Hipster Joes

As Meatless March continues I have come to realize that although it’s not particularly difficult for me to go vegetarian (other than when going out to eat…Montana is not full of options, especially if you also don’t feel like eating a pound of cheese), it is incredibly easy for me to end up eating all sweet potato all the time instead. In an effort to fight this predilection and expand my horizons, I did my best to find some vegetarian dishes that didn’t rely on sweet potato.

One that has actually intrigued me for awhile are sloppy joes. I really enjoy sloppy joes although it rarely occurs to me to actually make them, but in addition to being, well, sloppy, they are also not a particularly healthy meal. Several months ago I came across the idea for sloppy joes made with lentils instead of meat which greatly intrigued me. I’d never even bought lentils before but have liked many dishes that contain them, so it seemed the perfect time to try.

I adapted a recipe I found online, mostly changes to suit what was already in my pantry. After adding extra veggies, cutting the sugar, and using apple cider vinegar instead of Worcestershire sauce (which I never have), my concoction turned out delicious; not too saucy and not too sweet, which is just the way I wanted it. Conveniently, not only are these vegetarian but they are also inherently vegan which is nice if you’re cooking for a range of diets. The flavor is excellent, I love having the huge range of veggies, and texturally they are thick and hearty like a proper sloppy joe should be. I’m sure M would frown at the lack of meat, but I genuinely think they are fantastic.

Having recently seen a recipe where a burger was served in a pita rather than on a giant bun, I had the epiphany that this would be superb for sloppy joes since the filling would be so much better contained. It also results in a much more ideal (in my opinion) filling to bread ratio. In all likelihood I’ll use pitas even for regular sloppy joes in the future because it is just so much easier to eat. (I bet it’d be extra great for kids, too.) To retain the vegan-ness you’ll obviously have to find vegan pitas or flatbread or what have you, but I assume such a thing exists somewhere.

With trendy ingredients like lentils and a multitude of veggies and then neatly packaged into a pita, these started to feel less “sloppy” and more “farmers’ market”, so I’ve christened this recipe Hipster Joes in order to credit the proper genre. Feel free to keep ’em sloppy, if you prefer. I try to have something green with at least two meals per day, and these go great with roasted veggies or a salad.

Hipster Joes

Adapted from the Minimalist Baker
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained (I used green)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 bell pepper, chopped finely
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup minced spinach
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15oz) can tomato sauce
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

3-4 pocket pitas, halved and gently split open

Directions

  1. Combine broth (or water) and lentils in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a constant simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add onion, peppers, and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and golden.
  4. Reduce heat slightly and stir in all remaining ingredients. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, adding the lentils once they are cooked through.
  5. If desired, add additional spices, salt, sugar, or vinegar to suit your tastes, allowing to simmer at least 5 minutes after any additions.
  6. Briefly heat pita pockets (I used the microwave) and fill with mixture. Serve hot!

Notes

Leftovers were great for me, just reheat lentil mixture and pitas (or burger buns) separately so the bread doesn’t get soggy.

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Sweet Potato Lasagna Shells

For this month’s mindfulness challenge, I am doing Mindful Eating II: Meatless March. This is less an effort about specifically giving up meat since I don’t feel particularly dependent on it (especially when M is out of town), and more an effort to continue to venture into new recipe worlds and expand my go-to repertoire.

Last month I made a delicious sweet potato lasagna out of the fantastic cookbook I got for Christmas: Run Fast, Eat Slow. Although I would love to share these recipes with you, as the authors do not make them freely available online I don’t feel I should either. I can say that 100% of the recipes I’ve made from it are just absolutely fabulous, and I highly recommend you buy it. I’m not affiliated in any way, just a super huge fan!

In any case, inspired by the sweet potato ricotta mixture that made up one of the lasagna layers, I created a meatless dish with similar flavors. I’ve always been intrigued by those jumbo pasta shells and often see recipes in my Pinterest feed, but somehow have never actually made them. I determined now was a good a time as any and set out to make sweet potato lasagna shells.

Sweet potato, ricotta, and spinach make a glorious filling, surrounded by a typical but delightful spaghetti sauce. You can never have too much cheese so some shredded Parmesan graces the top of the dish. The finished product is creamy and a fun mix of sweet with just a little spice from the sauce, which makes it a great way to jazz up an otherwise traditional pairing.

I used a convenient jarred sauce as I was crunched for time, but this would be extra delightful with your favorite homemade version. Extra diced and sautéed veggies, a little crushed red pepper, a splash of red wine, and you’re good to go. I decided I didn’t want my shells to be drenched in sauce, but if you like alllll the sauce then definitely use the larger end of the range listed in the recipe.

My friends know I could eat sweet potatoes all day every day, but I have to stress this is probably one of my new favorite dishes. I split my recipe into two 8×8″ pans and placed one in the freezer to bake later, and I’m already excited to have it again. It reheats great for leftovers and goes excellent with a side salad or roasted veggies.

This is a slightly time-consuming meal since you have to cook the shells and stuff them before baking the whole shebang, but it can be made more weeknight friendly by making the filling and the sauce ahead of time, or even assembling the dish completely and refrigerating until you’re ready to bake it. This may increase the baking time a bit so make sure you check the shells are heated through.

And just in case the crew you’re feeding can’t possibly give up meat, this dish would be excellent with some diced bacon or your favorite ground meat in the sauce.

Sweet Potato Lasagna Shells

Inspired by Run Fast, Eat Slow
Serves 8-10

Ingredients

1 box jumbo pasta shells (40+ shells)

1 medium onion, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil

32-48 oz spaghetti sauce (use the larger amount if you like lots of sauce)
2-4 Tbsp red wine (optional)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup shredded Parmesan  or mozzarella cheese
freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 cups cooked sweet potato puree
16 oz whole-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup (packed) finely chopped spinach
2 eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, 1 minute less than al dente. Drain, rinse in cool water, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté until onions are softened and translucent.
  4. Add spaghetti sauce, red wine, and pepper flakes reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix together sweet potato, ricotta, spinach, and eggs until completely combined.
  6. Transfer ricotta mixture to a large Ziploc bag and snip a 1/2″ slice off the tip.
  7. Stuff shells with the filling, about two tablespoons per shell.
  8. Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  9. Arrange the shells in a single layer in the dish. You should be able to squish about 40 shells into the pan. (I had a couple ripped shells, and a couple extra filled ones, which made a great mid-cooking snack.)
  10. Spread remaining sauce on top of the shells and sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese. Add freshly ground pepper, to taste.
  11. Cover pan with foil and bake until sauce is bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.
  12. Serve hot with your favorite roasted vegetable (goes great with Brussels sprouts!)

Notes

If you’re feeling omnivorous, some bacon, pancetta, or Italian sausage would be great additions to the sauce.

If you’re vegetarian such that you don’t eat eggs, you can just leave these out. The texture will be a little different (a bit runnier) but the flavor will still be great.

Pesto Andouille Sausage Quesadillas

One of my go-to quick lunch and dinner options is the ever-faithful quesadilla. Delicious with just plain cheese or dressed up with whatever veggies and meat I have on hand, it’s quick to put together and reasonably healthy assuming I don’t go overboard with the cheese and sour cream. Served with a salad it’s a well-rounded meal while still being less than 20 minutes from conception to consumption.

My standard concoction involves the usual flavors like cheddar, black beans, bell peppers, and possibly whichever ground meat I have in the freezer. Sliced olives are also great if M is not eating them and I remember I’m “allowed” to use them. These are things I pretty much always have around so it’s a great standby when I’m in a rush.

Pesto Andouille Sausage Quesadilla {{Baking Bytes}}

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to mix up the old standbys with some new flavors. A favorite at a local pizza parlor and brewery inspired this particular flavor palate. They have many delightful combinations but one of my favorite Bridger Brewing pizzas is the pesto and lamb sausage. I’m always a sucker for sausage on pizza and the addition of pesto is a nice change-up from the usual white or red sauces.

Pesto Andouille Sausage Quesadilla {{Baking Bytes}}

With a package of local Andouille sausage in the fridge and a Costco container of pesto demanding to be opened, I decided a fancier quesadilla experience was in order. Bell peppers go with everything, in my personal opinion, so I sautéed a few for added color and flavor. Since quesadillas cook pretty quickly, I opted to warm my sausage slices beforehand to ensure they were hot all the way through.

Pesto Andouille Sausage Quesadilla {{Baking Bytes}}

Layers of pesto, sausage, peppers, and melty cheese are delightful experience both in flavor and texture. Mild cheese and spicy sausage, sweet peppers and a smothering of pesto come together for a great juxtaposition of flavors in every bite. This is not what I would consider a particularly healthy assortment as it’s pretty high in both oil and salt content, but it is delicious and a great treat dinner for what would be an otherwise casual evening. I served mine with a spinach salad to help balance the meal, and overall felt pretty great with the whole thing.

The next time you’re looking to change up a standard favorite, try this one out, and let me know what you think.

PS – you may have noticed this is neither dessert nor a cake. I have not yet had time to photograph last week’s delightful dessert, but never fear it will be on this blog someday.

Pesto Andouille Sausage Quesadillas

Makes two half-size 8″ quesadillas
Serves 1-2

Ingredients

2 8″ tortillas
2 Tbsp pesto

1 Andouille sausage (pre-cooked)
1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1/2 cup grated cheese (I used mozzarella)

Directions

  1. Spread half of each tortilla with 1 Tbsp pesto. Set aside.
  2. Slice the sausage into approximately 1/4″ slices.
  3. In a medium or large saucepan, heat sausages over medium-high until warmed through (no need to add oil, just add them to the cold pan while it warms).
  4. Remove sausage from pan, and set on a paper towel.
  5. Drain most of the oil from the pan and then sauté the peppers to your desired doneness. (I like mine soft and a little charred.)
  6. Remove peppers from the pan and set aside with the sausage.
  7. Wipe the excess oil from the pan and reduce heat to medium.
  8. Place a tortilla in the pan, then layer half of the sausage and pepper slices on the pesto side. Top with 1/4 cup cheese and fold. (If you have room, repeat with the other tortilla and cook them at the same time.)
  9. Fry until golden brown and cheese is melted, about three minutes. (I like to put a lid on to aid in the melting.)
  10. Flip and fry one more minute or until the other side is golden. Repeat steps 7-10 with your other tortilla if you didn’t have room to cook them simultaneously.
  11. Slice each half into 2-4 pieces and serve immediately.

Notes

I find them much easier to flip when they are folded (and usually I’m only making one half), so I cook mine in halves. Feel free to make one large quesadilla instead if you prefer.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

February is a strange month, equally full of obnoxiously pink items and overpriced flowers as it is dreary days and bluebird skiing. Long-time readers will know I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day but as it is my anniversary with M it becomes more special. Each year I bake a cake to celebrate and this year will be no different – check back in two weeks for this year’s (hopefully successful) endeavor. Valentine’s desserts are typically quite indulgent, which makes today’s recipe a great option if you’re planning to eat in this “holiday”.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

As part of last month’s Mindful Eating challenge I was looking for recipes that were delicious and wholesome and things that I felt good about eating, emotionally and physically. This soup definitely fits the bill. It’s fairly light which makes it pair great with bread or even grilled cheese, and requires simple ingredients and relatively chill preparation.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

I used a whole package of the large bell peppers from Costco, but if yours are smaller you may want closer to 8. Once flattened they should completely fill the cookie sheet to make sure you have plenty of red pepper flavor. The addition of crushed red pepper flakes adds a little kick, and a dollop of sour cream is a great garnish. This recipe is easily made vegetarian or vegan by using vegetable broth (and nixing the sour cream), which makes it versatile for a whole slew of different diets.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup {{Baking Bytes}}

I served mine with some quick drop biscuits, but you could invite added flair with some fancy grilled cheese (think sourdough bread and Gruyère, or focaccia and brie) or a whole grain loaf. Add a side salad or some roasted veggies and you have a complete meal – with plenty of room for dessert and leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Adapted from House of Yumm
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 large red bell peppers

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat your broiler to high and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Cut the bell peppers into flat strips, removing seeds and membranes.
  3. Place the peppers skin side up onto the prepared baking sheet, flattening them as much as possible.
  4. Broil until skins are at least half blackened, about 15 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and place immediately into a sealed container to steam.
  5. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until onion is translucent.
  6. Retrieve the bell peppers, peeling off the charred parts of the skin, and add to the pot. Add broth and spices and bring to a simmer.
  7. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender1 to puree the soup completely. Taste and adjust spices as necessary.
  8. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream (optional) and some extra crushed red pepper flakes or oregano for garnish. Goes great with a hearty bread.

Notes

If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender to puree the peppers, onion, and garlic before adding the broth and spices (thinning with some of the unheated broth if necessary to get a fine puree), then return to pot and follow directions as normal.

Bulletproof Coffee (Pods)

One of the biggest struggles of long distance running is nutrition. It’s a constant experiment to see what works best for your body. Running on an empty stomach vs with a light snack; fueling mid-run; post-workout energy boosts; all a matter of preference and can vary by day and type of run.

Running

For me, I can run on an empty stomach (minus coffee…I do love coffee) if it’s a shortish morning run and I don’t have a lot of time to kill between waking up and starting to run. Contrastingly, on half marathon race days I need to eat a pretty full meal to keep me satiated but not overstuffed, and even then I often need 100-200 calories during the race. As I become a stronger and faster runner I find I need less to keep me going, but it’s still something I play with a lot during training runs or the “off”-season.

Once per week I run up a set of hills near the office. The usual route is only 4.3 miles (unless I add onto it to align with a training plan) but if I push myself it’s a pretty challenging 40+ minutes. I’ve discovered I *can* run the course without eating but it’s a better workout if I have a little something. I’ve tried a number of the standard suggestions (a piece of toast; banana and peanut butter; etc) but they all made me feel a bit heavy and I never felt like I found *the* item that works the best for me. Enter: bulletproof coffee.

Bulletproof Coffee {[Baking Bytes}}

Although I don’t subscribe to any specific diet, I often read about them out of curiosity or to see if there are any pieces I want to pull into my own life. Bulletproof coffee comes from the Bulletproof Diet, which is a high-fat and low-carb situation. I was not inclined to take up the diet itself, but after reading about the coffee and people who had tried it, it intrigued me as maybe a good pre-run snack.

Since I always drink coffee before running anyway, this kills two birds with one stone by getting my calories and my coffee all in one. Since it’s liquid, it doesn’t make my stomach feel heavy, and the ~200 calories is a good amount of energy for me. Coffee blended with butter and coconut oil sounds, frankly, pretty terrible, but surprisingly it tastes more like a really creamy and mild latte than actual butter and oil.

Bulletproof Coffee {[Baking Bytes}}

Using a blender is key here, whisking or stirring by hand won’t work to properly blend everything together. I like to use slightly stronger coffee than normal, and add a dash (heap) of cinnamon because I love cinnamon. It also fits nicely into my Mindful Eating challenge, as it’s something that not only I enjoy drinking, but it makes me feel solid for running.

For me this would never be a regular breakfast substitute, and I eat another smallish breakfast after I run (toast or oatmeal with peanut butter and banana, usually), but it works great for an early morning pre-workout energy boost. I found I preferred slightly less than a 1:1 ratio of oil to butter, so definitely play with the ratios a little. Feel free to make your pods smaller if you typically drink less coffee in the morning, or just don’t need quite that many calories to fuel your early morning activities.

Bulletproof Coffee {[Baking Bytes}}

If you’re an AM exerciser looking for a lighter way to rev up your cardio sessions, and you like coffee, I highly recommend you give bulletproof coffee a try. I like to make the pods ahead of time so there’s no measuring required the morning of running, but until you figure out your perfect ratio you can always make them individually – just make sure your coconut oil and butter are chilled and solid before blending.

Bulletproof Coffee Pods
Makes 8 pods

Ingredients

1/2 cup unsalted butter
7-8 Tbsp coconut oil

Directions

  1. Melt butter and coconut oil in a microwave safe container and stir to combine.
  2. Divide between 8 wells of a silicon tray or ice-cube tray.
  3. Freeze until firm (or overnight), then remove pods from tray. Store in the freezer until ready to use (or in the fridge if you’ll use them fairly quickly.)

Notes

I preferred it with 7 Tbsp of coconut oil for a slightly richer taste, so feel free to play with the ratios a little.

Bulletproof Coffee 
Makes 1 serving

Ingredients

10-12 oz hot coffee
1 bulletproof pod (above)

dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, etc (optional)

Directions

  1. Optionally, add a dash of spice to a mug.
  2. Add coffee and bulletproof pod to a blender, and blend until extra frothy (about 15 seconds).
  3. Pour blended coffee carefully into mug to stir in the cinnamon, then enjoy immediately.