Mar 092014

There are certain junk foods I’m OK with giving up, but mac and cheese is just never going to be one of those. Mac and cheese was a staple of my childhood–a special treat we got when we had a babysitter (along with grape soda). I’ve grown up a bit since then, and no longer frequent noodles from boxes or flourescently colored sodas, but I still do love some cheesy noodles. So I decided to make a version that was both more grown up and a little healthier. Perfect for adults, kids, and adult kids like me.
Homemade mac and cheese is definitely an undertaking and does take some time and effort commitment, but the result is so much better. Plus, you can make a big batch that will feed a crowd and have leftovers to spare.
Nutritional highlights: This recipe has some amazing swaps that majorly cuts down the calories and ups the nutritional factor. The easiest swap- whole wheat noodles to add fiber. The second, more sneaky, swap- some of the cheese and cream that would usually be in a mac and cheese sauce is replaced by pureed butternut squash, which maintains the creaminess without all the fat. While we’re talking sauce, this one only uses low fat milk instead of cream or whole milk in typical recipes. Finally, who said mac and cheese had to just be mac and cheese. Why not throw in some veggies. This one has roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, and kale to increase the nutrients a ton and fill you up with a lower noodle ratio.

And here’s a picture of the mac at my “grown-up comfort food” dinner party. Was definitely the highlight!
photo (26)
Grown-up Mac & Cheese with Butternut Squash, Kale, and Mushrooms
Makes about 10 servings
4 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (either from 1 large squash or save yourself a lot of time with the pre peeled and cut kinds that a lot of stores have these days!)
16 oz Cremini (baby portobello) mushrooms, sliced
1 small bunch kale, chopped (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken or vegetable broth)
1 1/2 cups fat-free or low fat milk (can also sub unsweetened non-dairy milks)
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 shallots, peeled and minced
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheese, plus and extra handful for the topping (I chose Trader Joe’s Shredded Swiss and Gruyère blend)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 pound whole wheat macaroni or other small noodle
Olive oil, salt, pepper
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
Optional: red pepper flakes, dried thyme, and garlic powder for the topping

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Dice squash into small cubes (1/4-1/2 inch) and slice the mushrooms. Spread the veggies onto two baking sheets, toss with olive oil or oil spray, salt and pepper to taste. Roast in the oven, tossing vegetables half way through, for about 20 minutes or until squash is soft and mushrooms are brown. The mushrooms may be done a bit sooner than the squash.

2. Boil the macaroni in a large pot according to directions, but for one less minute than the directions indicate. Drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, begin making your sauce. In a large pot, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high and add the minced garlic and shallots. Cook for about 3-5 minutes until onions begin to brown. Add the broth and milk, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When squash is done roasting, add all but 1 cup to the sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

3. To blend the sauce, you can either transfer to a blender or use and immersion blender. I wanted mine a little chunky so I just mashed it in the pot with a potato masher. Once the mixture is smooth, stir in the shredded cheese and half of the Parmesan. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.

4. Add cooked macaroni, roasted mushrooms, remaining 1 cup squash, and chopped kale into the sauce. Mix until evenly coated and transfer it to a sprayed baking dish.

5. Combine the bread crumbs, remaining parmesan, a small handful of the shredded cheese, and any seasonings you like (I threw in a little thyme, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes along with plenty of salt and pepper). Sprinkle the mixture evenly over your mac and cheese.

6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Serve immediately and enjoy!
I’m not going to lie this is a a lot of work, but SO good.
And while we’re doing recipe throw backs…here’s the little girl I was telling you about that loved her mac and cheese. And here’s that moment when you realize you might have peaked at age 3…oh well. Happy Throw Back Sunday!

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.
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.
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.
Picture 8
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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!!

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!
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.
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!

Oct 232013

I never realized how many things you can make “fries” out of.  Obviously I’ve tried potatoes, sweet potatoes (both baked of course), and even zucchini.  Lately I’ve even seen some really crazy ones at restaurants like avocado, watermelon, and polenta fries.  I wasn’t quite daring enough to try one of those, so I decided to go with eggplant.  These non-fried, non-potato fries were probably my favorite yet, and are the perfect healthy(ish) snack, side dish, or game day munchie.  Disclaimer: you do not actually have to watch the game to enjoy these.
Nutritional Highlights:  Compared to regular fries, we’re already winning big by swapping out the starchy, high-cal potatoes for low cal eggplant.  Plus, we’re not frying them so there goes a lot of the fat.  These do have a little panko-parmesan-herb coating that adds a few of those calories back in, but it’s well worth it.  They’re a pretty low guilt  snack, that is if you can resist eating the whole tray.  Best of luck to you, my friend.
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Baked Eggplant Fries
adapted from Closet Cooking
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What’s in it:
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch thick ‘fries’ (*removing the skin is optional, it can be slightly bitter but I like it)
1 egg + 1 egg white, lightly beaten
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs (whole wheat if possible)
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano (parmesan), grated
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
optional: red pepper flakes, cuz I put them in almost everything
marinara sauce for dipping

How to make it:
1. Preheat oven to 425 and spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray.
2. Set up an assembly line with the egg in one shallow dish and the remaining ingredients (panko-parm-herb mixture) in another.
3. Dip the eggplant fries in the egg and then into the panko-parmesan mixture.
4. Place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet and spray the tops with olive oil spray.
5. Bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, flipping halfway through.
6. Serve with marinara dip and enjoy!
And a last comment about this recipe…my boyfriend, who adamantly hates eggplant, tried these not knowing the main ingredient and LOVED them.  Score: Eggplant 1, Jeff 0.

Sep 212013

Brussel Sprouts + Figs + Toasted Almonds + Manchego + Dijon Vinaigrette. Need I say more?
I’m pretty excited about this salad. It’s the perfect fall salad with just the right mix of textures and flavors (crunchy, soft, sweet, savory). It’s pretty easy to make too since there is no cooking involved. Only on disclaimer–if you’re like me and don’t have a mandolin to shred the sprouts, this may be slightly less fun of a process for you.
Nutritional Highlights: Since it looks like a teeny tiny cabbage, it’s not surprising that they’re in the same cruciferous veggie fam as cabbage. Within this powerful group, which also includes kale, cauliflower, mustard greens, and broccoli, brussel sprouts actually have THE MOST glucosinolates which are powerful cancer fighting antioxidants. By serving them raw in this salad, you preserve all these nutrients and ensure none of them are lost in the cooking process. Figs make this salad even healthier, by adding fiber and potassium. Almonds add some protein and healthy fat. And Manchego, oh well cheese is just delicious who cares if it’s healthy.
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Shaved Brussel Sprout and Fig Salad with Toasted Almonds and Manchego
serves about 4
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What’s in it:
4 cups Brussels sprouts (use larger sprouts if possible)
1/3 cup shaved or shredded manchego (can also substitute pecorino romano)
8-10 fresh figs, quartered
1/3 cup roughly chopped almonds, toasted and salted

Juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil

How to make it:
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Set aside.
2. Trim the Brussels sprouts, cutting off the hard root end. Using a mandoline, shave the sprouts one at a time. If you don’t have a mandolin, halve them and slice as thinly as possible. When you’re done, use your fingers to separate the leaves so that the shredded sprouts are like a fine slaw.
3. Put the sprouts in a serving bowl toss gently with the dressing (you may not need it all). Fold in the shredded cheese and top with figs and almonds. Taste and adjust seasonings and dressing if necessary. Enjoy!

Note: I think it’s even better if you toss the sprouts only with the dressing about an hour before serving so they soften a bit. Then add in the other ingredients right before serving.

Sep 022013

Labor day has come and gone, which to me signals the end of summer. As much as I’m excited for the return of sweaters, boots, and brussel sprouts, I’m still feeling like summer has gone way too quickly. So, I made this super healthy farro dish, with tons of grilled summer vegetables and those last heirloom tomatoes of the season mixed in.
The recipe is simple, as it always should be when you are working with really great, fresh, produce. Cook some farro, grill some veggies (with a garlic-herb-oil rub), toss it all together, and top with some fresh herbs. That’s all it takes. Veggies Before:
Veggies After:
Nutritional Highlights: Farro is a pretty underrated grain in my opinion. It’s sort of similar to rice or barely, but with a nuttier flavor and texture. It has tons of fiber (more than brown rice), magnesium, and also vitamins A, B, C, and E. Although it’s not gluten free, it is lower in gluten than a lot of other grains, making it easier to digest for those with an intolerance. You know how to make it even healthier? Mix it with a ton of freshly grilled summer veggies packed with nutrients and enjoy!
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Farro with Grilled Summer Vegetables
4-6 servings
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What’s in it:
8 oz quick cooking farro (I suppose you can use the non quick kind as well)
2 cups roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes
Vegetables for grilling (I used eggplant, summer squash, scallions, corn, and peppers)
2 large cloves garlic
Fresh basil
Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper (and maybe some chili flakes)
Optional: cheese of your choosing (goat, parmesan, or feta would all be great)

How to make it:
1. Cook the farro according to directions (quick cooking kind only takes 10 minutes but full length farro takes a bit longer).
2. Meanwhile, focus on grilling your veggies. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 cloves minced garlic and season generously with salt, pepper, and optional chili flakes for heat. Brush your grilled veggies with the garlic oil and grill over medium-high heat. Grilling time varies for different veggies and depending on if you’re using a grill pan or real grill. Just watch them and take them off when they have nice grill lines and are softened but not mushy. Sorry, no exact science here!
3. Allow vegetables to cool and cut them into bite sized chunks.
4. Combine the farro, grilled vegetables, and heirloom tomatoes. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Top with lots of fresh julienned basil and cheese if you’re using it. Enjoy this fresh summer dish as a side or vegetarian main!

Aug 192013

Oh HEY there! I’m finally back from my blogcation. But really, it wasn’t quite as relaxing as you might think. I was busy working with Kristy from to move the blog over to wordpress and give it a spiffy new look. What do you think? And don’t worry, I was still cooking up a storm while I was away (a girl’s gotta eat) so I have some awesome recipes to share over the next few weeks. This first one highlights my absolute favorite summer ingredient: Peaches.
This appetizer is perfect because it’s easy to throw together (so you can focus your efforts on sweating outside in the sun rather than in your kitchen) but still incredibly tasty and even pretty fancy looking. It also uses a whopping 5 ingredients- multigrain baguette, peaches, burrata, honey, basil…ok, and also olive oil, salt and pepper, but those don’t really count.
Nutritional Highlights: The farmers markets are overflowing with peaches right now, which means you’re getting them at their peak nutritional level. That means you’ll be getting tons of vitamin A, C, E, K, fiber, and potassium. Quickly grilling the peaches develops the sweet flavor without losing any of those nutrients. Using multigrain baguettes for your crostini a great way to add in some fiber and whole grains and no one will notice the difference. Burrata, like most cheeses, may not be the healthiest food ever, but it is certainly one of the most delicious so a little goes a long way. It’s summer…you have to indulge a little.
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Peach, Burrata, & Basil Crostini
makes about 16 crostini
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What’s in it:

  • Whole grain baguette, cut into 1/4 inch slices on a diagonal
  • 3 ripe yellow peaches, halved, pitted, and cut into about 6 slices each
  • 6-8 oz burrata ball
  • 10 large basil leaves, julienned
  • honey
  • olive oil
  • salt & Pepper

How to make it:

1. Slice your crostini and lightly brush both sides with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toast in 2 batches in the toaster, flipping halfway through, until lightly browned and crispy.  You could also do this in the oven but you couldn’t pay me to turn on my oven right now.

2. Heat grill or grill-pan over medium high heat.  Spray your peach slices with olive oil spray and grill for about 2 minutes on each side, until there are nice grill lines and peach as softened slightly but is not mushy.  Set grilled peach slices aside.

3.  Construct your crostini by spreading 1-2 teaspoons burrata on the toasted baguette.  Season with a little salt and drizzle with honey.  Top with a grilled peach slice and julienned basil.  Enjoy!