Spaghetti Squash Three Cheese “Mac” & Cheese

Welcome to FALL! One of the things I love about fall is the ability to turn on the oven without needing to also turn on the air conditioner to counteract the heat overload in this very small apartment.

A couple of nights ago I made a dish using spaghetti squash for dinner and consequently had half a squash left over. What tends to happen with me is that I make a meal for the sole purpose of using up something left over in my fridge (a few days ago it was cherry tomatoes), and then end up having a different leftover ingredient. So instead of just throwing some sauce on the squash like I usually do, I started looking for other ideas and came across a picture of spaghetti squash “mac & cheese.” Yes please! But the recipes I was finding mostly used reduced fat cheese. I have a theory about reduced fat or fat-free cheese: don’t do it. I’d much rather eat the fat and all the flavor that comes with it than the chemicals they use to remove the fat from the cheese. If you don’t want to eat the fat that comes with cheese, just don’t eat the cheese.

So, without further ado, my own version of FULL FAT Spaghetti Squash Three Cheese “Mac” & Cheese! (It should be noted that I added broccoli not to make it “healthier” but because I thought the color and texture contrast would be nice and I also happen to love broccoli that’s been slathered in cheese).
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If you do not already have leftover spaghetti squash, you’ll need to obtain one, medium sized, and slice it in half (carefully! I almost lost a finger cutting a raw squash in half once), and scoop out and discard the middle goop and seeds (or save the seeds for roasting for snacks). Preheat the oven to 375. Spray the squash halves lightly with olive oil and turn them upside down (so the peel is facing up) on a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes. Once it’s soft, scoop the strands out of the shell with a fork.

While the squash is cooking, warm 1 cup of milk in on the stove with about 3/4 cup each of grated sharp white cheddar and gruyere until the cheese begins to melt. Whisk until all the cheese is evenly melted,.remove from the heat and whisk in 2 Tbsp flour. Let the mixture cool a little, and then stir in 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt and a pinch of salt, fresh pepper, and nutmeg. Combine the sauce with the spaghetti squash “noodles” in an oven safe dish. Add your broccoli if you’re using it (or spinach); I used organic frozen broccoli florets and defrosted them ahead of time and squeezed out the excess water. Sprinkle everything with grated parmesan cheese (you could also add breadcrumbs or panko) and bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until the top begins to brown. I also threw on some red pepper flakes before it went in the oven because I like it with a little kick!

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Now enjoy your hearty fall vegetarian meal! Note: to make this gluten free, just use a gluten-free flour, like rice flour or tapioca flour. To make this vegan… uhh… sorry, I think you’re out of luck.

I’ve also included a pic here of my kitchen piglet: my almost-14-year-old pug who insists on standing under me as I cook so she can have first dibs on whatever hits the floor. Her back was covered in parmesan cheese!

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creamy polenta with radish tops, rainbow chard, cannellini beans, poached egg, & parmesan

Sometimes I impulse buy chocolate. Sometimes I impulse buy rainbow chard. Today was a chard day! It just called to me as I walked past it on my way to get eggs.

When I got home, I realized I didn’t have much of a dinner plan. I had a bunch of radish tops left over from last night’s salad, so I wanted to add the greens to the chard. I think swiss/rainbow chard goes well with either Asian or Italian flavors, but we’d been on a 4-day long Asian style dinner kick thanks to this ridiculously good salad dressing from the farmer’s market (Momo dressing – try it if you ever see it. Sooooo goooooood). So Italian is was! I then discovered half a bag of polenta my sister gave me at some point, and an idea came together.

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For the polenta, bring about 6 cups of water to a boil, then salt it and add 1 1/2 cups of polenta, stirring slowly. Turn the heat down to a simmer and stir frequently for about 15 minutes until thick. Add a couple tablespoons of butter and salt to taste. I also added a touch of a bouillon cube for more flavor at the end. You could also buy pre-cooked polenta and either heat it up or slice it into circles and pan-fry it.

For the veggies, sauté a chopped red onion for about 5 minutes, then add two cloves of minced garlic and the chopped up stems of the chard. Once the stems were tender, add the leafy parts of the chard and radish greens (optional) and season with salt and a little vegetable bouillon (also optional). Finally add the cannellini beans at the end just to heat them.

While everything was cooking, I asked my husband if he thought a poached egg on top would go well. He looked at me like I’d asked whether air conditioning might be a good idea on a 105 degree day. We have these cool little silicone egg cups called Poachpods for this purpose (because I suck at poaching without them). I highly recommend them – they’re worth the $10.

So, to put everything together, start with a layer of polenta on the plate, then a big scoop of the radish tops/chard/cannellini beans. Scoop out a little hole in the center, and drop in your poached egg. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, a little extra salt & pepper or red pepper flakes if you want, pop that yolk, and enjoy!

Note: this meal did end up having more of a winter feel to it (i.e. we had to turn on all the fans in the room halfway through because we were overheating), but I’m always cold, so no complaints here!


copycat squash vindaloo with cool ranch raita

Last weekend my husband and I had a stay-local date night at one of our favorite spots in the neighborhood, Thistle Hill Tavern. Some of their menu items change seasonally, and there was a new side dish that I knew I had to try the second I read it: squash vindaloo with cool ranch raita! It was every bit as good — or better — than it sounded. It arrived in a clay hotpot, this glorious piping hot bowl of Indian-spiced squash and a cool yogurt sauce with a kick to it. The server even brought us some thick slices of toasted bread to swipe up every last morsel from the bowl. I’m a copycat when it comes to my favorite restaurants, and I’ve stolen (attempted to recreate at home) some side dishes from their menu before, like their buffalo cauliflower with gorgonzola, so after one bite I said I wanted to try to make this one. So here goes!

IMG_6230Dice 2 medium sized yellow onions and sauté them until translucent in 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp coconut oil in a large heavy pot. While the onion is cooking, mix your spices together in a small bowl: 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves. Add the spices and 1 large minced garlic clove to the onions and cook about 1 minute. next add a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes with the liquid (my go to brand is San Marzano), and about 4 cups of cubed butternut squash. I was lazy with the squash today and bought pre-cubed squash at Whole Foods because it’s such a pain to chop. They didn’t have pre-cut acorn squash though, so I bought a whole one, poked some holes in it, microwaved it until it was soft enough to cut (about 6 mins), de-seeded it, and scooped the squash out. Finally, add the acorn squash, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp minced ginger, 1/2 cup water or broth, and 1 tbsp coconut sugar (you could use brown sugar instead) to the pot, cover it, and let simmer until the squash is soft, about 30-40 mins. At the very end, add salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

While your squash is cooking, make your yogurt sauce. I used about 4 oz plain greek yogurt and mixed in 1 1/2 tbsp fresh chopped dill, 1 tsp of a dill/onion/lemon/garlic/pepper seasoning mix called “it’s a dilly” (you could just use onion powder and some pepper), 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp paprika, and 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice.

Assemble your bowl of squash vindaloo with yogurt on top and a little dill or parsley garnish, served with a warm toasty slice of bread or naan, or on top of rice. The verdict? It’s no Thistle Hill, but it was really delicious. And a complete hearty vegetarian meal (vegan if you skip the yogurt) for cool fall nights, packed with flavor (and vitamin A)!

 


skillet huevos rancheros

Yes, more skillet brunch recipes, two weeks in a row! The inspiration behind this was some leftover black beans from one of my favorite quick weeknight dinners: baked sweet potato topped with a mixture of black beans with tomato, cumin, and coriander, salsa, plain greek yogurt, and a sprinkle of sharp white cheddar. When we woke up to a very bleak looking rainy day this morning, I decided to make a hearty warm huevos rancheros-esque brunch with the rest of the spiced black bean/tomato combo.

photo 2If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have any leftover beans, just drain and rinse a can of cooked black beans (I usually use Eden Organic brand: no salt added and BPA free can), add a chopped tomato, a little salt, and about a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander. Spray the bottom of the skillet with a little olive oil, and lay a tortilla down as your first layer (I used a whole wheat tortilla). It’s a good idea to slice it in half (or quarters, however many servings you’re making) first, so it’s much easier to get out of the pan and serve at the end. Then add your bean and tomato mix, and a little bit of salsa on top if you like. This is another one of those recipes where you can kind of add whatever you want, so I added some chopped orange bell pepper, and some diced Morningstar Farms hot n’ spicy vegetarian sausage per the husband’s request. Next carve out some small wells with a spoon for the eggs to lie in, and crack the eggs into the wells. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt and pepper, and bake at 400 F for 10-20 minutes, depending how runny you like your eggs.

Serve with salsa, avocado, and plain greek yogurt (a lot more protein than sour cream, and tastier in my opinion!). Now, fueled by this hefty slow-releasing healthy carb protein-ified meal, you can run that half marathon! Or snuggle on the couch with your dog, watch the rain, and enjoy the Fresh Prince of Bel Air marathon that just might be on right now…

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brunch frittata (& how to care for your cast iron skillet)

A cast iron skillet was one of the only tangible items we put on our wedding registry. I can’t believe I didn’t have one before — it’s one of those kitchen “must haves” — and although I did have a ridged grilling cast iron pan, I didn’t have a flat bottomed cast iron skillet, which is perfect for frittatas, among other things!  So now that we have one (thanks Ben & Evan!) it was time to celebrate not having to study this weekend with a leisurely homemade brunch.

photo 1Frittatas are great because you can really throw in anything you want. If you ever have a bunch of veggies in the fridge that are looking a little sad, a frittata is a good way to use them up! Today I went with mushrooms, spinach, and ricotta. Onions or shallots of course, are always key as a first ingredient. Start with a generous few “glugs” of olive oil (especially if your cast iron skillet is new; it will need more fat to prevent sticking). Add diced onions or shallots, and let them cook until translucent or beginning to caramelize. It’s important to really get your onions browned before adding the other veggies if you’re using mushrooms because the mushrooms will start to release a lot of liquid as they cook and then you’ll just have steamed onions.

While the mushrooms are cooking, whisk eggs in a bowl (use 4-6 unless you have a very large pan; I used 5 today. I was worried 6 wouldn’t fit in the pan with all those veggies, but I probably could’ve managed it), and add some salt and pepper and some fresh or dried herbs like some oregano or basil, depending on the flavors of your veggies. Once the mushrooms are well cooked (they will cook down a lot), add your spinach or other greens and cook until wilted. photo 2

Then pour the beaten eggs into the skillet and push them around a little with the spatula, tilting the pan to get them evenly distributed. Next add dollops of ricotta cheese throughout, and finish with some grated parmesan on top before moving the whole skillet to a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remember when taking it out that the handle of the skillet is also cast iron – it will be hot!

photo 2 (1)Serve warm on top of more greens or salad, add extra grated parmesan if you want, and enjoy! I also  like to add some dried red pepper flakes for a little kick. The saltiness of the parmesan with the heat of the pepper flakes and the sweetness of the onions, mushrooms, and ricotta is perfect.

TIP- Keep your skillet seasoned: You don’t need to wash it with soap; just scrub any stuck food off with hot water and a brush/scrubber as soon as possible after cooking, dry it immediately, and spray some vegetable oil on it while still warm. This will “season” your skillet, protecting it from moisture so that it will last longer, and your food will taste better and better. Avoid cooking with acidic foods (like tomatoes) until you’ve cooked with and oil-coated your skillet quite a few times. I’ve heard that a cast iron skillet can last 100 years if treated correctly!

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