Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

gourmet mac and cheeseAs a kid, J and I both loved macaroni and cheese. How were we to know that it wasn’t made with real cheese? Thankfully, we’ve come to see how much more amazing this childhood favorite can be. I’ve made a number of takes off macaroni and cheese before, but this is probably my favorite. We don’t plan to feed Eli the box mac and cheese, so we’re hoping something like this will be his favorite go-to childhood meal. Give it a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Grown-up Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1  medium red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups 1% or skim milk
  • 5 ounces (1/2 package) of frozen spinach thawed or 1 bag of fresh spinach cooked down
  • 8 ounces gruyere cheese
  • 1.5 cups elbow macaroni (preferably whole grain)
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, diced

gourmet  (2)Directions

  1. Prepare pasta as directed on package; set aside to cool.
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add onion, salt, and garlic. Cook down until soft. Add vinegar and cook for 1 more minute. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the white sauce (slurry version)
    1. Pour 1/2 cup milk into a measuring cup. While whisking, slowly add flour, making sure none sticks to the bottom. Once fully incorporated, add remaining milk and whisk well.
    2. Spray a skillet with cooking spray and pour milk mixture into the room-temperature pan.
    3. Heat pan over medium-low heat, stirring continuously to prevent sticking.  Continue to heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Once slightly bubbling, allow to bubble while stirring for 3 minutes (this is the thickening stage) and then lower heat to low.
  4. Add cheese to the white sauce and stir until fully melted. Add onion, chicken, spinach, and pasta; mix well until well incorporated.
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Butternut Squash and Black Bean Skillet

This was the first meal I made in the new year. Absolutely delicious. I had never thought to mix butternut squash with black beans, let alone put it in an enchilada skillet. Genius. I modified the recipe a bit, so to see the original over at ambitious kitchen, click here. I added ground beef from our cow to make this a little heartier. If you want a vegetarian dish, you can omit it all together (like the original recipe) or substitute TVP or tofu.

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Skillet
adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

photo 1

Ingredients
  • 3 cups 1/2-inch-diced, peeled butternut squash (from about a 2-lb. squash)*
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 8 ounces of lean ground beef
  • 3 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/2 jalapeno or equivalent amount of hot peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 – 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup reduced-fat colby jack or mexican cheese (or whatever you prefer), divided
  • cilantro and low-fat sour cream, for serving
  • Round corn tortilla chips, for serving
Instructions
*To prepare the butternut squash, I think it is easiest to roast it in the oven. I do this every fall with all of my squash and then freeze the cooked squash to use in the winter.  Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. If you want you can peel the squash now, but I prefer to wait until after it is cooked. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds with a metal spoon (roast them if you want). I always find that the base of the squash cooks faster because of that hole, so I like to cut just above the base. You should now have 4 pieces of squash  – 2 half circles and 2 rectangular pieces. Place squash face down on the pan. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce the fleshy part of the squash (or when you touch the outside skin it feel soft). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. With a metal spoon, scoop out the base pieces and mash up in a bowl. Freeze this as a paste to use as a pasta sauce or in soup (or just as mashed squash). Peel the rectangular pieces of squash. The skin should come off pretty easily now. Chop the squash into 1/2″ size pieces. I freeze them in quart-size freezer bags.
  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in large oven-proof skillet. Add onions, garlic, jalapeno, and ground beef. Cook until beef is browned all the way through. Add in green pepper and cook 2-3 minutes. Add cubed squash, black beans, cumin, and chili powder. Cook, stirring regularly to prevent the squash from becoming mushy. 
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle in 1 cup of cheese. Cover with a lid and let sit for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted.
  3. Serve immediately. Top with sour cream and serve with corn tortilla chips.

Spinach Egg Scramble

I am a breakfast person. Some people don’t have an appetite for anything in the morning, or can get by with a piece of fruit or a slice of toast. Not me. I need a meal. I love having vegetables for breakfast for three reasons:

  1. They are filling (so I am not wasting 1/2 of my morning trying to ignore my  hunger or eating snacks)
  2. They help keep my blood sugars steady (I have reactive hypoglycemia)
  3. I can mentally check off 2 of my 5 veggies servings for the day (score!!)

My favorite thing to make in the morning is eggs with some type of vegetable. Usually it is an omelette, a scramble, or a frittata. This morning I threw together a spinach and tomato egg scramble over a spinach salad, topped with fresh Romano cheese and balsamic vinegar. It was delicious 🙂

I know what you’re thinking – you’re a dietitian, why are you eating cheese and eggs?!? First, eggs are actually GREAT for you. I usually eat 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites. The volume is the same as 2 whole eggs but you cut out 50 calories of fat and add in 15 calories of protein. There is no cholesterol or saturated fat in an egg white, so this is actually very heart healthy. And as for the cheese. Well, I’m a Wisconsin girl, so cheese is a pretty big part of my diet. I like to choose cheese with a lot of flavor, so that I can use a little. There is barely anything in 1/2 TBSP of aged Romano cheese, except flavor of course 😉

Spinach Egg Scramble

Spinach Egg Scramble

Ingredients

  • cooking spray
  • 1.5 cups of fresh spinach
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 TBSP fresh Romano cheese
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat (around a 7) and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Once heated, add 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg. Mix together once and top with a 1/2 cup of spinach. Let stand for a few minutes.
  3. Scramble the mixture for 2 minutes to make sure the egg is cooked throughout. the spinach should start to shrink at this point. Turn off the heat.
  4. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in the pan. Scramble the mixture until you are satisfied with the egg’s doneness.
  5. Put the rest of the spinach (1/2 cup) into a bowl. Pour the egg  mixture over the spinach salad. Top with cheese and balsamic vinegar.
  6. Enjoy – and get ready for a super productive morning now that your brain is nourished and your belly is full 🙂

Cheese Enchilada Casserole

Jason and I love tacos and enchiladas. While the real Mexican food from an authentic restaurant is obviously as good as it gets, we rarely eat out, so our home-made variety usually suffices. This recipe turned out delicious and was very easy to make. It could be prepared ahead of time, so when you get home you just need to pop it in the oven.

Cheese Enchilada Casserole

Recipe from EatingWell.Com
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sliced onions
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 9 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup taco sauce (such as Ortega)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Arrange 3 tortillas in bottom of an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread half of cheese mixture over tortillas. Repeat procedure with 3 tortillas and remaining cheese mixture; top with remaining tortillas.
  3. Pour taco sauce over tortillas; sprinkle with Monetary Jack cheese. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until cheese melts. 

A Lunch Time Favorite

When I think there is nothing in the house to eat, there are ALWAYS two things: Bread and Cheese. What is more comforting than a good old grilled cheese sandwich? Not much! Jason and I love grilled cheese sandwiches and usually end eating them at least once every other week. We use a non-stick pan, so only a little butter goes a long way. I also make them on the George Foreman Grill for a lighter option. However, they taste 100% different, so if you are in the mood for that crispy, buttery crust, stick to the pan.

Grilled Cheese Ingredients:
(for one half of the grilled cheese below…I usually only have one, but Jason was hungry and is having two in the pictures)

  • 2 slices of Home-made bread
  • 5-6 slices of cheese from the skinny end of the cheese (if you have a brick, put it flat on a cutting board and cut 5 slices from the left side)
  • 1 tbsp of softened butter (or less if you are using a non-stick pan. By using softened butter, a little will go a long way)

Directions

  1. Heat a small skillet to medium heat (about level 6)
  2. Butter one side of each slice bread.
  3. Place the butter side down in the pan and put the pieces of cheese side by side from the left skinny side of the bread to the right. Place the second slice of bread on top, buttered side up.
  4. Let sit about 3 minutes.
  5. With a spatula, flip the sandwich over. A little trick…flip from the skinny side, not the wide side. I always flipped from the wide side and it would fall apart. Since Jason has showed me the skinny side flip, they turn out perfect every time!
  6. Cook about 3 more minutes.
  7. Repeat for 1 minutes on each side, if the sides need more browning.

Ingredients for the Zucchini Side Salad

  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large zucchini, coined (see picture)
  • 2 beef-steak tomatoes, cut into wedges and then cut in half
  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1-2 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet to medium-high with the oil in the skillet.
  2. Place the zucchini slices in the pan. Let sit about 1 minute and then turn frequently so both sides brown.
  3. After about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes and seasonings.
  4. Cook until the zucchini are soft and browned.
  5. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Happy Lunch 🙂