The Health Craze

Recently, Paige and I decided to make a renewed commitment to healthy living. I know that this sounds like another tired story beginning with a New Years resolution and a pricey gym membership, and ending with a healthy dose of reality and humility. Well, fear not reader! For of those four items, our story boasts only a healthy dose of reality.

Our health craze, which has developed into more of a lifestyle rather than a craze, was based on the firm reality that fitness goals need to be longterm and diet is a large part of achieving those goals. That said, our lack of posts over the last several months hasn’t been due to a lack of activity in the kitchen. Far from it, we’ve been continually tinkering with a number of tasty and healthy recipes we’ve found. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be posting some of the results of that tinkering in the hopes that all of you can try out some of our favorite foods for yourselves.  To whet your appetites for the recipes to come, take a look at some of the really great recipes that we found when we started our commitment to healthy eating.

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes – I can’t say enough good things about these pancakes that come courtesy of bodybuilding.com. They are super easy to make, and they taste great. I had a tough time finding Oat Flour (called for in the recipe) at my local grocery store, so we used whole wheat flour instead. The sugar substitute we used is Stevia. It’s an all natural sweetener that is gaining in popularity, so you can find them with relative ease. What’s also great now is that you can get these all natural sugar substitutes in a form that works as a cup for cup substitution for sugar. Sweeteners like this usually have their own ‘not quite sugar’ flavor, but you can’t taste it at all in this particular recipe. When we make these, we add about a 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and about a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Also from bodybuilding.com are these Turkey Meatloaf Muffins. I’m a huge fan of meatloaf. Paige doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the delicacy, so I won’t spend too much time on it here. If you’re into meatloaf, these are super quick and easy to make. But be warned! You’ll need some a potent breath freshener after downing two or three of these bad boys.

Chicken Sausage Stir Fry – Paige made this one night on a whim, and I was instantly hooked. This is a great basic recipe, and there are so many great ways to tweak it. The only thing we routinely change however, is the type of chicken sausage. We generally go for the chicken sausage that has the lowest calorie, sodium, and fat count. It typically ends up being a different brand than is mentioned in this recipe. This comes from the Self.com blog Cook Like Me, which is a sub-blog of Eat Like Me. Definitely worth the time to check these out.


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Butternut Squash Lasagna

I had some extra time today, so I decided to make Butternut Squash Lasagna. Although originally a Cooking Light recipe, I discovered it through Eat Like Me, a Self.com blog that I read regularly. She likes to make a lot of healthy items, so I love to see what she’s whipping up each day! She did not disappoint with this one, as this is a wonderful recipe. It’s so tasty and filling, you wouldn’t even guess that it’s vegetarian. I will warn you however that like most lasagnas, this dish takes a long time to make. I recommend two sets of hands if possible (next time I’ll try to plan for Ben and I to make this one together!).

-Paige

Ease of Preparation: Medium (time consuming)

INGREDIENTS

Smoky Marinara Sauce

Makes 6 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, basil, parsley, and oregano; sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Notes from Paige: I could only find diced fire-roasted tomatoes at the store, so I used these in lieu of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes. The sauce ended up having a chunky texture which we really liked. Just drain some of the juice out of the diced tomatoes before adding to the pot.

INGREDIENTS

Lasagna

Makes 12 servings (i.e. LOTS of leftovers at our house this week!)

  • Cooking spray
  • 3 cups chopped onion
  • 10 cup fresh spinach
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded sharp provolone cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) carton part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 (15-ounce) carton fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups diced peeled butternut squash
  • 6 cups Smoky Marinara sauce
  • 12 oven-ready lasagna noodles (Of course if you forget to buy oven-ready noodles like I did, the regular kind work just fine. Just add the extra step of boiling noodles as directed).
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat a large Dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add spinach; sauté 1 1/2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Combine provolone, parsley, salt, pepper, eggs, and ricotta cheeses in a large bowl.

Place squash in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and cook on high 5 minutes or until tender.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 (8-inch-square) baking dishes with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup Smoky Marinara in the bottom of one prepared dish. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup cheese mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/2 cups squash over cheese mixture; spread 3/4 cup sauce over squash.

Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup cheese mixture over the noodles. Arrange 1 1/2 cups onion mixture over cheese mixture; spread 3/4 cup sauce over spinach mixture.

Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup Smoky Marinara evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients in remaining pan. Cover each pan with foil.

Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.

If you would like to freeze: To freeze unbaked lasagna: Prepare through Step 6. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing to remove as much air as possible. Wrap with heavy-duty foil. Store in freezer for up to 2 months.

To prepare frozen unbaked lasagna: Thaw completely in refrigerator (about 24 hours). Preheat oven to 375º. Remove foil; reserve foil. Remove plastic wrap; discard wrap. Cover lasagna with reserved foil; bake at 375º for 1 hour. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until bubbly.


Notes from Paige: This recipe made me realize that our next kitchen purchase will be a chopper! Dicing butternut squash is hard to say the least. If you do not have a chopper, food processer, etc., make sure you have a very sharp knife. Also, we do not have 8×8 inch dishes, so I used a 9×13 and 6×9 dish and divvied up the ingredients accordingly. If you need to use different sized dishes, I recommend boiling a few more noodles than called for in the recipe. Next time, I will probably use 14-15 noodles.

Spaghetti Pie

I originally saw the basic variation of this recipe watching a cooking show when I was in college. The thing that makes this recipe great is not just that it is delicious, or that it is fun and easy to make. It is that the variations possible for this recipe seem endless. We’ve found that this works better with long round noodles like spaghetti or angel hair. Shorter or flatter pastas don’t seem to hold together as well after cooking. As for the other ingredients, it’s mostly dependent on personal taste. The list below is comprised of our favorite options, but don’t be afraid to get creative.

Ease of Preparation: Easy

Before Serving
Ready to Eat!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Box Spaghetti (or Angel Hair) Pasta
  • 1 Jar Favorite Spaghetti Sauce
  • Meat (We prefer Trader Joe’s Pollo Asada Chicken, but we’ve made it with Chicken Sausage, Ground Turkey, and without meat at all)
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 1 Can (12 ounces) Artichoke Hearts
  • 1 Small Can Black Olives
  • 2 Handfuls Mushrooms
  • 5-6 Cherry Tomatoes – Halved
  • Mozzarella Cheese – Cubed (We prefer the Trader Joe’s Braided Mozzarella that’s marinated in olive oil and spices)
  • Mozzarella Cheese – Shredded
  • Parmesan Cheese – Shredded
  • Dried Basil
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Move the oven rack to the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Start boiling the pasta in a pot of water with a little salt and olive oil. While the pasta is boiling chop the vegetables (excluding the cherry tomatoes), mozzerella, and meat into bite size pieces. Cook the meat. When the pasta is slightly undercooked (al-dente), strain it in a collander. Pour a small amount (about 1/2 a cup) of spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a large (9×13) casserolle dish. Then combine the pasta, vegetables (not including the cherry tomatoes), meat, cubed mozzerella, and remaining spaghetti sauce in the casserolle dish. Mix well so that the contents are distributed throught the pasta. Smooth the top of the pasta and place the cherry tomato halves on top. Cover the entire dish with shredded mozzerella and then with shredded parmesan cheese. Lightly sprinkle the top with the dried basil. Put the dish on top of a baking sheet to prevent spillage, and bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes – or until cheese on top is thoroughly melted. Turn on the broiler for 3-5 minutes in order to slightly brown the cheese on top. Make sure you keep an eye on the pie while it is under the broiler, because the cheese will brown very quickly. Remove the Spaghetti Pie from the oven and let it cool for five minutes before slicing and serving.