a balanced plate with room for dessert

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Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

sweet potato shepherd's pie

Shepherd’s pie is one of my favorite foods. Sweet potatoes? Not so much. I like the color, but that’s pretty much it. I do, however, love regular ol’ mashed potatoes chock full of butter, salt, and pepper. As much as I love indulging, not every meal can be an indulgence. There’s only so much exercise I can fit into a day after all!

So I took the classic shepherd’s pie recipe and trimmed it down to something a bit lighter, yet every bit as fulfilling. And surprisingly, I actually liked the sweet potatoes on top! So, give this dish a try for St. Paddy’s Day instead of the traditional shepherd’s pie!

sweet potato shepherd's pie

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
inspired by Alton Brown’s recipe on Food Network

3 pounds sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup skim milk

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces and place into a large pot. Cover with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until fork-tender. Drain and return to pot. Add in butter, salt, pepper and milk and mash until smooth.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Remove to a separate bowl and set aside. To the same skillet, add in onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour until well distributed. Stir in tomato paste, broth, and Worcestershire sauce. Add beef back to skillet. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in peas, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
  4. Spread beef and vegetable mixture into an 13×9 casserole dish. Top with mashed sweet potatoes. Spread potatoes out to edge of dish with a spatula. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are lightly browned and filling is bubbling.
  5. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.


Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce

Mike has been an absolute lifesaver on Mondays and Wednesdays. Why? Because he cooks, folks. He cooks and it’s dang tasty. These two days are go go go for me. I’m in rotation from 8 – 4:30, go for a run, and then go to Pilates Reformer. I don’t get home until close to 8 on Mondays and Wednesdays and it’s so nice to come home to a delicious meal.

I don’t always know when I’ll need him to make a meal, so I try to menu plan easier dishes. This particular stew came from Food & Wine’s 2008 annual cookbook. I’m trying to get a good mix of internet and cookbook recipes into our meals just to mix it up a bit. After all, I do have a lot of cookbooks and I should probably use them instead of letting them collect dust on my bookshelf.

This particular dish was phenomenal. I loved the tanginess of the red wine in it. I honestly could have eaten the entire pot.. don’t judge me – running makes me hungry! I’ll probably try making it in the slow cooker next to make it even easier.

Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce
slightly adapted from Food and Wine Annual Cookbook 2008

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds lean beef chuck roast, visible fat trimmed, roast cut into 8 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 bottle dry red wine
2 bay leaves
1 thyme sprig
1 5-ounce piece of pancetta
2 1/4 cups water
20 pearl onions, peeled
15 cremini mushrooms, wiped clean
15 baby carrots
Dash of sugar
Chopped fresh leaf parsley, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large cast-iron pot over moderate heat, belt butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Arrange the pieces of beef in a single layer in the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook beef over high heat for about 8 minutes, turning to brown pieces on all sides.
  2. Stir in onions and garlic. Reduce heat to moderate and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour, stirring well so it doesn’t form lumps, then stir in the red wine. Add bay leaves, thyme sprig, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir well and cover the pot.
  3. Transfer the pot to the oven and braise for about 1 1/2 hours until the meat is soft and tender and liquid is reduced to a thick sauce.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover the pancetta with 2 cups of the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer over moderate heat for about 30 minutes and then drain. Cut pancetta into 1/2 inch slices, then cut the slices into 1-inch wide strips.
  5. Combine the pearl onions, mushrooms, baby carrots and pancetta strips in a skillet with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 cup of water and a good dash of sugar, salt, and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, over moderate heat for 15 minutes, until most of the water has cooked off. Uncover and cook over high heat, sauteing the vegetables until well browned all over, about 4 minutes.
  6. Stir some of the vegetables and pancetta into the stew and sprinkle the rest on top. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprig before serving. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.



French Dip Sandwiches

When life gives you a humongous roast, you might as well use it took cook up something delicious!

Slow cooker meals are my saving grace right now. The dietetic internship has been keeping me busy busy busy. I rarely have the energy to cook after a long day of school/work and then a workout. But slow cookers? I can prep the stuff the night before and shove it into the fridge and then have Mike start cooking it at around noon. I’m really digging this system, and it’s so convenient!

I skipped the soy sauce in the recipe below (didn’t have any… no idea how that happened!) and just tossed in about 4 sliced mushrooms instead for the umami that soy sauce lends. It turned out great and the sodium levels were cut even more!

French Dip Sandwiches
makes 7 sandwiches 

1 medium yellow onion
3/4 cup low sodium beef broth
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/4 pound chuck roast, trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
7 sandwich rolls
7 slices provolone or Swiss cheese

  1. Slice onions into 1/4″ rings and place in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add broth, soy sauce, water, Worcestershire sauce and garlic.
  2. Salt and pepper all sides of the roast and place on top of the onions. Cook on low for 6 – 7 hours or until beef is fall-apart tender.
  3. Transfer roast to a cutting board and shred with two forksReturn roast to crock pot.
  4. Toast bread in oven until just browned. Remove tops of bread and set aside. Scoop beef onto sandwich bottoms and top with a slice of cheese. Heat in oven until cheese is just melted. Top with sandwich tops and serve with small bowls of jus.
recipe from stick a fork in it


Oklahoma Chili

My college roommate kindly shared her recipe for beanless chili with me. I am a huge chili fan, but I love mine with lots and lots o’ beans. I decided to do something different and decided to make it without the beans for once.

I love the simplicity of this recipe. My all-time favorite chili recipe has almost 30 ingredients in it. This has just 13. It involves little prep work and the results are so dang tasty.

I like my chili with elbow macaroni, shredded cheddar cheese, onions, and some hot sauce.

Oklahoma Chili

3 pounds lean ground beef
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large can V8
6 tablespoons chili powder
3 teaspoons salt
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper
3 tablespoons  paprika
3 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons cornmeal
1 cup water

  1. In a large pot, brown ground beef in olive oil. Season the beef with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Add V8 to pot and simmer for 2 hours.
  3. Add chili powder, salt, garlic, cumin, oregano, sugar, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Simmer for 30 more minutes.
  4. Whisk flour and corn meal together with water and add to chili. Cook for 5 minutes.

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Braised Short Ribs

I spent hours scouring the web, food magazines, and cookbooks for Valentine’s Day dinner ideas. Lamb? Ravioli? Cornish hens? The possibilities were endless. I had only one requirement for this meal – it had to be something I’ve never made before. I found a recipe for braised short ribs on and glanced at the recipe. I decided to pass when I saw that I needed veal stock. No thanks, that’s a little too much work for me. I Googled “braised short ribs” and The Pioneer Woman’s recipe popped up. That woman knows how to cook and I could find all the ingredients at the grocery store. Perfect!

I followed her recipe exactly with a few minor alterations. I added 3 stalks of celery, diced, and used bacon instead of pancetta.

I finally decided to break out a wedding present I’ve been waiting to use… this monster of a cutting board by Catskill.

I love this cutting board! My only warning: be careful when opening! I stupidly managed to slice my finger on one of the oddly sharp finger slots on the board when I was tearing off the plastic. It was worth it, though. Look at how pretty food looks on it!

Braised Short Ribs
from The Pioneer Woman

8 whole beef short ribs
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 pieces bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 shallots, minced
2 cups red winte
2 cups beef broth
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary

  1. Salt and pepper ribs, then dredge in flour. Set aside.
  2. In a large dutch oven, cook pancetta or bacon over medium heat until complete crispy and all fat is rendered. Remove pancetta and set aside. Do not discard grease.
  3. Add olive oil to pan with the pancetta grease, and raise heat to high. Brown ribs on all sides, about 45 seconds per side. Remove ribs and set aside. Turn heat to medium.

    Look how tasty they look at this point! And don’t worry, it gets better.

  4. Add onions, carrots, and shallots to pan and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and scrape bottom of pan to release all the flavorful bits of glory. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes.
  5. Add broth, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add more salt if needed. Add ribs to the liquid; they should be almost completely submerged. Add thyme and rosemary sprigs (whole) to the liquid.
  6. Put on the lid and place into the oven. Cook at 350 for 2 hours, then reduce heat to 325 and cook for an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Ribs should be fork-tender and falling off the bone. Remove pan from oven and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, lid on, before serving. At the last minute, skim fat off the top of the liquid. (Can also refrigerate mixture, then remove solid fat from the top.)
  7. Serve 2 ribs on bed of creamy polenta, spooning a little juice over the top.



One of the saddest days of my college life happened when Pelmeni closed. Pelmeni was a tiny little restaurant in Madison that served just that – pelmeni, or Russian dumplings. They had meat or potato or mixed and you could get it spicy or plain. There were piles of sour cream in the cooler and a few sodas, too. Not spicy enough? They had bottles of some sort of magical spicy sauce that you could dump onto the pelmeni.

So. Dang. Good.

I was devastated when they closed. Where else was I going to be able to get such a filling meal for only $5? I searched everywhere for pelmeni – in grocery stores, other restaurants, everywhere. I finally gave up and tried making my own version. The verdict? I think it came out pretty close to the original State Street restaurant.


To make the dough:
2 cups flour, sifted
7 fluid ounces of cold water
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt


To make the filling:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the topping:
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Sour cream, to taste

  1. Place flour in a large bowl. Make a dimple in the top of the mound and crack the egg into it. Add salt. Gradually add cold water and knead.
  2. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 15 – 20 minutes.
  3. Combine all filling ingredients and mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Set aside.
  4. Roll the dough into a rope 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 1 inch pieces.
  5. Roll the pieces into circles 1/16 of an inch thick.
  6. Place a teaspoon of filling into the center of the dough and pinch the edges to seal the pelmeni. The pelmeni will be in the shape of a semi circle. Bring the two pointed ends together to form the final shape.
  7. Mix the butter and vinegar together and set aside.
  8. Boil the pelmeni in salted water for 3 – 5 minutes.
  9. Toss pelmeni with the topping ingredients
  10. Toss the cooked pelmeni with the butter and vinegar and garnish with a dollop of sour cream, a dash of curry powder, a sprinkle of cilantro and a drizzle of Sriracha!


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Tater Tot Casserole

I had the privilege of trying this delicacy for the first time last year. As much as I hate to say this, I actually kind of like it. A lot. And I have a few little secrets that make it even better.

1. Red pepper flakes, and lots of ’em.
2. Baking the casserole without cheese to get the tots crispy

I apologize in advance for the photo. I think it’s dang near impossible to take an appetizing photograph of this monstrosity of a meal.

Tater Tot Casserole
serves 8

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound frozen green beans
1 pound frozen corn
2 10.75 ounce cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 32 ounce package tater tots (I like the mini tots)
1.5 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Sauté the onion in a large pot until cooked. Add ground beef and cook until browned.
  3. Mix in green beans, corn, and soup. Stir in red pepper flakes until well-distributed.
  4. Spread mixture into a casserole dish and top with tater tots.
  5. Bake 30 – 45 minutes, or until tots are golden brown and casserole is heated through.
  6. Top with cheese and broil until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.

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Shepherd’s Pie

I remember the first time I tried shepherd’s pie. It was at Brocach in Madison, WI and I loved everything about it. One day I was standing in front of my fridge trying to figure out what to do with all the random food I had laying around and it dawned on me to make an attempt at recreating the deliciousness I had encountered at Brocach.

This meal is the perfect comfort food. I will definitely make it again when it gets colder out.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie
serves 4

6 large potatoes, peeled and quarted
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion
1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup beef broth
5 carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen peas

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add potatoes and boil for 15 minutes. Drain and mash with butter and minced onion. Mix in 1/4 cup shredded cheddar and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  3. Heat oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until clear, about 3 minutes. Add in beef, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and onion powder. Cook until meat is browned.
  4. Stir in flour and ketchup until well combined. Pour in beef broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour  beef into a 9×9 ovensafe dish. Top with peas and carrots. Smooth mashed potatoes over the top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup shredded cheddar.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.


LA Burger

I came across this burger in Food Network’s magazine and just had to make it. For those of you that don’t subscribe to Food Network’s magazine, I suggest you do – everything I’ve made from there has been absolutely fabulous.

LA Burger

LA Burger
serves 4

4 hamburger buns
4 hamburger patties, store-bought or homemade
1 bunch watercress, roughly chopped
4 slices extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 Haas avocadoes, chopped
1 jalepeno, minced
1 lime, juiced
1/2 small onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Ketchup or tomato slices

  1. Grill the burgers to your liking and melt the cheddar on top.
  2. To prepare the guacamole topping: combine the avocados, jalapeno, lime juice, onion, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mash until well mixed.
  3. To assemble the burger: place 1 hamburger patty with cheese onto the bottom bun. Top with ketchup (or a tomato slice), guacamole, and watercress. Place on top bun and enjoy!