Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Marinara

You know the feeling... the ravenous grumble that's strong enough to make you push people down public transit steps or even curse your adorable dog because he needs to be walked. You're hungry for dinner and you're friggin' tired from working all day.

It's going to be okay. 

Some may maintain enough composure to come up with dinner after a long day, but I lack the creativity. That's why I plan all of my meals for the week on Sunday. A little planning ahead helps me finish up time-consuming prep work and allows me to be somewhat mindless Monday through Friday. 

This Tuesday night it was Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Marinara...and it only took me 15 minutes. The husband was spared from cranky town and the dog even got a walk. #winning

A little Sunday prep work. Not hard stuff, just needs a bit of time in the oven. 

Split and de-seed.

Roast cut side down in the oven for 45 minutes, cool and then store in the shell for up to three days. For night of prep I pulled some leftover marinara from the freezer and found some prepared Italian sausages from the store.

Use a fork to scrape out the insides. Isn't the texture marvelous? Not to mention so much healthier than traditional pasta.

Sauce warms and sausages brown in 10 minutes.

Warm up the leftover squash and serve. Be sure to apologize to the poor sap you pushed down the stairs too.

Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Marinara
1 large spaghetti squash or 2 small
4-5 Italian sausages
2-3 cups marinara sauce (recipe here)
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split squash and scrape out seeds from inside. Place cut side down on cookie sheet and roast 45 minutes, or until tender. Allow squash to cool and refrigerate in the shell for up to three days.

Warm olive oil over medium heat and add sausages. Brown for three minutes on each side, add a few tablespoons of water and cover immediately. Continue to heat, covered, until sausages are cooked through.

Warm marinara over low heat on the stove. Scrape squash from shell and reheat in microwave.

Serve squash with sausage and marinara.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Simple Secret: Massaged Kale Salad

Leafy greens. Redemption for all of the beers and tacos you consumed on Saturday night/early Sunday morning. Don't regret... redeem. It's only food after all. But the karaoke you can never take back... just pray the videos never surface.

Prepare yourself to be addicted to massaged kale salad. Now I know you're all going to think it sounds weird to eat kale raw, but I promise I'm not being too granola over here. Lemon juice and sea salt provide the simplest of clean flavors and tenderize this tough guy more than my sweeping rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" ever could. Well and this salad will never spout the F-word on the chorus.

Start by removing leaves from the stems. Those are tough and woody. Once removed, rinse and dry leaves.

This is all... just three ingredients.

These citrus squeezers are amazing tools...especially when you get a hard lemon or lime. 

Kosher or sea salt for flavor and texture. This is not the place for table salt.

Massage the lemon juice and salt into the leaves for 2 to 3 minutes... gently rubbing the leaves. You'll start to feel everything tenderize and reduce.

Serve as is or dress with your favorite vinaigrette.

Simple Secret: Massaged Kale Salad
1 bunch kale
Juice of one lemon
1-2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

Remove kale from stems and tear into smaller pieces. Rinse and dry leaves. Squeeze lemon juice and sprinkle salt over leaves. Use your fingers  to massage leaves for 2-3 minute until leaves tenderize.

Serve alone or dressed with your favorite vinaigrette. This is a great base for heartier salads.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Slow Cooker Vegetable Curry

Before we dive in , just wanted to let you guys know that this blog is now dropped the .blogspot (#legit). It will still redirect, but you may need to adjust your subscription. Good news is... it's now much easier for you guys to tell your friends the blog address :)


Turns out you guys are just as lazy as I am, because I've gotten lots of requests lately for slow cooker recipes. I'm a bit of a slow cooker novice actually, getting my first one as a wedding gift last year. I totally get why people are addicted to them, especially if you're a beginner cook. I think the results can be great, but you need to be selective about the recipe and ingredients you cook to avoid the all-too-familiar slow cooker mush.

This veggie-forward recipe avoids blahsville with a punch of curry and delivers on health and weeknight ease. No crockpot classic cream of mushroom soup to be found here.

Seriously... look at all these vegetables. These ingredients are also really adjustable based on your personal preferences or what's leftover in the fridge.

Leftovers from my Butternut Squash Pizza made their way into this recipe.

There is just a bit of prep work for this recipe, but it can easily be done a few days before. I sauteed up my onions, squash and potatoes on Sunday and assembled everything on a weekday morning.

From what I've read from slow cooker recipes and my manual, ideally you need liquid to come up about halfway to the inside rim of the slow cooker bowl. I have an inherent fear every time I use one of these that I won't use enough liquid and will create a burnt mess. Rule of thumb, you're not really going to lose any liquid, so think about what you're looking for in the final product.

Also, DO NOT open your slow cooker lid during cooking. This will really throw off the cooking time. Add a snarky note to keep your husband/friends/kids out of there. Profanity encouraged.

Just before serving, in go coconut milk and spinach. You always want to reserve any "milks" until just before finishing. Otherwise you'd have a curdled mess.

Give things a stir and you're ready to go. Also, your entire apartment will likely smell like curry. And maybe for a few days. But it will be get to eat it after all.

Serve with naan bread and relish in all the extra time you have on a weeknight evening. I painted my nails with the pup... it was adorable and much needed.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Curry
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 russet potatoes, diced
1/2 butternut squash, diced
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons curry
2 tablespoons garam masala
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup beer
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 16-oz can chickpeas
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 head cauliflower, but into florets
1 28-oz can diced tomato
1 6-oz bag baby spinach
1 cup light coconut milk

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute onion until translucent; add potato, butternut squash and salt. Continue cooking until potato edges begin to soften; about 5-7 minutes. Add curry, garam masala, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and cayenne. Stir until spices are fragrant and then add beer, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove browned bits.

On the day of serving, add potato mixture to the slow cooker bowl. Add chickpeas, red pepper, green pepper, cauliflower and tomato. Pour chicken stock over mixture until bowl is filled halfway. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. DO NOT remove lid during cooking.

When ready to serve, stir in coconut milk and spinach. Serve with warm naan bread.

This will make a LOT of food, so be prepared for leftovers. It freezes well.

*Recipe inspiration from The Kitchn

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Butternut Squash Pizza

It's everywhere... butternut squash takeover. I knew I needed to make it into pizza when I repinned it two Autumns in a row. Same damn recipe two years in a row. In the wide world of kiddie cakes and cat scarves on Pinterest, what's the likelihood? I apparently know what I like. This stubbornness of "liking" has also led me to wear leopard shoes  and dark frame glasses since the late 90s. I'm just gonna stick with calling it "classic" instead of "uncreative" or "lacking sense of current trends."

Pizza is really the perfect vehicle to get creative though. So many cheese, meat and vegetable combinations to be enjoyed. Starting with a whole wheat crust, being sensible with the cheese and adding plenty of veg actually makes it a pretty balanced meal. Just be careful with that fratty delivery stuff.

Thinly slice half a butternut squash -- the long end -- obvs. Then a quick roast will get things pizza ready.

It will only take about 10 minutes, since the squash is nice and thinly sliced.

Instead of a "sauce," I put together a quick garlic-rosemary infused olive oil. I made some extra too to use in salads for the rest of the week. Little perk-ups like this can make a big difference.

A quick brush with the oil and we're ready for ricotta. No better way to do this than with your fingers. Appreciate my cluttered refrigerator door. And yes... that IS a "Real Kitty Kats of Greece" postcard. Jealous?

Ready for the oven... and pizza party time.

Butternut Squash Pizza
1 package prepared whole wheat pizza dough (my favorite is Trader Joe's)
1/2 butternut squash, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs rosemary
1 cup fat free ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat butternut squash slices with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven 10-15 minutes. Squash can be prepared ahead of time.

Warm olive oil with garlic and rosemary on stove on low. Remove from heat before it starts to bubble and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

Roll out pizza dough on a floured surface (some doughs may require kneading, check package instruction). Brush dough with olive oil, covering all edges. Use fingers to spread ricotta, leaving crusts. Arrange butternut squash slices and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top, along with another pinch of salt and pepper.

Bake in oven 15-20 minutes, or until middle is set and edges are golden. Note, depending on how thickly you've spread the dough, cooking times may vary. Garnish with rosemary.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Ya'll know I don't bake much. I seriously don't even get the cake ball thing. They physically hurt my teeth. With all this dissing of dessert I should make it clear that I will eat peanut butter on just about anything. On an apple... yep. Rice cakes... in the desk drawer. Banana... big head nod. I like natural peanut butter alright, but there's nothing to replace good 'ole creamy Jif in my life. They didn't even pay me to say that. Put it with chocolate and I'm down for the fat kid count.

I saw this recipe pop up on Pinterest and had been considering it for awhile. I had originally planned to make them as marathon day snacks, but my sink clogged #boocrappyapartment. I'm glad I didn't give up on the peanut butter ball dream... chocolate and peanut butter are obviously incredible, but the oats in these cookies give them remarkable texture and a little less guilty.

Just a few simple ingredients and no need to get out the kitchen scale. I did do a bit more measuring than usual though. Bakers be proud.

Whole grains = chewy. Delicious.

This is a similar method to a Rice Krispy treat. Easy enough for kiddos and room for endless variations.

Ahh.... this shit just got real. Once everything is combined, you'll need to move quickly to scoop the cookies before they dry out.

I wished I had a small ice cream scoop. I used a tablespoon with a flexible end and my fingers instead.

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fat free milk
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups rolled oats

Cover one cookie sheet in parchment paper.

Melt butter over low heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Add sugar, milk and cocoa powder and stir until combined. Add in peanut butter and chocolate chips, stir until melted. Remove from heat and add oats, stirring quickly to combine.

Using a small ice cream scoop or spoon, scoop out individual cookies onto parchment. Move quickly to complete this before mixture dries out. Refrigerate cookies for 30 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Acorn Squash Apple Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Living away from your family can be hard. More than anything I just miss the normal stuff. Hanging out on a Sunday afternoon or someone helping me fix random things around the apartment. Though I've lived hundreds of miles from my parents and brothers for the better part of a decade, I'm so lucky to have a few cousins here in Chicago. They just "get" what it is to be in our family... loud, cheesy jokes and all. We know that its special to have one another, so we try to make an effort to have "family dinner" every few weeks.  

This Saturday night my cousin Michael made KILLER ribs for us and it was requested that I bring a salad. Maybe it was all of the gorgeous foliage, but I couldn't resist apples and squash. Maple vinaigrette and walnut give the punctuation to make this expression of fall complete. 

Michael's roommate Dale joined us for dinner too. He's not the most lively of party guests, but it makes up for it in good looks. 

Ingredients are simple, but flavorful and oh so seasonal. 

The vinaigrette uses olive oil for fat, apple cider vinegar for bitterness and maple syrup for sweetness. You can make any vinaigrette with that simple formula -- fat, bitter and sweet. Add salt and pepper for the finish.

Acorn squash is sliced and simply roasted until tender. To easily remove the skins afterward, put the hot squash into a zip top bag and allow to steam. The skins will come off easier than my heels at the end of the day.

Whether your family is blood or just great friends, always be thankful for them. If you're fortunate enough to spend more time laughing together than arguing -- consider yourself especially blessed. I know I do.

Acorn Squash Apple Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
For salad
1 acorn squash
2 Honeycrisp apples, chopped
1 6oz bag baby spinach
1/4 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

For vinaigrette
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut acorn squash in half and use spoon to scoop out seeds. Thinly slice acorn squash cross ways. Place slices on cookie sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven 10-15 minutes or until fork tender. 

Toss spinach, apple walnuts and cooled acorn squash. Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and toss with salad. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

5-Spice Pork and Soba Noodles

One thing I love about so many Asian dishes is that they are speedy quick. Great weeknight fare, but one can only eat so much stir fry (like you don't have a bag in your freezer). Soba noodles make this feel "different" enough to keep from getting bored . I've paired with thin-sliced pork, crunchy vegetables and a simple vinaigrette.

I always find that if I eat sensibly during the week, I never feel guilty indulging on the weekends. Lean meat, whole grain noodles and mess of veg? We're totally nailing it! Bring it Saturday... I've got my stretchy pants ready.

Need another reason to keep reading? This makes for awesome lunch leftovers too, so you can get a good chunk of your week's cooking done in 20 minutes. #winning

Slice the pork into thin strips and simply toss with Chinese 5-spice powder.

And quickly saute. Since you've sliced thinly, the pork will cook up in under 5 minutes. A fresh cabbage salad keeps things nice and light.

Toss and top with a bit of avocado to lend a creamy bite.

5-Spice Pork and Soba Noodles
1 lb boneless pork chop, thinly sliced into strips
2 bunches soba noodles
2 tablespoons Chinese 5-spice powder
2 tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil
1/4 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
3 carrots, shredded
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, sliced

For vinaigrette
1/8 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil

Toss sliced pork with 5-spice powder. Boil water and cook soba noodles according to package directions. Heat oil over high heat for 2-minutes and then saute pork. The meat will only take 3-5 minutes.

Toss cabbage, carrots and green onions together. Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and taste/adjust to personal preference. Toss with salad.

Combine drained noodles with dressed salad and toss. Top with pork and avocado. Also delicious served cold.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


So I love debates....even the boring tax code questions. And this one is getting good. So listen up... order some takeout and do your due diligence as a voter. As for me, I'm spending the night with two of my Chicago favorites.

I hope Mitt Romney doesn't hate on a Goose this time, because mine certainly is delicious.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Tortilla Soup with Chili Lime Chicken

I'm slowly giving in. Rain and general dreariness forced me to break out the Le Creuset and make a comforting soup this Sunday night. I don't wax poetic about pumpkin spice lattes every fall (did you know I don't like coffee? I know...weird), but there are a few pumpkin treats I can get behind. Pumpkin tortilla soup is one of them.

I stumbled upon this recipe on the Kitchn last fall and have made some adjustments to amp up the flavor and make it a bit healthier and substantial. I recommend serving on a cold night, snuggled up on the couch with a cute guy and a cute dog (kitties would make a nice -- albeit more sassy -- substitution). Or maybe that's just me.

This go-round, I made some roasted chicken to make the soup more filling AND so that I'd have leftovers for lunch this week. This addition of a bit more protein makes it more of a meal. If you're going veg, black beans would be awesome too.

Corn tortillas give this a lot of depth and a thick, luscious texture. Check your grocery store for fresh corn tortillas... in many big markets they're delivered daily. At our local store, if you arrive on a Saturday morning sometimes they're even warm.

First can of the season. Note, DO NOT use pumpkin pie mix here. Just go for the straight pureed pumpkin.

After an hour of simmering, the flavors have melded and you're ready for dinner.

Serve with baked tortilla strips, shredded chicken, avocado and cilantro.

Pumpkin Tortilla Soup with Chili Lime Chicken
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
10 6-inch corn tortillas, 6 cut into 1/2 inch squares and 4 cut into small strips
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons cumin
3 teaspoons cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1 avocado, cut into strips
2 bone-in chicken breasts
Juice of one lime

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken breasts on a cookie sheet or  in a casserole dish. Cover with 1 tablespoon olive oil, lime juice, 1 tablespoon cumin and 1 teaspoon cayenne. Massage into chicken and let rest.

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, cilantro and tortillas until onions are soft; stirring often so that tortillas don't stick. Add 1 tablespoon cumin and 2 teaspoons cayenne; cook until fragrant. Add pumpkin, tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

Place chicken in oven and cook for 35-45 minutes, or until the juices of the chicken run clear. Remove from dish and allow to cool before handling. Use fork and knife to shred meat from the chicken breast.

Place remaining tortilla strips on a cookie sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Back for 5 minutes or until crispy.

Once soup has finished cooking, serve with 1/4-1/2 cup shredded chicken, tortilla strips, avocado and bit of cilantro.

*There will be remaining chicken from this recipe