Mac & Squash

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Comfort foods – I’ve written about them before. I’ve stated my oldies but goodies (mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs) and new ones I’ve come to love (miso soup, shakshuka, polenta). Over time, my comfort foods have become lower in calories as I, apparently, learn what’s good for me.

Here’s another to add to the list: what I’ve come to call “Mac & Squash”. It’s deceptively similar to your favorite homemade mac and cheese, without all of the cheese (and calories). The cheese is replaced with a squash sauce with a creamy consistency, and you still get some cheese melted on top. Here I used acorn squash, but you can really use any squash that you prefer.

I have to be honest – this is a multi-pot recipe, which isn’t my favorite way to cook. I used two saute pans, two pots, and a baking dish. If you have a limited pantry, do this in shifts and set aside each item as it is finished. The plus side? It’s easy to make a large batch, freeze some, and reheat later when that mac and cheese craving hits you out of nowhere!

Mac & Squash: Squash Baked Pasta

Yield: 8 servings. Per Serving: $2.29, 374 calories, 12g fat, 49g carbs, 21g protein.

Cook 1 pound of large shells according to package directions. Meanwhile, chop 2 acorn squash into one inch pieces. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. When boiling, add squash and boil until fork tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the squash and add back to the pot. Add ½ cup milk and blend using a hand blender.

While the pasta and squash are boiling, brown 1 pound of ground turkey in a medium saute pan in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Also saute one bunch of spinach in a medium saute pan in 1 tablespoon olive oil, with salt and pepper.

Combine the turkey, shells, squash, and spinach, and ½ cup ricotta in a large bowl. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray, put in the pasta mixture, and top with ¼ cup of mozzarella. Additionally, you could divide the pasta into two 9×9 pans and freeze one before baking for later.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

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Green Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Peas

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Nachos, chocolate fondue, and this green mac and cheese were on the menu for a Halloween-themed gathering my roommates and I hosted at our apartment last week. The objective of the night was simple: get our favorite girlfriends together to eat, drink, and chat. The fact that it was Halloween was, frankly, unimportant and apparent only by the décor and Hocus Pocus playing in the background. Sometimes we need a simple excuse to get together in the same room to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Sadly, it doesn’t happen often enough! The night was a success and this dish was the star of the menu – everyone kept going back for more!

Green Mac & Cheese

Cook 1 pound of pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, sauté 1/2 cup onion in 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the onions are translucent, add a 6 ounce bag baby spinach and a 16 ounce bag frozen peas. Cook until spinach is wilted and peas are cooked through, stirring frequently.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper and reduce heat to low. Add 2 cups low-fat milk and heat until warm. Remove from heat and blend (preferably using a hand blender) the mixture until smooth.

Slowly add the pasta and 1.5 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, stirring frequently to combine. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray and head oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the mac and cheese mixture into the baking pan and top with ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes or until top starts to brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 servings. Serving size: 1¼ cups. Per Serving: $1.31, 409 calories, 12g fat, 56g carbs, 19g protein.

Spinach Tomato Baked Mac & Cheese

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A few things to love about Fall: foliage, apple picking, sweaters, and pumpkin flavored everything. Although the days are shorter and the air is cooler, it is my favorite season. I only wish it would last longer!

In addition to the aforementioned reasons, Fall is great because with it signifies the ability to use the oven guilt-free. There are few things worse than trying to bake or roast in the oven in 95 degree weather – which is why most summer recipes involve very little stove or oven time. Now that the seasons are changing, the possibilities are endless. Bring on the casseroles, muffins, breads, roasted root vegetables, and lasagnas (oh my!).

Homemade baked macaroni and cheese is perfect for cooler weather – it’s warm, gooey, and cheesy. This recipe is also light and colorful with tomatoes and spinach so you can get your serving of vegetables. You could eat it as your main meal, or serve it up as a side to a protein. Something roasted would be fitting – like chicken, perhaps?

Spinach Tomato Baked Mac & Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook 3 cups penne according to package directions. Saute ¼ cup diced onion in 1 teaspoon olive oil for 4 minutes until translucent. Add 3 cups baby spinach and cook until wilted. Meanwhile, slice 2 roma tomatoes into ¼ inch slices and toast 1 slice whole wheat bread. When the bread is toasted, dice into ¼ inch squares. In a large mixing bowl, combine penne, spinach mixture, ¼ cup part skim ricotta cheese, ¼ cup part skim shredded mozzarella cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Spray a 9×9 or equivalent baking dish with cooking spray and add pasta mixture. Top with tomato slices, toasted bread pieces, and 1 tablespoon part skim shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in oven for 25 minutes.

Yield: 3 servings. Per Serving: $1.89, 306 calories, 7g fat, 53g carbs, 13g protein.

Spinach & Fried Egg Quinoa Bowl

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Some nights, dinner just needs to be easy. When there is too much to do and not enough time cooking an elaborate dinner (no matter how delicious it may be) usually falls to the bottom of my list. It becomes very easy in those instances to choose a less-than-healthy meal – a slice of pizza from down the street or bagel bites from the corner store. For me, stress brings on cravings for unhealthy (and, ultimately, unsatisfying) food.

The solution? A filling, healthy dinner easily thrown together with kitchen staples. I usually have quinoa, eggs, and some sort of green vegetable on hand. If you don’t, use what you have. This recipe can easily be recreated with another grain or pasta and whatever fresh (or frozen) veggies you can find in your refrigerator.

Perfect for a busy week night, this recipe saves time and lends itself to ultimate efficiency. While the quinoa is cooking, you can check things off your to-do list – unload the dishwasher, tidy up your room, or pour (and finish) a glass of wine. Once the quinoa is done, it’s less than 10 minutes before you can dig in – and then get back to the to-do list!

Fried Egg & Spinach Quinoa Bowl

Cook 1/3 cup dry quinoa according to package directions. Quinoa cooks perfectly in a rice cooker, saving you the trouble of keeping an eye on the stove. When the quinoa is finished, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 cup spinach. When the spinach begins to wilt, add quinoa, ½ garlic clove (grated) and ¼ teaspoon salt. Sauté until spinach is cooked through and put aside in a bowl.

Spray the same pan with cooking spray and heat again over medium heat. To test the heat, sprinkle a few drops of water into the pan. When the water sizzles upon touching the pan, you’re ready to crack 1 egg into the pan to fry. Gently flip the egg over with a spatula when the egg whites are opaque (about 3 minutes). Continue to cook to your desired doneness. I like yolks runny, so I immediately turn off the heat and cook for about 15 seconds on the other side. Cook for up to 1 minute if you like the yolk firm.

Serve the egg on top of the quinoa spinach mixture with a sprinkle of pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Double the recipe for equally easy leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Yield: 1 servings. Per Serving: $1.87, 328 calories, 13g fat, 41g carbs, 15g protein.