Pumpkins and Butternut Squash and the Healthiest Beet Bowls to Make It All Okay

With the end of Birthday Week 2018, fall weather finally arrived.  Yay!!!  I know that most people love fall, so there’s nothing revolutionary going on here.  But it means I get to cook foods that just feel wrong when it’s hot outside.  And that is cause for celebration, no matter how common the glee.

First, there was Williams Sonoma’s Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Brown Sugar-Pecan Streusel.  I think the name of the food pretty much covers the awesomeness, but just in case you’re more of a picture person…

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This was so good.  If it had any more redemptive value (as in less sugar or 90% pumpkin content or something), I would make this every week October through December.  Sadly, it contains the word “cake” in the title, so I will probably make it twice a season like an almost good girl.

So pumpkins–check.  On to the butternut squash.

We had a good harvest of butternut squash in late summer (Go, veggie gardener husband!!), and with a few small squash left, I decided to make Food & Wine’s Butternut Squash Casserole with Leeks, Prosciutto, and Thyme.  We’re getting closer to healthy here.  There was lots of squash, and the sugar content definitely decreased.  The intense flavors of fall and the overall deliciousness did not decrease.

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Alas, there was still lots of bread in that recipe and not a huge protein contingent.  I won’t be making that every week for the next few months either.  I would highly recommend it though.  It would be pretty darn wonderful next to a turkey in a few weeks, if you ask me.

How did we make up for all of that delicious stuff with our fall squash?  I have a cookbook called Inspiralized that is just lovely.  Every recipe uses a spiralizer to process some of the ingredients, and in this case that ingredient was beets.  I love love love that with a relatively cheap tool, you can take a vegetable that I used to find difficult to use and turn it into noodles or rice or something very very easy to use and incredibly healthy.  I know spiralizers are probably a cooking fad, but I will very likely be using mine when they aren’t cool anymore.  I’ll be like that mom wearing leg warmers and tights in the carpool lane twenty years after the fad.  But oh well.  I’ll be happy, and my veggie consumption will be good.  So there.

Check out those beet noodles (which would soon be chopped into “rice,” even if I chopped them into really long, rustic beet rice):

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Eating anything that pretty is a good starting point for me.  So there were beets and spinach and edamame and avocado.  There was supposed to be quinoa, but I forgot that we had run out of quinoa.  My “super food bowls” have pearled barley instead of quinoa.  It is 5% less super, and the barley probably absorbed more of the beet color than the quinoa would have done, but who cares.  It was still ridiculously healthy.  Healthy enough to make me want to do another triple round of these goodies.

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If you want to know how to make this (and need details for the dressing or the slivered almonds that I forgot to mention), the fine folks behind Inspiralized made a video to show you how to make this in 45 seconds.  You know, if you speed up your cooking time like a YouTube video.  Oh, and you don’t really need to use a food processor to make the beet rice.  A cutting board, a chef’s knife, and 2 minutes will do the trick just fine.  I’d rather spend time chopping beet noodles than cleaning a food processor.

Pumpkin and butternut squash and beets, oh my!  Happy fall, y’all.

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Birthday Love

It turns out that when you don’t post on your blog in 8 months, a lot of things happen.  So the little cutie on the top right was born, then the handsome guy in the bottom right corner had a birthday (hence the lobster and the cake), and the little guy on the top left is about to turn 2.  What?!  It’s like time is moving forward or something.

So the lobster turned into tasty lobster rolls, and the cake was on the complicated side, thus I don’t think I would ever recommend that you make it.  But if you want to try, here’s the recipe (through link).  It was delicious.  Don’t try to make it late at night while your baby and toddler intermittently cry and sleep.  You’ll regret all of your life choices that brought you to this moment.  Your husband will regret his fine taste in cakes.  You won’t regret eating the cake, however.

What do I recommend?  Maybe going to Christina Tosi’s bakery and eating one of her much prettier layer cakes that you didn’t have to make yourself.  They’re probably amazing.

And why am I writing this summary for you?  I’m here to tell you about my favorite recipe out of the birthday week mix.  It turns out that we’re too cheap to buy good seafood on a regular basis, but not during birthday week.

Drumroll, please.

The birthday week winner of 2017 was…

Grilled Tuna with Grilled Ratatouille and Israeli Couscous and Deconstructed Pesto, thanks to the fantastic Bobby Flay.

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photo from FoodNetwork.com

Yum!  Now, I’m way too lazy (read: feeding a baby, thanking God that my toddler is napping, and making homemade yogurt) to type the whole recipe here.  Sorry about that.  But if you’re feeling fancy enough to buy pine nuts and tuna steaks, this is worth it.  So worth it.  Making it isn’t super complicated.  Can you make pasta?  And grill things?  If so, you’re all set.  This will be making more appearances at our house for any special occasion that even borders on summer.

Oh, and it’s pretty healthy.  Celebratory AND healthy?  In my book, that’s extremely rare.  Macaroni and cheese is where my heart rests, not tons of veggies and grilled tuna steaks.  Except with this recipe.  It even makes me love eggplant.  Thanks, Bobby Flay!

And happy birthday to everyone, since I probably missed your birthday in the last eight months.

Spinach Bacon Quiche

I honestly try to be healthy.  Really, I do.  But sometimes you try a million (or maybe actually only 6) really healthy recipes, then try one slightly less healthy recipe, and the one with heavy cream is just remarkably tastier.  Remarkably.

That’s my quiche story.  We have 8 chickens, and thus we have 5-6 eggs a day fresh from the yard.  It’s a tasty problem.  Sometimes breakfast consumption almost does the trick (with some sharing added in).  Sometimes we end up with 40 eggs in the fridge.  Sometimes we use a dozen eggs for a potluck, eat 4 for breakfast, and we still have 40 eggs in the fridge.

It is safe to say that I’ve tried out a whole bunch of egg-centric recipes in the past several months.  Most of them were tasty.  Most of them also included kale and tomatoes and olives and all things healthy.  Then I tried this recipe.

This recipe has spinach, and plenty of it (yay!).  It also has heavy cream and bacon and cheese.  It is so much my favorite that I didn’t wait a day to post it on the blog.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  I made it once a few weeks ago, and I didn’t really follow the recipe that closely.  It was delicious, but I could see why the recipe should be followed more closely.  Today I tried it with more integrity of recipe and a few more adventurous options, and it was glorious.  The eggs are fluffy and rich, the spinach and bacon and cheese are spinach-bacon-cheesy.  Yum is all you really need to know.

And who doesn’t eat a little bit of heavy cream every once in a while?

The original recipe can be found here, and thank you to the creator, Paula Deen.  Here’s my slightly tweaked version (but not tweaked so much that it’s missing important steps like the first time I tried it):

Spinach and Bacon Quiche

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Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs (or you can squeeze in 8 if you’re trying to use up your 40 eggs like I am)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chopped fresh baby spinach, packed
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheese, more or less (cheesiness is important, but not as important as that heavy cream, in my opinion)–I used cheddar the first time, mozzarella the second (because it was available), Monterrey Jack would be delicious, just pick a favorite that seems right to you
  • 1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust, fitted to a 9-inch glass pie plate

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  When you think you’re about 5 minutes away from putting the quiche in the oven, pop the pie crust into the oven (in the pan) so that it can pre-bake a tiny bit.  I don’t know what the pros say about this step, but I do know that I didn’t do it the first time, and the crust was kind of soggy.  Did it the second time, and the crust was perfect.

Combine the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender.  Don’t skip this step because “whisking seems like a good substitute.”  I think at least 1/2 of the wonderful texture of the end result has to do with the blending step.  Layer the spinach*, bacon**, and cheese in the bottom of the pie crust, then pour the egg mixture on top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the egg mixture is set. Cut and serve.***

*Chopping the spinach is so important.  Didn’t chop the first time, and I only got a tiny bit of spinach in the crust before it was full.  I missed the extra spinach later.  I really did.  Chop chop!  Sometimes laziness pays off in the kitchen.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

**I usually cook bacon on the stovetop, but I went with the instructions here and ye ol’ oven this time.  It worked like a charm (read: crispy, perfectly done bacon), and I didn’t smell like bacon for the rest of the day.  That could be a bonus or a negative.  Use the info as you will.

***Sorry about the excessive notes.  The original recipe is so short.  I feel like I took advantage of that freedom the first time I made this.  It was tasty, but there was room for so much extra tastiness.  Chop and bake and yum!  Or do it any old way you want.  I won’t ever know.

Snow Day Salad?

Snow days don’t automatically bring to mind memories of great salads, right?  Right.  But I plan our meals a week at a time, so it just happened that we had one recipe left when we found ourselves snowed in for the weekend–Spinach and Barley Salad with Grilled Pork (a la Country Living).

 

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photo by Stephen Devries (via the Country Living website)

 

I know, I know.  It sounds healthy.  Who gets excited about spinach and barley?  Much less the beets and radishes and carrots that get thrown into the mix.  But trust me on this one.  It is delicious.  We decided it deserves a spot in our regular meal rotation, and that’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve been in a bit of an anti-cooking, anti-veggies kick lately.  Sadly, I’m an adult who feels the need to eat the occasional vegetable, even when I don’t actually want to eat a vegetable.  And my husband has this strange love for all things healthy.  I grudgingly picked this recipe to try to tick those boxes.

This salad was so flavorful and fresh and hearty at the same time.  The dressing was perfect with all of the strong vegetables, and the pork made it feel much less virtuous (in a good way).  Other bonuses include reasonable clean-up and very little actual cooking.  This was so good that I chose the leftovers for lunch today instead of the off-brand Easy Mac that’s hanging out in our pantry.  That’s quite a coup.

In case you didn’t see the link before, you can find the recipe right here.

(I know I’m not the only person who struggles with a love for fake cheese and all things carbohydrate, so put that stink eye away.  They’re just so good.  Please don’t let that cloud your opinion of this recipe.  This is no Easy Mac.  But if you happen to like Easy Mac, you still have a chance of liking this recipe.  It’s like a Venn Diagram.  Not all fake cheese eaters will like this, but some will.  Not all radish eaters will like fake cheese, but some will.)

And hey, enjoy the snow if you’re lucky enough to have some in your neck of the woods!

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Blueberry Cake with Lemon Buttercream Icing

Okay, so mid-November ’tis not the season for blueberries and lemon buttercream, but Scott’s mom recently found this recipe and passed it on to me.  I couldn’t resist trying it out as soon as possible.

The occasion?  Birthdays, of course.  There were a few birthdays among our friends, and our favorite almost one-year-old is on that list.  I’m saving him an actual piece of cake for his actual birthday.  In the meantime, I discovered that while he’s okay with lemon buttercream icing, he’s absolutely in love with blueberries.  Love our kid.  I can’t get enough icing and just like blueberries.  He has his life in order.

Oh, and there’s zucchini in the cake.  I didn’t actually taste it, but you can feel good about having at least 1/10 of a zucchini in your cake, right?  This stuff was delicious.  It was essentially one of the best blueberry muffins I’ve ever had topped with light but flavorful buttercream icing.  As a huge fan of lemon, it was pretty dreamy.

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Blueberry (Zucchini) Cake with Lemon Buttercream Icing

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 cups finely shredded and drained zucchini
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries (save a few for the top, and this is about 2 cups if your blueberries don’t come in pint-sized containers)

Icing

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large lemon, juice and zest (about 2 tablespoons of juice, also save some of the zest for the top)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter two 8-inch round cake pans (or 9-inch or use cooking spray–do what you normally do here… I used butter and a paper towel to get a thin layer of coverage on each pan).

Grate zucchini (one large or two small should get you to 2 cups–used the small part of a box grater) and place in a clean dish towel.  Squeeze until most of the liquid is out of the zucchini.  Set aside the 2 cups of zucchini after they have been drained.

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar.  Hand-mixer works well here, but go with what you’ve got–spoon or stand mixer would be okay, too.  Fold in the zucchini.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in another bowl and stir to combine.  Then slowly add those dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.  Gently fold in the blueberries.  Divide cake batter evenly between cake pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes in preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (blueberry stains permitted).  Cool 20 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.  If you need to hurry that process along, a few minutes on the wire rack in the freezer will do the trick (said the person who never allows for cooling time before the cake needs to be done).

For the buttercream, combine butter, sugar and salt and beat until combined.  Add lemon juice and vanilla and beat for 3-5 additional minutes or until creamy (maybe even a tiny bit fluffy).  Fold in the lemon zest except for the zest reserved for the top.  Frost the cake as you please (d0llop on the bottom to hold it in place, then between the layers, then top and sides).  I thought there wasn’t quite enough icing when I was putting this together.  You definitely have to ration the icing.  BUT when I was eating it, I realized that the buttercream is fairly sweet, so if there was more icing, it would be too much.  So trust the recipe even if you have a tiny bit of cake showing through your icing.  It tastes just right.

Top with blueberries and lemon zest, and then eat some cake!

 

 

 

 

Birthday Week Menu

Okay, I sadly don’t have time to write an in-depth post about every meal in Scott’s birthday week.  But I do have time to tell you what recipes we used.  Not one was a loser.

And who gets the credit for this tasty menu?  Scott.  Birthday boy picks birthday food.  His birthday week always includes more fun recipes than mine does, but I have no one to blame but myself.  Now I just have to figure out what our kiddo wants for his first birthday week.  Cheerios covered in avocado?  Hmm.

  1. Nicoise Salad (The Kitchn)
  2. Fried Chicken (Pioneer Woman) with Buttermilk Biscuits and Salad
  3. Pesto-ish Chicken with Farfalle (inspired by Giada DeLaurentiis)… this is the only one that I did very much off-recipe.  I used a Southern Italian Herbed Chicken recipe from Giada and was going to use a Pesto Farfalle recipe as well.  Turns out the sauces were very similar, so I pieced them together into one recipe.  Made the chicken, made the uncooked sauce (much like pesto), made the pasta, combined into a heaping pile of deliciousness.  It saved lots of time, and we still had all of the tasty elements.  But I can vouch for the flavors of the Southern Italian Herbed Chicken.  You can find that recipe here or in Giada’s Feel Good Food.
  4. Green Chile Chicken (Pioneer Woman)… I used to swear by her Tequila Lime Chicken recipe, but I think there’s a chance that this is even better.  Maybe I would have to make them both in the same week so I could properly compare.  It’s a tough life.
  5. Bucatini All’Amatriciana with Spicy Smoked Mozzarella Meatballs (Giada De Laurentiis)… This one was not for the faint of heart.  There are multiple kinds of meat and cheese in the recipe.  Not a ton of veggies.  But.  It’s delicious.  So if you’re feeling like a bit of hearty Italian fare, you’ve found your recipe.  The flavors are rich and layered.  The pasta is a nice back-drop of simplicity for all of the richness.  It’s a winner.
  6. Thai-style Steak Salad (Serious Eats)… the only heresy I committed here was adding edamame to the salad.  It was nice to have the extra veggies in addition to all of those delicious herbs.  Lots of light, fresh flavor here.  Plus some steak so it isn’t too herby and light.  You would hate for it to be too light, you know?  🙂
  7. Cake!  The cake is important.  Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate (Giada again, because we like her).

fullsizerender-6The cake was probably my favorite food of the week.  Big surprise, right?  The chocolate cake base was simple to make (thanks to the use of a box mix as recommended), and then it got fancy after that.  I’m terrible at making caramel anything, but the caramelized hazelnut crunch element wasn’t a killer.  And then everything together was just amazing.  Mascarpone whipped cream?  WITH CRUNCHY CARAMELIZED HAZELNUTS?  Yes, I’m screaming because it was so good.  But the kicker was the orange-chocolate crumble on top.  It was so unexpected and wonderful.  Thank you, Giada!

Happy birthday, Scott.  I’m glad you have such fun food taste.  Now it’s time to eat some lentils and spinach and 15-minute meals.  Whew.

Niçoise Salad

At our house, we try to buy birthday gifts without going hog wild (read: we don’t to spend our life savings on birthday presents, not even for ourselves).  But there are still good things to be had for your birthday.  During birthday week, you get to pick the menu for dinner every night, you get to pick what we watch on tv, etc.  Any small life decisions for the week are yours.  It makes for a week that feels a little bit special and personal.

We started Scott’s birthday week last night with my first attempt at Niçoise Salad.  I didn’t quite use a recipe, which is the beauty of this salad.  There’s a traditional list of ingredients, but it’s pretty darn simple: hard-boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, small potatoes, and tuna with capers and olives sprinkled on top and a nice, strong viniagrette dressing (my favorite kind of dressing–heavy on the vinegar).

So you could read about what I did, but I like this post from Food52 a whole lot.  It’s what I used as a guide.  It gives you a bit of history about the dish, tells you what traditionally goes into it, and lets you figure out the details.

Asparagus looked better than green beans at our store, so that was the only real substitution I made.  And I guess I roasted the taters instead of boiling them.  I just really like roasted potatoes.

Here’s the official version from Food52:

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photo taken by Linda Xiao for Food52

Here’s what mine looked like the next day in Tupperware (because this is real life):

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The scary dark spots are either nice roasty parts of the potato or salad dressing.  I promise.

This salad is legit, guys.  It tastes awesome, it’s as good cold as warm (we ate it with potatoes right out of the oven last night, but everything else was room temperature), and it’s healthy.  I mean, you aren’t going to get all worried about those five tiny potatoes, are you?  Everything else is really super duper healthy.  There are so many good flavors.  Yum!  Oh, and don’t be intimidated by the suggestion that you could throw some anchovies on top.  I had some anchovy paste that I mixed into the dressing, but I could have left that out.

The super awesome thing about this?  The “composing” of the stripes makes it feel fancy.  And while the ingredients aren’t all kid-friendly, you could easily turn it into something kids would love.  Who doesn’t want striped dinner?  You could also do lots of these things ahead of time and then just put it together at the last minute.  Last but not least, I’m honestly kind of excited that I’ve found a way to use canned tuna that feels fresh and fancy.

Birthday week is off to a good start.

In unrelated news, at the ripe old age of 10 months, our kiddo likes kalamata olives, feta cheese, and roasted butternut squash.  I’m A) proud of him for his fancy preferences and B) concerned that I’m raising a child who will one day say something like, “I don’t think I can eat those mustard greens unless they’re locally sourced and organic.”  I hope I’m wrong.  I’m hoping I’ll raise a kid who loves good old peanut butter and jelly AND roasted butternut squash.  And maybe once in a while enjoys some locally sourced organic mustard green.