Archive | October, 2013

Just Squash it!

30 Oct

It is fall and time to cook up some squash!  And I am not talking about the little summer squash.  I am talking about the big honking fall squash, like acorn squash and my all time fav…spaghetti squash!

Squash is budget friendly, especially this time of year, so it is time to make the most of our food dollars!  Spaghetti squash is pretty big, and there are lots of ways to cook it.  I just plop it into a big soup pot, cover it with water, get it to boiling, toss the lid on, and then figure out what I am going to do with it while it simmers.

Spaghetti squash has a pretty neutral flavor profile, making it perfect to use in a million different ways.  It is packed with nutrition. low in fat, (if you allow it to stay that way) and wonderfully versatile!  Tonight I am making spaghetti squash bake with roasted vegetables.  You need a little time to do this because cooking a big squash cannot be rushed.  So pour a glass of Pinot Noir, and lets figure this out.

As I mentioned, I just boil my squash.  While that squash is simmering, I cut up 2 green zucchini. I had a package of precut mushrooms and some grape tomatoes too.  I placed the veggies on a parchment covered baking sheet, then added the mushrooms and tomatoes.  I doused this with a little olive oil, some vinegar, (true confessions…I love acidic food!), and dusted it with salt, pepper and herb de Provence.  The veggies cooked in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes.

When the veggies were done, so was the squash.  It was out of the water, on the counter, and cut in half cooling.  I spooned out the seeds, much like cleaning out a pumpkin.  Only the flesh remained.  I raked it into strands and put that into a baking dish.  A little tomato sauce went on top.  Then the roasted veggies.  And here is when I got a bit naughty (sorry mom!). I sprinkled it with cheese.  Back into a 350 degree oven it went.

It baked for about 25 minutes, with lightly seasoned chicken breasts in the oven too.  The squash and chicken were ready at the same time.  Dinner was delicious!  Look at my story in pictures.

The strands of spaghetti squash.

The strands of spaghetti squash.

The roasted vegetables!  Yum!

The roasted vegetables! Yum!

spaghetti squab went into a baking dish and was topped with tomato sauce.

spaghetti squab went into a baking dish and was topped with tomato sauce.

Roasted veggies topped the tomato sauce, and cheese was sprinkled to finish it!

Roasted veggies topped the tomato sauce, and cheese was sprinkled to finish it!

In the (Cal)zone

27 Oct

I grill my home made pizza.  I just feel that my grill is more like a pizza oven than my kitchen oven, and I have had great results with this method.  The exception, of course, is in the winter when I make my home town Chicago Style deep dish pizza.  That goes into the kitchen oven and is strictly a winter treat when weather socks us in for an extended period of time.

Home made pizza was a topic of conversation recently when my daughter was home from college for fall break.  When college kids come home, they want moms home made dishes to nosh on, food they missed at school.  My grilled pizza is a family favorite.  It came up when my daughter was rattling off the food she was craving.  But then our conversation took an unforseen twist.

Her: I am hungry for a calzone.

Me:  I haven’t made that in a long time.

Her: I really have a taste for one.  Please…..

(Cue the lightening strike…)

Me: Wait!  How about we try grilling a calzone like my grilled pizza?

And off we went.  A new journey emerged, one in which grilling a calzone became the destination.  Our stops along the way to our destination included technique discussions, filling options, and recipe timing.

Plans were finalized, the roadmap was taking shape.  The destination-grilled calzones-was coming into focus.  The first run down this path was going to be technique focused first, ingredient choice second.  Fine tuning would come after that.

Next stop.  The filling, it was decided, would be caramelized onions and mushrooms.  The cheese would be a combination of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan.  Off we went.  As the succulent aroma of onions and mushrooms sizzling in a pan filled the kitchen, the dough was rolled out.  Nervous chatter about if we could really get this to work added to the cacophony of the popping onion mushroom mixture.

The dough was slathered with the cheese.   The onions and mushrooms went on as the  next layer.  The dough was folded over and pinched closed.  It glistened with an egg wash to give it a shiny coat.  Onto the grill it went.  As it grilled, excitement built…it hadn’t flopped yet.

The table was set, bowls of marinara sauce for dipping the calzone was placed on the table for that final stop before the anticipated bite.   Off the grill and onto the table it went.  Suffice it to say that our little experiment worked like a charm.  The outcome was delicious!  Fantastic!  A new family favorite is emerging!

 

Grilled Calzone!  Fabulous!

Grilled Calzone! Fabulous!

Crock pot tacos

15 Oct

I have been of the mindset that crock pot meals are:

a) SO 70’s, and not in a good way

b) SO boring

c)  SO bland, like beige food

d) decidedly and completely unsexy food

In other words, no F-U-N!

But…..I was short on time the other morning (as usual), and wanted to get a fairly decent meal on the table for my family that night.  So I took a minute before leaving for work and grabbed a couple of things to toss into the (time for true confessions…) crock pot.  My intention was to have flavorful and somewhat healthy tacos by suppertime.  So this is what i tossed into the crock pot:

4 frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 can corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes, with juice

1 can diced green chilis

4 ounces salsa

4 ounces salsa verde (green salsa)

1 envelope of low sodium taco seasoning

1 T. chili powder

1 T. cumin

salt and pepper to taste (you can always adjust this upward, so be conservative to begin with)

I put the chicken in the bottom, then just dumped everything else on top.  I was in a hurry,  the chicken breasts were individual, not in a big block, but still frozen solid.  The seasonings went on the top.  I didn’t even stir it.  I just threw it together, covered the crock pot, turned it on and ran out the door.

When I came home in the late afternoon, I opened the lid of the crock pot and gave the mixture a good stir.  I used two forks to shred the chicken while it was still in the crock pot, which was so tender it easily broke apart.  I had a quick taste, adjusted my seasonings a bit, then put the lid back on.

When dinner time came, I made some spanish rice, shredded some lettuce and cheese, pulled the tortillas out, and dinner was served!  The tacos were kind of an all in one because of the vegetables  added to the mixture.  The dinner was nutritious and relatively low in fat.

This recipe really stretched my ingredients so it was budget friendly, and it served a crowd.  It was an easy weeknight dinner.  True it wasn’t sexy, but it wasn’t boring either.  With all of the added vegetables, it was colorful, flavorful, and quite satisfying.  What will you add to your crock pot tacos?

Love the food…hate the breath?

13 Oct

I love great food.  And I eat just about everything, mostly in moderation.  Nothing beats an iceburg wedge salad with blue cheese on it.  Or a garlic infused roasted chicken.  But holy cow…that kind of eating can sure lead to some serious bad breath!

We have all done it. Cupped our hand from our mouth to our nostrils and huffed out.  Then breathed in deep. And thought “Is it bad?  Can I tell if it is bad?  What if I can’t tell!”

The anxiety of the possibility of bad breath is just too much, and we cannot resist the temptation to see four ourselves if, indeed, we have bad breath! But does this method work? Can we smell our own bad breath? Well, our nose is connected to our mouth, so this method is probably not effective.  We filter it out!

I think we all remember one teacher from grade school with the condition. They used to get right up close and personal, then whisper something discreetly. Man, a kid could just pass out from that blast of bad breath sent in our direction! Have we forgotten the juvenile nicknames for teachers possessing this affliction? Who can forget the 5th grade social studies teacher “Horse breath Hoffman” (my apologies to all horse lovers to whom this unfortunate nickname might offend).

As a mother, I know that I have been guilty of bad breath too. Driving carpool in the morning is not glamorous. I am certain that helping a kid get buckled in after a nights sleep, a cup of coffee, and no time to get a toothbrush in my mouth had to just about make my kids eyes roll into the back of their head! I guess none of us can escape bad breath every now and again.

Bad breath has a medical name. It’s halitosis. The word is as unpleasant as the condition. What causes it? Is it chronic?  Bad breath has many causes that range from offensive food to poor dental care. Eating strong foods such as garlic and blue cheese can contribute to bad breath.

Bacteria growing on the back of the tongue is also a major cause for halitosis. So is dehydration. It is a fairly common problem and can be chronic, meaning it is constantly present. Luckily it is preventable.

Good oral care helps rid our mouth of offensive breath. Brush and floss often. And don’t forget to brush your tongue too, all the way to the back of the tongue. Yes, your gag reflex may kick in, but try to do it anyway! Bacteria grows in our mouth, and good oral hygiene can get rid of halitosis causing bacteria.

Chewing gum can also help get rid of bad breath, in part because it stimulates saliva production. Drinking more water and staying properly hydrated can help prevent or get rid of halitosis too. The dentist is another great resource for helping get rid of bad breath.

So back to determining if we can smell our own bad breath. We may not be able to do it by cupping our hand from our mouth to our nostril, but there may be another way. Lick your wrist. Wait a few seconds. Smell it. That may be a good indication of what your breath smells like. So enjoy your garlic and blue cheese, drink some water, go to the dentist, and lick the back of your hand! Then sniffffffff!

Quinoa and Roasted Vegetables Part Deux

4 Oct

Oops, I did it again!  Ugh!  I don’t mean to pat myself on the back in such an obvious way.  I am having a rare moment of confidence sprinkled with a dash of sassiness!  Anywhoooo, you know I love having leftovers around.  I made quinoa and roasted veggies the other night.  I also have some fabulous leftover grilled tuna medallions from last night.  Denis and I are heading out to the JV high school football game tonight, so no time to make dinner.  No worries.  I quickly packed up a cooler to take to the game.

Here is what I made to take to the game.  I sliced up the tuna, grabbed the leftover quinoa and veggies out of the fridge, along with some tortillas.  I laid a tortilla out and slathered the quinoa and veggies on it.  Next, I piled on some leftover tuna.  The great finish was some wasabi sauce.  Hey, what can I say?  I like a good kick of heat!  Then I rolled the tortilla up and sliced it in two.

I wrapped the tortillas in parchment paper.  Wrapping them this way makes them easy to eat on the run.  Into  the cooler they went, along with an apple, an apple cutter, some bottled water, and a few cookies.  After that kick of heat a bite of something sweet is perfect, so a few cookies were a must!

Out the door we went to cheer Quinn and his JV football team on!  We were able to munch on outrageously healthy food that was ready in a quick minute.  Sure beat the bleacher pizza and nachos that others were munching on.  Have a peek at my prerolled tortilla!  Yum!  What can you do with your leftovers?

Roasted veggie and quinoa, sliced grilled tuna, and some wasabi! Rolled up, this made a perfect wrap to transport and eat on the run!

Roasted veggies and quinoa, sliced grilled tuna, and some wasabi! Rolled up, this made a perfect wrap to transport and eat on the run!

Quinoa and Roasted Vegetables

2 Oct

Stand back.  This delicious dish is not only obnoxiously nutritious, it is incredibly versatile.  It can be a meatless main dish, a savory side dish, a cold leftover lunch.  But one thing is for sure…any way it is served, it is bound to be terrific!

I roasted some vegetables that I had on hand.  The roasted vegetables included carrots, grape

Lovely vegetables, cut and ready to roast!

Lovely vegetables, cut and ready to roast!

tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, fresh green beans, a zucchini, and a handful of chopped green onions.  I chopped them up and sprinkled them with olive oil, a bit of balsamic vinegar, salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, I love vinegar! I find any excuse to use it!  If you are not a fan, you can leave it off.

While that was in the oven roasting, I cooked some quinoa.  This is a fantastic grain that is wheat and gluten free.  The quick cooking variety is available, and really makes for a fast side dish.  Toss one part

This quinoa is a tri color blend of the heirloom variety.  Cooked in 15 minutes!  Love that!

This quinoa is a tri color blend of the heirloom variety. Cooked in 15 minutes! Love that!

quinoa (start with one cup) and two parts water or broth (2 cups) into a sauce pan over medium high heat.  Bring this to a boil, cover, turn the heat down and let simmer for about 15 minutes…then its ready to go.

When the veggies came out of the oven, I added more fresh ground black pepper,ground on top, added the quinoa, gave it a stir and took it to the table.  The ooohhs and aahhhs as it came to the table spoke volumes!  The mmmm’s that followed the first forkful finished telling the story.  Success.  Try this for a nutrition packed addition to your regular side dish repertoire.  Personalize it for your own taste and enjoy!  Bon appetite!

The final dish!  If you are in a garnishing mood, sprinkle this with feta or goat cheese before serving.

The final dish! If you are in a garnishing mood, sprinkle this with feta or goat cheese before serving.