Because Mondays Need Pizza

Yesterday included a job interview, today included a doctor’s appointment (no big deal, just not my favorite), and last night needed to include pizza.  I mean, it really needed pizza.  It needed cheese and comfort and celebration and carbs.

I’m trying to be healthy though, and we did have homemade pizza last week.  That meant coming up with something else for dinner last night.  Something else that fit into my three main recipe metrics for the night: 1) healthy, 2) cheap, 3) made me feel like pizza.

I’m pretty proud of what came out of my brainstorming, actually.  We had delicious stuffed sweet potatoes for dinner–stuffed with ground turkey (and spice and everything nice), black beans, homemade guacamole, green onions, and a tiny bit of Monterey Jack cheese.  And you know what?  It felt just like pizza.  It was bready and absolutely delicious.  It had lots of flavor, thanks to the guacamole, and I would eat it again tomorrow.


not my potatoes… photo from


my potatoes... not as pretty, fully delicious

my potatoes… not as pretty, fully delicious

I didn’t use a recipe, so I made a recipe instead:


  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • whatever turkey spice you want to use: cayenne, cumin, and chili powder, for example
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 avocados (I used 1, but only because I didn’t have 2), mashed
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 of an onion, chopped, I used a small red onion
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • green onions, sliced
  • Monterey Jack cheese, although cheddar or a wide variety of other cheeses would work just as well

The Game Plan

Wrap your sweet potatoes individually in tin foil after washing them off and piercing them a few times with a fork.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  When it’s ready to go, pop the potatoes in and bake them for 45-50 minutes.

Heat a large skillet and cook the ground turkey until it’s cooked through, adding spices sometime during that process.  After the turkey is browned nicely, add the black beans.  Keep that mixture warm.

Mix up your guacamole.  You can add the ingredients to a small mixing bowl in any order–avocado, tomato, onion, lime (garlic would be a good addition, too).  Chop your green onions and set them aside.  Grate whatever cheese you want to throw on top.

Then you can just pile the innards as high as possible on the baked sweet potatoes.  I sliced the baked potatoes in half, opened them up, and added turkey/black beans, then cheese (so it would melt), guacamole, and green onions.  Order would be less important if it weren’t for the cheese melting thing.  And the visual appeal thing.  The guac and green onions were really pretty on top.

The beauty of this recipe is that you could add just about anything.  You could do turkey and frozen corn and different spices and cheese.  You could use ground beef or salsa or whatever you want to try.  You could make Italian stuffed sweet potatoes instead of Southwestern stuffed sweet potatoes.  The world is your oyster.

And let me remind you that yes, this completely satisfied my emotional need for pizza.  That’s a pretty big statement.

On the non-food front, our living room is still kind of like a construction zone, which is fine.  There are dishes to wash, clean laundry to fold, plants to water, and the world continues to turn.

Family Disappointments (and Salmon Baked in Foil!)

My parents have helped me move and unpack a few times over the years. They’re really talented in their respective fields, but they might have missed their calling as professional home unpackers. When I moved from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill, we finished packing the U-Haul in the morning, drove a few hours, got the boxes out of the van in the rain, and unpacked every single box in one day.

Granted, that was a one-bedroom apartment, and Scott and I are now in a large 3-bedroom house. Still, I’m disappointed that I didn’t quite get the family unpacking genes. It’s been exactly a week since the stuff got to the house, and I’d say that 75% of the boxes are unpacked. Maybe 67.8% or 72.3478%. Somewhere over halfway and less than almost done.

So there’s that. I’m also cooking in our sort-of organized kitchen, which is fantastic. Maybe I can credit my slow unpacking to the food situation. We used to eat hot dogs or corndogs or whatever until the boxes were unpacked. Not anymore. Now the 70’s cabinets don’t even bother me, because I can use our awesome pans and knives and soup bowls and all kinds of glasses and everything I could want.

Last night, after Scott got home from a really long day, we enjoyed Giada’s “Salmon Baked in Foil.” Om nom nom.


salmony goodness (olive oil, salt-n-peppa’ on the other side)

Sometimes I can mess up fish, due to inexperience and severe over-cooking, mostly. Not this dish. The foil is kind of fool-proof.


tomato topping with fun foil boats (and a touch of alliteration)

I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned, and I didn’t have any lemon juice. Since the grocery store is more than a hop, skip, and a jump away now, I used white vinegar instead (half the amount). Delicious. It tasted a lot more like comfort food than my typical light salmon recipe. Throw the boats on the plate with some veggies and quinoa, and it was a welcome end to a hard day.

Healthy Substitutions: Lemon Basil Chicken Salad

You probably know by now that I love The Pioneer Woman. She seems like a fun person to know, and she makes absolutely delicious food. I owe a lot of my cooking success to her step-by-step directions and helpful pictures.

But after all of my gushing and adoration of PW, I’ll admit that I have one tiny thing against her. I’m pretty sure I would gain 50 pounds if I ate her food every day. They would be really happy, delicious pounds, but lots of them nonetheless. Her recipes tend towards ample use of butter and cheese (two of my favorite ingredients, don’t get me wrong).

So imagine my glee when I found this delicious recipe on her site that’s healthy, too. I wanted to cook that sucker up right away and enjoy the awesomeness that I knew was inevitable.

Pioneer Woman's photographic genius, not mine

Pioneer Woman’s photographic genius, not mine

Cook I did, and it was every bit as awesome as I had hoped. I did make a few adjustments though, and I wanted to share them with you.

Here’s the original recipe from The Pioneer Woman:


3 cups Cooked Chicken
2 whole Lemons, Juiced And Zested
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
Salt And Pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon Prepared Pesto
1/2 cup Green Peas
12 whole Basil Leaves, Chiffonade (more to taste)
1/4 cup Pine Nuts, Toasted

Preparation Instructions

Mix together lemon juice, olive oil, mayonnaise, salt & pepper, and pesto until creamy and smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as you’d like. Combine chicken, peas, basil, and pine nuts in a bowl and stir together. Pour on dressing to taste and toss to combine. Add 1 tablespoon lemon zest and squeeze in lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve over lettuce with grapes on the side!

And here are the changes I made:

  1. Instead of 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, I used Greek yogurt.
  2. I dumped in at least 2 cups of green peas to amp up the veggie content.
  3. I cheaped out on the pine nuts and used slivered almonds instead. I’m sure pine nuts would be better, but almonds were just fine and definitely easier on the budget.
  4. I added an avocado or two for good measure–healthy fats and creamy texture to boot.
  5. I served the salad over a huge bed of spinach.  Healthier than ever!

And the result? I would readily declare this the tastiest chicken salad I’ve ever had.  I didn’t feel like I was being deprived for the sake of health or anything.  Mmm.

Thank you, PW, for adding recipes that cater to people who don’t wrangle cattle every day.