Category: Dinner/Lunch

Heirloom Squash Spaghetti

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Have you ever heard of an heirloom (not tomato) squash?

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They taste like zucchini but look like a little mini flower pumpkins. It really is a thing, I swear! The first time I ever had one of these was in a risotto, which I will be working on later, and it was absolutely incredible!

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I saw some of these gorgeous squash at Whole Food’s Market the other day and just had to get them. They are so pretty! Hey- some people like puppies, I like pretty food. Get over it! I almost wanted to put them in a vase, but I didn’t want people to think I was weird or anything (no comments, please). I thought about what to do with these beauties for a couple days and then it hit me!

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Why not make a meat sauce spaghetti and submerge these bad boys in it. Meaty spaghetti sauce simmering around the most beautiful heirlooms I ever saw! It was a match made in heaven. *sigh*

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There is nothing worse than a blah spaghetti sauce, well maybe there are worse things for you, but not me! I promise you this sauce has more flavor than you can imagine. And the whole thing is topped with fresh basil. Yummy yummy!

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There is no real excuse for you to not make this. It is healthy, delicious, beautiful and is done in less than 30 minutes. Who says you can’t have dinner ready in 30 minutes? You can even set the table and wash the dishes before it’s done simmering away.

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Heirloom Squash Spaghetti
Author: Nicole Nilsen
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound spaghetti; cooked, drained and rinsed (I used Tinkyada, which is a gluten free, brown rice pasta, but you can use anything you have)
  • 1- 29 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1- 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (nothing too sweet!)
  • 1 pound ground turkey thigh meat
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, thinly chopped + extra chopped basil for topping
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 6 heirloom squash (I used half green and half yellow), ends cut off
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for topping
Instructions
  1. In a large pot add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, and onions and cook for about 2-3 minutes until they are translucent
  2. Add in the ground turkey meat and a good pinch of salt and pepper
  3. Once the turkey meat is browned add in all the tomato sauce, white wine, Herbes de Provence, parsley, oregano, basil, bay leaves and tomato paste
  4. Simmer the sauce on low for ten minutes
  5. Add the heirloom squash and cook on medium heat for another 15-20 minutes, until the squash is cooked
  6. Mix in the pasta and coat it in the sauce
  7. Top with chopped basil and shredded or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  8. Serve!

 

Lightened Up Baked Ziti with Zucchini

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I love Italian food, but lets face it Italian food doesn’t love my butt and thighs! Italian food is filled with high-fat cheeses, butter, heavy oils and lots and lots of white starchy pasta. Whenever I go to an Italian restaurant, which isn’t that often, I have such a hard time figuring out what I can eat. It seems like everything is bad for you and there are so many hidden ingredients.

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I suggest if you want Italian food, make it at home! This way you know exactly what is going inside. Plus, it is usually cheaper. If you go out to a nice Italian restaurant you may get a bowl of spaghetti for $20. What the what what? Why is Italian food so expensive? It is just pasta!

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This Baked Ziti has quite a few steps, but it is really easy and so delicious. I used a lean Italian sausage, lower fat mozzarella cheese, skim ricotta cheese, greek yogurt and absolutely no butter. I made this casserole with gluten free noodles as well. I then added another little spin to it by adding in layers of thinly sliced zucchini!

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It is cheesy, saucy perfection! Most of the ingredients you will be able to find right in your pantry!

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Enjoy!

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Lightened Up Baked Ziti with Zucchini
Author: Nicole Nilsen
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
If you are trying to cut out some of the cheese, cut out the 1/2 cup in the middle for layering, just put a little bit on the top because there is plenty of cheese in the noodle mixture.
Ingredients
  • 16 ounce ziti pasta; cooked, rinsed and set aside
  • 2 pounds ground Italian sausage (not in casing)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups yellow onion, finely diced (about one medium sized onion)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 jar of marinara (1 pound, 9 ounces; 3 cups)
  • 1- 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes and liquid
  • 2 teaspoon Italian seasonings
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese shreds (I used a 3-Cheese Blend from Whole Foods- Made up of fontina, asiago and parmesan)
  • 3 cups of mozzarella cheese (2 cups for cream and 1 cup for layering) (This was VERY cheesy, so if you aren’t a huge cheese fan you could easily cut the cheese almost in half)
  • 3 zucchinis, very thinly sliced
  • Italian parsley or basil for garnish, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a pot, heat the minced garlic, chopped onions and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and cook until the onions are translucent (about 3 minutes)
  2. Add in the Italian sausage and cook until browned (break down the sausage as small as you can)
  3. Once the meat is browned, add in the marinara, 1 can of whole tomatoes plus the liquids, 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste
  4. Take a potato masher and mash the whole tomatoes down, creating smaller bits and releasing their juices
  5. Simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes on low/medium heat
  6. While that is simmering lets start the cream for the pasta
  7. In a large bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, greek yogurt, the egg, 1/2 cup parmesan, mozzarella cheese, and salt and pepper to taste
  8. Mix in noodles and completely coat them with the cream
  9. Cook the zucchini in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil; add salt and pepper to taste (Cook for 2-3 minutes, just until bright green, not cooked all the way)
  10. Grab a 4 quart baking dish (3 quart will not be large enough, believe me I tried!)
  11. Grease the bottom with a little coconut oil
  12. Scoop out about 3 ladles of the sauce into the baking dish, just enough to have a thin layer cover the bottom of the dish
  13. Top the sauce with half of the noodles, then top with half of the sauce, top with half of the zucchini and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (SEE NOTE ABOVE!)
  14. Repeat one last time with the rest!
  15. Bake on 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, once everything is melted and bubbly
  16. Allow about 5-10 minutes to set out of the oven before serving

 

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Who thought of the idea of having bunnies and eggs for Easter? Does that make any sense at all? This reminds me of the comedian Jim Gaffigan. If you don’t know who I am talking about please utube him and watch him while you eat this casserole. Having this casserole and Jim Gaffigan in the same day? It will be the best day of your life! In one of his series he goes off about holidays and how they don’t make any sense at all. He has this session on holiday traditions. Easter for instance, he talks about how the traditions of Easter were created. Was it just someone sitting around with some leftover hardboiled eggs and thinking hmmm these would be fun to hide. And then insert the bunny? A bunny? Really?
 
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 To this day we continue with the tradition of scaring the pants off our kids by introducing them to a huge freaky rabbit and then reward them by letting them search for eggs. How does this make any sense? My Grandmother had a bunny suit and as soon as you were “of age,” which was code for big enough to fit in that ridiculously furry bunny, you could be the chosen one.
What are your Easter traditions? Do you have the Easter bunny come visit your house? What are all the other bunnies considered, regular bunnies?
 
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 On Monday, I went shopping and picked up a basket, colorful plastic eggs and a few toys for Graey. When I came home he was out with his Farmor (code for Grandma in Norwegian). So suddenly I had this raging desire to want to stuff the basket and set it out for him so when he came home he would see it. I couldn’t wait six days, let alone a few hours. I filled it and started pacing. Searching around the corner every 2.5 minutes to see if he was coming. Alas, he finally came around the corner. He crawled straight to his basket, as if it had a neon signed that said Graeyson, and emptied out everything. I think he had more fun emptying out the basket than actually enjoying what was inside.
 
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 Ok, enough of that. Let’s talk Chicken Cordon Bleu! Truth? Probably one of the best things I ever had and honestly it was super easy! It only took about 30 minutes out of my life and then into the oven it went. Out popped this cheesy, gooey dish of yum and I hardly had to work for it. It doesn’t even seem fair. Guest will seriously think you slaved over this and it wasn’t even difficult. My kind of meal and mind you it is pretty stinking healthy.
 
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 This is a great was to get rid of any extra meat from Easter! You can use your leftover ham, turkey, chicken, whatever! Traditionally Chicken Cordon Bleu is all about the swiss cheese. But, lets face it, it stinks! I can’t stand swiss cheese for the life of me, so I switched it out for some creamy gouda.
 
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Enjoy!
 
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Author: Nicole Nilsen
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • CASSEROLE
  • 7 ounce package of ham (diced only) or turkey bacon (cooked and diced if using turkey bacon)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skinned and shredded
  • 6 slices of gouda or swiss (any cheese would be fine)
  • SAUCE
  • 1/4 cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 3 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • Pepper and salt to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon salt, but try 1/4 first)
  • TOPPING
  • 1/4 + 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 3/4 cup bread crumbs (take any bread you have and pulse it in the food processor or blender)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon salt)
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease a 9X13 baking dish
  3. TO ASSEMBLE
  4. Layer the bottom with the shredded chicken
  5. After the chicken, layer it with the cut up ham (or cooked turkey bacon)
  6. Then layer with cheese
  7. Then the sauce
  8. Then the breadcrumb topping
  9. Bake for 40-45 minutes and then allow for about 5 minutes to cool before serving
  10. TO MAKE THE SAUCE
  11. Pour the grapeseed oil in a medium to large pot and turn heat to medium-high
  12. Once the oil is heated add the spelt flour
  13. Turn the heat down to medium and allow for it to make a roux
  14. Don’t let it burn! Once it starts to bubble a little add the almond milk
  15. Once the sauce has thickened add the lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt and pepper
  16. Continue to let the sauce thicken for about five minutes. Keep it on medium heat though and continue stirring every minute or so.
  17. TO MAKE THE TOPPING
  18. Add the coconut oil to a bowl and heat in the microwave
  19. Once the oil is melted add the bread crumbs, parsley and paprika.
  20. Mix well

 

 

 

 

Lettuce Wraps with Mango Salsa

Ok lets be honest. Truth, I couldn’t keep my fingers out of the pan while I was cooking these. They are that good! I have been making these for about 2,5756 years. Ok, not that many, but for at least 2,000 years. Most of my friends have had these and they are always a hit.

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Lettuce wraps are great to have when you have company. It is a “social food” as I like to call it. Everyone gets messy and interactive with each other. They are fun because you can stuff your lettuce with any of the options that are on the table and make it a personal wrap! (more…)

Pink Lady, Parsnip and Potato Soup with Homemade Croutons


It’s time to talk about soup!

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Soup is awesome for many reasons. It keeps you warm in the winter, it makes your belly feel nice and full, it can go with any meal or even by itself and it’s so easy to make! You could pretty much throw anything into a pot with broth, let it get tender and blend away. I mean my Aunt Debbie who volunteers to bring rolls and corn to event gatherings could do that. If she can do it, so can you. I believe in you!

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You would think those reasons would be enough to get the pot out right now at 11 o’clock at night. Put it back, you’re just being silly now! Seriously though, the number one reason I love soup is because you can get a junk load of nutrition in one cup! In case you didn’t know “junk load” is a lot! It may not be in Webster’s Dictionary, but it’s in my dictionary. Webster’s has nothing on my dictionary.
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Loaded Shepherds Pie


With all of this cold wet weather lurking around it makes me crave something warm and hearty!

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I love the rain, well, let me rephrase that. I love the rain when I can be inside next to a fire. I don’t love the rain when it is ruining my hair, my shoes, or my freshly washed car. I don’t wash my car that often, but it seems as though every time I do, it rains just like this last weekend. Why me? It’s like there are these tiny little rain clouds lurking around the corner to see when I will be outside washing my car and then BAM old faithful right before my eyes. Well, what can I say, that’s life.
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Creamy Quinoa and Spinach Risotto

Have you ever had one of those meals where you thought this can’t possibly be good for me, but it was?

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Well, this is that meal!

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I once had risotto at Steamer’s, this fabulous seafood restaurant in Northern California. The risotto there was so creamy and flavorful I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was one of those meals you wished would never end.
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Tom Kha Gai


Perfect balance of spiciness, sweetness, saltiness, tanginess and creaminess.

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Tom Kha Gai traditionally is made with coconut milk, galangel, chilies, lemongrass, kafir leaves, chicken and some form of mushroom, typically straw mushrooms.

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Personally I can’t stand mushrooms. I have tried them every way possible and every type you could imagine. I don’t even like them touching my food. I hate the texture, flavor and smell.
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Pad Thai

Healthy, flavorful, GOOD restaurant quality Pad Thai!

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As a child I never ate anything  outside of the perimeter of the simple American foods. Now that I am an adult, or so they say, I have taken a liking to Thai food. It is one of my favorite cuisines and I love most of it except yellow curry.

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When I was pregnant with Graeyson, I opened a container of yellow curry that I had made and at that moment I felt my first feeling of morning sickness. To this day I can’t stomach yellow curry. Luckily, however, I still love Pad Thai!

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Over the years I have had some excellent Pad Thai and some not so much.

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Some Pad Thai is really bland and all you taste is the noodles. This Pad Thai is full of flavor and packed with goodness.

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We no longer have to go out for Pad Thai, we can have it right at home!

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FG!

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Pad Thai:
Yield: Serves 4-5
Preparation and cook time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

Pad Thai

  • Annie Chun’s dried brown rice Pad Thai noodles (8 ounces)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 cups of chopped chicken, cooked
  • 1/2 pound of cooked shrimp (medium to large size)
  • 4 large eggs, whisked
  • 8 ounces of bean sprouts
  • 8 scallion stalks, greens only cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews, crushed
  • 1-2 limes, cut into quarters

Pad Thai Sauce

  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5 Thai Bird’s Eye Chili’s, crushed

Directions

  • Grab a large pot and fill it halfway with warm water
  • Place the brown rice noodles in the pot of warm water and let them sit there for about 20-30 minutes or until they are almost al dente. When they are finished strain them and rinse with cool water.
  • While the noodles are soaking prepare everything else.
  • Set 4 eggs out now so they are close to room temperature by the time you will be using them.
  • Prepare your scallions, garlic and chicken as instructed in the ingredients list and set aside.
  • Grab all the ingredients for the sauce and a medium-sized sauce pan.
  • Turn the heat on your stove to a medium heat and add all of the sauce ingredients.
  • Cook the sauce until all of the coconut sugar has dissolved and remove from heat. (Make sure to whisk it every minute or so.)
  • Grab a wok or a large pot and heat up 1/4 cup of the coconut oil (Reserve the rest for later)
  • Once the coconut oil is melted add your garlic and cook it for about 1 minute on medium heat. It should be lightly browned.
  • Add the noodles and half of the Pad Thai sauce and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Push the noodles to the side of the wok and add the eggs to the empty pocket.
  • Let the eggs sit in the corner for about a minute and then incorporate them into the noodles.
  • Once the eggs are just about done cooking add in the other 1/4 cup of coconut oil.
  • Add in the chicken and shrimp
  • Add in the other half of sauce
  • Add in the bean sprouts and cook for about a minute
  • Take the wok off of the heat and add the scallions
  • Garnish with crushed cashews and lime wedges

Quinoa Lasagna

Hearty like lasagna, but with a gluten-free twist! #9 I had a request come to me last week for an idea using quinoa. I made my “safe” Oodles of Zucchini Noodles Lasagna this week in case this didn’t come out, but the Quinoa Lasagna ended up being delicious! For those of you that have never heard of quinoa it is a great alternative for individuals that are gluten intolerant and/or are trying to lose weight. It offers a large serving of protein and fiber, plus has absolutely no gluten since it is actually a seed, not a grain. However, it is a great option for everyone!
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