batch cook when I can–for instance, I cooked up twice the amount of chicken thighs when I was making Coq Au Vin last Friday.  While half the batch stewed in the wine sauce, I just  set the rest in a skillet, cooking plain.  Without much extra effort, I had cooked chicken for our Caesar Salads last night and I still have some cooked chicken for tonight’s quesadillas.  It makes dinner comes together in a matter of minutes!  These next few weeks are going to be focused on simple, quick dinners that can give us lots of lunch leftovers.

I am also recognizing that simple, but flavorful might mean relying on some more prepared ingredients, like the beans in tomato sauce on this week’s plan.   I could have made a sauce and added beans and simmered and all that…or I can open a can and heat the contents for an equally tasty dinner.  It’s all about keeping the balance.  Sometimes, that balance requires a little compromise in the form of extra cost, but, thankfully, not this week!  I was delighted to be able to fit a serious stock-up into this week’s budget.  Getting most of our groceries from our local asian market allowed me to keep the extra few dollars to get tamarin, rice vinegar, and sesame oil!  Just like dairy products, all of my specialty sauces seem to run out at the same time.  These ingredients are easy to stretch and asian dishes are usually easy and quick to cook!  I expect to see a lot of wok-ed stir fries, curries, and noodles on our meal plans for the next couple of weeks.  I also was able to grab a package of rice noodles, although we won’t even touch them this week.  Several other items, like the sour cream, cheese, onions, and sausage will even stretch into next week as well.

On Monday, we are seeing my mother and sister while M tries out his Bulgogi recipe.  Since we are feeding 5 people, we allowed a portion of the meal to come out of another budget.  We have rice in the pantry, and I included most of the accompanying vegetables and sauce ingredients into our normal $50 budget, but the meat will be paid for through our ‘splurge’ fund.  Also, Saturday is an extra long day.  I’ll know that I will be out and about at dinnertime.  We should have enough leftovers for me to bring, or I should be able to make a sandwich as well, but I may just pick up food along the way.

I’m excited to use a few new products this week: most specifically those Giant Baked Beans.  The last time that I was in Trader Joe’s, they actually had a truly gluten-free sample: these beans paired with sausage.  It was delicious and I’m excited to recreate it at home.  I love cassoulet-type dishes, with sausage and beans, and I think it will be a perfect scoop on top of polenta!  When on a budget, grains/carb-y stretches like potatoes are a necessity, in order to keep meals affordable, yet filling.  I’m doing my best to keep our carb sources varied, hence the addition of polenta.  We are also on a serious tofu kick around here.  I finally found an extra-firm variety at our asian market, so that saved me about $0.80 off of purchasing it from Trader Joe’s or Giant (my Aldi still does not carry tofu).

Here is how we spent this week:

receipts

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

Lotte Asian Market: $17.46

Aldi: $11.13

Trader Joe’s: $6.12

Total: $49.71

Here’s what we got:

groceries 3.26

Hungry Harvest Box:  2 ears corn, broccoli, 1 red onion, 2 (small) avocados, 2 apples, 3 yellow squash, 2 peppers, 1/2 lb kale

Lotte Asian Market: red lettuce, coconut milk, green onions, 3 lbs onions, sesame oil, tamarin, rice vinegar, rice noodles, bananas, tofu

Aldi: cheddar cheese, italian sausage, gluten-free bread, sour cream

Trader Joe’s: polenta, 2 cans Giant Baked Beans

And here’s how we’ll use it:

Sunday: Chicken & Roasted Veggie Quesadillas with Corn Salad and Mango using some chicken thighs from last week, plus one of the peppers and one of the onions and some of the broccoli, chopped up with the cheese in tortillas from the pantry.  We have the sour cream for topping.  I’ll use last week’s tomatoes and this week’s corn and a little onion in a salad with a basic pantry vinaigrette, plus we have last week’s mango as a sweet finish to the meal.

Monday: Bulgogi with Rice & Lettuce Wraps  We’ll be at my mom’s, as I mentioned.  We’ll bring the lettuce and green onions, and use the asian sauces + onions in the marinade on Monday morning.

Tuesday: Sausage and Giant Beans in Tomato Sauce over Polenta, with Kale Salad  as mentioned, some of the sausage and all of the beans will be a topping for seared polenta rounds.  I’ll also make our favorite kale salad with another basic pantry vinaigrette, with some bread crumbs, and some parmesan, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds from the pantry.

Wednesday: Veggie + Tofu Curry and Rice  using up the rest of the broccoli, pepper, and yellow squash, along with some onions, the tofu, the coconut milk and some rice and curry paste from the pantry.

Thursday: Citrus-Braised Pork Tacos with Slaw using some reserved, pre-cooked pork from the freezer.  I saved some when I made Chilaquiles a few weeks ago, so I’ll pickle some of that red onion for serving, along with the avocados and some tortillas from the pantry.  Again, I’ll use some pantry ingredients to make up a dressing for the rest of last week’s cabbage, to make a cole slaw.

Friday: Leftovers using up whatever remains from the week!

Saturday: Leftovers/Out

Breakfasts will be eggs+toast, yogurt+granola+fruit, or peanut butter & banana smoothies.  Lunches are mostly leftovers or sandwiches.


Budget Update & Meal Plan for March 19-25

I’ve gotten so much more careful with my food use since I started holding us to this tight budget.  I’m trying to be clever and creative so that all leftovers get eaten and every food item is stretched to provide the most sustenance for us.  This makes it much more upsetting when I encounter a crack in my plans…like when the last of the milk has gone sour, right on the day I was meant to use it up in cornbread muffins.  😦  Thankfully, I had enough sour cream, half-in-half, and–yes–water to make up for the milk in the recipe.  But it was still disappointing.  I knew it was nearing it’s turning point, and I purposefully moved the muffins up in my meal plan in order to use up the milk before it soured.  But my timing was still off.

As I said, I did still manage to make corn muffins, so not too much is lost, except for a little milk down the drain.  But it is interesting to see my thought process and values changing as we adjust to this new budget.  I’m accepting almost everything that is offered to me.  I’m certainly not begging, but I find myself taking advantage when I can.  My mom’s been collecting pieces in Safeway’s monopoly game, and she has handed a few of the “free item” coupons over to me when she doesn’t plan to use them.  I got a free avocado a few weeks ago and a box of English Breakfast Tea today.  Even though they are minor, it’s a nice little treat to get something that I wasn’t able to fit into the budget.  We aren’t eating poorly, or even boringly, but it’s nice to have an unexpected item to round out my meal plans every once in a while.

Officially, we don’t really have to follow this budget anymore.  I started this strict budget this year because I was feeling the pressure from a new medical bill.  My tax return this year was enough to cover it and, as of today, it is paid off in full.  But, I think I will stick to the plan for a while longer.  If I used to average about $70 per grocery trip last year, I should free up almost $100 a month as I continue to follow this budget.  It will be nice to properly and methodically save for some short-term goals, and I intend to do just that!  So, our $50 weekly budget will continue.  I think the smaller amount of money we can adjust to living on, the better.

I have to admit, I am still torn on bread.  It is tough to see almost 1/7 of my spending money go towards a loaf almost every week ($4 seems like an awful lot when you are only working with $35).  I tried to get into the routine of gluten-free sourdough, with which I had moderate success. But it eats up so much flour in order to strengthen the starter, and we don’t have quite enough time, nor eat enough baked goods to eat up the discard starter.  So it felt very wasteful, in flour and in money.  My non-sourdough loaves are nice for a change of pace, but don’t make for good sandwich bread (which is where most of the store-bought goes each week: into M’s lunchbox).  So for now, it is a price I have to adjust to, and one of the facts we have to live with, being gluten-intolerant.  The quality and price of gluten-free products is so much better than it used to be, but it is something that I have to contend with each week.  Thankfully, I’ve mostly forgotten how gluten-full products and prices compare.  So as long  as I avoid looking at those prices, it doesn’t get to me very much!

Here is my spending this week:

receipts

Hungry Harvest Box: $15.00

Aldi: $30.29

Trader Joe’s: $3.99

Total: $49.28

Here’s what we got:

groceries

(It looks like a lot this week.)

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 1 pint grape tomatoes, 1 head (local!) lettuce, 2 bell peppers, 1 lb red potatoes, 1 mango, 4 plums, 2 pears, 1/2 bunch green onions, 4 apples*, and 5 oranges*

*We requested not to get the eggplant this week and the apples AND the oranges were substituted in for it!  Makes me wonder how big that eggplant was, in order to equal 9 pieces of fruit?!

Aldi: 1.2 lb ground turkey, 5 lb chicken thighs ($0.69 per pound!), yogurt, sour cream, turkey lunch meat, white vinegar, cabbage, sliced almonds, white sugar, gluten-free bread, 2 lb carrots, red wine, 2 cans dice tomatoes, korma simmer sauce, and 1 can of chickpeas

Trader Joe’s: gluten-free rolled oats

And here is how we are eating this week:

Sunday: Turkey Chili + Cornbread Muffins Turkey was cheaper than beef, so it will get a splash  of worchestershire sauce to deepen the flavor, plus onion, diced tomatoes, carrots, and bell pepper.  I found a packet of GF chili seasoning in the pantry, which I use along with a little hot sauce to kick things up.  One the day we moved into our apartment, M’s mum made a big crockpot of chili for everyone, with chickpeas and fresh tomatoes.  It was SO GOOD (probably because we had just moved an entire apartment’s worth of furniture in a snowstorm), so I am adding the chickpeas to call back to that.  The cornbread muffins were primarily a way to use up our milk, but, as mentioned, plans had to change.  Thankfully, Aldi only has 16 oz sour creams, so I had enough to put into the muffins and still have enough for a dollop on the chili when serving.

Monday: Singapore Street Noodles with Tofu using the rest of last week’s tofu, along with some peppers, cabbage, carrots, and green onions.  This is the last of our stockpile of rice noodles from the pantry, and we still have plenty of sauce ingredients (tamari, etc) in the fridge.

Tuesday: Leftovers  M’s out.  More chili for me!

Wednesday: Crockpot Chicken Korma with Rice using the rest of last week’s fingerling potatoes, the rest of the bell peppers, some carrots and chicken.  I could have saved about $0.20 by getting a can of coconut milk and making the sauce myself with spices from the pantry, but I decided that my time was worth the $0.20 and grabbed this jar of pre-made korma sauce.

Thursday: Coq Au Vin with Mashed Red Potatoes I love Tieghen’s recipe, though I’m not putting that much butter into my potatoes this time around.  I’ll use the last of the sweet potatoes from a few weeks ago.

Friday: Chicken Caesar Salad I’m slightly risking the green lettuce by waiting until Friday, but this is the perfect simple dinner to whip up after my longer class.  Parmesan from last week and dressing from a few weeks ago.

Saturday: Leftovers/Pasta Whatever is scrounge-able!

I’m making a big batch of homemade granola and I’m saving the liquid from the chickpeas to try my hand at aquafaba meringues for the first time.  Wish me luck!

Breakfasts will be granola+yogurt+fruit or eggs+fruit.  Lunches are leftovers or sandwiches, along with more fruit and cucumbers left over from last week.  The sugar and vinegar is for my home-brewed kombucha, which is giving us about 80 oz a week for the cost of a couple teabags, a cup of sugar, and a few tablespoons of vinegar!


Simple Roast Chicken

roast chicken titleWe finally got our snow day on Tuesday, and I think it’s thrown off my whole week.  Monday was spent preparing for the storm (our work is tied heavily to the schools, so when they close, we are left with a lot of rescheduling) and then I feel like all of Wednesday was spent trying to get back into the groove.  But I did enjoy the day off!  It finally gave me a chance to mix up some homemade house cleaning and hair/skincare supplies.  I pulled most of my “recipes” from The Hand’s On Home, with which I am only slightly obsessed.  All of the various preserved recipes look amazing!  Considering that I’ve have breathing trouble the last few times that I’ve cleaned our bathroom (hello childhood asthma) I have really, really wanted to mix up a few sprays and scrubs made from gentler ingredients.  I now have a “grime spray” for the kitchen that is already working wonders on our glass stovetop, along with an all-purpose cleaning spray, a scrub for tougher stains, and an acidic spray to cut through soap scum.  I’m definitely willing to put in a little more elbow work if it means having the ability to breathe, so we’ll see how it goes!

roast chicken skin

Last week, a roast chicken was the focal point of my meal plan, with the meat going into another two dishes after the initial roasting night, plus the bones providing the base for several quarts of bone broth.  Now, I do realize that roast chicken recipes are a dime a dozen and range from “super” simple to the most complicated mix of flipping and brining and rubbing and soaking, all in order to get a nice golden bird with crispy skin and juicy meat.  Roasting a chicken was a little intimidating when I first tried it a few years ago, mostly just for the dense amount of conflicting information that I encountered.  I’ve honed my method of choice over the past few years, and I wanted to finally share it here.  Yes, it does involve a flip or two, but it only requires 5 ingredients (not including salt and pepper) and, in spite of the flip, is mostly hands off during the roasting time!

I’ve also included the most basic instructions for a drippings-based gravy, plus noted where I add in vegetables, when I decide to make those as well.  I’m certain you’ve already heard how well a roast chicken can be used when meal-planning and/or early frugally.  It can easily provide the protein for 3 meals, plus creating the base for a fourth meal if you make the bone broth.  A rotisserie chicken certainly saves time and effort, and can usually be grabbed for $5.  But, I’ve yet to encounter a rotisserie chicken that is clearly marked as being gluten-free.  Plus, I’ve found most rotisserie chicken’s clock in at about 3 pounds.  I’ll just note that my 5+ pounder was $5.05 and I can be absolutely certain that it is safe for me to eat.  That being said, if anyone has a reliable source for GF rotisserie chicken, let me know.  Because on some nights, my not having to do anything at all would totally be worth the extra dollar or two!

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Roast Chicken

Serves: 6+ | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 1.5-2 hours

  • 1 whole chicken, 5-6 lbs
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper

Place a metal cooling rack in a higher-walled baking dish (or use a roasting pan, if you have one).  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Mix together the butter, thyme leaves, garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

It is likely that your chicken still has the giblets and neck within the cavity.  Make sure to remove those.  You can simmer these in a small covered pot filled with water while the chicken roasts, to create a basic broth to use to make gravy for the chicken (if gravy is your thing–it certainly is a necessity in this house!)  Pat the chicken dry all over, including inside the cavity.  Cut the lemon into quarters and place within the cavity of the chicken.   Place the chicken in the pan, breast side up.

Now we want to get the butter underneath the skin of the chicken.  The butter will help to keep the meat from drying out and help to keep the skin crispy.  Win-win!   Starting at the tail end of the chicken, you should be able to pull up the skin away from the meat.  You might have a little resistance, but it should pull away.  (Cue me trying not to get too technical, for those who may be a little squeamish!)  Use a spoon (or honestly, your fingers) to spread the butter over the breast meat, beneath the skin.   You should be able to poke through the dividing layer to get between the skin and the leg meat, too.  Add a little butter there as well.  Certainly can’t hurt!  Sprinkle the rest of the salt and pepper over the outside of the chicken.  Truss the chicken.  I tried this method for the first time and was quite pleased with it.  It definitely keeps the skin from shrinking!

Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, to start the initial browning of the skin.  Remove the chicken from the oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees F.  Flip the chicken upside down, so that the breasts are down in the pan (I found it easiest to use tongs).  Place back in the oven and continue to cook.  You should bargain for 20 minutes per pound (So a 5-lb chicken should cook for 1 hour and 40 minutes.  A 6-lb chicken should cook for 2 hours.)  Make sure you do the math and set a timer! 🙂  If you want to add any vegetables to roast alongside your chicken, I like to give the chicken a headstart by about 30-40 minutes (if the roasting time is 90+ minutes), then add the chopped veggies into the pan around the chicken for the remainder of the roasting time.  Once the time is up, remove the chicken from the oven and use the tongs to flip breast-side-up.  Check that the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh has reached 160 degrees (it will raise to 165 degrees while it rests.)  If the skin is a little pale, go ahead and broil for a minute or two.  Just be sure to keep an eye on it!  After broiling (or not), pull the chicken out of the oven and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes.

While the chicken is resting, you can make gravy.  Spoon a tablespoon or two from the drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan into a large skillet over medium heat.  Add a spoonful or two of flour until it makes a roux.  Let this cook, stirring frequently, until the roux turns a light brown.  Add a little broth (from a carton or from the boiled giblets/chicken neck).  The paste will bubble and thicken.  Keep adding the broth bit by bit, stirring until smooth, until the gravy reaches your desired thickness.  Taste and salt/pepper if needed.  By now the chicken should be rested and ready to eat!

 


Updated Shepherd’s Pie

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We got our first snow of the year this week!  Just a dusting, but enough to make for a white morning.  It’s cold, but dry enough, so it doesn’t feel like that bitter, seeping chill.  Our winter has, otherwise, been fairly warm, so I’ll take it!  All through the fall, winter, and early spring, Shepherd’s Pie is in my rotation at least a few times each month.  It is one of a few select dishes that M and I will eat the leftovers with as much gusto as the fresh serving.  (Given that my lunches are alway leftovers, I relish when a dish is just as good the day after.)  Also, this recipe usually gives us between 6-8 servings, so it packs a real punch in my weekly meal plans.  Better yet, it’s not too hard to double the recipe and it freezes well. (Just thaw for 24 hours/overnight before reheating!)  Plus, I have successfully replaced half of the ground meat with finely chopped mushrooms and/or cooked lentils to great success.  Tasty? Check.  Reliable? Check! Cheap? Check!

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I’ve been making Shepherd’s Pie from memory for several years now, though I shared my recipe, here, a long time ago.  When M and I were planning for our trip to the beach house this year, we decided to make Shepherd’s Pie on our dinner shift.  I was totally surprised to find that I had organically adjusted from my original recipe without even noticing.  So here is how I make Shepherd’s pie now, in 2017.  As my friend pointed out, the big difference that makes this dish so good is that equal effort is put into seasoning and flavoring the potato topping as well as the meat, keeping the whole thing in balance and making every bite delicious!  (And in case you were wondering, it is pretty simple to multiply this recipe by 6, in order to feed 25 hungry people at once–just make sure you have big pans!)

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Shepherd’s Pie

Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 min. | Cook time: 30-40 min

For the Topping:

  •  1-1.5 lb potatoes (russets are ideal)
  • 4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1+ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
  • fresh chives, optional
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling

For the Filling:

  • -1 lb ground beef or ground lamb
  • -Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp/enough to coat the pan)
  • -1 large/2 medium carrot(s), finely chopped
  • -1 large yellow or white onion, finely diced
  • -1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -2 garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic, you can use less, to your taste)
  • -3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • -3-4 Tbsp Ketchup
  • -1/4 c red wine (I used a cabernet we had lying around)
  • -1/4 c chicken or beef broth/stock
  • -3/4 c. frozen green peas
  • salt & pepper

Start the potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes.  Place in a pot and cover with water an inch above the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are easily pierced by a fork.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the filling:

While the potatoes are cooking, add the oil to a hot pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions.  Sauté over medium-high for about five minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften, then add in the ground meat*.  Cook, stirring often to break up the minced meat.  Drain the fat if necessary.  Add the minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 1-2 minutes more until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, stirring well to coat the entire mixture.  Then add the wine, broth, and peas.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer while mashing the potatoes.

Make the potato topping:

Drain the potatoes and add in the remaining ingredients.  Mash together into one smooth mixture.  Taste and add more salt or pepper, if needed.

Finish Up:

By now, the liquid in your meat mixture should have reduced some.  In a well-oiled dish, layer first the meat mixture, then the potato topping.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is golden.

*If replacing half the meat: With mushrooms–add to the carrots and onions for the beginning, allowing the mushrooms to cook down before adding the meat.  With cooked lentils: add after all the meat has browned.

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Turkey-Broccoli Quiche (Thanksgiving Leftovers)

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Happy post-Thanksgiving, everyone!  Things got away from me in this past week or two.  Everything at work and school is starting to gear up.  We have three weeks until our performances and I have three/four weeks until my finals for my classes this semester.  Both of which include papers, on top of one final exam and one oral presentation.  I am desperately trying to make serious headway on both papers during my free time this weekend, but it will also be my only chance to decorate for Christmas and prep my food gifts (no telling what those will be, yet!).  I’m planning to make the dough for three different Christmas cookies tomorrow, which I will shape into cookies and pop in the freezer.  I know all three freeze beautifully and this will make things so much easier as the month goes on!  I might even make up a batch of my Cranberry Chutney, which is the ultimate sign that the Christmas season is here!

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We powered through our fundraiser for work last weekend, which went splendidly!  However, I felt my throat get a little sore throughout the day and by Monday I was knocked flat with some kind of winter muck.  A scratchy, painful throat that made my whole mouth hurt, some crazy body aches, super fatigued.  Ugh.  Thankfully, an afternoon of sleep, lots of soup, and a few eucalyptus & epsom salt baths got me back up on my feet to finish out this week and still get through my prep for Thanksgiving.  I still don’t know what it was, but I am hoping I avoided catching my coworker’s bronchitis and, instead, just picked up a bug off one of our students.  My asthma and allergies make me very prone to bronchitis and pneumonia, but this hasn’t really moved down into my chest as bronchitis normally would, so I do think I got lucky and it’s just a bad cold!

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Anyways, on to more pleasant topics!  Thanksgiving at M’s mum’s house ended up having 18 people and was, all-in-all, stress-free.  We had a few sticky moments when politics and other controversies came up (it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it, huh?) and trying to get the massive 21 lb turkey in the oven in time, but otherwise, it was lovely.  About half of those 18 people had already sign-up to bring a dish, so I focused on desserts (pumpkin pie, vanilla bean cheesecake, cranberry curd tarts, and a praline sauce) and ended up putting together the green bean casserole since M ran out of prep time.  But everything else was taken care of!  It was nice to loosen the reins a little bit!  Shockingly, with all of those people and all of that food, there wasn’t too much in way of leftover.  I managed to snag a few slices of dessert, cranberry sauce, and a solid 3 cups of turkey–some of which went into this quiche and the rest will go into a double batch of Turkey Pot Pie Soup tomorrow night.  I’m not too sad about our lack of leftovers.  We have a ton of veggies in the fridge from our Produce Delivery box, so I’m planning to do a lot of simple, plant-based meals to reset ourselves after this weekends indulgences.  Plus my crisper box is completely overflowing and this is the only way to deal with it!

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This quiche is, hands-down, my favorite quiche that I have ever eaten.  My mother made it often when we were younger, but I was only reintroduced to it after I graduated and we tried making it gluten-free.  I love quiche because it take so few ingredients to make a solid dish with many servings (with just M and I in the house, this will last us a few days worth in lunches, too).  But I usually don’t go through the fuss of making pie crust (often, I just thinly slice potatoes, layer them in a greased pan, and cook them until brown and crispy before adding in the quiche filling).  So this lovely mix of turkey, cheese, bacon, and broccoli, all wrapped up in a flaky, buttery crust, is extra special.  That last bite with more crust from the side as well as the bottom is just total bliss.  Every time I make this, I wish I had grabbed even more turkey leftovers, so I could stash them in the freezer.  I never seem to remember, so I will just have to do my best to enjoy this quiche now, before waiting another whole year to make it again!

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Turkey Broccoli Quiche

  • – 1 gluten-free pie crust
  • – 3/4 c. chopped broccoli
  • – 1 c. chopped, cooked turkey
  • – 1/2 c. shredded baby swiss cheese
  • – 1/4 of a medium onion, finely chopped
  • – 6 strips of bacon, cooked and chopped
  • – 1 Tbsp. butter
  • – 3 extra-large eggs
  • – 1 1/4 c. half-and-half (or: 1/2 c. heavy cream + 3/4 c. milk)
  • – 1 tsp groud thyme
  • – salt & pepper to taste

Roll out the pie crust and spread into a 9-inch pie pan.  Crimp the edges and place the pan in the fridge while you preheat the oven and prep the filling.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the broccoli and onion and sauté until tender, when the broccoli is bright green and the onion has softened.  Sprinkle turkey, bacon, and half of the cheese into pie crust.  Pour vegetables over top, spread evenly.  Top with the remainder of the cheese.  Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, and spices in bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Pour eggs over other ingredients in pie shell.  Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until a knife inserted at the center comes out clean.

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Weeknight Biscuit-Topped Chicken Pot Pie

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Did you vote today?  I am typing away while the results roll in (eek!  I’ll be distracted soon enough).  Today was a student holiday workshop day, since the public schools were closed in order to be used as polling sites.  That means I had to be in work two hour earlier than normal.  And since I still had the late shift at work as well, and couldn’t be positive that I could get away during the day, my only choice to cast my vote was to wake up and do it before work.  I wanted to be sure that I had enough time, in case there were lines (there were), so I aimed to get to my polling place before it opened at 6am.  While my mother’s house isn’t that far away (I haven’t actually changed my permanent address yet…), in order to be up and prepared for the day plus the drive over, I had to wake up at 4:45am this morning.  Whoof.  Good thing I am all about making sure my voice is heard.  Plus, there was already a line when I got to the polling site at 5:40am, so I’m glad I was early.  I got the last spot inside out of the cold!  It was so worth it, but I am definitely beginning to drag!  I did manage a twenty minute catnap since I made it to work a little early (bargaining for traffic in this area is always a crapshoot).  Thankfully working at a theater company means we have handy items like beanbag chairs to add to my naptime comfort!

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In the continuing saga of today, I had to bite the bullet and get a new car battery after my car died (totally knew it was coming) and my phone’s SIM card seems to be dying as well.  I can’t catch seem to a break whenever I am running on too little sleep.  I’ve tried all the tricks from the internet to try to reset the SIM card, but the best I can do is make my phone recognize the SIM but find no service…so, a dying antenna, most likely.  Unfortunately, this is not the best week to try to squeeze in an appointment at the Apple Store, but I may have no choice.  Thankfully, while on wifi, I can still have everything function and receive iMessages.  Occasionally, I’ll even have a regular text get through.  What is it about the holiday season, hmm?  Just when the gift and food costs start to add up (even extra, since M’s birthday is in November), everything electronic and/or mechanical in my life suddenly needs repairing, too.  Sigh.  I suppose that is how that goes!

However, speaking of stressful elections and less money, this recipe can be the answer to both!  Cheap eating comfort food at it’s finest!  Plus, by trading pie crust for super easy biscuit dough, it becomes quick enough to whip up on a weeknight. (Though if you want the more traditional version, I have that too)  Dare I even point out that, since your are putting the chicken into the mix when it is already cooked, it would be so easy to swap this for cooked turkey in order to use up some Thanksgiving leftovers!  If your family does roasted potatoes at the Thanksgiving table, you could also swap those leftovers for the fresh potatoes in this recipe, too!  (Just cook the raw vegetables until tender and add the potatoes then, just before you add the broth).

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Gluten-Free Biscuit-Topped Chicken Pot Pie

  • 1 batch gluten-free biscuit dough*
  • 1 large chicken breast (or 2 mid-sized chicken thighs), cooked**
  • 1 medium russet potato
  • 1 small-medium sweet potato
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. rice flour
  • 3-4 c. chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning mix***
  • salt & pepper

* My favorite biscuit recipe is from the Blackbird Bakery cookbook, which, fortunately, was shared on Epicurious!

***Or a heaping 1/4 tsp. each: ground sage, ground thyme, and finely minced rosemary

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Grease a pie pan or an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish.

Dice the potatoes, onion, and carrot into medium, equal-sized pieces.  Take a pat from the 3 Tbsp of butter and add the pat of butter to a large saucepan.  Melt over medium heat and then add the potato, sweet potato, onion, and carrot pieces.  Cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally until all the pieces are softened and tender, about 4-7 minutes A fork should easily pierce the potatoes and the onions should be turning translucent.  Chop the chicken into equally-sized pieces and stir into the vegetable mix.  Add the rest of the butter to the pan.  Once melted, add the rice flour and stir occasionally.  Allow the flour and veggie mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Finely mince the garlic clove and add to the pan with the spices, including salt and pepper.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a thick gravy holding all the vegetables.  Add in the frozen peas and remove from heat.

Make the biscuits according to directions, stopping after you have cut the raw dough into biscuits (for cut biscuits) OR right before you are instructed to drop the dough onto a baking sheet (for drop biscuits).  Spoon the gravy-veggie mixture into your prepared pan, leaving almost a inch of space from the rim of the pan.  Top the mixture with a biscuits and bake for 12-15 minutes.  Allow the pie to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving (it will be hot!) and enjoy!


Flashback Friday Post Update: Gluten-Free Knock-off Pepperidge Farms Cornbread Stuffing

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How was everyone’s Halloween?  We got ZERO trick-or-treaters, which is so surprising.  We have plenty of children in our complex, but maybe we are scary (or too far) by being a back-facing apartment down a set of stairs?  Everyone I talked to this year mentioned that they had fewer as well.  Is trick-or-treating no longer the “in” thing?  Is everyone going to parties and trunk-or-treats?  (Unless you live out in the country where there is too much distance between houses, I do not see the appeal of trunk-or-treats, by the way.)   I was lucky enough to grow up on a cul-de-sac in a sprawling neighborhood that was flooded with children.  Our street, at one point, had about 40 children amongst the seventeen or so houses.  We walked blocks on Halloween night, all through the other neighborhoods.  M grew up in a more rural, wooded area, but all of Main Street took on the responsibility of creating an amazing Halloween atmosphere, so the further houses would drive down to let their children trick-or-treat in town.  So I just don’t get it.  And now, I’m left with so much Halloween candy…oy.

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Otherwise, November has been off to a pretty rocky start.  M is on a full week of tech rehearsals and performances, meaning he starts work late enough that I don’t see him before I go to bed and he sleeps past when I leave in the morning.  We are communicating through texts, post-it notes, and leftovers.   On Tuesday, I also had my longest-lasting gall bladder attack, yet.  Thankfully, it wasn’t the most severe, pain-wise, but certainly the longest time in constant pain, from 10pm until almost 5 in the morning.  I did not get any sleep and I still feel like I am recovering from that.  Ugh.  I am counting down the weeks (6!) until my surgery and hopefully then this will all be over.  (Though I am steadfastly not thinking about the surgery part.  Eek!)

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Anyways, as a proper lead up to Thanksgiving this year, I though I would update a few old posts with some badly-needed new photos and share a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes every Friday!  We are starting things off with my #1 Thanksgiving necessity: stuffing.  After I had to skip it on my very first GF Thanksgiving (just two months after cutting gluten) I spent the rest of that first year endlessly researching this stuffing.  Growing up, my mom always used the Pepperidge Farms mix, with the tiny shriveled, dry cornbread pieces and the packet of seasoning.  It is the taste of my childhood Thanksgivings, so I knew I wanted to make a gluten-free stuffing that emulated those flavors.  This recipe uses a combo of home-made cornbread (baked in a jelly-roll pan, so is nice and thin) and store-bought GF bread.  Just be sure to give the bread a few days to dry out (or at least some solid time in a low-temp oven the day before Thanksgiving).  Drier = better, here.

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I have successfully made this stuffing in a crockpot, in a separate dish in the oven, and stuffed into the turkey, so it should stand up to any of your preferences.  These days, I also like to jazz things up with added cranberries, like in the photos*, or roasted chestnuts, or even some sage sausage (just cook the meet before adding it to the stuffing).  Add up to 2 cups of these additional mix-ins after stirring in the melted butter and before adding the chicken broth to the bread mixture.

Click through for the recipe for Knock-off Pepperidge Farms Cornbread Stuffing!

*the dish in the photos is holding a 1/2 batch of this recipe in an 8×8 dish!


Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork

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How was everyone’s weekend?  We ran all over, catching up with several different friends and with M’s mum, now that she has returned from her vacation.  On Friday, we started with seeing several of my friends from high school, gathering to watch the new documentary on the making of Hamilton (yep, still obsessed!)  I thought the documentary was very well put together and it was awesome to see a few more clips from the show.  I’m sure it will still be many years before M and I get to see it–ticket prices are absurd and the first national tour doesn’t look to be any more accessible.  Even so, I thought the documentary was very good and it was even better to catch up with my friends.  I don’t see them nearly as often as I should.  On Saturday after work, we visited M’s mum to hear about her latest vacation.  She and her sister RV’ed around the Southwestern U.S. and had a grand old time!  We pulled together a meal out of our fridges–I made a sort-of onion panade from the leftovers of French Onion Soup and some homemade bread.  It’s all the right flavors, at least.  And M’s mum had lamb chops, green beans, and polenta stashed in her freezer.  Everything came together in a not-too-disjointed-and-definitely-delicious way.

Sometimes, those thrown together meals are the best ones.  It isn’t so hard to “eat from the pantry”.  Have you tried?  I try to stick with a $50 weekly grocery budget for M and myself (including my weekly $15 veggie box).  I have varying success, so whenever I find my mid-week grocery trips/my grocery grocery spending starting to climb, I will have us eat from the pantry for a week.  It saves money and it makes me remember how much food we already have!  I’ve done it to clear out some freezer space and this week, we are eating from the pantry because I had to spend a little too much on car repairs this month.  I did keep my weekly Hungry Harvest box, which allowed us some fresh fruits and vegetables.  Those are the hardest to ‘give up’ for these eat from the pantry weeks.  And, since our freezer and pantry were already full with a few cuts of meat and many different grains, we are eating well.   I made us a loaf of bread from the flours I had on hand, and we have been all set.  Already this week, we’ve had Eggs Benedict and crab cakes with salad and roasted potatoes.  Upcoming on my dinner plans are Roasted Tomato+Pesto Pasta, Crockpot Chicken Pho, and BBQ Meatballs with Yellow Squash Cornbread.  The leftovers will get us through the other nights and be used for my lunches and we have eggs, oatmeal, and yogurt for breakfast.  All this without spending anything at the grocery store this week.  (To give you some context, our harvest box had the yellow squash, tomatoes, romaine, and potatoes that I am using in our dinners.  It also had some fruit that I will have with breakfast and lunch.)

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As work ramps up and I move towards the end of the semester with my classes, I am trying to be better about using my crockpot at least once per week.  Not only is it suited perfectly for Fall dishes, it saves me time for homework and/or working late shifts.  Two weeks ago, I perfected this Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork which can be turned into ultra delicious sandwiches!  We had this at the Saxapahaw General Store (and continue to get it every time we visit) and fell totally in love with this juicy pork paired with vinegary pickled vegetables.  I like to save up a few dollar here and there from my shopping trips until I can buy a big boneless pork butt/shoulder every few months.  Buying a 5-10 lb cut will likely have the meat priced cheaply.  When I get home, I portion it into 2-3 lb pieces and stick them in the freezer.  This is the perfect cut for making shredded pork dishes in the crock pot, like this Coconut Braised Pork for sandwiches, Sweet Pork Barbacoa for tacos, or Citrus Pork for chilaquiles.  Pork butt/shoulder is a great stock-up item!

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Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 8 hours on low (crockpot)

  • 2.5 lbs pork shoulder/butt
  • 1 can (15-16 oz) coconut milk
  • 1/3 yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. curry powder (I used hot madras curry)
  • 1-2 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 c. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp dried cilantro
  • salt & pepper

For Sandwiches:

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 c. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 c. water
  • spicy mayo/yum-yum sauce
  • gluten-free buns

Prep the Pork & Vegetables

Heavy a heavy-bottomed pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Slice the yellow onion and peel and crush the garlic cloves.  Add to the crockpot with the coconut milk, curry powder, sriracha, fish sauce, and cilantro. Stir to combine the ingredients.  Coat the hot pan with a dollop of oil and place the pork in the pan to sear.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then allow to sear for 2 minutes on every side.  Add the pork to the crockpot (it should be mostly covered, but not entirely covered by the coconut milk mixture).  Cover with the crockpot lid and cook for 8 hours on low heat.

Slice the red onion thinly and pack into a half-pint jar.  Thinly slice the cucumber into coins and pack into a second half-pint jar.  Mix the rice vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until the sugar and salt completely dissolve.  Pour this mixture over the packed vegetables.  Close jars and place in fridge to marinate while the pork cooks.

Make the sandwiches

After eight hours, the pork should have a lovely crust where it was not covered by the coconut milk.  Remove the pork from the crockpot to a plate with tongs–it should already pull apart quite easily.  Gently pull the pork into smaller, bite sized pieces.  Spoon a little of the coconut mixture from the crockpot over the shredded pork.

On a toasted bun, add the spicy mayo, shredded pork, then a liberal amount of pickled cucumbers and a few slices of pickled onions.  Some fresh herbs like cilantro or basil might also be delicious here.  Enjoy!  (Pork should keep in the fridge for 3-4 days–add some more of the coconut mixture to keep it from drying out!)


Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

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I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of October! The temperature is starting to drop, which makes me worry a little for my seedlings in the garden, but also makes me so happy because Autumn is my favorite season!  I love the ability to layer clothes and dress in comfy sweaters.  I love all those fall flavors and dishes: pumpkin and squash, apples, pears, brussels sprouts, spices, thick stews and gravies, and all of those stick-to-your-ribs and warm-your-bones types of food.  I love that everything gets a little more cozy.  Summer is for going everywhere, traveling, eating at restaurants, on patios, going out with friends, and all that.  I think that Fall finds us at home more, but also in homes more, whether we are visiting friends or having them over at our place.  And since I love feeding people and love staying home, this makes this season pretty ideal.

At the top of my cozy, crave-able dinners list is risotto.  It’s always my back-up, since the base can be made with pantry staples, so it is great for days when I didn’t plan dinner or when my other plans are foiled for one reason or another.  Then I can dig out some arborio rice, some broth, an onion, and a bit of cheese for a risotto base that can be doctored up in endless ways!  Risotto also has the same sort of creamy, starchy goodness as say…macaroni and cheese, but it doesn’t leave me feeling quite as weighed down after eating it.  Plus, I am pretty particular about my mac and cheese, so–even with the required stirring–risotto is way easier for me to get on the plate.  And, as an added bonus: leftover risotto is perfect for making arancini!  This is another favorite that I will have to post soon, but the leftover risotto is wrapped around cheese, then breaded and fried or baked to crispy, cheesy, dip-able perfection!  Easily one of the best leftover dishes, ever.

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This risotto, as I mentioned, comes from the same base as I’ve posted before.  I’ve come a long way from my first frightened attempt at risotto.  I am nearly on auto-pilot nowadays.  When I got shiitake mushrooms in our Hungry Harvest Box (still totally in love, BTW), I knew I wanted to make them into a risotto.  Since M isn’t too keen on mushrooms, he is usually a good sport when I ‘hide’ them in our dishes.  But I wanted these to be the star of the dish.  Luckily, he goes off with friends one night a week, which is quickly becoming my time to indulge in all dishes mushroom and/or shrimp.  So this risotto was thrown together on a Tuesday, after my late shift at work.  After 30 minutes stirring at a toasty stove, I had my reward!  I decided to throw in these tomatoes at the last minute, when I realized that they needed to be used up, and I’m so glad that I did.  The mild acidity of the roasted tomatoes is the perfect compliment to the creamy risotto.  While it may not be much to look at, it was delicious! Enjoy!

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Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 30-40 minutes

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3 small-medium shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 c. arborio rice
  • 1/4 c. white wine*
  • 4 c. broth (chicken, beef, veggie)
  • 8 oz mixed mushrooms**
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 stalk fresh rosemary
  • 10-12 stems of thyme
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/4 c. parmesan, grated
  • 1 pint small tomatoes (cherry, grape, cabernet, etc)

*If you want to avoid alcohol entirely, you can replace the wine with an equal amount of broth + a splash of vinegar.

**I used equal parts button and shiitake mushrooms.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the pint of tomatoes with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, until well coated.  Pour the tomatoes onto the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Once the time is up (sometime during your span of cooking the risotto), turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes inside to stay warm.

Set a pot on the stovetop over medium heat.  Fill with the broth and add 2 sage leaves, a few stems of thyme, and one crushed garlic clove.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down low.

Prep the veggies: Finely dice the shallots.  Mince the remaining garlic cloves.  Dice the mushrooms.

In a large pan, over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then add the chopped shallots.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shallots are softened.  Add the arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice turns opaque and smells a little toasted.  Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for one more minute.  Add the white wine and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed.  Stir in the mushrooms.  Add a ladle-full of hot broth and continue stirring.  Just keep on stirring to release the starch of the rice, which makes risotto super creamy.  The liquid will begin to be absorbed until when you pull your spoon across the pan, there will be a second or two where you can see the trail of the spoon before the rice mixture begins to pool back together.  Then it is time to add another ladle of broth and stir some more.  Always keep stirring and adding a ladle of broth once the previous is absorbed.  When you are down to just one more ladle of broth, chop up and add the herbs.  When all of the broth has been added to the pan and absorbed by the rice mixture, add the cream, parmesan, and the final tablespoon of butter.  Stir until the cream is absorbed.

Top with the roasted tomatoes and serve immediately.


Recovered Produce and Stuffed Squash

Happy fall, everyone!  Although the official equinox was a few days ago, today is the day that I can actually feel it.  The air is just a little crispy and-finally!-not muggy.  We’ve had the AC off and the windows open all day yesterday and today I keep getting lovely little wafts of cool breeze as I sit on the couch.  For hours on end.  Sigh.  Somehow, I pulled something in my lower back that has kept me prone and couch-bound since Saturday.  I’m walking like a slow, old lady, and trying to sit upright is pretty terrible.  Sneezing is the absolute worst and causes some awful spasms.  Today, I think, is slightly better, so I’m hoping I can go back to working at my desk tomorrow and it will be a quick heal after that.  What is really disappointing, though, is that M and I were going away for this coming weekend and now kayaking is most likely off that schedule.  Boo.

In spite of my pain, I was excited to come home from work on Saturday to my weekly Hungry Harvest box!  I signed up for this produce delivery service a few weeks ago and I LOVE it!  I’d been looking for some kind of produce delivery/CSA, since I can’t make it to the Farmer’s Market when my Saturday work schedule begins each September.  A produce box was also appealing because it would force me to be creative with whatever I got each week.  I found Hungry Harvest, which was extremely affordable, and I loved that they were using recovered produce from farmers and grocery stores that would otherwise go to waste.  They also donate leftover produce to food banks every week.  They are awesome! (This is not a sponsored post, I really do just love HH this much.)

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This week’s Hungry Harvest box!

We’ve had great success with our weekly boxes and this week was no exception.  We are getting into the groove of meal planning around the box, too.  This week we received: 3 (giant) sweet potatoes, a carton of kumquats, 3/4 lb of collard greens, 3 empire apples, 2 beets, an adorably tiny eggplant, 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, a clamshell of cabernet tomatoes, and a large spaghetti squash.  All of that…for $15!  Did I mention that this is the SMALLEST option?  They have several larger sizes of boxes, even all-fruit, all-veggie, or all-organic boxes!  I cannot get over how great they are!  All of our veggies usually go towards dinners for the week.  Since M isn’t a big fruit-eater, I take care of most of the fruit between my breakfasts and snacks.  M was on a roll this week and picked most of the meals for us.  Here is what we will make, using everything from the box (and a few veggies left in the fridge from last week):

Dinner Plan for Sept 25-Oct 1

Sunday: Sausage & Veggie-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Monday: BBQ pulled chicken, collard greens, cilantro cole slaw

Tuesday: Beet & Apple salad, sweet potato hash browns, eggs

Wednesday: Beef Koftas with Baba Ghanoush, Tomato-Cucumber salad

Thursday: Leftover Night (I’ll be in class)

Friday: Out with Friends

Saturday: More leftovers to clear out the fridge before we leave

Lunches are typically leftovers from dinner, and we can fill in with stuffed sweet potatoes.  Breakfasts for me rotate between smoothies, eggs, and oatmeal.  M usually has breakfast tacos.

We kicked of this week with stuffed squash, which M made from my directions while I was sitting in the other room. (No prolonged standing yet…)  Stuffed squash is super simple, and one of my favorite things to eat, since it is so customizable.  I have a very eclectically autumnal recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash that is delicious!  I love Italian flavors with Spaghetti Squash, so we paired hot Italian sausage with veggies and tomato sauce.  We cut out cooking any grain, which saves a little prep work and makes this Primal (if you top it with cheese, like M) or Paleo (if you leave off the cheese, like me).  This was a large spaghetti squash, but not unusually large, and this meal easily made 4 huge servings.  If you scooped out the squash and served the meat sauce over top, it would very easily stretch to 5 dinner-sized servings.


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Paleo/Primal Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 lb Italian sausage (hot or mild)
  • 4 oz mushrooms
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 oz cherry tomatoes
  • 6 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or, about 1/2 tsp each: basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder)
  • Optional: shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Slice the squash in half, lengthwise.  It will be very firm, but I’ve found if I can stab in the tip of the knife, I can usually get enough leverage to split open one end, then the other.  Scoop out the seeds from each half, leaving a hollow in the middle.  Place the squash cut side down in a microwave-safe baking dish and fill with an inch of water.  Microwave on high power for 8-12 minutes, or until a fork goes easily into the flesh.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the other veggies.  The chop is entirely up to you: every vegetable can be diced for a really chunky mix, or every vegetable can be chopped finely in a food processor to make a thick, but smoother sauce.  We went for something in the middle.  M is not too fond of mushrooms, but I occasionally work them in to fill out dishes.  Because of this, we “hid” them by chopping them finely, along with the pepper and garlic, in the food processor.  We diced the onion like normal and halved our cherry tomatoes.

In a large saucepan, crumble it the sausage (remove from casing if in links) and stir to further separate the meat.  Cook until about half the meat is browned, then add the diced onions.  (If you chose to dice the peppers, now would be the time to add them)  Continue cooking until all of the meat is browned and the onions are soft and translucent.  Drain off any accumulated fat.  Add the vegetable mix from the food processor (or the diced mushrooms, if going that route).  Stir to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Then add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and Italian seasoning.  Stir to combine evenly.  If the mixture is too thick, add a little water to loosen things up.  Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.  Finally, toss in the chopped tomatoes and turn off the heat.  Set the squash cut side up in a dry, oven-proof pan.  Spoon the sausage and veggie mixture into each squash, topped with cheese, if using, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melty and the tops of the sausage mixture are beginning to get crispy.  Split each half of squash in half again, width-wise.  Enjoy!