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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Italian Sausage & Quinoa Stuffed Summer Squash

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If you are trying to eat the rainbow in fruits and vegetables (as they say you should, every day, to get the nutritents and vitamins you need), yellow is a tough color to find. There’s corn, but that’s basically a carb and probably doesn’t count. There are yellow peppers, but they’re usually more expensive than green peppers (and really, do they taste any different?) so I’m usually unlikely to buy them unless they’re on sale (enough so to be cheaper than green peppers). There are a few yellow fruit to choose from – pineapple, bananas, lemons – but if you’re looking for a yellow vegetable, you’re pretty much stuck with summer squash. They probably didn’t take this into consideration when they decided to encourage eating the rainbow.

I’ve always thought of summer squash as the lesser relative of zucchini. Zucchini is green, which, in my book quates to a higher status in the vegetable hierarchy. Summer squash has a high water content (apparently right up there with cucumbers) meaning it gets mushy fast. It also has a waxy consistency (has anyone else noticed that?). So, whenever faced with an option to use summer squash or zucchini, I choose zucchini. It’s not that I don’t like summer squash, I just feel like zucchini is better.

However, “Oh, I’m sorry, I prefer zucchini” was not an option last week, when I received five (yes, five) whole summer squash in my box. Enter this stuffed summer squash recipe. Summer squash, I’ll give you another chance.

Italian Sausage & Quinoa Stuffed Summer Squash

4 servings. Serving size: 1 whole squash. Per Serving: $3.11, 284 calories, 13g fat, 30g carbs, 16g protein.

Cook 1/2 cup quinoa according to package direction. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put 4 medium sized squash in a sauce pan and fill halfway with water. Bring to a simmer and boil for 6 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Saute 1/2 diced onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 2 Italian sausage without the casing and cook until browned. Add 3 diced roma tomatoes and 2 cloves minced garlic. Cook until tomatoes are soft and remove from heat. Add quinoa, salt, and pepper.

Cut squash in half lengthwise and spoon out seeds, then place upside down on a paper towel to drain. Fill with stuffing and top with 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese. Bake in oven for 25 minutes.

If you like this recipe and feel adventourous, you could use the same stuffing in different vegetables – try green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, or mushrooms. All you need to do is adjust the cooking time based on the density of the vegetable. For example, tomatoes are more delicate and require less time to cook (so don’t par cook them to begin with) and keep an eye on them as they bake in the oven.

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

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In college, my most popular Google search term was probably “healthy cheap recipes for college students.” I spent a lot of time trying to make decent food at an incredibly low cost – it was a challenge. That’s how I developed one of my go-to recipes at the time, Fiesta Rice. Fiesta Rice is essentially rice with ANY type of canned vegetable in it – usually corn, tomatoes, and black beans – topped with cheese. (Looking back, I realize this dish was probably very heavy on the sodium, but at the time it felt relatively healthy.) If I felt like splurging, sometimes I’d buy a  fresh green pepper to add into the mix. It was cheap, easy to make in bulk, and pretty good considering my parameters.

When Googling these recipes, I often came across spaghetti squash as a main ingredients. I had never heard of spaghetti squash before and really didn’t know anything about it. It wasn’t something we ate growing up, Rachael Ray never used it in a recipe on the Food Network, and I can’t remember ever seeing it on a restaurant menu. Probably because it can be cooked in the microwave, it was often on the “meals perfect for college students” websites that I scoured for ideas.

I didn’t try spaghetti squash right away – it took me a long time to warm up to the idea. I still feel like a newbie using it in recipes. I’m not sure why this vegetable doesn’t get more attention – it’s just 31 calories per cup and actually looks like spaghetti and can be cooked in the microwave. I can’t think of a better low-calories noodle replacement.

This recipe felt like a natural use for spaghetti squash – Pad Thai is a favorite take out meal of mine but I often feel like it’s too greasy or heavy (and then end up regretting the purchase). This is super light, low calorie, and much less expensive than the take out version. You can also super-load it with veggies to ramp up the nutritional value. Don’t be afraid of the spaghetti squash!

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Yield: 5 servings. Per Serving: $3.60, 379 calories, 19g fat, 31g carbs, 28g protein.

Using a fork, poke holes in the skin of a 3 pound spaghetti squash. Microwave the squash for 12 minutes on high. Let sit in microwave for 5 minutes to finish cooking.

While the squash is microwaving, prepare your vegetables: julienne 2 cups of carrots (about half of a small bag of baby carrots, cut into fourths), chop 8 green onions, mince 2 cloves garlic.  2 cups bean sprouts. Cut 2 chicken breasts into thinly sliced bite sized pieces and toss in ¼ cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

When the squash is done, cut it in half at the equator (not lengthwise) and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Use a fork to gently scrape out the noodle like flesh into a bowl and set aside.
To make the sauce, combine the juice from 1 lime, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, and sriracha to taste (start with a teaspoon). Heat in a small saucepan over low heat until combined and smooth. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

Cook the chicken in saute pan in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside. Add carrots and 2 cups bean sprouts and cook for one minute. Add garlic and cook for another minute, then transfer the mixture to a large stock pot. Scramble 1 egg in  the saute pan and add to stock pot. Add the chicken, squash, sauce, and green onion to the large pot and cook for 1 minute to combine. Garnish with ½ cup chopped peanuts and cilantro. 

Thanksgiving Round-Up

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I feel a little guilty for not posting more Thanksgiving-themed recipes this week. Thanksgiving is like the Olympics of food events and I feel like I’m not doing it justice! I had every intention of sharing something new for your Thanksgiving feast. Last week, I attempted to make pomegranate-glazed Brussels sprouts but failed. It was a good idea in concept, but the finished product was a strange brownish reddish green color and tasted pretty sour. It wasn’t pretty.

To make up for my lack turkey-inspired recipes, here are a few past recipes that would be perfect additions to your Thanksgiving dinner. Have a happy turkey day!

Thanksgiving Round-Up

  • Sriracha Kale Chips: Crisp up a head of kale while the turkey is in the oven. These are a great snack to have on hand while everyone is hanging (or helping) out before dinner.
  • Butternut Squash Soup: Try soup instead of mashed butternut squash – this would be a perfect appetizer before the main Thanksgiving meal.
  • Oven-Fried Tomatoes: Not a traditional side dish for Thanksgiving, but sure to be a welcome addition to the table.
  • Simple Apple Pie: A classic turkey day dessert – make sure to save some room!