Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

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January is always a hard month for me. After the gluttony of the holiday season, my head tells me I should eat greens and grains and healthful things. But it’s coooooold out, and my heart craves large bowls of carbohydrates, preferably coated in melted cheese. There’s not a lot of in-between there, at least not in-betweens that leave me satisfied. (Get your cauliflower out of my mac and cheese please!) So I yo-yo back and forth, crushing a rainbow-colored salad one day and a buttery pastry-topped pot pie the next.

This sweet potato shepherd’s pie manages to straddle the line between “healthy” and “indulgent,” proving that comfort food doesn’t always have to be a diet-killer. Shephard’s pie is a British classic, dating back to the late 18th century. Technically, what I made was cottage pie, since it’s made with beef and traditional shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb or mutton, but they’re basically the same thing: ground meat cooked with aromatics and topped with mashed potatoes.

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To keep my version on the healthy side, I upped the vegetable-to-meat ratio in the filling, adding extra celery. carrots and peas. (I also swapped in sweet potatoes instead of regular Idaho potatoes, though that was more of a “what’s on sale” decision than anything else.)

The recipe takes a fair amount of work, as you really want to build flavors while making the filling. With time, the gravy becomes intensely savory and full of meaty, umami flavor, and honestly, I could eat that with a spoon all day long. The sweet potatoes balance the savoriness nicely, and the final product is so delicious I almost ate the entire skillet in one sitting. And the beauty of this dish is, that wouldn’t have left me with an aching belly or a guilty conscience.*

*Regardless, you probably shouldn’t eat an entire shepherd’s pie …

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Musings on 6 Years(!!) of Blogging + Perfect Smashed Potatoes

Six years ago, I started a blog. It was a bit impulsive — I hadn’t really thought about what would go into it — but I figured the Internet wasn’t really the place for hard-and-fast rules and jumped in headfirst. I was 21 years old, a grad student, and all I really knew was that I really liked food and wanted to talk to strangers about it.

One day, I'll meet the Queen. Until then, I have this to tide me over.

One day, I’ll meet the Queen. Until then, I have this to tide me over.

Since then, this space has evolved. Posts on restaurant recs and foodie events became recipes, first easy ones (like roasted vegetables and garlic bread), then multi-step, multi-day projects (like salted caramel banana bread pudding) and showstoppers like braised lamb.

I slowly began realizing how much I enjoyed cooking and how I could become better at it, one dish at a time. Now, at 27, cooking is a way to unwind after a long day at work, a way to celebrate others (and celebrate with others), a way to nourish myself, healthfully or otherwise.

Blogging can occasionally be a challenge: there’s never enough time to cook all of the things I want to cook, or write about all of the things I want to write, or photograph exactly the way I want to photograph. The past few months have been especially hard, since I’ve been extremely busy — first with running, and then with work. There have been so many ideas that have lingered in email drafts or on Post-It notes, never making it to on the page because I couldn’t make it to the grocery store. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve had to throw away ingredients that rotted before I could get to them, or when, at the end of a long day, I finally made it home, I’d throw something together so quickly that there was no time to for even an iPhone photo, much less fix lighting or worry about the correct angles for a decent shot.

But, six years in, I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. This started as a passion project, and it’s one that I’ve returned to time and again, despite multiple moves, job changes and other life happenings along the way. This year, my goal is to present you guys with the dishes that drew me to the kitchen despite a busy schedule — the dishes that were so good that they evaded every excuse.

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These smashed potatoes are #1 on that list. They combine the crispy exterior of tater tots with the creamy interior of roast potatoes, and take very little effort to make. They’re so addictive that I ate most of them before I could even finish the rest of my dinner (which also featured this creamed spinach, in case you wanted a sad little window into how behind I am on blogging). I added garlic and rosemary, but you could do any blend of spices and herbs you like. This is simple food cooked to perfection, the kind of food I hope to deliver all year long. Continue reading

Shakshuka with Feta and Sausage

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Brunch at home is a beautiful thing. For one, you don’t have to wear pants (or scarves or coats or any of the other million things required for this terrible weather). For two, you don’t have to wait in line, or worry about having to squeeze into a tiny corner table, or really worry about anything other than if you have enough champagne for another round of mimosas. And if you’re making this shakshuka, you don’t even have to worry about complicated recipes or a sink full of dishes.

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Shakshuka is a staple in North Africa, with variations across the region but the same basic formula: eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, usually cooked with onions, chili peppers and cumin. The New York Times’ Melissa Clark added feta and I, in a moment of inspiration, also added some sausage. Merguez would be ideal, but I used the hot Italian that had been sitting in my freezer and it was delicious.

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But what really makes this dish sing is the combo of the spicy, smoky tomato sauce and the runny egg yolk. As I’ve said before, baked eggs are miraculous. No sweating bullets over the stove, trying to swirl the perfect poach or counting seconds while boiling your eggs accidentally solid. Baking eggs gives them that perfect firm-egg-white-plus-velvety-yolk texture, and as long as you check your eggs every few minutes, you’ll be set. Which means more time for you to binge another episode of Making a Murderer in your PJs … aka #heaven. Continue reading

Butternut and Spinach Orzo

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Call me crazy, but I find it extremely difficult to go straight from the excesses of December to the abstinence of January. Who wants a limp pile of leaves after feasting on cookies and roasts and cups and cups of wine? (Or in my case, sweets and Kati rolls and endless street snacks during my 10-day trip to Kolkata … ) There needs to be some sort of a transition, a go-between that feels healthy but not spartan, filling but not rich, and interesting enough to satisfy a palate that’s subsisted on butter and cream.

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Enter this butternut and spinach orzo. It’s somewhere between pasta and salad — there are enough vegetables to please any dieter, but a generous helping of cheese and good-for-you olive oil keeps it just on the right side of austere. Plus, the dish is endlessly adaptable. I swapped out the original recipe’s blue cheese crumbles for cubes of smoked mozzarella, but goat or feta or regular mozz would be delicious too.

And I like orzo so I stuck with it, but you could use a more wholesome grain like farro or wheat berries, or even wild rice if you’d like to make the dish gluten-free. I didn’t have any on hand, but pepitas would add a nice crunch, as would chopped toasted walnuts or almonds. It’s a forgiving meal, in addition to being a quick one: 15 minutes of prep work and 30 minutes of cooking yields something pretty to look at (those colors!) and delicious to eat.

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My goal in making this dish was not diet-related — it was finance-related. After weeks of buying lunches during a very busy November and December, I made a much-needed return to packing my own lunch. And this orzo packs like a dream. The flavors meld together overnight, there’s no worry about hearing it up or keeping it warm, and there’s no mess in carrying it. It feels like a real treat, a rarity during these dark resolution-filled days. Continue reading

Lemon Snowball Cookies

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If you’re looking for a last-minute cookie recipe that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser, look no further. I got you.

Buttery. Airy. Faintly lemon-scented. Not too sweet. These lemon snowball cookies are dreamy.

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They have a bit of shortbread in their DNA, but using cornstarch keeps them crumbly and light, to the point where you can eat 10 of them and still have room for more. (Not sure if this is a positive for you, but it’s a huge plus for me.)

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I don’t have much else to say … because my mouth is stuffed full of cookies.

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Happy holidays, friends! Hope your plates are full and your hearts are happy!

Lemon Snowball Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes 4 dozen cookies

– 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

– 2/3 cup cornstarch

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

– 1 cup confectioners sugar, divided

– zest and juice of one lemon

– 1 teaspoon vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

3) Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and 1/2 cup of the confectioners sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. At a low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until a soft dough forms. (It will seem crumbly at first, but will then come together.) Freeze the dough for 15 minutes.

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3) Put the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a bowl. Roll a teaspoon of dough into a ball and drop into the sugar, turning to coat. Reshape if necessary, then transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat, spacing balls 3/4 inch apart, until the baking sheets are filled.

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4) Bake the cookies until tops are slightly cracked but still pale (bottoms will be pale golden), 12-15 minutes, rotating pans halfway. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.