Roasted Squash Casserole

There are few side dishes that scream holiday like roasted squash and this one is not only simple, but it ends up looking festive when the cranberries and spinach are tossed in. It’s even converted my family of non-squash fans. And the best part? It’s completely portable!

2 packages butternut squash, cut in 1-inch pieces (20 ounces each)
2 red onions, peeled, chopped (about 4 cups)
3 tbsp olive oil (I used a rosemary-infused oil)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped spinach
3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Roast the squash and the onions in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Add to a serving dish. Toss with the cranberries and spinach (the heat of the squash will wilt the spinach just a bit)

I brought this yesterday to our family Thanksgiving feast. I kept the squash in a casserole carrier to keep it warm. It didn’t even need to go into the oven to reheat. Just before dinner, I tossed in the spinach and the cranberries.

Trust me when I tell you that there was not a bit left (well, maybe just a spare piece of spinach!)

Pumpkin Swirl Bread

Here we go! The start of holiday season and as I said last time, I can’t wait to start cooking our favorites. Thanksgiving brings pumpkin swirl bread, which is a perfect add to your Thanksgiving breakfast or dinner. It’s that savory. This year, I decided to bake it in mini-loaves to share the love where ever we go this weekend (as long as we don’t devour it first)

Cream Cheese Layer

1 8oz package of cream cheese (softened)
1/4 c sugar
1 egg

Batter

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin spice (or nutmeg)
1 c pumpkin puree
1/2 c unsalted butter (melted)
1 egg
1/3 c water

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Blend cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar and egg with a mixer. Set aside

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside

Combine pumpkin puree, butter, egg and water. Fold into dry ingredients. Reserve 2 cups of the batter. Pour remaining batter into greased and floured loaf pan. Carefully spread cream cheese mixture over batter. Top with reserved batter.

Bake about 70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (if you’re using mini loaf pans, reduce baking time to about 45 minutes)

Store in fridge when not enjoying!

What’s Cooking This Week

Well I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it’s the holiday season, but beyond excited to start cooking some of our favorite foods (later this week!) But in the meantime, we’re still looking for meals we love, but haven’t made it onto the weekly menu in a while! Plus it was a weekend of basketball and football so we were looking for some game day go-to’s! First up was a saucy chicken cornbread skillet (why yes, that is a mouthful!)

This starts off easy with a box of corn muffin mix, an egg, 2 tbsp melted butter, 3/4 cups milk and 1 cup of frozen corn kernels. Spread into a cast iron skillet that’s been coated with olive oil and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes (or until golden brown)

While the cornbread is in the oven, sauté some diced onion and pepper until soft. Add some garlic, cumin, chili powder and stir to combine. Add a couple cups of diced, cooked chicken, a small can of tomato sauce, a tbsp of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of brown sugar. Simmer until the cornbread layer is finished.

When the cornbread is golden brown, spread the chicken mixture over the top, sprinkle a cup or two of shredded cheddar cheese over everything and return to the oven until the cheese is melted.

Top with scallions and some fresh, chopped cilantro. Cut into squares and enjoy! (I always like a dash of sour cream on the side)

And we always love a good meatloaf. It’s like the perfect fall comfort food. I know there are a million different ways to make it but my favorite is to use steel cut oats in the mix instead of any breadcrumbs (or even bread soaked in milk). My traditionalist husband was also quite distressed to learn many years ago that I don’t use all ground beef like his mother always used to, but a mix of ground beef, pork and veal. To me, both those ingredients keep everything moist and give it wonderful flavor.

One thing that never varies are the sides. In my house, it has to be mashed potatoes and a green bean casserole. To my family, the only acceptable vegetable substitution is peas. It’s a tough crowd to cook for! 😉

You’ll notice there’s no gravy. That’s not a deliberate choice, but an accident in realizing that I didn’t have any on hand until we were sitting down to eat. I view it as an excuse to make meatloaf again soon!

One thing I have tried is to lighten things up by using ground chicken or turkey. I find to keep that nice and moist, it helps to bake them in muffin tins to make mini-meat loafs.

Hoping that Thanksgiving brings you your favorite foods enjoyed in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Sometimes I find myself in a cooking rut where I make our current favorites in a non-stop loop. That’s actually one of the friendly reminders this blog has given me – when it’s time to shake things up. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that both of these meals were the suggestion of my family. It’s always an epiphany when someone says “hey, you know what you haven’t made in a while…”

First up, we had taco salad (which has emerged in concession stands and food trucks everywhere as a walking taco salad served in a mini-bag of chips).

The possibilities are endless here, but the basics are browned ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning that has cooled to room temperature.

Fill a bowl with some sturdy lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, diced onion, peppers, chopped green chilis, olives, kidney beans… you get the point: the possibilities are endless! Crumble in most of a bag of Doritos (I always save some for the side) and toss with Catalina dressing. A while ago we were craving this, but didn’t have any Catalina dressing, so I’ve been making my own ever since!

In a mason jar, combine:

1/4 c ketchup
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c red wine vinegar
Onion powder and paprika to taste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

If you’re feeding more than four people, just double the recipe.

Bonus: I always make this in a bowl that my grandmother gave my mother, which now I lovingly use!

Next up, we have scrambled egg sandwiches. This one is a mix between breakfast for dinner and how can I use these leftovers in my fridge.

Slice a baguette in half, then cut each half in two (which is my way of saying you’ll have four pieces of bread). Toast in a 200 degree oven for about 5 minute. Heat a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter in a frying pan and sauté a cup of finely diced ham steak. While that’s heating, whisk 6 eggs with salt, pepper, dill, and a dash of Dijon mustard. Add the eggs to the ham and gently cook until the eggs are just set.

Top each piece of bread with a few scoops of the ham and eggs, top with slices of Swiss cheese, then bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melty. Sprinkle some chives and parsley on top and you are good to go! I made some hash browns in the air fryer that I tossed with olive oil, garlic powder and salt and pepper. It will take as long to get crispy as the eggs take to cook.

Leftover sausage works really well too in this dish – I just use sliced provolone as the cheese instead of the Swiss

Now I’m excited to see what other favorites we can re-discover. What dish haven’t you made in a while that your family loves? No matter what it is, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!

Game Day Go-To: Chili

Oh it’s that time of year where nothing beats a nice bowl of chili while enjoying the game. I probably say that about every game day food I write about, but I can’t deny it when we’re talking chili. Years ago, my husband worked with someone from Texas and he was horrified to discover we put beans (*gasp) in our chili. What followed was a fascinating conversation the “rules” of what makes a good bowl of chili where he was from in Texas. He and his wife always served the beans in the side so they could be added to the bowl to each person’s preference. So honestly, not only do I think of them every time I make chili, I feel that they are looking down disapprovingly at us!

I always start by browning a pound or so of lean ground beef (I try to get 90% when I can). As the beef is browning in a Dutch oven, I add about a cup each of diced onion and peppers. At the very least, I use green bell pepper, but I do love spicing it up a notch if I have some leftover poblanos in the fridge.

Once the beef is browned, I add two 14oz cans of diced tomatoes and one can of kidney beans. But the absolute key to a good chili in my humble opinion are the spices. I honestly just keep a stash by my side and add until it has the perfect flavor. I typically use ground pepper, a bit of salt, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a touch of cinnamon. The cinnamon gives all the spices the perfect touch of sweetness.

I keep simmering for about twenty minutes at a time, tasting, then adjusting the spices if I have to. As my grandma always said, once you put the spices in, you can’t get them out!

We like serving it up topped with shredded cheddar cheese and diced green onions. My only regret here is that I didn’t think to make a batch of cornbread to serve on the side, so tortilla chips had to do the trick.

What’s been on your game day menu? Whatever it is, may you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well my friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

Well it’s been a busy few weeks of travel adventures so we’re slowly returning to normal. I spent some time taking stock of the freezer and what goodies I had from Misfits Markets to use and came up with an absolutely amazing stuffed spaghetti squash for dinner tonight. This is a perfect reminder that sometimes the best dinners don’t come out of a recipe. It’s what feels right as you’re putting it together.

I split a spaghetti squash in half and scooped out the seeds. Then I seasoned each half with salt, pepper, sage and a drizzle of olive oil, placed the halves skin side up on a cookie sheet, and pierced the outer skin a couple times. It went in to the oven to roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.

While the squash was doing it’s thing in the oven, I took some cooked spicy Italian sausage that I had in the freezer and heated it with some freshly chopped tomato, onion, and a bit of spicy tomato oil. I cooked it until the onions were soft and everything was heated through.

When the squash was tender, I shredded it with a fork, spooned my filling over the squash and topped everything with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. I returned it to the oven until the cheese was melty and brown.

It was super simple and completely amazing. Two of my favorite things on a busy night! What’s on your table these days? No matter what it is, may you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends.

Game Day Go-To: Quesadillas

We’re getting back to our game day football routine (with a bonus side of MLB baseball playoffs). Plus we’re pretty confident that we’re enjoying the last warm weather of our season to get out and get grilling. So I took advantage of both those happy coincidences to make some sheet pan quesadillas.

Before kickoff, I seasoned some steak with a blend of fajita spices and grilled it until medium (you want to undercook it a bit because it will be going into the oven to finish up). I also threw some sliced peppers and onions in a foil pan with some butter and grilled them along side.

When everything was finished on the grill, I sprayed a cookie sheet with olive oil spray and laid four large flour tortillas so they were hanging over the side of the pan. Then I placed one tortilla in the center so the whole cookie sheet is covered up.

I sliced the beef and arranged in a layer over the tortillas. Then I added the grilled peppers and onions and topped everything with grated pepper jack cheese (or cheddar if you want to tone down the spice). I folded the overlapping tortillas over and topped with one more tortilla to make sure the filling was covered. I brushed the top with olive oil, covered with foil, then topped with another cookie sheet. I baked it for about 15 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Then I removed the top cookie sheet and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the top was golden brown. I sliced it into rectangles and served with salsa, guacamole (not pictured because I forgot to put it out right away), and sour cream.

What I love about this is that you can adapt it to include any meat and veggie combo that you want. The possibilities are endless!

Sunday Brunch with Friends

Few things bring me more happiness than spending the day in the kitchen cooking for those who are most special to me. Today, friends, was one of those days. We’ve been able to enjoy the company of old friends all weekend and we wanted to cap off the weekend with brunch in my town. I was trying to think of an easy spot for everyone to meet at until I remembered that I love to cook and we could just have a relaxing afternoon here! And it was just perfect (if I may be so bold to say so myself).

I thought one easy brunch dish could be crustless quiche. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what everyone’s favorite fillings were so I decided to try making the recipe in muffin tins and we all loved how they came out (they did deflate slightly after taking them out of the tins, alas). One batch had sausage and bacon, the other batch had broccoli and chopped red pepper (all had cheddar cheese). I ended up baking them about ten minutes less than the normal cook time.

Then I felt we needed a nice salad on the side. Yesterday’s fall adventures took us to a few local apple orchards, so I tossed some mixed greens with chopped apples, diced gouda cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. I couldn’t remember if we were dealing with any nut allergies, so candied pecans were on the side to top things off.

And what’s brunch without something sweet? Full disclosure, I can’t take credit for the apple bread. It was another acquisition from our orchard tour, but it was so fresh and moist – the perfect bite to end the meal.

Everyone thought I’d slaved over the preparation, but I did confess it was so simple. More importantly, it gave us plenty of time to enjoy, catch up and reminisce. What could be better than that?

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

When life (or Misfits Markets) gives you too many carrots, there is only one option in my house: carrot cake. Plus we were visiting family at their camp last weekend and, when made in two loaf pans, it was the perfect thank you with one pan waiting happily waiting for our return home! And I’ll confess, it may have even made a guest appearance at breakfast.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice*
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 eggs
3 cups grated carrots (about 4)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray (I did this in two loaf pans)

Mix the all the dry ingredients to combine. Add in the yogurt and the eggs. Stir in the grated carrots.

Pour into the prepared baking dish (or dishes). Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan. While the cake is cooling, prepare the frosting by beating 4 tbsp unsalted butter (softened) with 4 ounces of softened cream cheese until smooth (confession: I usually use 6 ounces). Add 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 1 3/4 cups of powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Spread over the cooled cake. Store in the refrigerator. Most importantly, enjoy!

* if you don’t have pumpkin pie spice handy, use 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Utica Greens

Back during my senior year in college, every Monday we’d head down to Cavallo’s Restaurant for their all-you-can-eat pasta special. I want to say it was the ridiculous price of $1.50 per person (when I did a quick Google search, I was thrilled to see the place was still there, although the special now $2.49). What more could hungry college students on a limited budget want? But periodically we’d branch out and try new things. That’s the first time I remember trying Utica Greens. For years, I tried to explain this dish to my family and was met with complete resistance to bringing it to our table. Flash forward to this summer, when we ordered take out from our favorite local Italian restaurant and I decided to get a side order of greens. My husband was so intrigued and once he took a taste, he was hooked. So finally I could head to the kitchen and get cooking!

What are Utica Greens? From what I’ve read, they’re a variation of Southern Italian Sautéed Greens – a dish made to make the most of common ingredients around the kitchen and stretch the grocery budget. They’re spicy perfection.

1 bunch of escarole, chopped
1/2 cup prosciutto
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic (bashed and chopped)
5 hot, pickled peppers, chopped*
1/2 cup chicken stock (or less)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used an Italian blend)
1/4 cup freshly-grated Asiago cheese

*You can use more peppers, or fewer, depending on your tolerance for spice. I had no idea how easy they are to pickle – bring one cup water, one cup white vinegar, 1 tbsp each of sugar and salt . Once it comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the peppers (if they’re whole, just pierce them to get the pickling liquid in there), seep for about 10 minutes.

Blanch the escarole for a couple minutes in salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat some olive oil in a broiler-proof pan then add the prosciutto and onions. Once the onions are soft, add the peppers and garlic and let them cook through. Add the greens back in and add some stock if it isn’t juicy enough (I only used about a quarter of a cup). Top with the panko and cheese, and broil until the top is toasty brown.

I serve them with just meatballs in sauce. Honestly, you don’t even need pasta to walk away from the table full and happy! It was perfection on a plate and brought up so many wonderful memories of nights with friends at Cavallo’s.

What are some of your favorite nostalgic dishes? Whatever they are, may you enjoy them in good health and surrounded by those you love!

Eat well friends!