Well it’s January, which means we all eat healthy about 50% of the week but with better intentions. To kick off the new year, I was searching for something crave-able and satisfying that didn’t feel like diet food. I’ve been reading about and this butternut squash mac n cheese for a while now and decided to give it a try. It’s a clever riff on a classic comfort food that’s low on calories and high on fiber, and completely guilt-free!
I learned a few things on my first go here. I cut out the butter and flour from the original recipe and substituted fat free cream and low fat shredded cheese. My sauce to pasta ratio was a bit off and it came out a bit dry so I would add pasta slowly until you have a thick base, almost like a stew-like consistency. I also used a whole wheat rotini instead of the traditional macaroni. Big mistake! Everybody asked “Where’s the mac?!” Finally, I added a vegetarian spicy sausage which I have to say is a DEFINITE KEEPER. The puréed squash provides a surprisingly sweet and luxurious sauce paired with sage flavors of the sausage.
- 1 large butternut squash, cubed
- 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 cup fat free cream
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup aged low fat cheese, shredded
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 package Lightlife vegetarian sausage
- 2 TBs olive oil (for frying and roasting)
Pan fry the entire package of sausage until the chunks are nice and browned. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and drizzle butternut squash chunks with olive oil on baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until tender. While the squash is roasting, cook the macaroni according to package directions then drain well and set aside. In a medium sauce pot, add the cooked squash, cream, nutmeg and vegetable broth then use a hand blender to purée to a smooth texture, like a thick soup. Add the sausage, cheese and pasta to mixture and fold together. Pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Some pasta dishes are best served room temperature on a cold day when you just wanna stress eat like a pro with little prep, AKA Thanksgiving.
This year we avoided airports and opted for an overnight stay at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge waterpark with friends followed by a lovely dinner with family. I love the simplicity and versatility of this fresh lemony, chard recipe combined with the sweet caramelized onions from 101 Cookbooks. I skipped the fresh pasta prep and used fresh, ready to eat ravioli from Trader Joe’s which means lunch was ready in about 20 minutes total — not bad!
- 1 container Trader Joe’s butternut squash ravioli
- 2-3 TB olive oil
- 2 small onions, thinly sliced
- 2-3 cups chopped Swiss chard, deveined and chopped
- 2 TB fresh lemon juice
- 2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (I purchased whole toasted at Trader Joe’s)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Prepare ravioli as directed, about 3 minutes in boiling water and cooled in colander then tossed gently with about a teaspoon of olive oil to prevent sticking. In pan, caramelize the onions over medium high heat with 1 TB olive in a pan, turning constantly for about 10 minutes and then cooled. Meanwhile, squeeze the lemon juice over the Swiss chard and top with salt, then massage the leaves gently for 2 minutes in a mixing bowl and set aside. When you are ready to serve, combine Swiss chard salad with ravioli on serving dish then top with crunchy hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. My version was heavy on the Swiss chard and looked more like salad but next time I would serve on a long, flat dish to really make the ravioli shine.
My amazing friend Shaun once again had dessert covered and prepared the most amazing Coconut Cream Pie – and I don’t even like coconut! Recipe found here.
With the recent elections and shift to crisp, fall weather, our family jumped right into hot soup season and what better dish than this hearty and healthy Senate Bean Soup!
One popular story claims the history of this dish goes back to World War II when the country was under rationing and the US government kitchen staff had to come up with creative ways to bulk up their lunch options. But another story contends it goes back at least 100 years and was simply a favorite amongst senators. Whatever the origination, it is a popular dish and has been served in the dining room of the Senate every day since, hence its name. The original recipe used a mashed potato base with ham, which I replaced with leeks and topped it off at the end with some crispy, pan-fried vegan Benevolent Bacon which added a nice smoky flavor to the soup once stirred through.
Made with just a few easy ingredients, this thick and buttery dish was scrumptious served with some toasted sourdough and was a big hit with kids and adults alike. The key elements in the prep were using dry navy beans and puréeing about 1/3 of the soup after it was all cooked down to create a thick soup base while still retaining much of the chunky beans and vegetables.
- 2 cups dry navy beans
- 2 leeks, trimmed and slivered
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Benevolent Bacon, diced and pan fried
Soak navy beans 6-8 hours, then drain and rinse. In large soup pot heat up olive oil then cook garlic and leeks until translucent, about 3-5minutes. Add carrots, celery, beans, thyme and vegetable broth and cook on medium for 45 minutes, stirring constantly, until beans are soft. Remove 1/3 of soup and purée in blender then add back to soup. Or use a hand blender and purée briefly enough to thicken the broth but not break down all the beans. In a separate pan, add additional 1-2 TB olive oil and fry the bacon until it starts to darken. Set aside for 1 minute to cool, then serve fresh with each serving of soup. Salt and pepper to taste.
This week I stumbled upon a term that has really stuck in my mind: AWARENESS.
I’ve been on a bit of a journey of mental and physical health this summer. I hesitate to call it diet and fitness, because those are industry terms that really don’t resonate with me. But I’ve come to learn that when you are in tune with your body, really living every moment of every day, getting back in touch with nature and remembering you exist in a bigger space than your living room and all the while learning to eat and drink in moderation, you go to bed with some sense of inner peace and you wake up with energy. Wow. I don’t require a glass of wine to put my kids to bed every night! Not eating chips makes me feel less shame! What a revelation! At least, I attain this goal about 30% of the time… but now that I know the journey ahead I’ve made it my goal to get to 100%.
I guess my inner hippie got the best of me this week as I was really focused on Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are essentially hearty grain-based dishes topped with an assortment of roasted or cooked vegetables and tossed with a vegetarian protein usually along with nuts or seeds. Their flavors can be soulful and complex, with unexpected items thrown together much like a garbage salad. They are really a vegans’ dream because they are filling entrees, rich in nutrient-dense foods, and they are easy to throw together and fun to eat! One my favorites to make at home is a barley bowl topped with sautéed kale, sauerkraut, tofu, sunflower seeds and avocado. Weird? No. But today I really wanted some red wine so I went for a Tuscan italian theme. I’d say this is comparable to a bruschetta bean salad mixed in with the nutty, chewy texture of Farro and tossed in a vibrant fresh herb vinegar dressing. It’s very versatile so you can also substitute other beans like chickpeas or white beans.
- 1 can large butter beans, drained
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 1/2 cup Farro
- 1 container firm tofu
- 1 TB fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- 1/8 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1 TB whole grain mustard
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/8 cup olive oil
Boil 4 cups of water in medium sauce pot then add Farro. Turn down to medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Once complete, pour through strainer and set aside to cool. To prepare your tofu, this can be eaten raw, pan-fried or my preference Roasted. In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients and toss with dressing!
Nothing says summer more than street food and beer – but it’s even better when you can make it at home! I was looking for a reason to use the fresh basil, mint and cucumbers picked from our neighbors Dory and Andy’s garden who thankfully have quite the green thumb and are so generous with the neighborhood kids tramping through their carefully tended vegetables and raspberry bushes.
This tofu and veggie Banh Mi with pickled daikon and carrots is fresh, bright and crunchy with a hint of spice and is totally crave-able. Sadly, it doesn’t compare to the outstanding lemongrass tofu Banh Mi we used to buy at Nhu Lan Bakery in Chicago but hey it definitely hit the spot. I also experimented with adding the same ingredients to lower calorie Vietnamese rice paper wraps which was also a big hit.
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced
- 1 English cucumber, julienned
- 1 tofu block of your choice (I would recommend Trader Joe’s baked sriracha tofu)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1 bunch free Thai basil
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- French bread roll or Vietnamese bread roll, both toasted slightly in oven or toaster oven until crunchy
- 2 TB mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
- 1 TB sriracha
- Juice of 1/2 lime
Pickled Daikon and Carrots
- 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 medium daikon, peeled and julienned
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
Bring the pickle mixture to a boil in medium sauce pot, then sit and let cool. Pour over carrots and daikon in a mason jar or glass Tupperware container, then seal and let marinate at least 1 hour in fridge but up to 12 hours overnight is ideal. To make sriracha mayo just combine mayo, sriracha and lime juice in small bowl. If you want it thicker to smear on bread base just leave out lime juice and squeeze on top of sandwich once assembled instead. Assemble sandwich with all ingredients and gulp down with beer!
Ok. I admit it. I googled what Jennifer Aniston eats. Turns out she’s a fan of salads, no surprise there!
Apparently her favorite go-to salad is a crisp cucumber, bulgur, chickpea salad with fresh mint and parsley. Bulgur is actually a great grain to add to your diet as it’s in rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, iron and other vital minerals as well as making it a solid plant-based protein. Bulgur is also a low glycemic food with fewer calories yet twice the fiber of rice – about 25% of your daily needs in one cup. And seriously it is THE quickest and easiest grain to prepare; just add 1.5 cups hot water to 1 cup of bulgur and let it sit in a bowl for 10 minutes then fluff it with a fork!
For this lemony tabouleh I omitted the feta and pistachios that are featured in The Jennifer Salad but I will try that next time for some crunch. I opted for medium grain bulgur but you can also try coarse grain or fine grain depending on your palette. Just combine all ingredients once the bulgur is cooled. I paired this with kalamata olives, tomatoes and whole wheat pita pocket which was great after a summer’s July 4th bike ride and day outside. Remember – don’t skimp on the fresh herbs!
- 1 cup cooked bulgur
- 1 cucumber, skinned and diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1 – 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
One of my all-time favorite ingredients are lemons. It’s such a versatile citrus packed with vitamin C and adds a distinct tartness to any roasted vegetable. It’s also become my go-to for soup broths that are laden with heavy grains or beans. The lemon juice complements the soft creamy fennel, earthy fire roasted tomatoes and hearty barley in this stew so nicely along with a sprinkle of salty Parmesan on top!
This original recipe came from Eating Well but I switched the white beans to chickpeas and added the lemon juice which really brightened it up. This ones in my fridge for the entire week and only cost about $20 (I doubled the recipe).
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- ¾ cup quick-cooking barley
- 1 5-ounce package baby spinach (6 cups)
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, and basil; cook, stirring frequently, until tender and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, broth and barley into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice then add spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.
A little summer stroll…
Enjoying a rare date night dance at friend Tom and Haeley’s wedding… whiskey in hand
Jackfruit as a substitute for BBQ pulled pork?! Sounds crazy … but the simple prep, sweet and tart chewy texture, and uncanny affinity to meat made this unexpectedly delightful dish an enticing weekend lunch! Top it off with some vegan mayo on a Hawaiian roll for a pretty satisfying meal.
- 2 20-ounce cans young green jackfruit in water or brine (not syrup)
- 2 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- BBQ sauce (any kind, I used a store-bought generic brand)
Drain and rinse your jackfruit, then chop into smaller pieces from the inner core to the outer edges. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F while cooking jackfruit and garlic on medium high in a large pan with vegetable broth for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Using a potato masher, smash the jackfruit lightly just enough to pull apart the fibers. Spread jackfruit on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and add 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce and bake for another 10 minutes until it is sticky and sweet. This literally could not be easier! Try it with avocado, cole slaw or a side of corn on the cob.
My very dear friend and pastry chef extraordinaire Or’Shaundra offered to host Friendsgiving this year so naturally we challenged ourselves to a sweet and savory pie theme. I’m not generally a huge fan of ricotta cheese, but I’ve been meaning to make this elegant vegetable rose tart which is reminiscent of cheesy blintzes and a vegetable quiche all rolled into one dish which features 10 easy ingredients that just SCREAM holidays like nutmeg, cream and sweet carrots. The real surprising ingredient here is the puff pastry crust which sssssshhhh I bought in the frozen section of the grocery store!
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup cubed fresh mozzarella cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves stripped
- salt to taste
- 6 carrots, assorted colors
- 2 zucchini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Press puff pastry into pie dish, trim off excess pastry edges. Cover the pastry with parchment paper and fill with ceramic pie weights (I used ramekins) and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven; remove parchment paper and pie weights. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Mix ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, thyme, and salt together in a bowl. Spoon filling into crust and smooth out the top. Slice carrots and zucchini lengthwise into thin strips using a mandoline then place strips on a microwave-safe plate and cook in the microwave until slightly soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Roll 1 vegetable strip tightly into a rosebud shape. Wrap another strip of the same vegetable around to make a full rose shape. Repeat with remaining strips. Arrange carrot and zucchini roses over the filling in a decorative pattern, alternating colors; brush with olive oil. Bake tart for about 40 minutes.
Recipes to feature soon: apple pie and vegetarian Shepard’s pie! mmmmmmmmmmmm