Nov 262013
 

48 hours until my favorite day of the year! Yep, no other holiday even begins to come close to Thanksgiving in my book. No gifts, no stress, just good time with friends and family and lots and lots of food. Some people get stressed thinking of ways to make Thanksgiving diet friendly, but one day of indulgence really won’t set you back that far, so I say just enjoy. But if you do want to keep it under control, here are a few tips and recipes.
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1. Focus on fruits and veggies. Luckily a lot of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes are focused on seasonal produce. Roasted brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, and a salad with pears, cranberries, and pecans are always part of our spread. Also try a fruit focused dessert like this gluten free pear crisp. Maybe you’ll eat less of the heavy pie if you have this too. Or maybe not.
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2. PORTIONS! I’m not the best representative for portion control to be honest, but none the less, I know it’s super important. Only take a few bites of the decadent stuff and load up on the veggies (see #1). My favorite trick…try making stuffing into individual muffin portions. Not only is the size limited, but you get a nice crispy crust on each stuffin muffin. Also, instead of adding pork sausage and butter to your stuffing, try chicken sausage, broth, and lots of celery and onion.
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Bonus, they actually look a lot more appealing than a big mushy bowl of stuffing anyway.
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3. Now, what NOT to do: make these sweet potatoes. My friends and I have started calling these “death potatoes” because they are probably slowly killing us but it’s a pretty good way to go. You take a great ingredient like sweet potatoes and then add gruyere, pancetta, and, wait for it, heavy cream. Very un-cook-tush. So let me repeat myself: Do not make these. (But here’s the recipe because they’re amazing).
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Also, definitely DON’T make these delicious pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese frosting. But if you do, please bring me one since I’ve already eaten all the ones that my friend Susan brought over.
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I hope everyone has a happy and healthy (but not too healthy) Thanksgiving!

xoxo,
CookTush

Nov 172013
 

Gnocchi has been on my things-to-make list for a while now but I’ve always been a little intimidated. Well, I’m pretty glad I finally gave it a shot, because this is by far one of the best things I’ve made in a while. This fall-inspired sweet potato version is both healthier and way cooler than your standard potato gnocchi. This is guaranteed to blow your thanksgiving guest’s minds.
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Not only was I seriously impressed with the gnocchi quality on my first ever attempt, I was also really impressed with the simplicity. The gnocchi only has 6 ingredients (sweet potato, ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and whole wheat flour) and it came together pretty quickly. You roll out the dough, cut it into little dumplings, add some fork indentations if you want to get fancy, and boil them for 4 minutes or so. And then you are left with the most delicious, tender, sweet potato gnocchi–I’m actually getting sad writing this because there are not leftovers.
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Nutritional Highlights: By swapping regular potato and white flour for sweet potato and whole wheat flour, you up the fiber and nutrients in a big way. Sure, there is parmesan and ricotta all up in there, but they are necessary. The key is also keeping the sauce light–I just used a simple mix of olive oil, garlic, and a tiny tiny bit of butter. I also added baby spinach, toasted pecans, and pomegranate seeds to add a little extra color, texture, and nutrients.
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Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Pomegranate, Pecans, and Spinach
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What’s in it:

For the Gnocchi:
– 2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (from about 2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes)
– 8-ounces fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve or wrapped in paper towel to remove liquid
– 2/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
– 1 tablespoon brown sugar
– 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
– 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 1 1/2 – 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

For the sauce:
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon butter (it’s OK, I swear)
– 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
– 3 cups baby spinach
– 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
– 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

How to make it:

1. Cook sweet potatoes. You can use any method you like, but I punctured them several times with a fork and microwaved for about 10 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Baked potatoes work fine as well. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl and mash.
2. To drain the ricotta, I wrapped it in several paper towels and squeezed out as much liquid as possible. Add the ricotta to the mashed sweet potato and mix well.
3. Add the Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg and mash to blend.
4. Mix in the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms. I ended up using 1 1/2 cups.
5. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and cut into 6 pieces. Roll the dough in your hands to form long thin ropes that are about 1 inch in diameter. If it gets too sticky, sprinkle with additional flour or coat your hands in flour. Cut the ropes into about 1 inch pieces and indent each one with a fork. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. (You can stop at this point and refrigerate the gnocchi until you’re ready to cook them.)
6. When ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to boil and add about a tablespoon of salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
7. When ready to serve, heat a large saute pan over medium-high and add the olive oil and butter. Once melted, add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the gnocchi and toss occasionally for about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 more minutes. Season with an extra pinch of salt.
8. Transfer to serving dish and top with pomegranate seeds, toasted pecans, and a little extra shaved parmesan for garnish. Enjoy!!
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Nov 082013
 

I have no time for a long post since I’m home in Chicago for my sister’s wedding, but I didn’t want to leave you guys hanging too long. Here’s an amazing and super easy appetizer that is as tasty as it is beautiful!
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The topping is a simple mix of sauteed onions, mushrooms, balsamic, garlic, and herbs, and it sits on top a seared piece of premade polenta (the kind that come in those really appetizing tubes at the store). Of course it’s not quite as tasty as good homemade polenta, but with a flavorful topping it definitely does the trick and saves a ton of time.
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Nutritional Highlights: This is a perfectly portioned appetizer with a lot of vegetables built in. Mushrooms, onions, and arugula, plus corn-based polenta (ok that one’s a stretch).
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Seared Polenta with Balsamic Mushrooms and Arugula
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What’s in it:
– 2 T olive oil
– 1 container portobello/cremini mushrooms, sliced
– 1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1 tube store bought polenta, cut into 1/4 inch slices
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 3 cups baby arugula
– Optional: shaved parmesan cheese

How to make it:
1. Start by making the mushroom mixture. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the garlic and onion. Saute for a minute and add mushrooms. Saute until onions have softened and mushrooms are browned, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, salt/pepper, and thyme and allow vinegar to reduce for about 3 minutes or until much of the liquid has cooked off.
2. Meanwhile, slice your polenta and spray each side with olive oil cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. Sear on a hot griddle or grill on each side for about 2 minutes one each side, or until browned. Set aside.
3. Spoon some of the mushroom mixture onto each polenta round, top with a few arugula leaves and shaved parmesan. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and vinegar and a few more fresh thyme leaves. Enjoy!
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