Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

 

I’ve been holding out on you, dear readers. I have a recipe that is delicious, indulgent, healthy, cheap, easy and can feed one person or 20. And I’ve been making it for over a year. I’ve brought it to Christmas parties, work pot-lucks and summer barbecues. I’ve made it so many times and each time I think, “I’m going to blog about it this time, I swear!” But each time I forget to take a photo. Or the lighting isn’t right for a photo. Or it’s in the Crock Pot and the photo won’t look very nice. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing that stopped me from writing this post sooner. I’ve prepared this dish at least five different ways. You can make it on the stove top and serve it. You can bake it in the oven and brown the top and add some breadcrumbs. You can broil individual servings for the best cheesy, crunchy experience ever. You can make it on the stove and then transfer to the Crock Pot for parties and transport.

The recipe is for Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese. It’s a hybrid of the dairy-free concoction that’s been around the blogosphere for a few years and a traditional mac and cheese recipe. In the dairy-free version, cashews are soaked in water and then blended with the squash for a ‘cheez’ flavor. I have no problem with dairy and cashews are expensive, so I just used real cheese. And milk. And breadcrumbs. So while this is not the same as the dairy-gluten-free recipe, it has one thing in common. Squash!!!!! This is a far, far healthier version of mac and cheese than the classic variety where you dump a box of Velveeta (which I love, despite everything I know about it) in some noodles with milk and butter and call it a day. Sure, it’s delicious but it’s got enough sodium and fat to last three weeks.

There are so many reasons that this recipe rocks. First of all, butternut squash is a superior food. It just is. It’s delicious in everything. It’s easy to prepare, it’s easy to store, it’s high in flavor and low in calories. There’s a reason you see it in so many dishes. Another reason this recipe rocks is how few ingredients you’ll actually need. This stuff tastes gourmet. I have never brought this recipe to a party or function and left without at least one request for the recipe. I hope that people are pleasantly surprised when they find out it’s really just squash, milk, noodles, a bit of cheese, fresh rosemary, and the staples of all meals: garlic, sea salt and black pepper. Breadcrumbs are optional but I never use them for a party dish because they’ll get soggy in the Crock Pot. Unlike regular mac and cheese, the sauce starts out as a solid. You will need to add liquid and find a way to blend the liquid and squash together to make it a creamy sauce. I use my immersion blender. You could use a food processor, a hand-mixer or even a whisk if you’d like.

Finally, this mac and cheese is crazy delicious. I can say without hesitation, I have never had better mac and cheese in my life. Senor has volunteered to bring it to a number of parties and every time, he waits anxiously until everyone has tried some before announcing that it’s made with squash and not cheddar cheese. Last night he reminded me, “It’s one of your best, you know.” So you can take that as a resounding endorsement.

A few notes – you can honestly use as much squash in this recipe as you’d like. I usually around 3 cups of roasted squash but the more you add, the more sauce you’ll have. You may need to add more liquid to keep it smooth. With this recipe, you want a higher sauce-to-noodle ratio than you would with normal mac and cheese. Also, the sauce gets thick FAST. If you like a creamy sauce you may need more liquid. It’s very easy to smooth out the sauce at any time so if you’re worried that it’s a bit too dry, wait until just before serving to add a small amount of water/milk at a time and stirring.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Serves 16+

1 box whole wheat elbow macaroni

1 medium-large butternut squash, peeled and roasted until tender (or 3 boxes of frozen squash puree) (you can’t have too much squash in this recipe!)

2 cups milk

1/2 cup water

2-3 cups shredded mozzarella

3-4 ounces hard, sharp cheese like smoked gouda, parmesan, asiago, etc.

Garlic, salt, black pepper, several sprigs fresh rosemary

*4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional – this adds b vitamins and fiber and also bumps up the cheesy flavor)
*Half a cup Panko bread crumbs (optional – for oven baked option)

For the crock pot or stove top:

Boil the noodles in a small stock pot until just tender. Rinse and drain. (If you plan on using a crockpot, under cook the noodles slightly or they’ll turn to mush.)

In a large sauce pan, combine squash, milk, water, sharp cheese, nutritional yeast over medium heat. Stir in salt, pepper, and a ton of rosemary. To get the sauce smooth I use a stick blender (immersion) to smooth out the squash and finely chop the herbs. You could also use a food processor or a blender. Or, you could chop the rosemary and then use a hand mixer to smooth out the squash. A stick blender is the easiest option.

Let the sauce simmer. Give it a taste now and then and adjust the spices to taste. This sauce thickens very well and rather quickly. If it seems a bit too thick, add more water/milk. Follow directions below for three prep options.

For stove top – combine the noodles and sauce in a stock pot over low heat. Stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick to coat properly, add more liquids. Once the sauce is the right thickness and everything is covered properly, remove from heat and add 2 cups of shredded mozzarella and stir to incorporate. Top each bowl with a light sprinkle of cheese and serve.

For crock pot – Layer the noodles/sauce/shredded cheese into the crock. You will want the sauce to be slightly thinner than the stove top variety. It will thicken quickly. You can also add a bit more water or milk and stir just before serving if it gets too thick. Turn the crock pot onto low and stir occasionally. You may want to add shredded cheese to the top five minutes before serving.

For the broiler – follow the stove top directions. Use oven and broiler-safe bowls to serve the pasta. Top each with shredded mozzarella and a sprinkle of bread crumbs. Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. This will go quickly from just right to burned, so keep your eye on it.


Roasted Corn and Tomato Spaghetti


I have to be honest. I don’t create many fusion dishes. I’m not sure I have the expertise of any one genre so firmly under my control that I feel able to mash two of them up together. Before this recipe, I’d never tried it at all. That I can remember. And no, using spaghetti noodles in ramen instead of Udon noodles doesn’t count.

This was very much an attempt to use up fresh produce without it going bad and without getting bored of the same flavor combinations. While I could possibly eat nothing but tomatoes and basil all summer long, I fear that Señor may crave more diversity than that. Actually, I could probably convince him to eat just tomatoes and basil for a week or two. But still. That’s not very well-balanced now is it?

We both love Mexican food, thus our taco bar wedding reception. That taco bar was delicious and friends have told me they’re still dreaming about the amazing food. For real, she just said it this weekend. I wouldn’t lie about something so serious. And in all honesty, we are STILL eating through the leftovers. We had a small guest list and we had 20 percent of our responded guests not show. So we had a ton of leftovers. We’re almost done with them but the overwhelming amount of taco meat, tortilla shells and refried beans in our freezer definitely affected our desire to make tacos.

This recipe was my best attempt at bringing delicious Mexican food back into our lives without it looking or tasting anything like the beef, chicken, beans and rice in our freezer. It totally worked. In the heat of summer, I used canned beans instead of boiling my own. I didn’t have to plan this recipe in advance, I just dumped everything together and off we went. The corn had been roasted on the grill a few days earlier and was caramelized and smoky. The cilantro and basil were both about to turn. And thankfully, tomatoes are a staple of both cuisines. Which is maybe why I love them both so much? Or maybe that’s unrelated and it’s just that they’re awesome. That’s probably more likely.

In this dish, roasted grape tomatoes make most of the ‘sauce’ that covers the noodles, beans, corn and herbs. In the effort of full disclosure, this was delicious as a hot main dish and the a cold lunch the next day. This is also a super easy recipe to feed a bunch of dietary restrictions. Gluten free? Swap out the whole wheat noodles for brown rice noodles. Vegan or lactose intolerant? Skip the cheese topping. Delicious and versatile. I love that.


Roasted Corn and Tomato Spaghetti
(makes four servings)

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti noodles

20-30 grape tomatoes

2 cobs roasted corn (approximately 1 cup of kernels)

1 can black beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Dash of salt, black pepper, cayenne

Fresh cilantro

Fresh basil

1/2 cup shredded cheese

Heat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees. Be sure to let the noodles drain for a few minutes before tossing them with the dish to keep excess water from creating a soupy dish.

Prepare the noodles according to package directions.

While the water is heating, place the tomatoes in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven or toaster oven for roasting. I prefer the toaster oven because the tomatoes sit closer to the heating element and finish roasting much faster. The tomatoes are ready when the skins are shriveling and there is some liquid on the foil.

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cobs of corn.

Drain the beans and rinse well. Let drain for five minutes to remove any excess liquids.

Place six ounces of water in a glass measuring cup. Add the chili powder, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir and microwave the mixture for 45 seconds.

Add the olive oil to a large skillet. Heat on medium. Add the water and spice mixture. Toss the black beans and corn in the skillet until the spices are fragrant. Add the noodles and roasted tomatoes to the skillet and gently toss to incorporate. Adjust spices as necessary.

Tear whole cilantro and basil leaves off a clean bunch of each herb. When the pasta is just about ready to serve, remove from heat and toss a handful of both cilantro and basil with the dish.

Serve immediately; garnish with fresh cilantro, basil and shredded cheese.


Zucchini and Fettuccine Alfredo

The other day two of my favorite things combined in a glorious moment of food zen. Zucchini and smoked gouda cheese. Wait, you haven’t had smoked gouda cheese, you say? Get thee to the store and a wedge as quick as you can. I find it at Whole Foods in the giant cheese section. This cheese is awesome. It’s like Parmesan but with a nuttier flavor and a dark orange color. It’s fairly stinky with lots of good sharpness on your tongue. I like to enjoy it on crackers. Or plain. Oh, and melted into a creamy alfredo sauce.

I realized as I went through my blog archives the other day that I have posted a lot of recipes revolving around zucchini. I can’t say that I’m sorry about the saturation of zucchini-related posts….it’s an awesome summer time veggie that everyone loves. I hope. It’s also incredibly versatile. You can make it into breads and muffins or you can grill and saute it. Just tonight I shredded it and used it in a ground meat mixture for stuffed peppers.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about alfredo. I think alfredo sauce is one of those things that people often fear because of its creamy nature. Cream sauce requires some nuance to get the thickness without scalding or burning. Let me tell you. It’s not that hard. As long as you use the right ingredients, you can do it without much difficulty. Heavy cream, real milk (not skim) and cheese are all required ingredients. It’s just not something you can make ‘light’ without sacrificing the taste or texture. So, compromise. Use whole wheat noodles and bulk up the dish with shredded zucchini. Yes, I might be a genius.

Also, this is possibly the fastest recipe ever. You might need 15 minutes to get this one ready. If you boil the noodles while preparing the sauce, it should all be ready at the same time. Again, genius. You’re welcome.


Zucchini and Fettuccine Alfredo
serves two

4 ounces whole wheat (or brown rice) fettuccine noodles

2 cups shredded zucchini

Several sprigs of fresh basil

for the sauce

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup water

1 cup milk

3 ounces smoked gouda

1-2 teaspoons flour

black pepper, garlic and salt to taste.

In a large sauce pan, bring the noodles to a boil. Cook until tender. Remove the noodles from the water, reserving the hot water. Drain the noodles.

Place the shredded zucchini in a small metal colander or a steaming basket over the reserved noodle water. Steam the zucchini until just tender. Toss with the noodles, lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss several sprigs of fresh basil in with the noodles and zucchini.

In a small sauce pan, combine all sauce ingredients over medium heat. Stir every thirty seconds with a spatula to keep the sauce from sticking. Once the sauce begins boiling, whisk gently to incorporate all the ingredients. Let the sauce simmer to thicken for 5-7 minutes. The sauce will also thicken upon standing. If you’re having a hard time getting the sauce to thicken, sprinkle a small amount of flour into the pan and whisk to combine.

Pour the sauce over the zucchini and noodle mixture. Garnish with fresh ground black pepper and light sprinkle of shredded smoked gouda and some extra basil. Serve immediately.


Roasted Pumpkin Orzo

Weather plays such a big role in what we eat and when we eat it. Lately I’m having a hard time thinking up new recipes. I think it probably has something to do with the fleeting hours of daylight, the sub-zero temperatures and knowing full well that at least in Minnesota, nothing is growing any more. It makes it harder to figure out what to make and I usually end up resorting to some old favorites. Beef bourguignon. Beef stroganoff. French onion soup. Senor’s pasta. Lasagna. Essentially, a lot of meaty or carby dishes and a lot of soup. Oh, and a LOT of squash, cut in half and roasted. Eaten with a pat of butter.

Honestly, it makes me feel like I’m stumped. I know that Senor loves a lot of these recipes and looks forward to them as the reward for enduring cold weather. I do too. I never remake a recipe we don’t both love. This is definitely a time of year where I have to look for inspiration from other sources though. In spring, summer and fall I walk through the farmer’s market and look to see what’s ripe and delicious looking. I feel inspired by all the food in season and every single meal is based off of what produce is in season right that moment. Whole meals are inspired by a giant bunch of super fragrant cilantro. It’s a lot harder to be creative, I think, when the only things in season are essentially what you’ve got in your freezer. On the off chance that I do make something new and creative and delicious….you’re probably not going to see a picture of it. The sun rises at 7:40 and sets at 4:30. I’m either at work or en route to work during that entire time. Maybe, just maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe we’ll have a bright sunny weekend and I will be inspired to make a variety of new dishes to share with you all.

I made this recipe right as the fall vegetables started to finish off here. For now, we’ve got root veggies and citrus fruits from Florida. I’m trying to make the best of it. You’ll see some additional squash recipes coming soon. And ultimately I’m probably going to break down and buy the asparagus from Peru and the green beans from Chile. I’m not happy about it. Whether or not I can make anything really delicious and interesting out of them remains to be seen. I promise to do my best.

Luckily pumpkin can be bought in a can if you can’t find a fresh one. Eggplant is one of those fall veggies that stores pretty well so you can still find it and enjoy it during the colder months. And the really great news is that pumpkin, eggplant, sliced almonds and orzo go really well together. This was satisfying but not nearly as heavy as spaghetti with meat sauce, or a giant square of lasagna.

Roasted Pumpkin Orzo
serves four

1 medium baking pumpkin

1 large eggplant, cubed

8 ounces whole wheat orzo

3/4 cup sliced almonds

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup dry white wine

Salt, Pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika

If using a fresh pumpkin, cut it in half and clean out the insides. Situate the halves face-down in a baking dish, along with a half-inch of water. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

If you’re using canned pumpkin, you may not be able to cut it into pieces to toss with the pasta. It will probably work better if you simply simmer the canned pumpkin with the white wine and olive oil and make a thick sauce to coat the pasta. It’ll be delicious either way.

Let the pumpkin cool so it’s workable. Meanwhile, boil the orzo. When tender, rinse and drain the orzo until you’re ready to use it.

Once the pumpkin is cool enough to work with, peel the skin off of the flesh. Cut the pumpkin into small cubes. It should be soft but not overly squishy.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add in the eggplant. The egg plant will absorb the oil, so occasionally add a few tablespoons of water to keep the pan from drying out. Saute the eggplant until soft. Add the white wine, pumpkin and drained orzo. Reduce the heat to low.

Sprinkle the skillet with salt, pepper and garlic. Add a few shakes of smoked paprika and toss gently. Let the mixture simmer lightly until the sauce is slightly thickened and the pumpkin has spread evenly.

Remove from heat. Stir in the almonds, saving a few for garnish. Serve immediately.


Bacon Blue Cheese Orzo

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I asked Senor the other day what his favorite meal is. Or rather, what’s his favorite thing that I feed him. He thought about it for a long time and decided, it wasn’t really a question he could answer so simply. There were a lot of factors to consider. Is it summer or winter? Do I want a quick dinner that we can eat often? Or a special meal that takes hours of preparation? To sum up, he gave me a pretty long list. I take it as a good sign that he enjoys my cooking so much, however it does make it harder to surprise him with his ‘favorite dinner’ when I feel like being nice.

Luckily, I know him pretty well. I can tell you that for his birthday, we’ll definitely have steaks off the grill since it’s in August and grilled steaks and corn with salad and garlic bread is a perfect summer celebratory meal. I also know that anything he expresses delight in is on his ‘favorites’ list. The good news is, he’s pretty easy to please food-wise and I think I do a decent job of mixing up our dinner menu so that we never get tired of eating the same things over and over again. So in general, if I have a few of his favorite ingredients and I’m making something we haven’t had for at least two weeks, he’s probably going to be pretty psyched.

Last night I wanted to make him a nice dinner. He finished his semester and got better grades than he’d thought he would which is excellent. He also scrubbed the kitchen and the bathroom, did the laundry, bought bread and filled my gas tank…..all without me asking. Feel free to be jealous. 🙂 So a nice dinner was definitely in order.

Last night was also the start of my summer slow-pitch league which meant that it would have to be a quick and easy dinner that would require very little work on my part. Pasta is the easy, obvious choice here.

I took this recipe and tweaked it to make it faster and more savory. And I used Senor’s favorite pasta, Orzo. This dinner has five ingredients. 5. That is all. You don’t need anything else. Orzo, tomatoes, bacon, blue cheese and green onions. The end. So simple. So delicious. Senor devoured his bowl. How could it not it had some of his favorite things.

First, orzo. It’s pasta that looks like giant rice. It’s easy to cook and easy to spoon into your mouth. Perfect right? I love whole wheat orzo and eat it almost daily. One serving of 195 calories has 7 grams of fiber. And it doesn’t taste bad like most whole wheat pasta. Sadly we are out of the whole wheat variety so I used the regular kind. It’s still delicious, just less fiber-ific.


  Blue cheese. I went to SuperTarget last Saturday around 9:30 am. What I encountered was like a new dimension. At that hour, all of the shelves are full. And the clearance food is still hanging around. Yes. Clearance food. Like 2.5lb bags of blue cheese crumbles for $3.06. Target, to my knowledge, doesn’t usually sell 2.5lb bags of cheese. They leave that sort of thing to Costco. But there, wedged in the cheese display were giant bags of crumbled blue cheese. Originally $10, now $3. I did what any self-respecting food blogger would do. I bought two bags. We now have 5lbs of blue cheese.


The even better news? It’s from a farm in Wisconsin so it didn’t get shipped in from Peru. I’m just kidding. Cheese doesn’t come from Peru. It comes from China. Along with everything else. I digress.

Senor was pretty excited about the 5lbs of cheese and given his love of orzo, I realized our nice, speedy dinner was right in front of me. Orzo tossed with roasted tomatoes, bacon, blue cheese and green onion.


You just need one skillet and one sauce pan and about 15 minutes. Amazing right?

Bacon Blue Cheese Orzo
Serves 2

1 cup dry Orzo

4 slices bacon

1 cup blue cheese crumbles

4 green onion stalks, chopped

1 pint grape tomatoes

Fry your bacon over medium-high heat in a large skillet. At the same time, bring 1 cup of orzo to a boil and cook until soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Chop the bacon into small pieces.

Remove the cooked bacon to a paper-lined plate. Retain the bacon fat in your pan! Add the pint of tomatoes to the bacon fat.

Make sure to stir them occasionally and don’t be concerned if they start splitting and spitting in the hot pan. They’re supposed to do that.

Cook the tomatoes until the skin starts to wrinkle and there are spots of char appearing on their skins.

Add the orzo, tossing carefully. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks. You want the orzo to be coated in the bacon fat and tomato juices.

Once well-coated, turn off the heat. Add the blue cheese, green onions and bacon to your skillet and mix using a spatula. Make sure everything is well incorporated.

Serve immediately topped with a few extra crumbles of cheese and onion and, if you choose, some garlic bread.



Mascarpone Dill Pasta with Grilled Mahi Mahi and Lemon Asparagus

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Last night I whipped up a delicious dinner. I went on a bit of a cheese-making kick recently when I discovered that both ricotta and mascarpone are ridiculously easy to make and, um, I love cheese. Then, Foodbuzz announced a contest with a prize trip to Italy. Interesting. How could I possibly combine an excess of cheese with an original recipe for Italian food? So easily. So deliciously. Remember when I said the brisket tacos were the best thing I’d ever made? This pasta gives the tacos a run for their money.

The contest is to make a recipe for a meal that would use Barilla tortellini. I wanted to make something that would be yummy with both tortellini or spaghetti. Mostly because I had spaghetti on hand. Obviously I wanted to use some of my homemade cheeses as well. Of all cuisines, Italian is my favorite kind to improvise, create and perfect. We do a lot of Italian cooking and eating in my family which you’ve probably noticed with the homemade ravioli and the sheer quantity of pasta recipes on this blog already. In most cases, I would rather cook Italian at home and not go out for it. Then again, how many really outstanding Italian restaurants are there in Minnesota? There are a few. But not a ton. For cuisine that can be amazingly delicious and easy to throw together, I’m all about creating my own inventions. Until I get to Italy of course. Which will be happening one way or another. Then I’ll leave it to the professionals.

So. I had a fresh container of mascarpone cheese. I had spaghetti noodles and a filet of Mahi Mahi. What to do? Obviously, the answer was to combine these things into a tasty recipe. This recipe was definitely inspired by the traditional Italian combination of salmon in a mascarpone sauce. Although I did combine cheese and fish, I wanted to make it a little more unique. And, easily adaptable for any kind of noodle, including a yummy cheese-and-spinach filled tortellini.

In addition to mascarpone, I used plenty of lemon juice, fresh baby dill, Italian parsley, fresh garlic and shallots in the sauce. The result was a creamy sauce that was light and flavorful. The grilled mahi mahi had a milder flavor than salmon would have, so the flavors in the sauce were really able to stand out. Tossed together with sauteed crimini mushrooms and red onion, the whole dish was really delicious. Maybe almost addicting. Senor just mentioned, “If I saw that on a menu, I’d totally order it.” Excellent. My top critic approves. I definitely want to try this on tortellini sometime, I think the creamy, lemony sauce would compliment a cheese-stuffed pasta pretty well.

I topped off the pasta with a spoonful of fresh mascarpone and a few slices of fresh tomato. For a light, seasonal side dish, steamed asparagus with lemon was perfect. Something about spring and the approaching summer months makes me want to put lemons in everything. So light and crisp!

Mascarpone Dill Pasta with Mahi Mahi

6 oz. pasta noodles

1 cup mascarpone (feel free to buy the prepared kind!)

2 lemons

7 oz. Mahi Mahi (any white fish will work here too)

1 cup crimini mushrooms (or other mushrooms, button or portabella work well)

1/2 red onion

1 garlic bulb

1 shallot

fresh baby dill

fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

1 medium tomato

1 tablespoon olive oil

kosher salt, black pepper

I used my wok to create this dish. It really helped to be able to toss everything together quickly and easily.

Start by getting your pasta ready. Boil, drain, and set aside until you’re ready to mix it in.

While the pasta is boiling, prepare your fish filet. Place fish in a skillet or on a grill pan that’s been sprayed with olive oil to prevent sticking. Cook the fish on medium-high heat until cooked through. It should easily flake wtih a fork.

Prepare your veggies and herbs all at once. Roughly chop the mushrooms and red onion. Mince the shallots and garlic by using a hand chopper. (This will save you SO much time!)

Add the olive oil to your skillet or wok and heat on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the shallots and garlic, tossing to keep from burning or sticking. Once the garlic starts to brown lightly, add the onions and mushrooms and toss. Make sure to gently toss the mixture every 30 seconds or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of your pan.

Chop a few bunches of parsley and dill. Mix the chopped herbs into three-quarters of the mascarpone, saving the rest for topping.

Once the mushrooms and onions are heated through and starting to brown, add the sauce mixture to the pan, turning the heat to medium-low. Squeeze half of a lemon into the pan along with a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper and give a quick stir. Let the onions, mushrooms and sauce simmer on low while you ready the fish.

Place the fish on your cutting board and chop it into slightly larger than bite-sized pieces. Add the fish and your cooked pasta to the skillet. Toss gently to incorporate the sauce and vegetables. Place the cover on your skillet and let the mixture heat over the low flame for five minutes.

Once warmed through, serve immediately. Garnish with an extra spoonful of mascarpone, fresh sliced tomatoes and a pinch of Italian parsley. Serve with a side dish like steamed lemon asparagus or broccoli rabe.



Three Bean Orzo Spinach Salad

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OMG, I had such a busy weekend. I am thrilled to say, I cooked up a complete storm in my kitchen and I can’t wait to show you the millions of things I made. Senor and I kicked off the weekend with a trip to the American Girl store at the Mall of America. It was awesome as I’m sure you can imagine.

We had dinner at the mall at the Cadillac Ranch and I regret to say, it was not worth the $44 tab. I had a Cajun shrimp salad that was Cajun in no way at all. It didn’t taste bad, but it was pretty boring and weirdly warm. Like the produce had all been sitting out and then they microwaved the shrimp on high. I was also irked by the size of it. For a place the sells a 24oz. Prime Rib for $25, you’d expect a $15 salad to be giant right? Not so much. Come on guys, those mixed greens come pretty cheap. Toss some more in! There were plenty of shrimp, but the veggie base was sparse. Anyway, it definitely wasn’t a picture-worthy dinner although Senor said his burger and fries were fairly tasty.

PS does a 24 oz. slab of meat enrage anyone else? I mean, do we really have to wonder why we’re such an unhealthy nation? We have mall steakhouses selling a slab of meat that should serve eight people (eight!!!!) and aiming it towards one person. And since it is most certainly grain-fed beef, the saturated fat content is likely to be a week’s worth if not more. Grass-fed beef loin (for example) has about 2.5 grams of total fat per 3 oz. serving while grain-fed beef loin has 8.5 grams of fat per 3 oz. serving. Total fat content and saturated fat content take a big hit in grass-fed beef. Check out the stats here.  Then, find a farmer near you who raises pastured cattle, chickens, hogs, etc. I could go on and on about what volumes it speaks that a restaurant that had ‘oversized’ everything from the menu to the booths to the meat would offer slabs of meat big enough for eight people as a serving for one but would skimp on the mixed greens in a salad. I’ll let it go by simply saying, I was grossed out.

The past two weekends we’ve had some pretty nice weather, although we’ve had some storms and rain as well. Last weekend it was so warm and I desperately wanted to grill. We had every intention on doing it too until daylight ran out on us. It didn’t help that Senor was working until five, we had to run to the store and the gym AND that we were missing both our chimney starter and any charcoal. So the outdoor grilling plan got postponed. I had a sirloin and some salmon filets marinating when I whipped up this yummy, warm side dish though. I figured we’d get everything ready, get our coals going and voila, dinner would be ready. Luckily I was able to use my grill pan so we still managed to grill the steak and salmon but we did miss the smoky, delicious charcoal action.

This salad is perfect for pairing with grilled meat or fish and I was so excited about it when I made it, that I simply had to incorporate it into my brunch that day. Wouldn’t you do this if you could?? 



And then, this?

I did. It was amazing. Then again, if you had such insanely perfect eggs from Blue Gentian Farm, you’d want to eat them on top of everything too. And take 10,000 pictures of them.

With black beans, navy beans, green lentils and whole wheat orzo this salad is fiberific and super, super filling. And it pretty much works with everything from fish to steak to eggs. Delicious. You can even feed it sans egg or meat to the strictest of your vegan friends for a filling, nutritious meal.

Although the salmon wasn’t grilled over charcoal, it still topped the salad pretty well. 


You can used canned beans for this salad, simply rinse them well. I used beans that I had bought dry but had soaked and cooked them previously. I like to keep cooked beans in my freezer for any time I need them. They are cheaper, have no sodium and there’s no fear of BPA leaching into my food via a can liner. If you do use canned beans, I recommend the Eden Organics brand. They are tasty and delicious and they use a BPA-free can lining. 🙂 The measurements below are for cooked beans, but dry lentils and dry pasta.

Three Bean Orzo Spinach Salad
Makes 4 servings

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry whole wheat orzo pasta

1/2 cup dry green lentils

1 cup cooked black beans

1 cup cooked navy (white) beans

1 bag baby spinach

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste.

Prepare your lentils and orzo separately in two pots of boiling water. Bring each to a boil and let cook until tender. Both will take approximately 20 minutes. Once tender, drain well.

While your lentils and pasta are boiling, prepare your beans and spinach. If using canned beans, open and rinse thoroughly. Let them drain well in a colander. If using frozen beans, soak them in water for ten minutes to thaw. Then let them drain. Make sure to given them a gentle toss in the colander before adding to the skillet to remove any excess water.

Once your beans, lentils and pasta are all ready to go and well-drained, start up your skillet. Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet and heat on medium. Give the skillet a few turns to spread the oil. Once warm, add the full bag of baby spinach. 


Top with the orzo,

black and white beans,

and lentils.

Sprinkle a bit of Kosher salt and plenty of black pepper over the entire mixture.

Toss with a spatula or tongs. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the skillet so nothing sticks or gets over cooked. You want the salad to be warm, but not hot. 


Keep tossing the ingredients until they’re blended. Once warmed through, take a quick taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary and then serve up immediately. Top with eggs, salmon, steak, crusty bread, whatever you want. Or just eat it plain. It’s fairly delicious all on its own. 

Nutrition Info for 1 serving:
Total Calories: 413; Total Fat: 8.49g; Total Carbohydrate: 64.93g; Dietary Fiber: 21.81g; Sugars: 1.43g; Protein: 20.35g