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Archive for the category “Lunch”

Fall/Winter Sweet Potato, Kale & Quinoa

Once upon a time I bought kale to be healthy. Then I realized I found kale scary. So, I decided to pair it with delicious spicy sausage & cook it with beer to make it less scary. And this was a success, especially considering it only takes like 20 minutes to make.

What you need:

  • 1 or 2 sweet potatoes
  • Dark or pumpkin beer (I used a leftover post-halloween pumpkin beer, but I bet a gingerbread ale, any old porter or really any wintery ale would do)
  • Kale (mmm vitamin A and fiber)
  • Spicy (chicken, vegan, whatever ) sausage
  • Garlic & Onions (always)
  • Soy sauce, cayenne, nutmeg (all optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Quinoa
  • 3 tea bags (optional, but I did Orange Pekoe quinoa with this and it was tasty)

 

Step 1: Chop stuffs

Chop up your sausage into bite size pieces. After washing your knife& cutting board (gotta be careful about cross contamination!), dice ½ an onion, chop your (peeled) sweet potato into 1” chunks, and cut your washed kale into strips.

If you’ve made any type of greens before (like the lovely rainbow chard, or collards etc.) it’s pretty much the same deal. Except with kale the stem doesn’t continue through the leaf as much, so just snap off the stemy ends and slice up the leafy parts. An FYI, you will need a lot of greens for each serving (remember they cook down A LOT) so don’t be shy about the kale.

Step 2: Make quinoa

Here is where I followed a similar method to the ginger tea soba noodles and put on the water for the quinoa (follow instructions on the box, I always use to much water and mess it up so here is one place I condone measuring). Steep 3 tea bags in the hot (it doesn’t need to be fully boiling) water for 3 to 5 minutes before putting in the quinoa. Then cook quinoa as directed (I sound like an Rx commercial).

Step 3: Potatoes and Beer

Add in your sweet potato chunks to the pan with a touch of olive oil. Then immediately poor into the pan about 1/3 of a bottle (my math tells me this would be 4 ounces which is about ½ a cup).

Cover with a lid, stirring the potatoes around every couple minutes. If the beer evaporates completely from the pan but your potatoes aren’t softened yet (which is the sign they’re done), add a bit more, remember we’re being creative here!

The idea is that the flavors from the beer cook into the potatoes as it cooks down. When the potatoes are nearly tender enough that you’d like to eat one (about 7 or 8 minutes depending on the size of your potato chunks), move to the next step.

Step 4: Sauté sausage, onions & garlic

Throw the chopped up sausage, onions and a teaspoon (1 clove is enough) of minced garlic with another  dash of olive oil. Cook on medium heat until the onions soften. Most times the sausage is precooked so that matters a lot less. If yours isn’t, make sure that gets cooked all the way through. If it’s precooked this part really takes like 3 minutes.

Step 5: Kale

Now, on top of all the potatoes, sautéed onions and sausage, start to throw in the kale. You may need to do this in stages to get it all in the pan, and if it starts to stick at all, sprinkle just one more dash of olive oil in (it’s good for you, quit fretting about it).

When your kale is all wilted, you’re good to go. Remove from heat, and scrape the bottom as you toss everything around. You want that good flavor from the seared sausage and beer cooked sweet potatoes.

Step 6: Get it together

By now hopefully your quinoa is all cooked, so scoop that on a plate/in a bowl. Spoon on top some potato, sausage, kale, onion mixture. Here you can add a sprinkle of soy sauce if you want to add some salty Asian kick to the deal or a dash of cayenne or splash of nutmeg. It’s all optional.

Enjoy your healthy meal & hearty meal! This was a great dinner and great left over lunch, especially for the effort which is super low. For some reason I didn’t take a picture of it all together (SORRY!) but you get the idea. Try it, you really might like it. I know I was surprised it turned out so yummy.

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Butternut Squash & Parmigiano Pasta (a healthier mac & cheese)

So I’m a HUGE fan of mac & cheese. It’s a meal, it’s a side, it’s a life style. And my all-time favorite is Ina Garten’s  Mac & Cheese. I generally leave out the tomatoes, but do lots of add ins. Last Easter I made 3 types of this recipe, one plain, one broccoli & bacon, and one spicy chicken, roasted red pepper & tomato. HUGE hits. But sometimes your brain is annoying and says to you “Hey! A plate of mac & cheese is not that healthy, and eating it for leftovers for a week is REALLY artery clogging, please pick something else.” And in those moments, I suggest Butternut Squash & Parmigiano-Reggiano Mac (you can use good old Parmesan too, I just went  fancy when I did mine).

This came to be because I had a butternut squash and no idea what to do with it. I’ve done roasted acorn squash, but wanted to try something different. And then I found a few recipes I could play off of and started getting super excited. Wanna see the end result now? I don’t blame you… TADA!

Ok, now that you’re convinced this looks amazing, I want to insert a small disclaimer. This recipe can take awhile. BUT it’s worth it and reheats really well so it’ll make a great holiday addition, and leftover favorite. But it’s no 30 minute meal with Rachel Ray (I’m less annoying than her though so that has to count for something).

Things You Need:

Food stuff:

  • A butternut squash
  • Minced garlic
  • Cooking white wine (optional)
  • Onion
  • Butter/Olive oil
  • Mushrooms
  • Sour cream or plain greek yogurt
  • Milk (I used 1% but it doesn’t matter)
  • Chicken stock (optional)
  • Parmesan or Parmigiano-reggiano (fresh, and grated)
  • Sage (fresh, only a few leaves needed)
  • Box of large shell pasta (really any pasta is fine, but we used shells and it seemed to work well)
  • Salt & pepper (sea salt and fresh ground pepper corns are best, but use whatcha got)

Other stuff

  • Handblender & container to blend in (I use a cylinder pitcher for this as narrow containers seem to work better than wide bowls, and this way it’s easy to poor… but trial and error sometimes is the best strategy for finding a good blending container)

Step 1: Roast the Squash

Alright, real step one is cutting the squash, which is no small feat, but then you roast it. So first, cutting it. Get a sharp knife, sharpest you have. Winter squash are notoriously hard and you really can hurt yourself trying to saw through them with a crappy knife, so sharpen that thing up. Now, lay the squash on its side and cut off the bottom and the top (carefully! Like so…. )

THEN stand it on its now flat bottom and cut down through the middle long ways.

Once you’ve split your squash, scoop out the seeds and stringy parts and either keep them to roast or toss them out. In the bottom of a baking dish (big enough for both sides of squash to fit in fleshy side down) add ¼ cup of white wine and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic. Cover the dish lightly in foil and put this in the oven at around 400 degrees for about an hour.

At about 45 minutes in, check the squash to see how soft it is. You want to check a few spots. If a fork doesn’t go in easily, it needs more time. Make sure there is still liquid in the bottom (if not, add 1/8 cup of water or white wine) and return it to the oven. You want the squash to be soft enough to scoop out easily and blend easily.

 

Step 2: Sauté the Onions & Mushrooms

While the squash is cooking, sauté ½ a yellow or white onion in olive oil or butter over medium heat. When the onion is soft and starting to brown just a little, remove from heat and add to the container you’ll use for blending the sauce.

Yes I use mugs as prep bowls, don’t you? They have handles!

When the onions are done, toss 1 package of mushrooms (sliced) into the same pan (adding a bit more oil or butter if needed) with ½ teaspoon of minced garlic. Cook on medium high heat until soft and starting to brown up. Pull the pan from heat when done and set aside.

 

Step 3: Prep the Sauce & Pasta

After cooking the onions (or during if you’re REALLY good at multi-tasking while cooking) grate 1 cup of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese into the sauce blending container. Grate about ½ a cup in a bowl on the side for topping the plates later.

Now add 1/3 teaspoon of sea salt, 5 sage leaves (chopped up into small bits), and 1/2 cup of milk to the blending container too. If you want to use the chicken stock (adds a little salty depth to the sauce) you can use half milk, half broth.

When this is ready to go, put on your water for the pasta. All these moving parts may not be timed perfectly, but that’s ok. If the pasta finishes first, strain it and set it aside. If the sauce is finished first, no big deal, just set the blended stuff aside and wait for the pasta.

 

Step 4: Sauce it up

When the squash is done and soft, take it out of the oven, remove the cover and let it cool a little. You don’t want to burn yourself while scooping out the yummy stuff. When it’s cool enough to handle, use a metal spoon to scoop out the flesh into your blending container on top of the other ingredients.

Now blend this A LOT. Use a spatula or spoon to make sure the stuff on the bottom is getting included and blend again – you really can’t over blend this, so when in doubt, give it another surge. If it’s VERY thick, add milk 1 tablespoon or so at a time. Remember you still have sour cream to add though, so don’t make it too thin.

Bare with the awkward picture, it’s hard to take pictures of this process!

Step 5: Putting it all Together

Drop your pasta back in the pan it cooked in on the stove. Add 1 cup of sour cream/plain yogurt, and pour in the blended squash mixture. You may not need all of the blended squash stuff, so put in ½ or so, stir and add more if needed. This depends a lot on the size of your squash, so it’s hard to get the perfect amount each time. If you have extra, make some more pasta and keep for left overs (or freeze the sauce alone for later to reheat, add sour cream to and eat over pasta at another date).

Doesn’t it look like mac & cheese?

Heat this mixture on low until everything is to your preferred temperature. Add salt and pepper to taste (we liked it a bit saltier to balance out the sweetness of the squash, but it’s definitely a preference thing)

When your creamy deliciousness coats the shells and is hot enough, dish it out. Lay a spoonful of mushrooms on top and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese. You can serve smaller portions with a side caesar salad too which is healthier and delicious.

This is a great fall dish, one great for large groups too if you want to make it for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It reheats well (just add a sprinkle of milk or water before reheating) and is delicious for lunch throughout the week, so I found. We’ll definitely make again.

Enjoy!

 

Cobb Salad (The Catch-All of Salads)

I love a good Cobb Salad… mostly because while I find lettuce boring, cobb salads are full of fun and interesting ingredients to fill your bites with flavor. And of course this fits OH so well with the idea of creative cooking because you can throw nearly anything into a cobb salad. For example, we didn’t have any bacon but we did have some left over ham (from a casserole I made last week), and some eggs that needed hard boiling before they went bad… easily incorporated. So this was my most recent take on the Cobb Salad (including a creamy lime dressing)…

What you need:

For Salad base:

  • some type of lettuce/green
  • tomatoes (optional)
  • cucumbers (optional)
  • corn (optional… frozen, canned, off the cobb)
  • chicken breast
  • hard boiled eggs 
  • onions
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • black beans (optional)
  • carrots (optional… we opted out due to plate space)
  • ham (or bacon… optional of course but delicious)
  • avocado (on everything please)

For Dressing (obviously you can use whatever dressing you like… this one’s lime southwestern):

  • 2 tbsp cream cheese/neufchatel (super fun to say and type!)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream (I used low fat)
  • 1 lime (well more accurately juice of 1/4 to 1/2 a lime… but you can’t buy 1/2 a lime obviously)
  • cumin
  • cayenne or hot sauce
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 an avocado (mashed)

Step 1:

Caramelize those onions…. so slice them up thin and toss them in your cast iron with a little bit of olive oil and a pad of butter. If you’re keen on it, you can toss in a pinch of sugar to help this process, but I’m kind of meh about that. Caramelizing onions does take a bit of time, around 45 minutes, but it’s super worth it. My favorite simple explanation of how to do this is from Simply Recipes … I’d recommend checking that out if you’re unfamiliar with the process.

Also, if you don’t have hard boiled eggs, you can do this at the same time. It takes about 15 minutes to get the water boiling, then cook the eggs (10 minutes of cook time). Then cool the eggs in some ice water before the salad arranging ensues.

Step 2: 

Cooking the chicken is easy peasy. Salt and pepper each side if you wish, or not. Like squash, I actually pretty much dislike white meat chicken. BUT The Kitchn saved me from this distaste. So I follow the method they use here except I really just skip the flour stuff. It’s not necessary to do all that really, they stay moist and awesome without it. In short, you sear each side for a few minutes in olive oil, add a few tbsps of water or wine to the pan, and cover for 25ish minutes (depends on the thickness of your chicken)

Step 3: Heat up anything that’s frozen or unpleasantly cold. For me, that was frozen corn, and left over ham. For you that might be frozen peas, or black beans (if yours are cold and you’re opposed to such a thing) etc.  I shamelessly use the microwave for this.

Step 4: Ok, dressing time. Get a bowl or even a mug out first. Scoop in the cream cheese, and if it’s not softened, throw that in the microwave for about 15 seconds to do that. Then scoop in the sour cream (you can also use greek yogurt here). Now come the yummy parts… lime, cumin, cayenne! Squeeze in the juice from 1/4 or so of the lime at first. You can add more later, but it’s easy to over lime (at least in my opinion)

To that cut up about half of an avocado (put the other half on your salad!) and mash it up into the dressing. Seriously though, why are avocados so delicious and lovely? Anyway, pretty much your dressing is done. If it’s too thick, add a splash or two of olive oil and blend. If not spicy enough.. you know, add spices. Do what your taste buds tell you. I didn’t LOVE my dressing but it was a nice change of pace from the typical ranch.

Step 5: Chop the rest of your veggies and assemble salad! Just scoop all your tasty ingredients, caramelized onions and all, right on there, chop that egg and chicken and get them on top and eat! As you can see the BF and I enjoy different toppings (he flat out refuses to eat raw tomatoes much to my dismay, while I really dislike hard boiled egg yolks… ew chalky) but here they are all shiny and scrumptious! But here are both just in case you like pretty salad pictures as much as I do…

And if you’re like me and always make too much of everything – this can be made for lunch the next day at the same time which is a double win in my book. Enjoy! And let us know what your favorite salad toppings & dressings are (and how to make them if they’re fancy like candied walnuts or something).

Pumpkin Southwestern Chicken Soup

I love all things texmex – all of them (except when people put olives on nachos… seriously? olives? ew.) Anyway… this adoration really conflicts with my desire to eat healthy. Cheese, sour cream, refried beans, chips & guac… nom nom nom. SO, a few years ago I decided to make chicken tortilla soup. It’s pretty healthy considering, but still gives that delicious texmex flavor to dinner. Win win.

Then one fall I made a homemade pumpkin pie. Not like out of a can pumpkin, I mean like we roasted a pie pumpkin, pureed the pumpkin pulp etc. It took forever, but it was worth it. If you get the chance this year to make a from scratch pumpkin pie with fresh sugar pumpkin and honey etc. do it.  But from this pumpkin pie, I had some leftover pumpkin puree. So, in true me fashion, I decided, why not make this into a soup? Why not combine good things then and make pumpkin chicken tortilla soup? And you know what? Great idea. So here’s how you make it. It helps if you have some left over roasted chicken around so you don’t have to make it just for soup. But you could if you want. Luckily I made a whole chicken the other day, so we had some in the house. This recipe won out over Southern chicken salad… it’s that good.

Step One: Get out your trusty crockpot (if you don’t own a crock pot, I GUESS you can use a pot on the stove. But really, just go get one. They’re not very expensive, and you don’t need a fancy one.) Set it to high.

Step Two: Chop up the basic soup veggies: onions, celery, carrots, garlic. Add in there some bell pepper too (and if you have some chop up a few jarred roasted red peppers). Then pour in a can or two of green chilies.  If you have fresh ones, by all means use those. I also toss in 1 chopped seeded (aka take out the seeds) jalapeno. But that’s optional of course.

mmm peppers

Step Three: Add some more stuff! A few cups of chicken broth (I use the box kind, but if you have your own around, that’s good too!), and a few handfuls of leftover roasted chicken (If you don’t have any cooked chicken you have two options: either cook up a chicken breast/a few thighs on the stove and shread, or throw them into the crockpot raw and shread after fully cooked which they will be after a few hours). With that you need to pile on black beans and pumpkin puree too.  As I’m too lazy right now to make pumpkin puree from scratch, I used the ubiquitous fall canned pumpkin this time.

Sorry for the slightly blurry pic… new phone is almost set up so better photos to come.

Step Four: Ok, you’re almost there. Easiest part: add a couple cups of water. Or, if you have any leftover white wine like I did (perhaps something you didn’t like), you can add a cup or so of that instead. Both good.

Step Five: Spices time! Cumin (at least 3 teaspoons), chili powder (same amount here), salt (a pinch or two), black pepper (fresh pepper corns if you have them). The sneakiest ingredient here, to bring out the pumpkin…. nutmeg (add at least 1.5 teaspoons… to taste of course like everything else. I like a bit more)

Step Five: Put the lid on and leave the crock pot alone on high for about 4 hours. This makes this an ideal candidate for all day or all night cooking (if you leave it all day, feel free to go down to low, it’ll get to a boil at low after about 5 hours). BUT while you’re waiting… you should make some pico de gallo for the top.

BONUS STEP: Pico de gallo. Chop up 1/2 an onion (red is best, any works), 1/2 a jalapeno (again, w/o seeds) one or two tomatoes, and cilantro to taste (the more the better in my book). Pinch of salt on top is optional. You can also add 1/2 a chopped avocado if you’re feeling so inclined.

When you serve your soup, dollop some of this pico mix right in the middle before eating/serving. Adds a little kick, and the cilantro isn’t too soaked in the soup this way. Perfect (and lovely I might add)

Glorious Veggie Sandwich

I’ve never been much for sandwiches really. In elementary school I even refused PBJ and for over a year alternated between cheese sandwiches (yup, just a slice or two of cheese…. sometimes even kraft ‘cheese’ folded into a piece of bread) or butter sandwiches (which was really just Country Crock pseudo-butter on a folded piece of bread). God forbid my mom try to make me a ham and cheddar or turkey and swiss. Ew ew ew. And while I’ve grown up a bit in my tastes, I did figure out in college why I didn’t like sandwiches — they were so boring and mono-textured! Soft deli meat, soft cheese, soft bread made softer by mayo or mustard — blah. But add cucumbers or sweet pickles? WOW! Who knew I liked sandwiches?

So, though still not my favorite meal, I’ve endeavored to learn to make sandwiches I enjoy eating. And sometimes, my custom veggie sandwich is everything I’ve ever wanted in a food. Here’s how I (usually) do it…

Ingredients: 

Some decent whole grain bread… I like this one, the boyfriend prefers the oat kind… but some tasty nutty bread is best. If you can make your own, even better.

Fresh tomato and cucumber

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (or whatever flavor you prefer, but this one is the best so pick it)

Plain greek yogurt (totally a stolen photo from http://www.jessicashealthblog.com), mix in a teaspoon of cream cheese if you wish for increased deliciousness, and herbs/seasonings. I go with a little bit of cayenne pepper, garlic salt, cumin or whatever suits my whimsy that day. But really this invented ‘spread’ is the key to sandwich flavor variety.

So spread on that hummus and creamy cheesy herb stuff, and pile on some sprouts (I added yet more after this photo). They add crunch and if you get something like onion sprouts it can add some oomph too.

Then those ripe yummy summer tomatoes…

And then the sliced cukes and a piece of lettuce if you have it around (though it doesn’t add much to the deal honestly)

And TADA…. Veggie Sandwich of Glory!

SEE? Doesn’t it look tasty? (it is trust me)

Though, I do have a warning… it is hard to eat and hard to travel with. This is due to it’s size and amount of uncompromising awesomeness. See? It doesn’t even fit in a normal baggie. It’s a plus-sized sandwich. Even better.

You can also fix this up with various mustards (though they aren’t my favorite personally) or add a slice of cheese (muenster works particularly well here) or even add a meat to the mix. The important part is to get some tasty pestos and spreads in there for a variety of flavors and textures and to make a it mostly a pile of interesting veggies. Use that CSA or garden to your advantage!

Let us know what you like to pile onto your specialty sandwich in the comments! I love to try new combinations.

Tofu: The Stubborn Nemesis

I’ve always liked tofu. When I was a toddler our neighbors owned a Chinese restaurant and my favorite food when we went there was the tofu out of the hot & sour soup. Even boiled, mushy, and spicy – I loved it. Delicious!

Hot & Sour soup – my original tofu love

But sadly, in all my years since then I’ve never mastered tofu (or hot & soup either… the ingredients list for those recipes are way over my head at this point, though good recipes/suggestions are welcome). But until lately, whenever I’ve tried to make tofu stirfry in our wok I ended up with squishy broken chunks of flavorless soy product. Anti-appetizing. I’ve tried squeezing it out, using different knifes to cut it up, marinating and not marinating it… I thought it was hopeless.

Then, a few weeks ago, I came across the blog Rabbit food For My Bunny Teeth. While her story of weight loss is pretty inspiring, I was really after tasty but easy vegan recipes. And to my delight, Spicy Korean Tacos sounded (and looked!) delicious.

Despite my hesitation, I decided to try it out. We went with normal corn tortillas due to what we could find at our local run-of-the-mill grocery store, instead of cabbage we had lightly sauteed celery, carrots and onions, and I did add a tid bit of spicy szechuan sauce at the very end to add a bit more flavor. Otherwise though, I stayed on point. And by that I mean, I made the tofu exactly as she said. I put the soy sauce, siracha and oil in my cast iron skillet (instead of the wok), cranked it up, and dumped in my squeezed (pre-cubed –  more on that in a sec) extra firm tofu. And you know what? It worked. It seared on that soy sauce flavor. I didn’t need to marinate it, or douse it in tons of oil to get it to crisp up. It just happened. Like magic. With a sprinkle of sesame seeds, they were complete.

I loved it, the boyfriend loved it, all were quite pleased with our not-very-Korean, Korean tacos (I mean, seriously, what about these is Korean specifically really?). I made the filling again the other day to eat on top of quinoa, and even bought the not pre-cubed tofu. Extra-firm block was purchased and I was determined to be able to cut it w/o crumbling. So, I set a plate below with a few paper towels, and a plate on top and then the caste iron on top to put on some heavy pressure. In a few minutes I took it out to cube (with a serrated knife) and TADA! Worked like a charm. I cooked it up just like before and it made a delicious lunch.

My suspicion is that my trusty cast iron skillet was highly underutilized in my tofu cooking processes before and made both the squeezing and the cooking MUCH improved. But that’s just an inkling.

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