I came out of the gate as a chef with a healthy, fresh outlook on food — whole foods, as organic and local as possible. The more variance of color in a dish, the better (green is good, all beige is bad). My adult clients early on ate it up, striving for nutrition in their busy lives.

But then I started feeding families with kids. More meat, more cheese and no green, please.

I grudgingly accepted the challenge and pivoted to creating comfort foods for families that were familiar and fun — especially during the COVID-19 era. I quickly discovered the adults, including myself, loved it all as well.

So in a year and a half of my food business, I have morphed my food philosophy into all things in moderation and balance. Cheese is delicious. Baked goods are divine. Let’s enjoy these to a point. But do try to work in the greens.

Who doesn’t love tater tots and pizza? The following recipes offer new twists on these beloved meals in new formats.

Notice the list of potential other ingredients. Make them your own with your family’s favorite ingredients. But do attempt to ditch the cans of cream of whatever soup loaded with who knows what. Cheers.

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Tater tot casserole

  • 1 pound maple breakfast sausage
  • Half onion, finely chopped
  • Half bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 can green chiles
  • 4 cups frozen tater tots, divided
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, divided
  • Dozen eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • Other potential ingredients: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash (all chopped small), other ground seasoned meats, fresh or dried herbs, other cheeses, crushed red pepper, cayenne, sriracha or finely chopped jalapeno for some heat.

Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole or baking dish. Preheat oven to 350.

Take sausage out of casings and brown in a skillet with the onions and peppers. Once cooked and soft, drain. Put mixture into a large bowl and mix with green chiles, 1 cup of chopped tater tots (slice tot into 3 pieces carefully), 1 cup of shredded cheddar, and some salt and pepper. Dump mixture and spread evenly into the baking dish.

In another bowl, whisk eggs with milk and ketchup. Pour eggs over the sausage mixture. Place tots in rows, close together, into the egg mixture. Evenly sprinkle remaining cheese on top of tots. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes to brown the top. It is done when casserole doesn’t jiggle in the middle.

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Pizza pepper pasta

  • 10 ounces spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 4 bell peppers
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • Half onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 16 pieces of pepperoni
  • Fresh basil
  • Other potential ingredients: Make it vegetarian or use your favorite pizza meats. Make it vegan with cashew cheese. Use other pizza toppings such as mushrooms, black olives. Mix in other cheeses.

Cook spaghetti according to package instructions. Drain and toss with olive oil and 1/2 cup of parmesan once pasta is cooled. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425. Lightly spray your smallest, deepest baking dish. Cut off tops of bell peppers and pull out any remaining ribs and seeds. Set aside.

Remove sausage from casings. Cook in a skillet with onions, breaking apart the sausage as it cooks. Mix in tomato sauce. Once cooled, dump into a large bowl and mix in mozzarella.

Stuff mixture into the peppers to the top of the peppers. Do not overstuff. Place in baking dish touching each other so they don’t topple. Top each pepper with a piece of pepperoni and sprinkle of mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until peppers are soft.

Plate spaghetti. Nestle peppers into the pasta, and dot with 12 pepperoni slices. Sprinkle with more Parmesan and torn basil.

Josie Mai is a culinary artist and in-home chef. See her on Facebook and Instagram as Josie Mai Personal Chef or at josiemai.com.