Updated Shepherd’s Pie


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!


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!)


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.


Turkey-Broccoli Quiche (Thanksgiving Leftovers)


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!


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!


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!


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!


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.


Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork


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.)


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!


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!)

Cabbage & Noodle Chicken Thai Salad


Well, just as I was getting excited for a nice cool autumn, we woke up to an October heatwave!  We are supposed to hit a high in the 80’s today!  I was glad for the sunshine after so much rain, but this is a little too summery.  So much for sweater weather!  In fact, these warmer days have me craving cold dishes and raw veggies all over again, while I was just gearing up for stews and braises.  This cold salad uses a very seasonal veggie–cabbage–as it’s base, which keeps things nice and cheap.  While rice noodles aren’t the most expensive ingredient out there, they do cost more than cabbage!  By switching the ratio of cabbage and noodles, I was able to stretch this salad even farther.  The neutral flavor of cabbage is just perfect to support the strong flavors of the other ingredients.  And crunchy cabbage + chewy rice noodle = my perfect bite!


I tend to be one of those people who makes too much food.  Usually, it works out in my favor, since I almost always bring dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.  This salad is no exception, I will gladly admit.  It also keeps in the fridge for 4 or 5 days, so it is a perfect dish to make for lunches to last through the work week.  More than once over the summer, I did exactly that.  (Although I had to forgo the peanuts during summer–no nut products at camp!  It was still extremely delicious without them, though I do prefer that bit of extra crunch and salt.)   But, peanuts or no, or even with chicken or without, I never grew tired of this hearty, filling salad.


Cabbage & Noodle Chicken Thai Salad

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 25 min

For the Salad

  • 1/4 of a small head of red cabbage
  • 1/2 of a small head of green cabbage
  • 2-3 carrots (or 1 c. shredded carrots)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 loose handful of mint leaves
  • 1 loose handful of thai basil leaves
  • 1 loose handful cilantro leaves
  • 8 oz thin rice noodles
  • 1/2 lb. (8 oz) chicken breasts (optional)

For the Dressing:

  • 1/3 c. fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
  • 2-3 tsp. sriracha (or to preferred heat level)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 4-5 Tbsp. olive oil

For Garnish:

  • 4-6 Tbsp. chopped peanuts (optional)

Submerge the chicken into a small pot of water.  Bring to a boil on the stove, then turn down to the lowest setting to simmer, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes.  The chicken is done when the meat is not longer pink inside (since we will be shredding it, feel free to fish out a piece and cut entirely in half to check).  Once cooked, drain and set aside to cool.

Prepare the rice noodles according to the package, but drop one minute off of the cooking time or two minutes off of the soaking time.  Once done, drain, then rinse the noodles in cold water.

While the chicken and noodles are cooking, whisk the listed dressing ingredients (fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic powder, olive oil) until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has emulsified into a smooth mixture.

Shred the cabbage by slicing it as thinly as possible.  If using whole carrots: peel the carrots and discard the peelings. Then use the vegetable peeler to continue to peel the carrot into long strips.  Use a knife to cut the wide strips into thinner pieces.    Peel and quarter the red onion, then slice thinly.  Chop the scallions into thin slices, then chop all the herbs.  Add all vegetables and herbs to a large bowl.

Shred the cooled chicken, then add 1 tablespoon of the sauce, mixing to coat all of the pieces.  Add the chicken to the vegetables.

Heat a wok over high heat, then add 2 tablespoon of the sauce and the rice noodles.  Sauté for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour the remaining sauce over the vegetable mixture in the bowl, add the hot noodles and mix/toss with tongs until the salad is completely mixed together.

Served topped with a tablespoon of chopped peanuts sprinkled over each bowl.  This will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Smoked Salmon Salad


Hey there, long time, no see!

This summer was, as always, hectic.  Camp came and went, but I had the most incredible team this year.  I lost P, the camp guru, who had been returning from the West coast for camp for the last few years.  It was only a matter of time, of course.  That was a little intimidating, since I had only joined this age group last year, and I knew the only other returning staff for my age group were two (albeit, phenomenal) interns from last summer.  But, I had an amazing new co-teacher and all of the newcomers to our group (whether new to camp or just our age group) really came together to create a well-oiled machine.  Camp was a breeze, and I can’t thank my team enough for making it that way!

I am so grateful that camp was smooth, since this was a pretty big summer in other aspects of my life.  I am starting classes for my graduate degree in two weeks.  Acceptance was the easy part.  I spent the summer coordinating classes with my work schedule and jumping through hoops for things like parking and tuition (since I am employee of the university, it adds a few more details to organize–like securing parking passes that are eligible for my campus where I work  as well as the campus where I have my classes).  I also lose my mother’s insurance coverage at the end of this month, so I’m working out setting up my own through my employer.  My old insurance is proving less than helpful with that switch.  I have some very firm phone calls to make, now that I am back from vacation.


Camp ended last Sunday, and I ran away to Cape Cod and the beach on Tuesday.  I need to go to the ocean at least once each summer, and seeing my family was the perfect way to wind down after camp.  M is in Las Vegas for a bachelor party (truly not a worrying as that sounds), so it was nice to get my own vacation while he was gone. As well as seeing family, I made it to the beach, ate some seafood, went to my favorite brunch place, and even had time to gather some family history materials.  After my grandmother passed away in October, my father has been slowly going through all of the paperwork in the house.  He’s managed to find plenty of pictures and several different historical documents for his side of the family.  When I was deep into my heritage research, I was able to follow my mother’s line–full of odd surnames and unusual country origins like Holland and Norway–back for many generations.  My father’s family line, on the other hand, is almost entirely English and Irish and full of Johns, Elizabeths, Edwards, and Thomas’s.  And my surname is exceedingly common in England.  I didn’t have much more information beyond names and potential birthplaces.  By the time I reached my great-grandparents, I was pretty stuck.  Among the paperwork was a family tree diagram for my grandfather’s and my grandmother’s sides, so I am hoping to make some more headway soon!


Now I am back home, and M will be back late Sunday.  I am trying to get back into the groove of life post-camp.  New expenses are coming new month–parking passes, insurance, car payments for M’s new car.  It is going to take some careful budgeting on our part, but that is of another post.  I was able to make it back home to get to our farmer’s market today.  We have several new vendors this year, including a seafood stall.  Much of their meat is precooked, understandably so, in a Saturday-only, tent-based market.  But the shining star of the stall is their smoked salmon.  It is amazing!  We buy some whenever the stall is at the market, and more than once I’ve been picking up the last of their stock well before 9:30am!  A few weeks ago, Shauna mentioned making smoked salmon salad with capers and salmon salad has been bouncing around my brain ever since. This fantastic smoked salmon, of course, would make the perfect starring ingredient. This salad was very simple, in order to really showcase the beautifully smoked filets.  A half-pound of salmon was enough for M and I to eat for two meals–first with some hearty sides for dinner and then packed into avocados for lunch the next day.  That meal was one of my favorites to emerge from my lunchbox this camp season.  I imagine this salad would be best with a filet-style smoked fish, rather than the thin, soft slices of smoked salmon packaged in the grocery store.  A filet-style develops the thicker outside that provides some texture to the salad.


Smoked Salmon Salad

Serves: 2-4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: N/A

  • 1/2 lb. smoked salmon filets
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 Tbsp. capers, drained
  • 2 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • salt & pepper
  • To serve: avocados, toast points, or greens of your choice

Chop the green onions, white and green parts, finely.  Flake the salmon into a bowl and add all remaining ingredients.  Add salt and pepper to taste (just a pinch or two).  Mix gently to keep the salmon intact.  Serve with greens and/or toast or spoon into halved avocados.

Autumn Expectations and Butternut Squash Gnocchi

gnocchi title

We had the first glimmers of autumn here in the past few day: a gentle crispness in the mornings when we take Punc out for her walk and cool breezes throughout the days.  I, of course, pounced on this brief respite from the heat and took my cue to start thinking of all of the stereotypical fall plans.  Pumpkin-everything, baking apples nine different ways, sweaters, and cool days and long, darkening evenings.  Yes, I harbor a deep love for fall, for all of the stereotypical reasons.  As mentioned, with my primary job working with children, our schedule revolves around theirs.  We can segment the year into Fall, Spring, and Summer.  Naturally, the oncoming of September each year has developed into a transition-type period in my life, and the hints of a season change only strengthens that feeling.  After a long, hot summer, I am longing for the blustery, cool weather.  This year especially, I find myself earnestly awaiting the season’s shift.  Fall feels fresh; encouraging cozy clothes and the promise of fires in the hearth.  As much as I have dreamy musings of wanderlust (long walks, new places, all colored with autumn leaves); I find myself craving stillness even more.  I want stretches of quiet, allowing for reflection and reading.  I want a quilt, a cup of tea, and a new book to keep me company as the day creeps from afternoon to night.  I fully plan on getting what I want–I’m drafting up quite a list of books waiting to be read, and I’m compiling simple or long-and-slow cooked recipes for dinner, to simplify my evenings after work.  Less stress, more rest–that is my plan for the coming few months.

gnocchi close up

I have been putting more effort into socializing as well.  Living with my significant other and a roommate fulfills my basic need for conversation and camaraderie, but I do miss spending time with other girls, and the friends that have been close to me for years.  It is so easy to get stuck in the rut of a daily routine: See roommates at home, see coworkers at work, come home, dinner, tv, bed, repeat.   With my strange arts schedule keeping me working on weekends, meeting up with people with more “routine” schedules is all the more challenging.  I am trying harder to keep connections as more friends are getting engaged, getting married, having babies, and moving across the country.  Everyone is busy, but the initiative to see one another has to start somewhere.  I am putting more effort into taking that initiative.  (Plus, then I have an excuse to go to brunch/coffee/dinner–why didn’t I start reaching out earlier?)

gnocchi close

I also feel like I haven’t really been listening lately.  Not in a “can you repeat that” sense, but I have noticed myself interrupting more, and pushing to express my opinion.  I am giving the people around me only half of my attention as I think about my own response–before they are even finished speaking.  So there is another goal for this season: give all of my attention and listen fully to another’s story, anecdote, complaint, idea, sentence until it is complete.


This recipe for butternut squash gnocchi fits with all of my goals and with my seasonal obsessions:  squash is one of my quintessential ‘fall flavors’ and these gnocchi make a filling, comforting dish.  Plus, the preparation of the dough is a simple, meditative task that, while somewhat time consuming, allows for mindless relaxation or a long conversation with whomever you can lure into the kitchen.  I’ll pour M a drink and force him to sit with me!

gnocchi salad plate

Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Adapted from: Iowa Girl Eats

Serves: 6|Prep time: 60-90 minutes|Cook time: 5-10 minutes

  • 2-2.5 lb butternut squash
  • 1 c. brown rice flour (or white rice flour)*
  • 3 Tbsp. buckwheat flour (or millet, oat, teff, or a heaping measure of quinoa flour)*
  • 1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp tapioca starch*
  • Up to 1/2 c. additional flour (2 Tbsp. tapioca starch + 6 Tbsp. brown rice flour or more of the mix)
  • Additional flour for coating the rolling surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp sage, ground, optional
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

*Or use 1 1/2 c. total of your preferred GF flour mix–a low starch mix is preferred–my combo here is around 20% starch.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with oil.  Pierce the squash several times with the tines of a fork or the point of a sharp knife.  Split the squash in half.  Remove the seeds and discard, or save for roasting.  Roast the squash, cut side down, for one hour.  Remove the squash from oven, let cool for 10 minutes, then scoop out the flesh.  Mash well, then spread on a plate or cookie sheet to cool completely.

In a large bowl, mix the cooled, mashed squash with the egg and parmesan cheese.  Whisk together all spices and flours in a small bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups of flour mix to the wet mixture, stir and knead until a smooth, uniform dough forms.  If too wet, add up to 1/4 c. additional flour, in small increments, kneading in between, until dough is smooth and slightly tacky to the touch.  The dough should pull away from the bowl.  Refrigerate dough for 10-15 minutes.

Flour your work surface and your hands well.  Split cooled dough into large segments.  Take each segment and roll into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be 1/2 inch- 1 inch in diameter.  Cut rope into 1-inch segments, coat lightly in flour.  You can either leave the segments unshaped and rustic, or roll them into the traditional gnocchi shape over a fork or gnocchi paddle.

To Serve Immediately: Boil a pot of salted water on the stove.  Drop the gnocchi in one-by-one in small batches, stirring once after 30 seconds to prevent from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until gnocchi floats at the surface.  Ladle out the pasta, into a saucepan with 1 Tbsp of butter+1/8 tsp. ground sage (per serving of gnocchi).  Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring gently, until gnocchi is lightly browned.  Serve with grated parmesan or crumbled goat’s cheese, or feta and balsamic vinegar.  I’ve also made it with sliced sausage, onions, and wilted greens as ‘add-ins’ that can be added to the gnocchi in the saucepan.  This gnocchi would be delicious with a variety of sauces.

To Freeze and Cook Later: Before placing kneaded dough in fridge, knead in an addition 2-4 Tbsp of flour mixture*.  Place in fridge for 10-15 minutes. Flour your work surface and your hands well.  Split cooled dough into large segments.  Take each segment and roll into a long rope on a well-floured surface.  The rope should be 1/2 inch- 1 inch in diameter.  Cut rope into 1-inch segments, coat lightly in flour.  You can either leave the segments unshaped and rustic, or roll them into the traditional gnocchi shape over a fork or gnocchi paddle.  Place formed gnocchi on a cookie sheet and freeze flat overnight.  In the morning, transfer to a freezer-proof bag.  Cook from frozen–do not thaw.

The Best Asian Pan Sauce


I thought about calling this post “The Little Asian Pan Sauce That Could…Be Put on Everything”.  But ultimately, I thought simple was better, because this sauce is exactly that: simple.  And, yet, it is extraordinarily delicious on everything I have brushed it onto: chicken, shrimp, pork, pineapple, roasted vegetables.  These photos are from the beginning of the summer, before the camp craziness, but I have made this sauce several more times throughout the past weeks.  Even after an 11-hour work day, the fifteen minutes spent to create this sauce were well worth it.  Though I rarely remembered to take photographs over the last seven hectic weeks, I still have a respectable list of recipes (and even a craft or two) waiting to be posted.  But this sauce tops the list.


Camp is an interesting time in my life.  I keep hoping that I will be better adjusted each time that summer rolls around, but even after three years, camp is the sprint of my occupational race.  This year, with our move, we were up by 5:30am to walk the dog, pack breakfast, dress and get out the door to beat traffic.  M’s schedule had him outside for five hours of the day, and running around in between.  My schedule had me warming-up, stretching, dancing, writing, filming, improvising, acting, blocking, and directing 30 teenagers for seven hours straight, before joining M for the final hours outside.  Besides the physical energy needed to keep up with our campers, the mental energy needed also surprises me.  We are monitoring allergies and health issues, and students’ preferences, behavior, and participation.  We are leaders, mediators, teachers, and examples, whether we are behaving correctly or not.  Especially with teenagers, the moment that their teachers disengage in an activity, their interest is lost, as well.  We eat with the students and take breaks with them; every moment between when they step out of their car, until they climb back in, is under our eyes.


So I suppose it isn’t so surprising that camp, while exhilarating, entertaining, and uplifting; is also entirely draining.  Though I jumped at the chance to participate in any opportunities for stretching during the camp day, I come out of camp craving long walks and yoga.  I find myself needing a nap by midday, and still climbing into bed early each night.  I yearn for the contemplative time spent kneading gnocchi dough, simmering soups, and slow-roasting vegetables.  I need to savor the meditative smells of rising yeast bread, caramelizing onions, and fresh-chopped herbs.  The end of camp sends me running to the kitchen and also induces cravings for the heartier, slower autumn dishes, in spite of the August heat.  Luckily, butternut squash is already starting to appear in our farmer’s markets, and the summery tomatoes and peppers lend themselves towards these fall flavors as well.  I’m alternating between long, involved dishes and quick sautés and stir-fries as I settle into this self-imposed time of renewal.  I’m looking forward to my mornings of walking and yoga, with more slow-paced stretches of work before I come to evenings of cooking, writing, and learning.  I finally have time to truly delve into my Lynda.com subscription, and I am very excited at the variety of program tutorials waiting for me.


I suspect that this Asian sauce will be showing up in my kitchen again, very soon.  The full flavor, so simply made, is too perfect to ignore.  I hope you will make some, too!  Let me know what you try it on–I’ve yet to be disappointed.  Shrimp may be my favorite meat to glaze with this sauce, but it was absolute divine on the peppers and pineapple in these skewers.


Asian Pan & Glazing Sauce

Adapted from Bonefish Grill

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. finely minced ginger
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 3 Tbsp. gluten-free tamari*
  • 1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp. ketchup
  • 1/2 c. gluten-free oyster sauce**
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsp. honey or agave nectar (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp.-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tsp. sriracha sauce (optional)

*Please always check labels.  The vast majority of tamari used to be gluten-free, but I am finding more and more that contain gluten.  San-J is a reliable gluten-free brand.

**Wok-Mei makes a gluten-free oyster sauce.  For vegetarians/vegan readers: several veg. brand are available.  Lee Kum Kee’s Vegetarian Oyster Sauce is, in fact, vegan, but contains wheat.  Please let me know if you find a reliable Gluten-free AND Vegan Oyster sauce.

Saute ginger and garlic in the olive oil in a small saucepan.  In a separate bowl, whisk together tamari, ketchup, oyster sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and honey/agave.  Once ginger and garlic is fragrant (1-2 minutes) and just barely beginning to brown, add sauce mixture.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Stir in red pepper flakes and sriracha sauce.  Remove from heat.  Sauce will thicken as it cools.  If too thick, add up to 1 Tbsp. of warm water.

Brush sauce onto grilling or frying meats and vegetables, basting with every turn.  Or, use as a marinade.  Sauce will keep in tightly-sealed container in the fridge for up to one week.


Cabbage Rolls, Stress, Love and Life

Today, I wanted to post about stress.  About how there are still three laundry baskets of clean, unfolded clothes in our bedroom(by the time we got to packing, it seemed silly to take them out of one container to pack them right into another box) that I haven’t managed to fold, hang, and put away, even though I still do not have a true sense of how much can fit in our closets and dressers.  I wanted to talk about how those few last things missing in the house (a mail organizer, a printer, an out-of- the-way place to put my purse) are more irritating than the plates that we were missing for two weeks.  I was going to discuss my body’s clock being completely out-of-whack: that waking up at 7am to walk the dog allows me time for a walk, yoga, and a real breakfast before work, but then I am exhausted by 4:30pm only to catch a second wind (with or without additional caffeine) that keeps me up until midnight (or later) and makes me grumpy all evening and sets the cycle to repeat.  I wanted to be a little bit selfish, to let out my frustrations, to vent the stress that builds as both of my jobs go into the second busiest month of the year.

Instead, I’m thinking of Boston.  Virginia Tech.  Sandy Hook.  9/11.  Deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, around the world.  Yesterday, I did not hear about the bombing until almost 5:00pm.  My father’s side of the family lives in Cape Cod, MA.  My cousin lives in Boston.  Everyone fine, as I expected, but the slim, slim chance was enough to jumpstart my senses.  The overwhelming awareness that comes in the blink of an eye: a new wide view of the whole landscape of life, instead of the trivial sliver that I concern myself with on the day-to-day basis.  I have noticed something different with the Boston bombings.  Shock and horror and fear are still there, there are still many people who responded with hate, but even more responded with reminders of love and hope.  From the moments of the aftermath, these glimmers of humanity, faith, and empathy have been brought to the forefront–paraded on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites.  As they should be.

A Projection on the Brooklyn Academy of Music

I am impressed and inspired that so many chose hope, especially on public and social media, where hate and condemnation can escalate so easily.

Today, instead of complaining, I am reminding myself to be grateful.  I have a home that I can afford, a boyfriend, family, friends, and a dog (or three) that love me as much as I love them, two jobs I enjoy, access to healthcare, to shelter, to food, to water.  I am fortunate to be able to be so trivial, to be annoyed at my staying up late.

cabbage roll close

Today, especially is about love.  Many times, I speak better with food than with words.  It is my way of showing people I love them, of showing off, of challenging myself.  The cabbage rolls that I promised to share make a comforting dinner.  The simple ingredients and slow-simmered, familiar flavors do not make these cabbage rolls revolutionary.  They are little more than meatballs wrapped in cabbage.  But the succulent cooked cabbage makes the perfect complement to these un-meatballs.  We ate them with the ricotta gnudi and pasta for dinner.  I made two large pans, enough that we had leftovers with a salad for lunches and reheated for snacks for several days.  The flavors continue to meld, and, in some ways, these cabbage rolls are even better the day after.

cabbage roll low

Italian Sausage Cabbage Rolls

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes

  • 1 small head of cabbage
  • 2/3 lb ground (4 links) of gluten-free italian sausage*
  • 4 slices of gluten-free bread, crusts removed ( I used Udi’s–use less if your slices are larger)
  • 1/3 c. milk (non-dairy is fine)
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese (add a non-dairy substitute, or a little extra salt and bread to replace cheese)
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. sage, ground
  • 1 jar (16 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water or broth
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Toothpicks

*Chicken or pork, sweet or hot, whatever your meat and spice preference, all work–you could even go veggie.  While there are several options for Vegetarian Italian Sausage on the market, I’ve yet to find a brand that is gluten-free.  If you are avoiding gluten and animal products, sub in your favorite GF sausage substitute and throw in some additional spices (try fennel, parsley, paprika, red chili flakes, garlic, rosemary, basil, salt, and pepper).  Par-cook and finely chop/crumble the sausage substitute and mix with the bread as directed

Tear the bread into small pieces.  Add to a large bowl.  Add milk, stir, allow to sit and soak up the liquid.  Lightly saute the chopped onion until translucent.

Carefully remove the leaves from the head of the cabbage.  Remove the tough stem (up to about 1 inch into the leaf).  Rinse, pat dry, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove meat from casing.  Add sausage, onion, parmesan cheese, garlic and other spices to the bread and milk mixture.  Mix well.

In a large saucepan, mix the tomato sauce and water/broth (if your sauce is already thin, you may not need this).  Heat over low heat.

Form the sausage mixture into small balls, about 1-2 Tbsp worth.  Wrap in the cabbage leaf, secure with a toothpick.  Once all meat is formed and wrapped, place into saucepan, ladling sauce over top.  Bring cabbage rolls to a boil over medium heat, reduce to low heat and cook for 35-40 minutes more, under the meat is cooked through and cabbage is tender.

Serve topped with more cheese, with pasta, salad, or side of choice.

cabbage roll top

Next time, I will be sharing something sweet (and simple).  I think we all could use a treat.

What are you grateful for today?

Warm Up From Winter: Quick and Easy Taco Soup

taco soupWe just got another snowfall yesterday.  We’ve had two in the last couple of weeks.  This one was only an inch or two, but the one before was a little more serious–we had about 4 inches before it started to rain and turned it all into slick, heavy slush.  That storm was predicted to be much larger, so the grocery stores were cleared out by the night before.  We were quite prepared, mostly with wood and water, since our well water will stop if the electricity is knocked out.  Luckily, everything stayed steady.  In general, I think it all looked much worse than it was, in reality.  That snowfall was the first we’d gotten this season.  Its been quite cold, but stayed dry until then.  Now, we are stuck in a strange cycle of warm days falling into freezing ones.  Everyone’s immune systems seem to have gone haywire, since one warm week was enough to have several plants send out pollen, and the constant swing from warm to cold has worsened the last few flus and colds running through our workplace.

snow daffodils

Even the daffodils are confused

After a stretch of warm days, the weather turned blusteringly cold overnight, much to my displeasure.  After running through the cold from one job to the next, I was craving hot, steamy, spicy soup to take off the chill of the day.  We were almost due for a trip to the grocery store, but, thankfully, my stock of canned goods got me through this recipe.  If you are looking for something quick and simple, stick to the cans or whatever you may have on hand for this recipe.  Equal amounts of fresh or frozen ingredients can definitely be used!  You can also adjust the heat level to your tastes by adjusting the amount of chili powder and hot sauce.  This is a solid medium heat level–I wanted a definite kick in this simmering soup.

taco soup toppings

I also have some very exciting news: we found out yesterday that we were approved for our rental application!  M and I will be moving in with our friend S, into a townhouse with a beautiful open kitchen.  I have amazing amounts of cabinet space, granite countertops, a proper pantry, a gas stove, and a breakfast bar!  We can move in April 1st, and I will definitely be posting some pictures soon afterwards.  It’ll be wonderful to live in a house with our own washer and dryer (instead of hauling the laundry out to my mother’s) and to have Punc live with us fulltime (again, instead of out at my mother’s).  This will also be my first time stocking my own kitchen!  I am supremely excited!  I have way too many plans for crafts and gardening–look out for some crafty posts on here soon!

taco soup plate

I will do my best to keep my excited gushing in check.  The next few weeks will be a little bit hectic as we try to pack and organize.  I know we won’t exactly realize what we need until we are actually in the house, so it’ll be a slow process.  I will keep you posted!  And, I have several recipes waiting in the wings, so I will try to stay on track with posting!  For now,  enjoy this soup before the days grow too warm…it is the perfect pick-me-up at the end of a brisk day!  I made some chili-spiced sweet potato wedges as a side dish (sprinkle sliced potatoes with oil oil and spices, bake at 400 degrees F for 25-35 minutes).  I highly suggest topping the soup with a bit of sour cream–it melt gloriously into the broth.  But feel free to alter this to your taste.  You know what you like best!

taco soup top

Taco Soup

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes

  • 4 c. (32-oz or 1 lg box) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 1 med. red onion
  • 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 16-oz can of kidney beans/black bean
  • 3/4 c. frozen corn (or 1 sm. can of corn)
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/3 packet taco seasoning (about 1 Tbsp–I used Trader Joe’s*)
  • Hot sauce to taste (I used 1 dash of Dave’s Insanity Sauce, I would have used more of a regular tasbasco or Frank’s)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro, optional

*Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning contains no gluten-containing ingredients.  Please always check store-bought mixes for hidden gluten!

Add the chicken stock to a large stock pot.  Heat to a boil over medium heat.  Trim any fat from the chicken breast, then place in the boiling stock to poach.  Return to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through.  Remove breast from stock, set aside to cool.  Optionally, skim any bits of fat from the stock.  While the chicken is poaching, chop the onion on a medium dice, and drain and thoroughly rinse the beans (if using canned).   In a small skillet, cook bacon.  Remove to side to cool.  Add onions to the skillet, cook for about 3 minutes in the bacon grease.  Spoon onions out with a slotted spoon.  When the broth is hot and you have removed the chicken, add the onions, beans, tomatoes and corn.  Raise the heat to return soup to boil.  Stir in garlic, taco seasoning, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, and cilantro.  Shred the reserved chicken, and chop the cooked bacon into small pieces.  Add meat to post, stir, and return to boil.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, a lime wedge, and more cilantro.  We served our with margaritas!  Enjoy!

Summer lunch


If I could eat some combination of a cheese plate and charcuterie for every meal for the rest of my life, I would be happy.  Its not the best of plans, if I stop to think about it long enough, but occasionally, I do give into that desire.



I can’t bring myself to cook anything during the day, at this time of the year.  It’s too hot with the oven or stove on.  So my lunch today (and probably tomorrow, unless I have very strong willpower) was simple: 1 ounce mozzarella cheese, 1 plum tomato, several basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, three slices thin-cut salami, half a dozen olives, the baby potato & two stalks of asparagus from last night’s leftovers, and watermelon.  Perfection.