Creamy Fall Pasta with Squash, Onions, Kale, and Goat Cheese!

2015-09-22 17.19.17I know I’ve been MIA – per my usual routine of being really excited about blogging, followed by an overwhelming about of work to do, and ending with complete neglect. Well, I’m back. At least for this one post. I am on a lighter rotation right now and was able to make a more involved, delicious dinner last night that I’d felt I needed to share with the work. Eli agreed, this dinner was hands-down delicious! He was picky all day and wouldn’t eat anything but bananas (or nanas as he calls them now). I placed a bowl of this goodness in front of his screaming face and viola! he was silent. It was glorious.  The end result was one super happy (and messy) kid. I am looking forward to when he figures out how to effectively use his silverware; until then I’ll deal with the mess since that means he’s actually eating.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Onion, and Kale over Pasta with Spiced Goat Cheese White Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 large bunch of curly kale
  • 2 cups cooked pasta
  • 2 cups 1% or skim milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4 ounces goat cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Peel butternut squash cut in 1/2 lengthwise. Remove the seeds. Cube squash and place in a sprayed cooking dish.
  3. Dice the onion and kale. Add to the cooking dish.
  4. Roast for 45 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender. Stir part-way through to prevent burning.
  5. Create a slurry (white sauce) by adding 2 tbsp to 1 cup of milk. Whisk well to completely dissolve. Add the remaining flour and milk, whisking while adding. Pour into a sprayed frying pan (not heated yet!). Place the pan over medium heat and stir continuously with a rubber spatula to prevent sticking. Add spices while stirring. Continue to stir until the mixture just starts to bubble. Add the goat cheese and continue to stir until melted and fully incorporated.
  6. Add pasta and roasted vegetable mixture to a pan. Pour white sauce over and stir completely. Enjoy!

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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.

1 Hour = 25 Vegetable Servings

 

On average, American adults consume 1.6 servings of vegetables a day. That’s equal to 3/4 cup of mashed potatoes. Pretty sad, huh? Even sadder – kids (who need vegetables for all those nutrients even more to grow and develop) only eat 1.3 servings a day. Here’s a map of vegetable intake by state:

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Source – CDC State Indicator Report on Fruit and Vegetable Intake

 

The two most common reasons people tell me why they don’t eat enough vegetables are:
1. They don’t have time to cook vegetables
2. They don’t like vegetables

This post is about #1. If you want to solve #2 – spend some time on the site; I’m sure you’ll find a few recipes that totally change the way you think about vegetables.

A quick search will show you that there are tons of tasty vegetable recipes, but they often include ingredients you don’t have on hand or fancy cooking techniques that can take hours. This is great for a special occasion, but most days, we don’t have time for this. I know when I get home from a long day, all I want is something quick and easy (and preferably already prepared). to solve the problem, I usually make meals in advance. What’s my go-to for vegetables? Roasting. It requires minimal time and the roasting brings out vegetables flavors like you wouldn’t believe. One Sunday I spent an hour in the kitchen – 20 minutes prepping vegetables and 40 minutes roasting – and I ended up with 25 vegetable servings. 25! That is almost two servings a day for 2 people, for an entire week. I usually roast vegetables every weekend. I change-up the ingredients based on what’s on sale or what I plan to use them in. I will serve them over rice, toss with sauce over pasta, add to an egg bake, stuff into a wrap or just serve as a side dish. The options are endless and the results are always great. Don’t like eating the same thing every day? Prepare a few large pans and freeze the extra for later.


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Roasted Vegetables

1. preheat oven to 425F

2. Chop of vegetables of choice and place in a large baking dish. Toss with canola oil and seasoning.

3. Cook for 10 minutes – stir – repeat. Do this until the vegetables are you desired texture.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

It seems like one of the latest food makeovers is chocolate avocado pudding. I keep seeing it everyone I go online when I’m searching for recipes. Avocados have TONS of health benefits and they just happened to be on sale at Aldi’s this week for $0.68 each – basically a steal. I went early Sunday morning before the crowds, so I had a nice selection of ripe and unripe to choose from. I wasn’t sure how the pudding would turn out, but if it was tasty, we’d have a nice stockpile of avocados to choose from 🙂

I couldn’t find a recipe that was quite what I wanted, but made my own after looking at a few. The results – a.m.a.z.i.n.g. It doesn’t taste a thing like avocado (if you can say avocado really has a taste). Just like straight-up whole milk, dark chocolate pudding. It was so rich and creamy! Since there isn’t added sugar, I didn’t feel bad letting Eli lick the bowl with me. He was begging for more when we finished up.

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Chocolate Avocado Pudding

2015-03-30 12.57.16Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup dates or dried fruit puree (I used sunsweet lighter bake)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup water (based on your desired consistency)
  • Slivered almonds, crushed peanuts, or fresh berries for toppings

Directions

  1. Peel avocados and remove pits. Place in food processor.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to food processor, except water. Process until smooth (about 2 minutes)
  3. Add water to thin to desired consistency. Remember it will thicken a bit when chilled.
  4. Pour into a large glass bowl for storage or individual serving bowls. Chill for at least an hour.

Veggie Burgers

While I’m not a vegetarian, I really enjoy vegetarian foods. Veggie burgers are one of my favorites because they often highlight delicious vegetarian flavors and are so versatile. In addition to eating them as a burger you can put them on top of salads or crumble them in egg scrambles. Store-bought veggie burgers often are full of salt and additives, so I prefer to make my own. They can be a little time consuming, so I prefer to make a bunch of them and freeze them for use later. I had a.m.a.z.i.n.g. walnut veggie burger at Jac’s in Madison and decided it was time I tried a few few new recipes. These burgers turned out great. J and Eli love them too!

These burgers can be prepped and frozen to be cooked fully from frozen when you are ready. Another option that saves a lot of time later is to prepare them fully, let them cool, and them freeze them individually. The latter option allows you to just warm them up in the microwave, on a GF grill, or in a skillet when you are in the mood. It saves a lot of time and is less messy since they are fully cooked already.

The key to freezing these is to line a baking sheet with wax paper and place the burgers on the paper individually. Be sure they are not touching. Put this in the freezer for about 2 hours, or until the burgers are hard. At this point you can remove them from the paper and place them in a freezer bag. It is critical that you do it this way so the burgers are individually frozen. If you don’t the burgers will freeze stuck together. This isn’t a huge deal if you plan to thaw them all at once, but it makes it impossible to remove individual burgers from the freezer. It is also a problem if they aren’t pre-cooked, because they will need to be thawed and then they will just a be a big pile of mush. This approach of freezing individually has been a live saver and can be used for anything you are freezing. We use it all the time in the summer when berries are in season!

 

veggie burgers-blackbeanSpicy Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burgers
Recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

 

 

veggie burgers-chickpea walnutChickpea-Walnut Burger
Recipe Adapted from Big Mike Eats

veggie burgers3veggie burgers2

 

 

 

 

Butternut Squash Pasta Bake

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Oh, butternut squash – how I love you. As a kid I never was served butternut squash. While I became more adventurous the older I got, something about squash didn’t appeal to me (probably the texture – I hate mushy food). After hearing my dietetic friends rave about butternut squash this and butternut squash that, I figured I had to break down and give it a chance. How had I been missing out on this heavenly food for so long?!? I was in love instantly. Then I added sage to it and I was in heaven. Ever since I have been making squash dishes a regular occurrence in our house. Since I don’t like mushy foods, I usually use the squash as a sauce or a component of the meal, but don’t often eat it plain. Since I’ve fallen in love with squash, our garden is always full of winter squash and sage plants.

This dish is a simple way to throw together a delicious casserole. Using squash as the sauce cuts out the sodium and sugar often added to other pasta sauces. You don’t need to bake it in the oven unless you choose to put the cheese on to (and who doesn’t love cheese, right?).

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Butternut Squash Pasta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried whole grain pasta (8 ounces), prepare
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups cooked butternut squash*, cubed
  • Milk (amount needed will vary)
  • 1/8 cup dried sage or 1/4 cup fresh sage, diced
  • 1 package frozen spinach (10 ounces), thawed
  • 1/4 cup pepitas or other seeds
  • 4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Saute the onion in olive oil. Add the vinegar and mix well. Continue to cook down to desired consistency. Set aside.
  3. In a food processor, place all of the squash. Pulse/process until desired consistency. Add milk to think the mixture if needed.
  4. Add the sage and pulse to mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add the spinach and pulse until combined. Add the onions and pulse until combined.
  6. Pour the sauce mixture over the pasta and mix well. Transfer to a the prepared dish.
  7. Top the dish with seeds and then shredded cheese.
  8. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

*Tip – preparing winter squash can be a pain. To save time, I dedicate 1 weekend day in the fall to prepare cups of squash. After they are cooked, I portion them into quart freezer bags, so they are ready to go when I need them. I usually portion 1/2 of the squash cubed and 1/2 of the squash already pureed or mashed up.

Black Bean and Corn Soup

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During the summer CSA we got a TON of sweet corn. I  mean a ton – 12 ears per week. That is way too much for 2 people to safely eat. My routine was to roast all 12 ears in the oven the night we got them. I would save the number of ears I thought we could eat in the week and then remove the corn from the others. By the end of the summer, despite eating corn like it was going out of style, we still ended up with 3 gallon freezer bags filled with corn.

When fall rolled around I decided it was time to start making a dent in the corn. Over the summer we also inherited a few gallons of tomatoes from my dad’s farm and a decent amount of hot peppers from our own garden (probably the only fruitful plants in our garden). What better to make with all of these items in the fall than soup! Pair that with a bag of dry black beans and you have a simple, nutritious, and filling meal.

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While you can use canned black beans (be sure to drain and rinse!), I chose to use dry beans since that is what I had on hand. It is best to prepare these separate and in advance. If you don’t, you run the risk of excessive gas in your soup (and subsequently in you). You can remove the gas by soaking them in water the night before you use them. You can then add these soaked beans to your soup directly. If you do this, they may be firmer than you are used to, so another option is to cook them fully before adding them to the soup. If you like to cook them in the crock pot before using them, here is a great resource. What I did was soak an entire bag overnight, cook them in the crockpot (per the link above), and then used only what I needed for the recipe. The rest I put in a freezer bag and stored in the freezer until I needed them again.

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Crock-pot Black Bean and Corn Soup

Ingredients
These are all estimates, as I don’t measure when I am putting things into the crock-pot for soup

  • 2 cups of corn (I used sweet corn but regular would do as well)
  • 6 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2-3 cups cooked/canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup diced hot pepper (less if you don’t like spice)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Additional options – ground beef/turkey, shredded chicken, shredded zucchini, diced green peppers

Directions

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in the slow cooker
  2. Add water to desired consistency (soupy vs stewy)
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

Brussels Sprouts. To think I went 26 years of my life without them. Thankfully I sucked it up and roasted a pan of them 2 years ago…and then subsequently ate the entire pan in 2 days. These are one of my favorite winter vegetables. Roasted them in a no-fail way to win over non-believers. A friend of mine mentioned a shredded raw brussels sprout salad she made and it got me thinking that it was time to venture out. I wasn’t quite ready for raw sprouts, but shredded I could do. Then I found this delicious looking warm Brussels sprout salad over at a Beautiful Mess and I was sold. I made a few changes for what I had on hand and my personal taste. This recipe ends up being the best of winter with a touch of summer with the hint of lemon.

warm sprout salad

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad
Recipe from A Beautiful Mess

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts
  • 2/3 cup craisins
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt + pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Shred the Brussels Sprouts in a food processor. I chopped them, but think it would have been better if I had used the shredding function because the pieces were all different sizes.
  2. Heat 1tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sprouts and toss with oil. Cook until bright green. Add craisins and cook for a few more minutes to warm them.
  3. Clean the food processor and then add the  mayo, garlic, and lemon juice. Pulse until well combined. Leave the processor running and add 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper for your personal taste.
  4. Pour the dressing over the hot mixture. Coat well.
  5. Serve warm and enjoy!

Smokey Sweet Potato Burgers

photo 1While I have taken a new liking to beef (poor J wouldn’t fare well eating an entire 1/2 a cow by himself), I still really love veggie burger. We had a few sweet potatoes on the counter that I was planning to into wedges and eat as a side, I stumbled across this recipe and my plans quickly changed. A smokey sweet potato veggie burger made with a few simple ingredients I had on hand – why yes, I will put on my grown-up cooking pants and actually make a dish instead of just throwing together the simplest thing I can think of (and this was pretty simple…I can’t take too much credit).

The original recipe (as with all veggie burger recipes) said to cook it in a pan. I don’t know about you, but I have never had luck with this. They always break into a bunch of pieces or stick to the pan. They never turn out like they look in the picture. For that reason, I opted to bake these in the oven instead. I am very happy I did because they turned out great and kept their shape.

Sweet potatoes and beans are both starchy, so the idea of putting it on a burger bun, no matter how healthy, wasn’t really of interest to me. Instead, I topped with with some mozzarella and served it over a bed of spinach with hot, sautéed veggies, pepitas (fancy word for pumpkin seed), and balsamic vinegar.

Smokey Sweet Potato Burgers
adapted from a recipe by How Sweet it is

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked sweet potatoes with skins removed (I used 3 small potatoes)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (any white bean should work)
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup flour (any kind that suits you)
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 clove of roasted garlic, minced (maybe 1-2 tsp dried)
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • cooking spray

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line  baking sheet with foil and spray generously with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes and beans in a large bowl. Mash up with a potato masher (Don’t use a food processor because the mixture will become too sticky – think hummus).
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and mash together. Mix well.
  4. Place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to firm up.
  5. Remove from refrigerator and begin making patties. Have some extra flour ready to make this process less sticky. Place your hands in the flour and then grab a small handful of the mixture. Form into a patty and place on the prepared pan. Dip you hands in the flour each time before you make a new patty.
  6. Once all of the patties are prepared, spray them on top with cooking spray and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove and flip with a spatula. Spray the tops again and return to the over for 15 minutes. Remove and flip. If they seem sturdy enough, they are done. If they still seem like they could easily break or are soft in the middle, spray again and cook for an extra 10 minutes. Continue to flip and check until they seem to be cooked all the way through.
  7. Serve on a bun, over greens, or alone with freshly sautéed vegetables. Enjoy!

 

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

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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.