Easy solo dinner

Two recipes in one week – whaaaat?! You’d think I was some kind of food blogger or something. To be fair, this is more of a “non-recipe” than a recipe, and requires basically zero effort.

I eat dinner solo typically twice a week – on Tuesday nights, Jeff goes to Quizzo, which is near our office (we work in the same building), so he usually doesn’t come home before heading to the bar. And then on Wednesday nights, Jeff has a standing dinner date with his mom – I join them on occasion, but they typically eat before I even leave work, so I generally let them have some quality mother/son time alone.

I’m a huge fan of eating “non-dinner” when I’m by myself as discussed here (I love nothing more than a cheese plate, and I’ve been known to eat a full bag of frozen veggies and, like, some popcorn for dinner), but since it became a twice-weekly situation, I needed to figure out something a bit more nutritious and substantial. I went through a brief stint where I was working evenings on Tuesday nights and I’d usually stop by Honeygrow before heading home to finish work, but I’m back to working all days and I figure it’s a little wasteful to get takeout every week when we already eat out or order takeout at least once a week together, and I can just as easily whip something up.

Enter Trader Joe’s Cowboy Quinoa Burger. I originally grabbed a box of these as an impulse buy and didn’t expect much from them, but they’ve become my new favorite convenience meal. I rotate between these guys and turkey burgers (also from Trader Joe’s), but the cowboy quinoa burgers really hit the spot and are actually easier/quicker to throw together. Here’s what I do:

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Take a cowboy quinoa burger out of the freezer and pop it in the microwave for 1 minute. While it’s in the microwave, heat a little olive oil or cooking spray on med-high in a skillet (I like to use my cast iron for this). Separate a sandwich thin (Trader Joe’s makes decent ones, but I usually get the Arnold’s multigrain thins – I find the Trader Joe’s ones are harder to separate and tend to tear on me) and place it cut-side down in the hot skillet. After the minute is up, remove the burger from the microwave and place it in the skillet alongside the burger; season with salt and pepper. Remove sandwich thin to a plate (or paper towel, you do you) once toasted; flip burger after about a minute and top with a slice of cheese (my favorite for this is pepperjack, but I switch it up and use provolone or muenster every so often). Place 4 pickle slices on toasted bun; top with cheesed burger and avocado slices. Add a few dashes of hot sauce if desired. Devour.

I like to eat this with (defrosted) frozen edamame in the shells with sea salt, or sometimes I’ll nuke a bag of broccoli and eat that with it. It’s SO delish, it takes 5 minutes to throw together with practically no cleanup, and it’s relatively healthy. Win!

Leftover Love

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting a liiiiiiittle sick of Thanksgiving leftovers by now. I could probably eat pie for the rest of my life, but I’m starting to feel a little weighed down by all the butter I’ve been consuming, and one can only eat turkey and green bean casserole for so long before turning the color of said beans.

Quick side note: not to toot my own horn or anything, but I make the best leftover turkey sandwiches on EARTH. My secret? Mashed potatoes. COLD mashed potatoes. Also, I keep things simple. I grab a leftover dinner roll (I never have sandwich bread in my house, and dinner rolls work just as well, if not better), split it, spread COLD mashed potatoes on that sucker, and top with cold turkey and a sprinkle of kosher salt. That’s it. I ditch the stuffing (I don’t like it…plus, why put bread on bread? I love me some bread, but that’s weird, right?) and I’ll occasionally add some cranberry sauce, but it’s perfection with just the turkey and taters. Yummmm.

Anyway…I hate to waste food, but Thanksgiving leftovers in their original form have a hard stop after about 3 days for me. After that, I need to get a little creative. My favorite way to use up leftover turkey? Turkey Tikka Masala. The warm, creamy, spicy sauce works just as well with turkey as with chicken, and I serve it over – you guessed it – mashed potatoes in place of rice. It’s delicious, it uses up a good chunk of all that turkey, and it tastes COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than Thanksgiving dinner! Not the lightest dish in the whole world, but I figure it’s better than loading my plate with scoops of mac & cheese and marshmallow covered, butter loaded sweet potato casserole night after night.

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Turkey Tikka Masala

Ingredients

3 Cups leftover turkey (I like to use white meat, but I’m sure dark meat would work just as well or better if you like it)

3 Tbsp butter

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated (I love Trader Joe’s ready to use ginger paste – it comes in a tube)

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

1 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

Salt & black pepper, to taste

1 cup whole-fat coconut milk (you can also use heavy cream)

Leftover mashed potatoes, or cooked basmati rice

Cilantro, chopped – to garnish

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened; 5-7 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and continue cooking until fragrant; 1-2 minutes. Add sugar, spices, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes; add coconut milk and turkey and simmer until warmed through. Serve over mashed potatoes (or rice, but mashed potatoes are SO GOOD and you probably still have some sitting around, yes?) and garnish with cilantro.

 

 

 

Lentil Pasta (plus a recipe!)

Have you guys tried red lentil pasta? I was a bit skeptical at first, but after hearing several rave reviews, I snagged a box of this from Amazon (I was having a hell of a time finding anything other than chickpea pasta at the store – which I also snagged and have yet to try – but it turns out Trader Joe’s sells red lentil pasta for something like 2 bucks a bag, so Amazon proved to be unnecessary). Red lentil pasta is just that – pasta made from 100% red lentils. Nothing else. The calories are relatively similar to traditional pasta (about 200 calories per 2 oz serving), but the noodles are packed with protein and are gluten-free. I’m by no means a gluten hater, but let’s be real – traditional pasta isn’t exactly health food.

The texture of these noodles is pretty close, if not totally spot-on – they’re a tiny bit denser than your typical pasta, but if I didn’t know they were different prior to eating them, I’m not 100% sure I’d be able to tell. I also haven’t noticed any “off” flavors or aftertaste at all – it just tastes like pasta to me. If you’re a picky eater and you’re worried about flavor, I’d recommend using them in a more flavorful sauce or dish – since they’re pretty neutral, they don’t add much additional flavor to your recipe.

Speaking of flavorful recipes, I figured I’d use this opportunity to share one of my favorite, crazy simple weeknight dinners. It’s delicious, takes under half an hour to throw together, and it can be customized in infinite ways, depending on what you like/have in your fridge. Plus, it’s healthy to boot! Win-win-win (win).

Veggie-Packed Pasta Bake

I used the lentil pasta here, but you can also use traditional pasta (I love penne for this), spaghetti squash, or veggie noodles – you do you. I’m also not above using jarred sauce as a shortcut – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m obsessed with Rao’s (especially the arrabiata sauce), but your favorite sauce (or homemade, if you’re feeling ambitious) will work just as well. For veggies, I used onion, mushrooms, spinach and roasted broccoli this time, but whatever you have in your fridge is fine. If you can dream it, you can eat it.
Ingredients

8 oz pasta (of your choice – if using spiralized noodles, I’d say 3 or so medium sized zucchinis or equivalent would do, or 1 spaghetti squash, roasted and scraped)

1 jar pasta sauce

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz button or cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 head broccoli, chopped

1 bag baby spinach

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 425F. Place broccoli on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper; toss to coat. Roast in pre-heated oven for around 20 minutes, or until charred.

In the meantime, cook pasta including to package instructions. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high until hot, add onions and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes or until soft. Add mushrooms and season with salt & pepper; cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms have started to release their moisture. Add spinach to pan and stir until wilted; add sauce and stir until heated through. Add broccoli and pasta; stir until combined.

If your pan is oven-safe, sprinkle pasta/sauce/veggie mixture with shredded mozzarella and grated parm (if your pan isn’t oven safe, transfer to an oven-safe dish before adding cheese). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and has started to brown.

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Two Easy Autumn Breakfasts

When the weather turns crisp, I start craving warm spices and hearty meals. Although breakfast is pretty much my favorite meal of the day, I rarely have any desire to cook in the morning – I’m lucky in that my office has a full hot breakfast bar, but when left to my own devices, I’ll choose convenience almost 100% of the time.

For this reason, I tend to lean on oatmeal and yogurt all year round for breakfast (with the occasional egg thrown in here and there), but I like to mix things up when seasons change. While I love to add berries to my breakfast of choice during the warmer months, once the leaves start to turn I’m all about apple and cinnamon. Here are a couple easy, delicious options to get you going in the morning:

Apple Pie Oatmeal

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Ingredients

1/2 Cup apple cider

1 medium apple, cored and roughly chopped

2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Cup rolled oats

1 1/2 Cups milk (I typically use 2%, but non-dairy will work just as well)

Pinch of salt

Handful of chopped glazed pecans (I like to use maple pecans, but walnuts would also be delish here)

Splash half & half, cream, or milk (optional)

Instructions

Combine the apple, cider, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the cider reduces by about half and apples are tender (about 5 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients (leaving half the nuts for garnish) and turn heat back up to medium-high. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until desired thickness has been reached. I like to serve this with a splash of half & half and remaining nuts…if you wanna get really wild, I highly doubt a splash of maple syrup would ruin things here.

Apple-Cinnamon Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients

1/2 Cup vanilla yogurt (I love Noosa for this, but any vanilla yogurt will work – use your favorite)

1 Medium apple, cored and chopped

1/4 Cup granola (I like Nature Valley here – it’s cinnamon-y and extra crunchy)

1 Tbsp Craisins or dried cherries

1 Tbsp walnuts

Dash cinnamon

This one’s really simple, guys – spoon yogurt into a dish and top with remaining ingredients. If you want to get fancy you can layer it (hence the “parfait”), but who are you trying to impress here?

Sunday Soup: Slow Cooker Beef with Beans & Barley

Ahh, I love a good alliteration food. As we all know, fall = SOUP WEATHER! Although I’m certainly not going to commit to making soup every Sunday (mayyyybe if you consider various pastas “soup”), I do love making large, easily re-heatable dishes to kick off the week – that way, I have leftovers for lunch for at least part of the work week. Bonus points if they’re delicious AND healthy.

This week, I riffed on Katie Lee’s recipe for bean & barley stew – except I swapped chicken stock for beef stock, and added in some chunks of beef (slow-cooked beef = YUM). Oh, and I couldn’t find this elusive “bean mix” she keeps referring to, so I just bought a bag each of kidney, navy, and pinto beans and used about 1/3 of each bag. I rounded out the meal with a quick garlic baguette, and the result was super tasty and VERY filling (I just ate leftovers for lunch, and I may or may not be ready to crawl under my desk and take a nap).

This recipe was stupid easy to make, RIDICULOUSLY easy on the wallet (especially if you omit the beef as in the original recipe), and made the house smell like heaven all day long – a winner in my book!

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Ingredients

1 lb assorted dry beans (I used kidney, navy, and pinto)

8 cups beef stock + 2 cups water

8 oz dried pearl barley

1 lb stew beef, cut into 1 inch pieces (any beef you’d use to roast will work here)

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 cloves garlic; minced

1 bag fresh baby spinach (or 8 oz – my bag was 6 oz, and I feel like it was fine)

Instructions

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet until hot. Season beef with salt & pepper and add to pan in one layer; let sit for 2 minutes without moving. Stir; continue to cook for another minute or two until brown (not cooked through). Dump dry beans (no need to soak), broth, water, garlic, carrots, celery, onion, browned beef, thyme, and bay leaf into slow cooker; cook on low setting for 7 hours. When one hour is left, add barley, salt (if you add the salt in the first step, it may take your beans longer to soften, so I play it safe and wait to season until this point) and pepper and continue to cook an additional hour (8 hours total). Just before serving, add baby spinach and stir to wilt. Season with more salt and pepper to taste if needed, and fish bay leaf out. Serve with crusty bread or garlic baguette (recipe below), and/or a grating of parmesan  (this is what I did, and it was fantastic).

Garlic Baguette Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 450F. Grate 3 cloves of garlic into a small bowl using a microplane or zester (if you don’t have one, you can mash it into a paste with the side of a large knife). Drizzle in 1 TBSP of olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Cut a baguette in half length-wise; brush garlic mixture over cut sides of bread and bake until golden brown (about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on it). Dunk, dip, & crunch.

I am obsessed with this salted caramel sauce

Make it, it’s easy.

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This is about the caramel, not the bars…but those are damn tasty, too. Get the recipe here.

Ingredients:

2 Cups granulated sugar

12 TBS unsalted butter

1 Cup heavy cream

1 TBS sea salt (flaky finish salt such as fleur de sel is best)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Get everything ready, this baby moves fast! Heat the sugar in a heavy pot over medium heat – when it begins to melt, start stirring (it’s easier if the pot is larger/has a wider bottom, otherwise it’ll take forever to melt). Stir, stir, stir. Once the sugar is melted, let it sit until it turns a copper color. DON’T LET IT BURN!!!!! But also don’t be scared and take it off while it’s too light, because that will make your caramel bland. Watch that sucker, because the line between tasty AF and burnt is itty-bitty. Once your sugar is at a delicious caramel color,  stir in the butter – keep stirring until it’s combined (it’ll look greasy around the edges at first; keep stirring). Once your butter’s incorporated, take it off the heat and stir in the cream – slowly, it’s gonna bubble up (this is also where a nice, large pot comes in handy). Once smooth, stir in salt and vanilla. Let it cool and keep it in the fridge (it gets pretty stiff when it’s cold, but I like it that way – once it warms up, it’ll get saucy again). Eat on EVERYTHING. I particularly like to dip apples in it when it’s cold and the consistency is more dip-like than sauce-like…it’s about 50 trillion times better than that stuff they sell near the apples at the store (though I’ll eat the crap outta that too, let’s be honest).

 

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

I recently received a Nespresso CitiZ with Milk machine as a gift from work (hellooooo perks!!), so of course one of the first things I did was concoct a homemade pumpkin spice latte. It IS October, after all!

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I’ve tried store-bought pumpkin spice syrups before, but none of them ever quite cut it. I think the key to a real-tasting PSL is, well, real pumpkin. I’ve made pumpkin spice syrup before, both at home and for the cafe I used to work for, but it’s been a few years and it was time to give it another go. It came out pretty darn delicious, if I do say so myself – after some experimentation, I figured out that it’s key to use two shots of espresso (this is true for most latte-type drinks using an Nespresso machine, at least for me…I had been using one shot brewed on the larger “Lungo” setting, but I found that the drinks ended up a bit milky for my taste. Two shots on the smaller “Espresso” setting seems to hit the sweet spot.), and my secret weapon is to add a dash of vanilla extract to the milk before frothing.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 TBSP pumpkin puree

5 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp cloves

generous dash black pepper

Heat water and sugar over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently – don’t allow the mixture to boil. Strain into cheese cloth set over fine mesh strainer; store in tightly sealed container in refrigerator for up to a month.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte

1 TBSP pumpkin spice syrup (or to taste, depending on preferred level of sweetness)

2 shots espresso

8 oz milk

1 tsp vanilla

Pumpkin pie spice

Combine espresso and pumpkin spice syrup in mug. Add vanilla to milk; froth (if you don’t have a steam wand or aeroccino, you can froth milk using a small french press – just nuke the milk for 30 seconds or so and pump in the press until it reaches your desired level of frothy-ness). Top espresso with frothed milk and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice. Enjoy!!

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Gyro Bowls

In my attempt for us to eat healthier, I decided to whip up a spin on one of my favorite foods – the gyro. But instead of pita filled with (delicious) greasy lamb, I decided to go the bowl route, and sub out the lamb for turkey meatballs (I have a bit of a love affair with turkey meatballs).

gyro

If I do say so myself, it turned out pretty darn tasty…I almost actually prefer the meatballs to lamb, and I barely missed the bread at all! And you guys – I LOVE me some bread, especially pita or naan! I riffed off of this recipe, with the following tweaks:

-Instead of beef, I used turkey (duh)…I also cranked up the broiler for the last couple minutes in the oven to add some color

-Instead of couscous, I used red quinoa…after the quinoa was cooked, I stirred in the juice of one lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of sliced kalamata olives, and plenty of salt and black pepper.

-I swapped out the parsley in the tomato cucumber relish for cilantro. Not quite as authentic perhaps (let’s be real, any “authenticity” in this dish is pretty much out the window), but I’m a cilantro freak. I also added a bit of lemon juice.

That’s about it! Super easy, healthy and yummy…I can’t wait to polish the leftovers off for lunch! I’m going to try to post more recipes here…mostly because I always forget which recipes we really enjoy, so I’ll be able to use this as somewhat of a reference. Stay tuned!

 

Big on wow, small on ow.

I used to be a professional baker, but my presentation could definitely use some work. Most of the things I make are delicious, but they’re…well, we’ll call them “rustic” in appearance. Most people are surprised to learn I can’t decorate a cake to save my life. Not really even in a quaint, “that looks homemade” sort of way. I’ll typically make cupcakes (anyone can pipe icing from a bag!), or slap together a sheet cake if I’m just craving cake myself and will just be serving it at home.

I had a casual little dinner for my bridesmaids recently, and while I’m very comfortable with all of them and know that I don’t need to impress them, I wanted to serve something nice. Plus, I always feel a little bit of (self-imposed) pressure whenever I serve any kind of baked good. I actually saw this recipe for an apple galette with sour cherries, almonds, and goat cheese on one of Giada DeLaurentiis’ cooking shows, and it looked amazing, so I decided I’d serve it for dessert at my get together.

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As it happened, I ended up running out of time and plopping down some Oreo Thins instead, because I’m me and that’s what happens when you’re me. By the way, those Oreo Thins are kind of the bomb. You can eat like 100 of them and not worry because they’re Oreo THINS (duh), and the filling is perfectly proportionate to the cookie! Way to go, Oreo. Way to go.

Anyway…I ended up making the galette for dessert for just Jeff and me the other night, and it was FREAKING DELICIOUS. But my original point was, it uses frozen puff pastry so it’s super simple to make, and it’s beautiful and looks (and sounds! and tastes!!) super fancy so you can make your friends think you’re Julia Child instead of Elaine Benes. Except why wouldn’t you want people to think you’re Elaine Benes? What’s wrong with you?

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Apple Galette with Goat Cheese, Sour Cherry, and Almond Topping

(Just barely) adapted from foodnetwork.com

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 large apples, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 6.5 inch wedges
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • The juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 8 oz sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • All-purpose flour, for sprinkling
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 4 oz package goat cheese (I used pre-crumbled)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup tart dried cherries (I found mine at Trader Joe’s)

Pre-heat oven to 375. Melt your butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and sprinkle with the salt; sauté until almost tender (about 10 minutes). Remove the skillet from the heat. Whisk together the sugar, spices and cornstarch; sprinkle over the warm apples and toss to combine. Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture and give it another toss. Set aside.

On a large sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle a little flour and unfold the puff pastry. Roll the puff pastry to a 12-inch square, lifting and turning to get an even thickness. Once rolled, cut off the corners with a rounded cut, so that you have a 12-inch circle. Brush the circle all over with the beaten egg, and dump the apple mixture into the center, leaving about a 2 inch border. Fold the border up and partially over the apple filling, pleating the pasty every here and there. You can be as precise or as rustic as to want here, but I think the easier you make it, the better it looks. Brush the folded-up border with the egg wash.

Slide the galette onto a heavy baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes. While the galette is baking, mix together the goat cheese, cherries and almonds. Keep refrigerated while the galette finishes baking.

Remove the galette from the oven and sprinkle the topping evenly over the exposed part of the filling. Pop it back in the oven for about 5 minutes, just to soften the cheese and the cherries. Cool until just cooled enough so that you don’t singe the roof of your mouth (or don’t, you wild animal). I was going to serve this with a dollop of creme fraiche with a little honey mixed in at my get-together, but since it was just me and Jeff I just served it with some vanilla ice cream. I regret nothing (although creme fraiche is delicious on literally anything).

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