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.

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!

 

 

 

 

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.

Zucchini Corn Fritters (A.K.A. Summer and Childhood and Nice Things)

In addition to chasing around a now-crawling baby, we’ve done some cooking this summer.  My (very local) farmer did some corn-growing, and we combined our efforts to cook some corn from the yard.  Lots of it.

One of my favorite recipes for this summer’s corn bounty was for zucchini corn fritters.  When I was a kid, we went to my grandma’s house for a few weeks  in the summer.  There were always a ton of fresh veggies at her house–corn and peas and tomatoes and cucumbers, oh my!

My very favorite of all the food was her drop cornbread, thus named because you drop it into the pan and cook it in blobs of tastiness.  It’s crispy and delicious in a way that other cornbread will never be.  It’s really the only cornbread that I love.

For some reason, I don’t ever make that cornbread.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a recipe for it.  It was just this grandma thing that existed in my childhood.

Until now.  [Cue happy music.]

These zucchini corn fritters are A) delicious, B) simple, and C) healthier than your typical pan-fried bread due to the addition of fresh corn and zucchini.  The zucchini wasn’t super obvious when mixed with all of the other ingredients, but I felt slightly virtuous as I ate the tasty bread.  I knew it had an extra dose of veggies inside, even if it tasted almost just like my grandma’s cornbread.  Winning all around, right?

img_4138Go get yourself some zucchini corn fritter recipe goodness here: recipe!

Don’t forget to get some spicy ketchup to go with it.  Spicy ketchup is perfect with these.  And with sweet potato fries.  And lots of other things.  You’ll like it.

Giada’s Green (and GOOD) Carbonara and Some Olive Oil Adventures

First, I’m going to torture you with stories of my day.  Then I’ll point you towards super delicious food.  It looks like this: But before I get to the food… It was a nice day today.  I had a short … Continue reading