Recipe Review: Slow-Cooker Coconut-Curry Spaghetti Squash

After my last post about breaking my addiction to pasta, many of my friends suggested I use spaghetti squash instead of tofu noodles.  Little did they know I already had spaghetti squash in my sights.  (cue evil laugh… bwah-hah-hah!!)

photo 1-34In my efforts to shed a few LBs and get some healthy recipe ideas, I “liked” a site on Facebook called Paleo Pot.  The website is great and has very simple, idiot-proof recipes.  Just what I need!  A couple of weeks ago, they posted this recipe for Super-Easy Crock-Pot Spaghetti Squash Curry.

Considering some of my favorite words are “crock pot,” “curry” and “spaghetti,” this was high on my ‘Recipes to Try’ Pinterest board.

They weren’t kidding when they called this ‘super-easy!’  Just follow their quick-prep directions, toss everything in the crock pot and go! But be careful you don’t buy a squash that’s too big.  Mine almost didn’t fit into the crock pot once it was split in half.  And it made much more than my family could eat.

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This dish was very flavorful.  My 7 year old typically snubs his nose at curry dishes, but he cleaned his plate and asked for seconds.  My 3yo gobbled it up.  My husband also really liked it.  Very surprising considering I accidentally bought the ‘hot’ red curry paste in my rush through the grocery store!  Yikes!

The person who surprised me the most was my 5yo.  This kid is ALL about spicy!  He eats a mound of wasabi straight when we go out for sushi!  He puts spicy horseradish sauce on his steak!  He started eating Lamb Vindaloo at 18 months old!

But this squash — he wanted nothing to do with it, saying he doesn’t like curry!  I was SHOCKED!

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I served this with baked flounder and sautéed spinach.  Probably not the best pairing, on my part.  But I’ll make it again because it’s different than most of the recipes in my usual repertoire and oh-so-simple.

Give it a try.  If you like coconut curry, you might like this!

Happy eating!

Sharon

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The (Poor) Dieting Girl’s Spaghetti

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So… true disclosure: I’m on a diet.

It seems like I’ve been on a diet since my oldest was born 7 years ago and the great figure I used to complain about disappeared more with each beautiful life I created.

But this time, I’m REALLY on a diet.  I turn 40 in T-minus 2 months and, I swear: I. Am. Going. To. Own. 40.

I’m exercising. I’m watching what I eat.  I got myself a Fit Bit.  I’m in it to win it.

But I have a little problem. Spaghetti. It’s just so darn delicious.

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So, I decided to trick my mind and body and try something new.

Tofu Pasta. (those of you who know me… don’t faint from the shock.)

Honestly, the mere thought of this struck me as absolutely gross. It sounds pretty icky, doesn’t it?  I didn’t even dare test this on the kids because I wanted to check it out first.  But the Hubs didn’t escape.  He was, as always, my ultimate guinea pig.

My garden is full of eggplants, peppers and (OMG! SO MANY) tomatoes. So I whipped up a quick-and-dirty lunchtime version of my Grandma’s stewed eggplant recipe and hoped a delicious topping would make Tofu Noodles palatable.  (I followed the recipe I previously posted almost exactly, but used all fresh tomatoes instead of canned.)

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Here’s the thing: I was VERY skeptical. It certainly LOOKS like spaghetti, and when you take it out of the bag it feels like cold, cooked spaghetti.  photo 5-8Plus, it only has 20 calories a serving and takes about 3 minutes to cook.  (just follow the directions on the package.)  But… c’mon. This can’t taste good. Can it?

I’m not gonna lie. It ain’t spaghetti. Its texture is different, somewhat chewier.

But once you get past the texture I didn’t find it all that different from spaghetti, especially after I topped it with the eggplant and tomatoes. I think it would also be good topped with tomato sauce, as part of a Veggie Primavera, or as cold sesame noodles. I’d eat it again, particularly as I try to loose the dreaded belly before our big anniversary vacation that’s coming up. It makes a quick, low-cal, low-carb meal.  photo 3-30

The Hubs is not sold. He ate it. He tolerated it. He would eat it again if I made it and that was all there was for dinner. But as he told me tonight, he definitely would not ask for me to make it again.

I’m going to try these again because I have goals and I’m going to reach them. (Cue the music: Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’)

Look out 40.  Here I come and you are about to get schooled…. even if I have to replace my beloved spaghetti with tofu noodles for a little while.  (just until I get my sexy back!!)   🙂

Happy eating!

Sharon

Hectic Days = Low and Slow Nights (Part Two)

Our first fall leaves of 2013

Our first fall leaves of 2013

It’s FALL!!! Fall! Fall! Fall! Fall!

I spied my first sight of fall leaves at our park the other day and nearly jumped with joy!!

Oh!  I love it so much!! I have to say it again!

FALLLLLLL!!!!!!

The air is crisper, cleaner. Out come the comfy sweaters; in go the dreaded bathing suits.  The kids are back at school.  Hooray!

And we can’t forget the wonderful foods that return with Fall — apples, pears , brussels sprouts, root veggies, squashes. All so comforting and delicious on chilly autumnal nights.

Most nights in the Fall and Winter, I use my slow-cooker. I throw everything in and let Old Trusty do the work for me.  It’s a savior when the after-school activity schedule gets the best of us.

So I do a lot of soups and stews — and I made one of our family’s favorite Crock Pot meals this week:  Butternut Squash Soup.

Slow-Cooker Butternut Squash Soup

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Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash (on the medium-large side)
  • 1 apple (I used red delicious), peeled and chopped
  • 1 box of chicken stock, low-sodium (veggie stock works, too)
  • 1 can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
  • about a 1/4 cup of diced sweet onion
  • about 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • cumin, to taste
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste (I use white pepper)
  • croutons (optional)

Get To Work:

  1. Pierce the squash with a fork several times all over and microwave it for 2 minutes.  Check it to see if the shell is starting to get soft.  If so… you’re good.  If not, nuke it another minute at a time until the shell gets soft enough to peel with a veggie peeler.
  2. While the squash is in the microwave, saute onion and garlic in olive oil on your stove top.photo 1-32
  3. Peel the squash, scoop out the seeds, and cut the squash into 1-inch cubes.
  4. Put the squash, apple, onion, garlic, beans, chicken stock, cumin and nutmeg into the slow cooker.
  5. Cook on low for 4 hours.
  6. Use an immersion blender to mix it all up.
  7. I like to serve with croutons… and a side salad and some bread. (on this particular night, I didn’t have crusty bread. So I served it with some dumplings I had in the freezer.)

There are never complaints at our table when I make this.  Everyone loves it.

And I particularly like that the cannelloni beans become a hidden ingredient in this dish.  They add protein to a veggie dish and make it creamy without the added calories of cream.  It’s my favorite trick to use in soup recipes that call for cream.

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It’s a standard meal in our house especially on busy, chilly, fall nights.

Enjoy this wonderful time of year!!!

Happy eatings!

Sharon

Hectic Days = Low and Slow Nights (Part One)

You know those nights — the ones where one kid has soccer, one has baseball, you have Back To School Night, the Hubs is working late.  Those are the nights when everyone is running in different directions, but you still want to bring everyone together to the table.

We had nights like that twice this week.  (I know.  We’re lucky.  Many of you have to swing this scenario most weeknights.)

On nights like this, I pull out Old Trusty: The Crock Pot.  And tonight, I’m going to share one of the two meals that came from my kitchen wing-man.  (Sorry ’bout the forthcoming pun….)

ImageSlow-Cooker Chicken Enchiladas

One night’s dinner was an adaptation of this recipe from allrecipes.com.  (If you haven’t visited this site for dinner inspiration, you should.)  I find most of the recipes 1) call for things I already have on hand; and, 2) are easy and quick to make.

I followed the recipe fairly closely, but kept out a lot of the spicier ingredients.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • cooking spray
  • 9 whole wheat tortillas (the small ones)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken (I poached and pulled 5 chicken thighs the night before making this)
  • 2 cans red, mild enchilada sauce
  • 1 can corn, drained (note: I did not use the corn with chiles)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • sprinkles of garlic salt
  • sprinkles of chili powder
  • smaller bag of Mexican blend shredded cheese (I believe it was 2 cups)

Get to Work:

  1. Spray the slow-cooker with the cooking spray.  (spray liberally — those tortillas will STICK!)
  2. Line the bottom of the slow-cooker with 3 tortilla
  3. ImageCover the tortilla with 1 cup of the chicken, the can of corn, a sprinkling of garlic salt and chili powder (to taste) and half of the cheese.  Pour about 1/2 of one can of enchilada sauce over it.
  4. Top the mixture with 3 more tortilla, the remaining cup of chicken, the can of black beans, another sprinkle garlic salt and chili powder (to taste), the remaining 1/2 of the cheese, 1 can of enchilada sauce.  Image
  5. Top this with the remaining 3 tortillas and the remaining enchilada sauce.

I’m going to tell you what.  The pictures don’t make it look like much but it was SO easy and very tasty!

And my family liked it — the Hubs even asked me to put it into the regular rotation! My 7-year-old “isn’t really a fan of black beans” (his words) but he ate everything else on his plate.

In my opinion:  Winner! Winner! Chicken Enchilada Dinner!

Later, I’ll share the other recipe my Crock Pot slaved over while I was on the run.  (and — SPOILER ALERT! — the kids LOVED IT!)

Happy eatings!

Sharon

Something Old, Something New

When I’m trying to get my kids to try something new, I tend to pair it with something old — something they’ve tried before and liked.  It’s a trick that’s worked well for me in the past, and I used this trick again tonight.

Creamy, Cheesy Polenta with Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

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If I had to put a finger on it, I’d say our family’s favorite dinner is homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs.  But I didn’t feel like having spaghetti tonight.  So I made our favorite dinner with a twist:  Polenta.

I’ll admit:  I’m not a huge fan of (firm) polenta and have, therefore never made it for my kids.  In fact, the last time I tried to make polenta, I set it on fire under my broiler.  True story.

But I’ve been wanting to give it another try, so I looked online for a recipe for creamy polenta. This Creamy Cheesy Polenta I found on www.barefeetinthekitchen.com screamed out ‘TRY ME!’ tonight.  Talk about comfort food!

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But while I love grits, my family does not. That’s why I paired it with the sauce and meatballs.  I make homemade sauce at least twice a month because it’s so very easy to make and, personally, I can’t stand jarred sauce. Plus, I can make a huge batch of it and freeze half for a future meal.

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Ingredients: Image

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 glove garlic chopped
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 1/2 of the 28oz can of water
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, torn
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves
  • splash of red wine
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and sauté the onion and garlic until they’re translucent
  2. Put the onion, garlic, and remaining ingredients into the crock pot and cook on low for 6 hours. (enlist your children to help if you’re so inclined.)
  3. Enjoy the comfy way your house smells.
  4. Serve on spaghetti, polenta, spaghetti squash, sauteed zucchini — whatever your heart desires.  Dip Italian bread in and eat it straight out of the crock pot  (this is my favorite way.)

Baked Meatballs

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Tonight, I hit the freezer and grabbed some meatballs I made a couple of weeks ago.  I love making meatballs in batches and then having them one night and freezing the others for 2-3 more meals…

Ingredients:

  • 2lb ground beef
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • salt pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • bread crumbs (about 1/2 cup, but I eyeball it and add it as needed to bind the meatballs.)
  1. Put all ingredients in huge mixing bowl and mix them with your hands.
  2. Form into 1 1/2 inch balls and place onto baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. (a great thing to get the kids to help you with!)
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes (you want them cooked, but left a little pink in the middle so you can then put them into your sauce to heat them up an hour before serving.)

THE RESULTS:

As expected, my 7yo complained about not liking ‘grits and gritty’ things, but that he liked the sauce and meatballs.  But the rest of the family really liked it.  My 5yo even had seconds!!  So did The Hubs, who grimaced when I told him we were having polenta for dinner. (I think he was remembering the aforementioned Polenta Fire of 2004.)  But when it was all said and done he really liked the meal, even though he wanted spaghetti.

Ah well… whatcha gonna do?  I’m gonna keep trying… that’s what.

Happy eatings!

Sharon

Dinner on the Fly

Now that school’s in session again, that means one thing: families on the run. We learned that first hand tonight as baseball season started up again.

My son’s baseball team practices until 5:30 — prime dinner time in our house.  So tonight, by the time practice ended and I was set and ready to start dinner, it was 6pm.  I needed something quick and easy so I could feed the beasts and get them to bed!

My husband asked for fish tonight and, frankly, I’m just tired of salmon.  We eat salmon here all of the time. When I saw sea scallops were on sale today, I thought they were the ticket.

I used this recipe as a basis for our dinner tonight, but with some tweaks (not to be confused with twerks.)  🙂  And if you have 30 minutes or less… this can be your dinner, too.

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Pan-Seared Scallops with Herb Butter Sauce

  • 1.5 lbs sea scallops
  • 4 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • fresh chopped herbs (I used basil, parsley, chives, thyme)
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine

Heat a large skillet.  Melt 2 Tbsp butter with 2 Tbsp olive oil.  Sear the scallops for about 3 minutes on each side until they’re cooked through and browned on each side.

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Once the scallops have been seared, transfer them and keep them warm on a separate dish.  In the pan, saute butter and garlic.  Add the white wine and lemon juice and let it cook down.  Add the chopped herbs and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Serve over the scallops.

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This dinner was rounded out with steamed broccoli and wild rice.  The wild rice was the most time-consuming part of this menu taking about 30 minutes to make.  (I used Zatarains Wild Rice.)  If you make a different side dish, you might save time. (I had considered making orzo or sauteed mushrooms.)

The broccoli was another story.  So fast!  And the reason is my favorite kitchen tool — the Pampered Chef Micro Cooker. I’ve had it longer than I’ve had my husband.  I love it because you can clean your produce in it, drain it, and then steam it perfectly in your microwave in 2 minutes. ImageI

The results???

My husband and I thought this was delicious.  And the kids loved it — our boys really liked it, but actually could have done without the butter sauce.  I get it.  If I wanted to make this healthier, I’d make it without the butter, too. But I’ll definitely make scallops for our family again.  Quick.  Easy.  Dinner is done.

I don’t know about the rest of you… but as we get back into the swing of the school year herein our house, I need a lot of quick-and-easy meals.  Hopefully you’ll find some help from this post.  Maybe you have some suggestions for me.  Let’s get through this school year together!  🙂

Happy eatings!

Sharon

Gifts From My Grandmothers & My Garden

“…The most treasured things passed down from generation to generation are the family recipes.” 

I come from a long line of exceptional women — both in and out of the kitchen. Growing up, I was always fed amazing food without having to cook. This may be why I have moments when I’m a culinary train wreck.

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My mixed-European heritage was fully-embraced by the women who’ve preceded me in our family.  My paternal grandmother could turn German flavors like sauerbraten, spatzle, and potato pancakes with her eyes closed.  Her Irish stews and her soda bread were to die for. (I’ll share those soon!)

My other grandmother was Italian and made magic with her homemade raviolis, lasagna, ziti and sauces. My mouth waters remembering how their houses would smell; how their food was almost medicinal in the way it could make you feel comfort.

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But I was stupid.  When my grandmothers were alive, I had no interest in learning the wonderful things they wanted to teach me.  My father’s mother died when I was 16 and in the throws of caring more about boys, music, and college.

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My other grandmother died when I was 31.  Back then, I was more concerned with my career and the family I was about to create.  Earlier, when she was well enough to share her gift with me I thought:  why do I need to know how to cook?  I’m never going to need to know how to do that!!  I’m going to be a modern career girl, after all!

I didn’t realize that I was slamming a treasure box closed.

I know.  Stupid.

If you’re not smart, be lucky.  I am lucky because I still have my mom.  She has preserved, perfected and melded both of my grandmothers’ techniques and talents.  So when my garden started to yield a beautiful bounty of veggies, I called mom.

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Let me be clear: my house is the house where plants come to die. Nothing green is safe in my presence.  But when we moved to our new home two years ago, I saw raised flower beds surrounded by a deer-proof fence and thought: this is my chance!

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After two summers of successes and terrifically ugly failures, I found a beautiful array of eggplants, peppers, and oh-so-many tomatoes this week.

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My mom suggested Grandma’s Stewed Eggplant.  I was wary. My 7-year-old is vehement about his hatred of all things eggplant.  But when he saw me pluck the eggplant he helped me plant in our garden, even he was excited.

I was excited, too.  As I cooked tonight, I could feel my grandmother in my kitchen with me.  She died just a few days after we found out we would be blessed with our oldest child. I’ve always wished she could have met our children.  So this was actually an emotional recipe for me to make and I really wanted the kids to love this.

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Grandma’s Stewed Eggplant

  • 2 eggplants, cubed and peeled (I used one really fat, big eggplant)
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 3 onions diced or sliced (my mom prefers diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green peppers, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes (diced)
  1. Saute eggplants, onions, garlic and peppers in the olive oil until eggplant is soft.
  2. Add tomatoes, salt, oregano.
  3. Cover and cook for 20 minutes until cooked through
         *if it’s too watery, add flour

I didn’t follow this exactly.  I had a lot of tomatoes that needed to be used today.  So I used one can of diced tomatoes, and then diced up 5 or 6 small fresh tomatoes from the garden and tossed them into the mix.  I also used a bit more oregano, to taste.  Oh… and I didn’t need to add flour.  Isn’t it just beautiful?!?


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My mom suggested serving this on hard rolls or crostini with some melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  She even said you can serve it on sandwiches cold– sort of like a relish.  I think these are great ideas and I’ll try them in the future, but I chose to serve it over spaghetti and sprinkled parmesan on it in order to pass it off on my more-discerning family.  (Everything tastes great on spaghetti, right?!)

It was a HIT!

Everyone LOVED this, even our 7-year-old who was sure to redeclare his steadfast hate of eggplant (with this one exception!) The mixture was a hearty, flavorful, veggie-rich sauce. The eggplant was not bitter at all.  It was so soft, it could be mistaken for sauteed mushrooms.  The oregano married the eggplant and peppers brilliantly.

I couldn’t wait to call my mom to tell her the results. She was as happy as I was that it was a success.

I think Grandma would have been proud — in more ways than one.  I hope so.

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