Skillet Cauliflower Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach
I’m not sure how this happened, but…this is my very first blog post of 2020?!
Between the #DudeDietDinnertime tour and some other professional/life happenings, we’re somehow a month and a half into the New Year, and I’ve yet to empty mah 2019 nets! Given the psychotic delay, I considered skipping my annual overshare (which usually takes place the first week of January), but that felt unnecessarily punitive. We going with the flow more in 2020! Traditions are important, dammit, and this one just so happens to be my favorite.
Should you be unfamiliar, “emptying the nets” is a fabulously cathartic exercise of writing out the year’s highs and lows in the hope of celebrating the positives and letting the negatives float off into the ether. This type of reflection always provides some great personal insights and helps me better conceptualize my goals for the year ahead. Highly recommend, friends.
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
WARNING: This is an absurdly long post! If you’re just here for the gnocchi (respect), go ahead and jump to the recipe now.
The Dude Diet Dinnertime launch. MY SECOND BOOK WAS RELEASED IN 2019!! I poured everything I had into DDD, and finally getting it out into the world and into people’s kitchens after two long years felt pretty damn awesome. Honestly, I felt even more excited about DDD’s release than the OG Dude Diet, which was largely attributable to the fact that this book felt like a community project in so many ways. Hundreds of you were literally involved in its creation from contributing recipe requests to acting as recipe testers, and for that, I am eternally grateful. The advent of Instagram Stories also allowed me to share so much more of the cookbook making process from start to finish this time around. Somehow sharing made writing and producing DDD feel less isolating/overwhelming and more fun, so thank you to everyone who stuck with me and supported me on this creative rollercoaster.
The Dude Diet Dinnertime tour. I spent the last two months of 2019 on the road with DDD, and it was WONDERFUL. The first book tour was great, but honestly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing from a planning, execution, or emotional standpoint. Some events went really well (and by that I mean more than a handful of people came), but an equal number had only a few attendees, and in the notorious case of the Minneapolis dive bar, zero. My expectations for this tour were managed based on my experience with the last, so the first leg of the tour kind of blew my mind. The fact that members of my community (both online and in real life) showed up for me in so many cities, that some events sold out in minutes, and that people waited in line to chat (in some cases for 2+ hours!) felt surreal in a way that you can only understand if you’ve experienced those scenarios in reverse. I will never forget the magic of the DDD tour, and I want to say the hugest, most heartfelt THANK YOU to anyone reading this who was a part of it. I still can’t adequately express how much it meant to me that you took time out of your busy life to come see me. You da best.
Patty! My right hand woman, Patty Ehinger, cold emailed me in the fall of 2018 pitching herself as Employee #1 for Serena Wolf Enterprises. We hit it off immediately, and she signed on as an intern for three months, eventually becoming my first paid employee last January. Having been a one woman show for over seven years, learning to delegate, trust someone with parts of my business, and generally navigate being someone’s “boss” was (and is) tricky for me, but it was an equally amazing growth experience. I am so damn grateful for Patty’s patience, determination, and collaboration, and I could never have pulled off a 21-city book tour without her spreadsheet-making, inbox-zeroing, travel planning skills.
Melissa Wood Health. I did a handful of Melissa’s workouts (they’re a hybrid of yoga and Pilates) back in 2018, but I committed to them 5-6x a week last year, and they were an absolute game changer for my mental and physical health. Melissa has the best calming energy, and given the length of the workouts (most are 20-40 minutes) and the fact that they can be done anywhere, working out consistently suddenly became both a breeze and a pleasure. Plus, the workouts didn’t cause excessive sweating, so I washed my hair roughly half as much as I did 2018. HALLELUJAH.
Medium-trashy reading. One of my 2019 goals was to read more, and I made it through many a great book last year. Spending so much time engrossed in medium-trashy literature (read: mindlessly entertaining stories that are still decently written) had such a positive impact on my anxiety, sleep, and overall happiness levels. Gonna keep the book ball rolling in 2020.
The Great British Baking Show! I was embarrassingly late to the baking party, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the many hours of mind-numbing happiness it brought to me in 2019. Snaps for televised Xanax.
Spiraling. For the first time, anxiety is making it onto my list of highs because it spawned something pretty fucking amazing this year! In August, my fellow anxious friend Katie Dalebout and I launched Spiraling, our “optimistic anxiety podcast.” The goal was to help people to understand anxiety better—whether they deal with it personally or not—to feel less alone, and to chip away at the stigma, while providing a few laughs along the way. We were overwhelmed by the feedback and support for this incredibly personal (and vulnerable) passion project, and building a virtual community for anxious peeps is one of the things I derived the greatest sense of purpose from and took the most pride in over the last year (maybe the last decade?).
My best friend’s wedding. My best friend and very first roommate, Fifi, got married in May, and it was a year/life highlight. Between her bachelorette (Vegasssss, baby!!), dress fittings, celebratory events, and the wedding itself, there was a lot of love, champagne, and core-strengthening laughter in 2019. Never underestimate the power of seeing someone you love at peak happiness level—it’s the best. (I’d also been patiently waiting to crush her wedding speech for years.)
The Hump Day Dance. An extension of the #lobbyselfie tradition, getting down to the Instagram Beats filter every Wednesday brought me a mildly hilarious amount of joy last year. Whether it went down in front of my own mirror, in the bathroom/dressing room of TV stations, or in very public places like hotel lobbies and boutiques, this weekly dance never failed to make me laugh or remind me not to take myself too seriously. (It also allowed me to put all those years of high kicking in karate lessons to good use.) I’m very much looking forward to another year of Hump Day performances.
Celebrating more. I made a resolution a few years ago to celebrate more—the little stuff and the big stuff—and I really leaned into it last year, which had a hugely positive impact on my life and anxiety. As one of my best friends said to me (after flying all the way from Indianapolis for one night to celebrate the launch of DDD), “Life is hard, and strange, and weirdly wonderful, and what’s the point if not to show up to celebrate?” PREACH.
Logan. Honestly, life with my muse is a perpetual high, but I’d like to give him an extra special shout out for his tireless patience, humor, and cheerleading in 2019. I imagine I wasn’t always a peach during my book launch, and I felt extremely lucky every day to have such a compatible weirdo in my corner.
Not getting my own cooking show or posing for Maxim (in a classy way). Again. I’ve been rolling over these grand goals since 2011, and while I’m always a little sad to close out another year without checking them off my bucket list, I shall soldier on. (Considering sending Maxim a compilation of my Hump Day dances to help tip the scales in my favor.) 2020, LET’S FUCKING GO.
Seemingly endless professional rejection. So much rejection in 2019!!! We don’t have time to deep dive into all of it today, so I’ll just say that I heard a lot of “NO” last year. From brands, event venues, and hotels declining collaborations to media outlets passing on The Dude Diet Dinnertime and on-camera roles that seemed like they miiiight just happen but didn’t (remind me to tell you about the joy and horrors of my QVC audition at some point), I was dismissed left and right last year. Some of these rejections stung more than others, but honestly, my heart didn’t break over any of them in the way that it had in years past. In fact, I almost put rejection on the “highs” list simply because a.) my skin ain’t never been thicker, b.) I’ve truly internalized that rejection simply isn’t nearly as bad as it’s chalked up to be, and c.) every “yes” felt that much sweeter.
Eczema. I don’t talk too much about my rashiness on here for obvious reasons (recipe talk and rash talk are somewhat at odds), but I’ve had an eczema issue since I was a kid. It tends to flare when I get stressed, and 2019 was on the stressful side. It also involved a lot of travel, which can exacerbate my flares. Long story short? 2019 was a very itchy year.
My @yeti products remaining #notsponsored. If you hang out with me on Instagram, you know I am Yeti’s #1 fangirl. I use their products daily, relentlessly tag them, and have pitched many badass collaborations over the past several years to no avail. However, I did receive a single heart emoji from the @yeti Instagram account on one of my Stories circa June, so I’m holding out hope for 2020. Good things come to those who wait…
The Philadelphia Eagles. They shit the bed again. I don’t personally care about football or the Birds in the slightest, but I live with someone who does, and it would just be really nice if they could win the Super Bowl every year, you know? Fingies crossed for 2020.
Exhaustion. I shamelessly burned the candle at both ends in 2019, and I found myself feeling somewhere between fatigued and deeply exhausted almost all the time. But instead of resting when I felt tired, I just kept on pushing through. A portion of this behavior can be chalked up to necessity (i.e. the book launch and tour schedule was what it was, and there wasn’t much flexibility or downtime to be had), but I think a lot of my resistance to rest boiled down to fear—fear that if I slowed down I’d lose professional momentum coupled with fear of my own anxiety. The thing is, when I’m particularly busy and stressed, my anxiety levels are low. It’s when I slow down and free up brain space that my anxiety levels skyrocket. Being comfortable in the less frantic times was something I wanted to work on in 2019, but honestly, I didn’t try that hard. So slowing things down a little bit and prioritizing rest is my top goal for 2020. Wish me luck. I hope my therapist has his game face on. 😉
WHEW!!! That’s all, folks. 2019 nets emptied. As always, I’m equally grateful for the highs and the lows, and I’m amped for the rest of 2020. I have a good feeling about this year—let’s kick ass and take names!
If you’re still with me (I love you), I made you some super easy and satisfying Skillet Cauliflower Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach. As per usual, I’m fashionably late to the Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi party, but whateva. I’m a fan, and this one-skillet wonder has become a new favorite. It’s made with just a handful of ingredients, packs plenty of vegetable goodness, comes together in about 20 minutes, and tastes BOMB. (My roommate is obsessed with it, and I’m thrilled to report that it’s very much Dude Diet approved.)
If you’re not down with cauliflower gnocchi, by all means, use real gnocchi. Vegetarians, sub your favorite plant-based sausage or experiment with chopped mushrooms or roasted red peppers instead. Play with cheeses! You know I love it when you do you.
Skillet Cauliflower Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach (Serves 2)
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (12-ounce) bag Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi
¼ pound Italian chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed
1¼ cups tomato sauce of your choice (I’m partial to Rao’s marinara or vodka sauce for this) *You may add a little more if you like things extra saucy.
2 packed cups baby spinach, chopped
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I personally like to use Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio)
For serving: (optional)
Fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Crushed red pepper
-We’re ignoring the package directions for the gnocchi because they suck. Instead, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the gnocchi in an even layer. (I like to smack the bag on the countertop several times before opening it to help break up any gnocchi that have stuck together.)
-Let the gnocchi cook undisturbed until they’re golden brown on the undersides, about 3 minutes. Flip the gnocchi with a spatula and continue to cook until browned and crisped all over, another 5 to 8 minutes. (The gnocchi will release itself from the pan when it’s ready to be flipped for the first time! Don’t rush the initial sear or they’ll stick to the pan and break apart.) Transfer the gnocchi to a bowl or plate and briefly set aside.
-Pre-heat the broiler on high.
-Add the sausage to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring and breaking up the meat into small pieces with a spatula, until browned.
-Reduce the heat to low and stir in the tomato sauce. Add the spinach to the pan and cook for about a minute, just until wilted.
-Return the gnocchi to the pan, folding it into the sauce.
-Sprinkle the cheese over the contents of the the skillet.
-Transfer the skillet to the broiler. Broil for about 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. (Keep a close eye on it! Broilers are fickle.)
-Divide the skillet between two plates or bowls and serve warm. Garnish with basil and crushed red pepper if you like.
Never miss a post!
Get new recipes and lifestyle tips delivered straight to your inbox.