December 12, 2011

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

So, for a while now I have been intrigued by the thought of incorporating vegetables into homemade macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese is such a comfort food, yet can so often be so processed and without substance. My “go to” easy version of macaroni and cheese is Annie’s brand. It’s organic and pretty good. I learned of it a few years ago when I spent much of my time babysitting young ones. I have enjoyed it many an evening for an easy supper, yet I knew that there was more to this macaroni story.

Over the last few months, I began venturing into the homemade macaroni and cheese territory and really love what I have discovered! My first attempt was a different recipe than what I will share below. It was okay. I tried to enhance it by adding some shredded zucchini, and again, it was okay. Definitely a little more nutritious, but not amazing. I even gave a frozen batch of that to friends who had just brought a baby into their family. I don’t know that they were impressed! I wanted amazing. Amazing nutrition and amazing taste. I had heard of butternut squash macaroni for some time and wanted to try it, but had never taken the plunge. 2011 was really the first year I have ever even bought and cooked butternut squash, and I have fallen in love. It’s so richly colorful and so good for you.

I used the recipe from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Start Fresh, as my guide. (Great cookbook by the way!)

Here’s what it involves…I halved a large butternut squash, took out the seeds, and then got it ready to bake. He recommends putting it cut side up on a baking sheet, drizzling it with olive oil, and then sprinkling salt and pepper and roasting it at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or so. I think you can also roast it cut side down in a little bit of water if you prefer. You just want to cook the squash long enough, so that is tender enough that you can scrape it from the skin once it has cooled.

Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta.

Once the squash is cool enough, scrape from skin into a food processor. Since I used such a large squash, I froze half of the roasted squash (once I scraped it from the skin), so that I can easily make this in the future without roasting another squash. Add milk (about 1/2 cup. I used 1% milk, and he recommended whole milk). Puree until smooth. Add the squash puree to the pasta and stir together. At this point I went ahead and stirred in some grated cheddar cheese rather than saving all the cheese solely for the top. I think extra cheese makes just about everything better!

Grease baking dish and spread pasta mixture in it and top with additional cheese (I used cheddar; he recommended Monterey jack). Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and top turns golden.

It was AMAZING!!! Next time I will make it with whole wheat pasta to add a little more nutrition. I forgot salt and pepper, and it definitely needed a little bit. This is so good for adults and kids alike. I am fairly confident that it is my new “go to” mac and cheese recipe. A little more work for sure than boxed versions, but well worth it!

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December 8, 2011

Simple Spinach Squares

Spinach. Cottage Cheese. Cheddar Cheese. Eggs. Whole Wheat Flour. Wheat Germ.

I liked the sound of those ingredients. A green vegetable. Simple. Nutritious. Protein. Whole grains. Also, most often those are items we have on hand. In my quest to eat better and more colorfully, I am aware that often we lack the green stuff. However, I pick up frozen bags of spinach when on sale pretty frequently and keep the freezer stocked. Just cooking it and serving it plain would not go over well in my household. Instead, I have to get creative!

I came across this recipe when searching through my mother in law’s most treasured recipes this summer. This particular visit in July was like stepping back in time. She taught me how to sew on her antique sewing machine, and we enjoyed making homemade cloth baby wipes for our little guy. We picked blueberries one afternoon and even got to ride in a modern day covered wagon. A visit to her home is always relaxing and comforting.

Enthusiastically, I copied the recipe down (we don’t know the original source) and finally tried it a few months later. Since then I’ve made them a few times, and the hubby and I found that adding a little something makes them even better and more colorful–like small pieces of bacon (yum!) or diced red peppers.

Here it is:

-2 eggs

-1 pkg. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, drained, & squeezed

-6 Tablespoons whole wheat flour

-1 16 oz. pkg. of low fat cottage cheese

– 6 oz. (1.5 cups) grated cheddar cheese

-1/4-1/2 tsp. black pepper

-1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

-Pinch of nutmeg

-3 Tbsp. wheat germ

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13 X 9 X 2 pan. Beat eggs with flour until smooth. Add spinach, cheeses, pepper, & nutmeg. Stir until well blended. Pour into pan. Sprinkle with wheat germ. Bake for 45 mins or until puffed and knife inserted comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Can be made ahead, refrigerated, or frozen.

October 22, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Indulgence

I absolutely LOVE chocolate chips. I literally eat a few every night, and often I have a couple during the day as well. It is a slight addiction I guess, but I am so favorably disposed towards embracing a little bit of chocolate each day that I have not worried too much about it. Some of my dearest friends know that my “go to” dessert is melting a few chocolate chips and brown sugar together and then eating it by the spoonful. My closest friend from growing up has now adopted it as her “go to” when she craves something sweet. Since we don’t really keep ice cream or desserts around the house, this is the perfect indulgence and can even be called homemade. ūüôā

Since I love chocolate chips and brown sugar so much, it is no surprise that my favorite cookie of all time is oatmeal chocolate chip. YUM! I love that incorporating the oatmeal makes it more nutritious. The other afternoon I was making a meal for a friend who just had a baby, and being a Sunday afternoon in October I had Fall foods on my mind. The meal ended up consisting of Ground Turkey/Black Bean chili served over cheese grits, pumpkin muffins, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I found the recipe by searching for a recipe that calls for whole wheat flour. I am so thankful to have found this recipe, as I believe it might be “the one” ¬†from now on for our family. Of course, it’s not perfectly healthy, and I am sure that modifications could be made to reduce the sugar and butter a bit, but since my other favorite cookie recipe calls for a stick and a half of butter, this is moving in the right direction! I made these using all whole wheat flour. I left out the walnuts and did add cinnamon, which in my opinion makes most things better. They seriously are so yummy. I recommend that if you make them for anyone else, that you package them making them ready to deliver before you help yourself to any because they are that tempting!

October 21, 2011

Inspiration & Butternut Squash/Sundried Tomato Soup

Several weeks have passed since I last posted. What’s really neat to me is that the week that I began this blog was a turning point during which I decided to move forward with opening my own business. We have been praying about it for some time, but that week was one filled with creativity, energy, and assurance that it was right and time to take some tangible steps forward. I have been busy doing just that, and while I still don’t know what’s in store, I trust that God has a plan and will provide along the way.

All of that being said, the quest to eat better has not faltered despite the lack of documentation! One of the best things about this week is that I stumbled upon a blog filled with so much good stuff about what I am aspiring towards. I have been looking for a resource like Passionate Homemaking for a while, and I am so grateful to have found it!  This woman, Lindsay, is a believer, and she lives her life seeking to glorify God and be an incredible steward of her family and the resources He has provided her. I loved reading through some of her recipe posts particularly her menu plans and the recipe index as it is clear that she spends time in the kitchen making REAL food for her family, and she does it on a budget. I am so inspired that I am even considering attempting homemade yogurt one of these days!

As I browsed through the recipes and thought about meals for this week, I found this one for Squash and Sundried Tomato Soup¬†and was intrigued. Never have I thought abut putting sundried tomatoes in squash soup. I had a container of sundried tomatoes in my freezer that I had purchased at our local farmer’s market store, a butternut squash that I’d bought for 69 cents/pound which is the best deal I’ve found so far, & organic chicken stock from Trader Joe’s, so I was set. I made a few changes including only using one onion which saved a dollar for me, and I felt like we didn’t need two for flavor. The freezer sundried tomatoes I soaked in olive oil a bit before cooking. We only had three pitifully small fresh basil leaves from our tiny herb garden, so I had to settle for dried basil, which worked in a pinch. I pureed about half the soup leaving many whole strips of sundried tomatoes. This soup is AMAZING, and it looked gorgeous as well being a rich golden color. It passed the hubby taste test, which says a lot for a squash soup. It is absolutely packed with flavor from the sundried tomatoes and nutrients from the butternut squash. My batch of this soup really just serves 4 unless I had thinned it greatly with more chicken stock and/or water. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in trying something new and different this Fall!

September 12, 2011

Chocolate chip zucchini goodness

On Sunday afternoon I sought out to make some more muffins for this week. They are becoming a staple in our household–an easy snack for me and a quick breakfast for my husband who has to be at work at the crack of dawn and won’t really eat breakfast otherwise. ¬†I love just about anything chocolate chip, and¬†I had more zucchinis from this weekend’s farmer’s market, so I thought it might be fun to try to make some sort of muffins combining the two. As I searched through zucchini chocolate chip bread/muffin recipes online, I stumbled upon this one for low fat chocolate chip zucchini bread and knew immediately that I wanted to give it a go. I liked that it didn’t call for a lot of butter (we had hardly any in the fridge) and that the recipe incorporated applesauce. ¬†I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour instead of white whole wheat flour, and I added cinnamon which always adds a nice pop of flavor! ¬†The recipe made 12 muffins, and they were glorious! They are good enough to make and share with others, and they are good for you.¬†I caught a glimpse of my husband leaving for work this morning with not one, but two muffins. That spoke volumes to me. ¬†What a way to start the day, chocolate and some greens in one. This is a great breakfast option for someone who needs a quick bite to eat on the go or someone like me who cannot make it to lunch time without a snack. Taking a few moments to eat my oven warmed muffin with a cup of coffee around mid morning was an absolute treat.

September 11, 2011

animal, vegetable, miracle

About two and a half years ago a friend of mine gave me a copy of her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, to borrow. In this book Barbara Kingsolver chronicles the journey of her family’s commitment to eat only local foods for a year. I was blown away by the creativity and dedication they demonstrated in their approach to cooking for their family. What I mean by this is that they ate foods that were in season. While this seems to be common sense, it’s really pretty radical as we are so accustomed to buying what we want when we want it. Think about how amazing a tomato tastes in July; it’s red and vibrant and delicious. That’s just not quite the case at other times in the year.

Through reading this book, I began to think differently about food. My reading happened to coincide with local farmers’ markets opening up that Spring. My husband and I enjoyed visiting various markets on lazy Saturday mornings and taking in the produce and enthusiasm of the farmers and gardeners. ¬†Since this time we have moved to a new home and literally live right down the hill from our local Saturday’s farmer’s market. Simply by walking through the market regularly, I have grown in understanding of what’s in season. This is news for a woman who grew up in a major city and has barely gardened her entire life!

I was so inspired by this book that I tried out a few recipes including one for zucchini chocolate chip cookies. Our dear friends joined us for dinner that evening, and the husband about spit out the cookies when he learned what was in them. However, I think even he would agree that they really are good and a creative way to eat some green! I recommend them wholeheartedly, and if you have not read the book, it’s fascinating and informative about something so basic.

September 10, 2011

beta carotene power stew

Tonight’s dinner was truly an adventure. There was no recipe, and I got creative. It began with boneless, skinless chicken breasts that were baked at lunch time very plainly with the goal of freezing them and using them in a future meal. Well, we got distracted. It’s hard to imagine how that could happen on a GAME day and with a little pumpkin in tow, but those chicken breasts cooked and cooked. Once we realized what had happened I chopped them coarsely and threw them in some chicken broth in the fridge with the hope of redeeming them by giving them a chance to rehydrate themselves. A few hours later we decided to make dinner at home, and I got to work. The cooking process tonight reminded me of when I was a little girl as I remember on a few occasions putting all of my favorite things in a bowl and stirring them together, just knowing that it would be the best creation ever! Of course, that was not always the case, but it was fun to see what would unfold.

So tonight, I peeled and chopped two carrots, one sweet potato, and an onion (remember my goal of eating better and more colorfully?!) and put them on a roasting pan to roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Before popping them in the oven, I topped them with olive oil, sea salt, herbs de provence, cinnamon, and cumin. Random combination, I know, but it sounded enticing to me! While those veggies roasted, I got brown rice cooking on the stovetop. Once the veggies were ready, I transferred them to a pot and began to add some chicken broth (Trader Joe’s organic). I ultimately used a little less than half a carton. I then added the pitiful chicken, which at this point had been restored pretty well, to the pot. The star ingredient was extremely spontaneous and truly made the dish so flavorful–orange juice! ¬†Once the veggies, chicken, chicken broth, and splash of orange juice heated up together, I simply stirred in the cooked brown rice. The rice portion for this meal was 1/2 cup uncooked. The result was this simple, hearty, flavorful ORANGE colored one pot meal packed with beta carotene and vitamin A. And, once again, we have a whole dinner leftover and in our freezer for another evening on a much busier day!

September 9, 2011

muffinfest

Ever since we had our son back in April, I have been especially hungry. This hunger has gripped me at the most inopportune times, like 4:00 or 5:00 am, when I would wake up ravenous and needing a snack, yet desperate to go back to sleep as quickly as possible. My favorite snack has become muffins as once baked, they are so readily available. In addition, they typically freeze well and defrost quickly. ¬†I’m not talking about any old muffin. I’m talking about a new breed of ¬†muffins (muffins 2.0) made out of whole wheat flour and ingredients like honey and applesauce…It’s a whole different kind of baking, and I am finding myself having to search online for recipes as my cookbooks are filled with more traditional recipes. While there is no doubt that muffins made of white sugar and normal flour are tasty, this new kind of cooking leads to a new kind of yum–one that makes you smile with the knowledge that this bread is good for you! This week’s recipe involved zucchini once again, since they are in season, reasonably priced, and scrumptious. These healthy carrot zucchini muffins appealed to me as I had every ingredient on hand except for nutmeg which had just run out. I added additional cinnamon, and that worked pretty well for my first attempt. The recipe also appealed to me since it included not only zucchini, but carrots and applesauce as well. It made 12 muffins, and they have continued to remain moist and taste good for a few days especially when warmed up in the oven. Just this morning a precious one year old little guy gave the muffin his enthusiastic approval when he ate it readily. ¬†That really made an impression on me as little kiddos can be so picky about anything green! At this very moment my husband is warming one up for me for dessert; (five minutes later) he just served it to me with a glaze on top that he wipped up–sour cream, almond extract, and brown sugar mixed together! What a creative chef! Here’s a thought for all of you party planners out there; these really could be served as cupcakes at a birthday party if you add some kind of icing. Yum! All of those kiddos celebrating wouldn’t be on a crazy sugar high from useless calories, but would be getting vitamins and nutrients that they actually need. It seems like an opportunity to take advantage of. Our son better watch out when it becomes party planning time!

September 9, 2011

A different kind of pancake

Our family loves a good pancake night. Most often we enjoy blueberry pancakes. They are sweet and delicious and full of antioxidants. It’s simple, budget friendly, and a great way to eat some more fruit before the day is over. Over the last few weeks a different kind of pancake began calling my name. ¬†Zucchini parmesan pancakes, anyone?¬†Just this week I led our family into this new territory. I was exploring the site http://weelicious.com¬†to learn about how to make baby food for our little guy when I stumbled upon this recipe for zucchini parmesan cakes. I almost always make dinner decisions based on what we have on hand to avoid last minute trips to the grocery store which always get us into trouble, and by divine design I had two gorgeous zucchinis on my counter from Saturday’s farmer’s market, eggs, bread crumbs, and even parmesan cheese on hand. My husband balked as he can be pretty skeptical about some of my ideas when it comes to cooking…how could zucchini and pancakes be used together to term an object to eat? ¬†He was won over once we sat down to our dinner–salmon and zucchini pancakes topped with parmesan cheese and a dollop of sour cream. The best part was that we essentially ate them all (except for two which I enjoyed for breakfast!), which meant that we pretty much each had a whole zucchini for dinner that night. So many nutrients! Once again, I was encouraged to continue this goal of eating better and more colorfully. This particular night we had a whole lot of green. Toodles!

September 8, 2011

Reflections on eating

I have known for some time that we need to eat healthier. It really hit me the other day when I asked my husband what vegetables he had eaten that day, to which he replied “none!” I reflected back on my day and on my recent days, and while we seem to do pretty well with our fruits due mostly to making smoothies most afternoons, our vegetables are lacking (mine included!). We don’t even have a real excuse as we like them! We just tend to buy food and cook conservatively–not wanting to waste anything and striving to save money, yet often forsaking our health in the process. Now that I have realized this, my desire is for us simply to eat our vegetables.

I have always heard that we need to “eat the rainbow.” Yesterday I sought to do that by making a tuscan white bean stew¬†(with a few slight changes–added rosemary, used a bag of dried white beans, and did not include pasta). What a sense of satisfaction I had during dinner when I presented the stew to my husband. White beans, onions, and garlic, orange carrots, green celery, red tomatoes, and green spinach smiled up at me. This bowl packed with nutrients even tasted good–savory and delicious! My husband, who is sometimes picky, enjoyed the meal heartily and even took the leftovers to work today. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that we had taken a step closer towards taking better care of the bodies that God has given us. ¬†The best part is that I have a whole dinner ready in my freezer for another day. Let the quest continue!