Thanksgiving Sliders

My favorite part of Thanksgiving (after friends and pumpkin pie) is the copious leftovers. Turkey isn’t actually my favorite on its own, but it’s one of my favorite sandwich/wrap fillings and I always look forward to a few days of tastiness. My go-to is a wrap with warmed cream cheese, cranberry sauce, and turkey, and then stuffed with some extra leafy greens. All the best flavors of Thanksgiving dinner rolled into one, and even a salad to boot. (Don’t worry, I probably already had the pie for breakfast.)

Last year I made homemade dinner rolls to take to our annual potluck, and ended up with quite a lot left over. It seemed prudent (and delicious) to utilize those instead of my standard tortillas, and as such the Thanksgiving slider was born.

Creamy mashed potatoes, moist turkey, and tart cranberry sauce are cozied up between fluffy bread, and it’s possibly my new favorite “leftovers” meal. A perfect contrast of sweet and savory, and a mouthful of delicious in every bite. I love this recipe because you can quickly make just one or two in the microwave, or you can heat up an entire pan in the oven. Admittedly the oven method is a bit slower, but with a little effort and a bit of patience you can have a meal for the whole family.

An added bonus of this recipe is obviously that you can add basically any leftovers you have around. Extras on the cheese platter? Go for it. Still a tureen of gravy in the fridge? Drizzle that on. A few green beans or carrots taking up space? Add those too. Nearly any Thanksgiving recipe could have a home here, it’s just a matter of your personal taste.

While using homemade rolls is delicious, you can certainly pick up some extras of the store-bought variety to prepare. Add a side salad and you have a perfect (and lighter) day-after lunch or dinner all ready to go. You can probably even convince any leftovers-haters in the house to partake without complaint.

Kick back, avoid the Black Friday crowds, and enjoy your favorite flavors of Thanksgiving in a new twist.

Thanksgiving Sliders

Ingredients

critical leftovers
dinner rolls
mashed potatoes
turkey
cranberry sauce

additional ideas
Brie, cream cheese, goat cheese
gravy
stuffing
green beans
glazed carrots
your favorites!

Directions

  1. Oven directions (for a whole pan): Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Carefully slice rolls in half (you can do this without separating them if you have a whole pan still).
  3. Layer bottom rolls, mashed potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce, and any other toppings of choice.
  4. Add top layer of rolls, and cover pan with foil.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until heated through (easiest to use a thermometer in the center roll).
  6. Serve hot with a tasty beverage.
  7. Microwave directions (for just a couple): Slice rolls in half and lightly toast.
  8. Arrange all fillings in a single layer on a plate and heat 1-2 minutes or until hot.
  9. Assemble rolls with hot ingredients, and enjoy immediately.

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Sweet Potato Alfredo

Consistent readers will know about my obsession with sweet potatoes, but if you’re new here perhaps you haven’t been initiated yet. I could (and sometimes do) eat sweet potatoes with every meal, and they are definitely one of my favorite autumn flavors. I’m not dissing pumpkin by any means, but the sweet potato is an extremely versatile flavor and I love it equally in both sweet and savory dishes.

When the weather cools most of us gladly welcome the cozy comfort foods like pasta and chili, and I’m no exception. Pasta is a wonderful meal on a cold day, and a good creamy sauce is hard to beat. However, most of them are rather heavy (both in calories and in experience) and it’s not always what I’m looking for. This sauce was somewhat of an experiment born of Pinterest inspiration, but I have a feeling I’ll be meal-prepping it often for lunches this year. The picture might look like mac and cheese, but it’s actually a sweet potato Alfredo.

The thick and creamy experience of a quality Alfredo sauce is typically reached with, well, heavy cream. In this case it (obviously) comes from the sweet potato, which admittedly surprised me in how excellently it works. Honestly, it kind of blew my mind. The flavor is also fantastic, and not just for die-hard sweet potato fans. Smooth and creamy like a sauce should be, a wonderful fall flavor, and quite a bit lighter than your standard heavy cream experience.

Personally I think it’s delightful all on its own, but for a little crunch some toasted walnuts are a great addition. It’s hard to go wrong with cheese, so I added some parmesan as well; I also think chèvre would be a welcome addition and I’ll be trying that next time. If you feel the need to add a meat, a sprinkle of crumbled bacon or pancetta would complement everything nicely. I’m also excited to play with some different flavor profiles in the coming months, and I’ll be sure to share them all as I have time.

Next time you need a comfort food with maybe fewer calories, give this pasta a shot – be sure to let me know what you think!

Sweet Potato Alfredo

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb (ish) dried pasta

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour

1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sweet potato puree1
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 Tbsp dried sage or rosemary
salt and pepper, to taste

optional toppings
toasted walnuts or pecans
parmesan or goat cheese
crumbled bacon or pancetta

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions; reserve 1  1/2 cups of water, drain, and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. For added flavor, continue to heat until it begins to brown.
  3. Vigorously whisk in flour until smooth, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add milk and continue to whisk until mixture bubbles and thickens; this will take a few minutes.
  5. Stir in sweet potato, and 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water. Optionally, use an immersion blender to get the sauce nice and smooth. If sauce is too thick, add water about two tablespoons at a time until desired consistency is reached (I usually add about 1 cup total).
  6. Add sage or rosemary, salt and pepper to taste, then let simmer for a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
  7. When sauce is ready, stir into pasta and continue to simmer until everything is well combined and heated through.
  8. Serve immediately, optionally topped with nuts, cheese, and/or protein of choice.
  9. Pro tip: Reheats well if you add a little extra water to the bowl before microwaving.

Notes

You can puree ahead of time in a blender or food processor, or just mash it well and then use an immersion blender while making the sauce to smooth it out.

Fall Harvest Browned Butter Pasta

During the summer I rarely eat pasta as I prefer lighter and cooler meals in the hot weather. As the temperature drops and the leaves change, I reintroduce pastas and soups into my regular rotation. However, with Montana’s bipolar weather patterns, fall typically holds as many days in the 70s as it does in the 40s, which makes my usual bulk preparation a bit more challenging. Quinoa salads are great for this, because they are excellent both warm and cold, making it easy to match the weather and my mood for the day, but I don’t want to eat one every week. Another option are vegetable-heavy pasta meals that don’t involve a heavy sauce.

This recipe is partly inspired by my favorite cookbook, written by an elite distance runner. It’s full of hearty and delicious meals that aren’t “skinny” but still full of veggies and healthy fats. I modified my version slightly, adding Brussels sprouts and changing the spices a little, based off a similar recipe online. The result is a colorful mix of veggies and pasta, falling somewhere between a light summer entree and a cozy fall one.

Brussels sprouts are a winter staple for me, as they keep well in the fridge and roasting them is simple and always delicious. (They are also sold at Costco, which admittedly factors heavily into my produce selections.) The butternut squash takes a bit more effort to prepare, but you can really streamline the process by buying the pre-diced version. This does feel slightly ridiculous, but it saves a huge amount of time and effort so personally I think it’s worth the extra couple dollars.

Browned butter adds a nice caramel flavor, complimented by herbs and a few red pepper flakes. I kept my sauce on the light side as I wanted the veggies to shine, but absolutely double the sauce recipe if you want a more decadent experience. I opted to add toasted walnuts for some crunch, and parmesan (because you can’t go wrong with cheese) for a delicious protein boost. I personally loved this recipe in its original vegetarian state, but some crumbled bacon or prosciutto would be a nice addition as well.

It reheats nicely for leftovers, and is also pretty good cold if you didn’t add too much extra sauce. Welcoming in the fall vegetables without the heat or heaviness of a chili, it bridges the divide from summer to winter with a more gradual shift. If, like me, you’re in a place that can’t quite make up it’s mind about the weather, a batch of this will be that perfect mix of cozy and cool.

Fall Harvest Browned Butter Pasta

Inspired by Maebells and Run Fast, Eat Slow
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1 lb pasta (I used casarecce)

for the sauce
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

optional toppings
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together butternut squash and 1 tablespoon of olive oil until squash is well coated. Spread in an even layer on one baking sheet.
  3. In the same bowl, mix together Brussels sprouts and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, mixing until well coated. Spread in an even layer on the other baking sheets.
  4. Sprinkle both sheets with salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Roast for 30 minutes (squash on top), stirring halfway through, until squash is tender.
  6. Remove squash from oven and move sprouts to the upper rack, roasting another 5-10 minutes until browned and crispy.
  7. Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  8. When the veggies have about 10 minutes remaining, make the sauce: melt butter in a large pot (I used a wok) over medium heat. Simmer until it begins to darken and contains brown flecks, stirring occasionally.
  9. Turn off the heat and stir in garlic and spices.
  10. When the veggies and pasta are done, stir gently into the sauce until completely combined and evenly coated.
  11. Serve hot with extra grated pepper, optionally topped with one tablespoon each of Parmesan and toasted walnuts.

Notes

I kept the sauce fairly light as I wanted the veggies to shine through. If you’re looking for a rich, buttery experience, feel free to double the sauce recipe.

To toast walnuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until warmed, lightly golden, and a little crunchier (about 5 minutes).

Homemade Frozen Pizzas

Last weekend Montana skipped straight from the heat of summer to its first snowfall. It didn’t stick much at the city level, but nonetheless resulted in a lovely “November” run on Saturday, and the snow-capped mountains are a welcome relief from the smokey haze we’ve been battling for weeks.

When the weather cools I start thinking about soups and chilis like any sane person, but I also think a bit more about quick freezer meals. One of my (many) odd quirks is that I really prefer not to bake in the dark. I have no idea where this mentality came from, but it sometimes makes the blog posts challenging in those few months of the year when all the daylight is during work hours and the weekends are filled with skiing. Arriving home in pitch black also makes me much less inclined to start a full dinner, and if I don’t have leftovers to reheat I usually end up with a grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. Despite my love of both, they do get a bit repetitive (and not particularly healthy) when eaten too often in lieu of a proper dinner.

A staple of most college kids, frozen pizzas are a quick and easy dinner for those busy evenings. I personally never buy them, since the odd ingredients and all-or-nothing style of vegetables don’t appeal to me, but the idea seemed incredibly sound. Armed with my mom’s dough and sauce recipes, I set off to make my own.

I pre-baked the crust to make it a little sturdier for storage, then topped them all with my favorite mix of meat, produce, and cheese. I am one of those people who likes fruits on their pizza, so sorry (not sorry) in advance if my pineapple and mandarins repulse you. I made one that evening, then froze the remaining five before wrapping in plastic wrap and sealing in Ziplocs to try another day.

Like the store-bought variety, these can be baked directly out of the freezer, sans all the wrappings. The bottoms have a tendency to brown faster than the cheese melts, so bake them one rack above center. If you are truly anti-crispy with regards to crust, bake on a silicon mat instead of directly on the baking sheet. They keep a month or two in the freezer with no dip in quality, and would probably last longer if you don’t eat them before then.

Alternatively, instead of adding the toppings right away, you can freeze the crusts naked and top when you bake them. This takes away a bit of the preparedness, of course, but has the added benefit of letting you add whichever toppings you feel like that day. It also gives you a bit more flexibility since certain toppings (like leafy greens, berries, raw tomato) may not freeze quite as well.

I made mine into small personal sized pizzas as their intended to be a one-off meal, and also so they fit nicely into gallon Ziploc bags for storage. You can make one pizza for tonight and freeze the rest for later, which makes the effort of mixing your own dough and sauce a little less off-putting. Despite the long list of ingredients, this is actually an incredibly easy project, and if you have all your toppings cut ahead of time it’s even fast enough for a weekday meal. Personal pizzas are also great if you have a variety of preferences in the house. M prefers a very high meat:not meat ratio, and loathes olives with a fiery passion; I prefer just a touch of meat and often experiment with more unusual combinations. Having individual pizzas for each of us makes it easy to customize the amounts of each topping, with no chance of contamination.

With school back in session, hunting season underway, and the cold weather imminent, this is a great time to prep a few meals for future nights. Make up a batch or two of dough and in an hour or two you can have 8-10 meals in the freezer for later.

Homemade Frozen Pizzas

Adapted from AllRecipes and Food.com
Serves 4-6 people1

Ingredients

Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

8oz can tomato sauce
6oz can tomato paste
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small bay leaf

Crust
1 cup water at 110 degrees Fahrenheit
1 (.25 oz) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp salt

cornmeal

Topping Suggestions2
2-3 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese
12 oz hot Italian sausage, browned and drained
1 bell pepper, diced and sautéed
15 oz can pitted black olives, sliced
20 oz can pineapple chunks

Directions

  1. For the sauce: In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and transparent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer at least 30 minutes for best flavor.
  3. Remove bay leaf and use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.
  4. For frozen pizzas, let cool completely and store in the fridge until ready to use. For pizzas you’re baking right away, you can use it now.
  5. For the crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar and yeast. Slowly stream in water and stir gently. Let rest 10 minutes, until yeast has foamed.
  6. Gently and briefly stir in flour, salt, and oil. Using the dough hook, beat on low until dough comes together and pulls away from the sides. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and sprinkle pizza pans or cookie sheets with cornmeal. Set aside.
  8. Sprinkle your counter or a cutting board with flour. Divide dough into desired number of servings and gently roll into circles. Transfer to prepared pans.
  9. Bake for 5-12 minutes, until crust is just starting to firm up. For mini pizzas this will be 5 minutes, for one large pizza it could be up to 12. If you’re making frozen pizzas, be very careful not to over bake.
  10. Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly (for eat it now), or completely (for frozen pizzas).
  11. Assembly for eat it now: Spread sauce onto crusts to within 1/2 inch of edge, and top with desired toppings. Bake an additional 10-20 minutes, or until crust is desired crispness, cheese is melted, and toppings are warm.
  12. Assembly for frozen crusts: Allow crusts to cool completely, then wrap carefully in plastic wrap, seal in a Ziploc, and store in the freezer until ready to use. (You can add your toppings to the frozen crust, then bake as instructed below.)
  13. Assembly for frozen pizzas: Allow crusts, sauce, and topping to cool completely. I like to prep everything on one day, store the sauce in toppings in the fridge overnight, and then make the pizzas the next day. Crusts are fine on the counter in an airtight container.
  14. Spread crusts with sauce to within 1/2 inch of edges, and then add desired toppings. For mini pizzas I about 1/2 cup cheese and 1/4 cup meat, then arrange the other toppings as they fit.
  15. Transfer pizzas to cookie sheets or cutting boards and then freeze until solid.
  16. Remove from freezer and wrap each pizza individually with plastic wrap, then place into Ziploc bags or airtight containers for longer-term storage. They should keep just fine for a couple of months if they are well wrapped. Pro tip: Use tape or labels to write baking instructions on each pizza.
  17. If you have leftover toppings, use them for scrambled eggs or omelets, on salad, or freeze for later use.
  18. Baking: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and for crispy crust on large pizzas move rack to one below center. For personal frozen pizzas with frozen toppings, you may want to move rack to one above center.
  19. Unwrap frozen pizza and place on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. For less crispy crust, use a silicon mat.
  20. Bake an additional 15-25 minutes (depending on pizza size) or until crust is browned on the bottom, cheese is melted, and toppings are heated through. If the toppings are browning too fast for the crust, cover lightly with foil for the remaining bake time (and make a note to yourself that you might prefer to use a lower rack in the future.)

Notes

Lots of options here: one family sized pizza, two larges, 3 mediums, 4-6 personal sized pizzas. I did 6 smallish personal-sized pizzas because I like to have a side salad to make a well-rounded meal. Feel free to do whatever sizes suits you!

These are the toppings used in my pictures, but mix it up or make substitutions to fit your dietary needs/preferences.

Blackberry Peach Smoothie

Although I mostly stick with my go-to peanut butter and banana smoothie, I occasionally am interested in a more summery flavor profile. Typically I concoct one from whatever happens to be my in freezer at the time, which is usually a mixture of bananas, berries, and melons, and maybe a cucumber or two. Blackberries are far and above my favorite berry but as they are quite strong in flavor I like to pair them with something a bit more mild. Bananas are excellent for this, of course, but in late summer peaches are easily my ideal complement.

This is another excellent smoothie for any time of day, an equally delicious way to start your day as it is to end it. With plenty of fresh fruit and a hidden veggie boost, its flavor is reminiscent of a cobbler but much lower in sugar. The spinach muddies the color a bit, but otherwise it’s not even noticeable. Ground oatmeal makes a nice thickener as well as keeping you fuller longer, and my trusty dash of cinnamon rounds it out nicely. If you prefer yours a bit sweeter, add a dollop of pure maple syrup.

It’s not necessary to peel your peaches before freezing them, but make sure they are in small enough chunks to fit in your blender. I typically cut mine into eighths since that’s the easiest way to pit them anyway. Slice and pit a whole tray at once and then arrange on a piece of parchment paper to freeze. Once frozen you can transfer them to a Ziploc or other storage without fear of them sticking into one giant clump of peach. I use this method to freeze all my fruits and veggies for smoothies (and oatmeal) – everything from sliced bananas and berries to cucumber and zucchini. It takes a little prep time, but it’s well worth the convenience later.

Sweet peaches and tart blackberries come together in combination perfect for those later days of summer when both are overly abundant. Whether you’re buying from Costco or local stand, or lucky enough to be picking them yourself, it’s a delicious way to use up excess fruits that are maybe a little beyond the raw-eating prime. With these last few weeks of toasty weather ahead, you should have ample time to give this a whirl.

Blackberry Peach Smoothie
Makes one 16-20 oz smoothie

Ingredients

1/3 cup oatmeal

1 ripe peach (pitted, sliced, and frozen)1
1/4 cup blackberries, frozen
1 – 1.5 cups coconut milk (or any unsweetened milk)

1 – 2 cups frozen and crushed baby spinach
1-2 tsp maple syrup (optional)
cinnamon, to taste

Directions

  1. Place oatmeal in blender (I like to use the single-serve size so I don’t accidentally make a gigantic smoothie) and blend until finely ground.
  2. Add remaining ingredients (optionally reserving a peach slice and two berries for garnish) and blend until completely mixed (this could take a minute or so). If it’s too thick, blend in additional milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Enjoy immediately with a straw, a sunny day, and a good book.

Notes

1  I typically slice mine into roughly eighths as they fit into my single-serving blender cup better that way. You can slice yours more or less to suit your needs.

I like to put a bunch in the freezer and then crush it all once it’s frozen. Then it’s really easy to measure out a cup or two for each smoothie on the fly.