My Favorite Season

Fall is my favorite season – for so many reasons. I love the brisk, cooler temperatures. The weather is usually perfect for running outside and for sleeping with your windows open at night. Of course, there is the food. I love pumpkin, apples, squash and comfort food in general. During the summer I tend to cook less – and by the time fall rolls around I’m itching to get back into the kitchen and end up cooking up a storm.

Recently I’ve been cooking some pretty amazing meals. I’ve mentioned the spaghetti squash au gratin in the previous post – that recipe is definitely a keeper. The same weekend I made a pumpkin whole wheat pasta bake recipe adapted from Skinny Taste (for her recipe, click here). The end result was amazing – a perfect dinner for a cooler night.

I ate my pumpkin pasta with slices of grilled chicken and steamed broccoli to accomplish a more balanced meal. It was all delicious!

Another night I made zucchini boats. This recipe is one that I have been wanting to make all summer – because zucchini is much more of a summer food. But due to family circumstances I was not able to cook much this summer. But trust me – you need to make these zucchini boats the next time you can get fresh zucchini – maybe if you are lucky there are still some in your local markets!

I love these zucchini boats stuffed with peppers, garlic, onions and chicken sausage. I will probably be making them any time I can find zucchini. But normally, when October rolls around I am thrilled to see Spaghetti Squash in the stores – and I’m very willing to switch from zoodles (zucchini like noodles that take the place of spaghetti for me in the summer) to spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta.

[spaghetti squash garnished with fresh parsley]

Last night after work I went to the grocery store with a list in hand. I knew exactly what I was going to make because it had been a chilly 26 degrees when I woke up Monday morning. Chicken Curry was sounding so good! I got home and quickly started chopping two onions, toasting cinnamon sticks in butter, and in no time a pretty amazing dinner was under way. The final product was really quite something (and I was indebted to my rice cooker for at least making that process painless while I was making everything else!)

[Chicken Curry with plain greek yogurt and almonds on top of a bed jasmine rice. A side of garlic naan and steamed broccoli.]

I love picking out pumpkins before Halloween and putting them around the house. I love carving pumpkins the afternoon of Halloween and putting them out for the trick or treaters to see when they come up to the house asking for candy!

I’ve been stocking up on Libby’s canned pumpkin because I have read a few articles saying that by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, it might be hard to find canned pumpkin in the stores….

I love when you get home and happen to catch a beautiful tree right at the golden hour – when the sun is hitting the leaves and just making it look completely amazing. It’s all about taking these moments in!

These are just some of the reasons I love autumn. Oh – and I’ve been know to enjoy a Pumpkin Spice Latte from time to time, too!

Hi there blog readers. I’ve been away from the blog for quite some time. Today when I started thinking about writing a blog entry, I had to stop and think about which which blog software to open and where to find it on my computer! I hated being away for so long.

Tonight I came up with a new recipe – Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin. It is storming outside and has been for the last couple of days. It is about fifty degrees and it finally feels like fall. I definitely needed some comfort food tonight.

I have to give the credit to my mom – she had scribbled a few notes in a notebook about this recipe idea. She was going through the notebook and said, “here look at this.” The second I read it I knew we could make this for dinner. I was especially excited because it was something that actually sounded good to me – which had not happened in days!

I already had a spaghetti squash in the kitchen. I was having a heck of a time trying to get it cut open – when suddenly I remembered a trick I learned from a friend. I got out my meat tenderizer and started gently knocking it onto my chef’s knife. This worked like a charm!

For the spaghetti squash, I seasoned it with freshly ground pepper and a little bit of sea salt. I placed it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper – cut side facing up. The squash baked in the 400 degree oven for 50 minutes.

While this was happening I cut up a small onion, two cloves of garlic and half of a red pepper. I put one tablespoon of butter in a medium sized pan and sautéed the onion, garlic and red pepper until the onion was starting to brown.

The rest of the au gratin came together when I mixed the spaghetti squash with half a cup of light sour cream and a fourth cup of reduced fat shredded cheese. After that was mixed together, I added the ingredients from the sauté pan and put everything into a medium sized baking dish:

And then topped the mixture with another helping of shredded cheese and then a sprinkle of panko breadcrumbs. I baked this in the oven at 375 for twenty minutes. When I took it out it was bubbling and browning perfectly!

I used small plates to serve up the gratin, and it was a really great and warm dinner on this cold and stormy night. It’s a great dinner for vegetarians and would be a great side dish for people that are meat eaters!

My final product:

Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin

1 spagetti squash

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 red pepper, chopped

2 cloves of garlic

1 – 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 C sour cream

1/2 C shredded cheese

1/4 C Breadcrumbs

Cut spaghetti squash in half, scoop out seeds. Place on a lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Cook in oven at 400 degrees for 50 min – 1 hour. (You can also use a microwave technique if you’d like to speed up the process)

While the squash bakes, put butter in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat. Once butter has melted add onion, pepper and garlic. Add red pepper flakes and thyme. Sauté mixture until onion is starting to brown. 6 – 8 minutes. Stir on a regular basis as not to burn the garlic.

Once the spaghetti squash has cooked, let it cool for a few minutes and then scoop out the membrane into a medium sized bowl. Mix in half of the shredded cheese, the 1/2 C of sour cream and the onion, garlic & red pepper mixture.

Put the combined mixture into a buttered baking dish (I used Trader Joe’s olive oil spray) Top the mixture with remaining shredded cheese and breadcrumbs. Place baking dish into oven, bake at 375 for 15 – 20 minutes until bubbling and starting to brown.

Grill Pan

Sometimes all you need for a great dinner are a few simple things – and one of those things in my book, is a grill pan!

I also had some great, fresh ingredients to work with – and that always helps. I had a chicken breast, a yellow pepper, a vidalia onion and fresh tomatoes.

The chicken had been cut into strips marinating in balsamic vinegar and spices for a few hours. I sliced up the onion and pepper. I heated my grill pan up. Once it was hot, I sprayed it with coconut oil spray (just like last night!) and added the chicken.

I let the chicken cook for about two minutes and then flipped it. Once it was cooked through, I put it on a platter:

While the pan was still hot, I added the onions and peppers.

I added some of Trader Joe’s 21 Season Salute (I really love this stuff when you just want to add some flavor and it can kind of be whatever you want – it went far with these vegetables!) After the veggies had been cooking for several minutes (every so often I’m shaking the pan up, stirring up the vegetables so they are cooking relatively evenly on each side) I added a splash of reduced sodium soy sauce. A little soy sauce also goes SO FAR in adding just a little seasoning.

As all of this was going on, I was washing and chopping cherry tomatoes, putting them into a bowl and adding balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper. That was how simple our tomato salad was.

I cut up a few pieces of a small French baguette and put them into our toaster oven. I also put the remaining couscous on our dinner plates (because why waste it – for the record I normally do not serve TWO carbs with a meal)

I added the chicken back into the pan with the vegetables just to heat the protein back up. All of this came together in about twenty minutes! It was delicious and so flavorful.

A dinner like this definitely made me like chicken again – what a relief. I love that you can make such a simple dinner with just a few fresh ingredients and a great kitchen tool like a grill pan. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend getting one. You will enjoy it!

Grilled Salmon Dinner

When I got home tonight I had no idea what I was going to do for dinner. Thankfully I came home to a salmon fillet, fresh tomatoes and I knew I had the makings for a great dinner!

I got out my grill pan and started prepping. I sprayed my grill pan with coconut oil spray and let the pan heat up. I seasoned the salmon with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. As the pan was heating up I also washed, patted dry and chopped up my fresh parsley.

Once the grill pan was hot, I put the salmon in, skin side down. I let it cook like that for a good five minutes (maybe a minute longer!) I tested the fillet with my spatula to make sure the skin was not sticking to the pan. Thankfully I was in the clear – I just love coconut oil spray, it does wonders. Of course it helps that my grill pan is non-stick.

I flipped the salmon and cooked it for five minutes flesh side down. Once I put it back on the skin side, I was so happy to see the nice grill marks I had on the salmon!

While the salmon was cooking I boiled my water for my couscous. I chopped up my colorful tomatoes, put them in a bowl seasoned them with freshly ground pepper and a small pinch of kosher salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar. This is so simple and the best seasoning!! All of these fixings made for such an amazing summer time dinner. The last touch was zesting the half of a lemon I had and squeezing the juice out into a small bowl. I mixed the lemon zest and juice together – the perfect topping for our salmon.

I topped the salmon with the lemon mixture. I put fresh parsley on everything on my plate. I just love fresh parsley!

Here is the finished product – I highly recommend it. It was such a quick meal and it was so fresh and delicious!

Happy cooking, everyone!

Rosemary Brick Chicken

A week ago I had an overwhelming craving to make something I had never tried before – brick chicken. One of my favorite restaurants used to have a lavender brick chicken on their menu and I loved it. It was full of flavor, the chicken always had an amazingly crisp skin and the whole meal was just wonderful.

I had always wanted to try brick chicken and recently I have been so sick of eating plain old chicken breast. Ugh. For a while I felt like I couldn’t take another bite of chicken for a couple of weeks.

After work I swung by Home Depot to pick up a couple of new bricks! I figured if you’re going to cook with bricks – it’s definitely worth it to pick up a new one. (I bought two for 55 cents a piece! It is about the cheapest cooking equipment I have ever bought in my life.

I also popped into the market to pick up some chicken thighs on the bone (with skin

of course). When I got home with my bricks and chicken I got to work. I wrapped my new bricks in aluminum foil:

I took the chicken out, salted it and placed it on a plate. I pushed rosemary sprigs into the chicken skin (side note: I have a rosemary plant growing now – so I’m saving a lot of money on rosemary!)

I put the chicken back in the refrigerator for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes was up, I started to heat some olive oil in my pan. I took the chicken thighs out, dried them with a paper towel (chicken won’t crips up if you put it in your pan wet – and no one wants to eat non-crispy chicken.)

Once the oil was hot, I gently placed the chicken thighs in the pan – skin side down. I put the bricks on top of the chicken to flatten them out. After ten minutes I checked the chicken, to make sure the pieces was browning and prayed that they weren’t sticking to the pan. It was definitely a little touch and go – but that is why you have to practice making brick chicken (so you can get a technique down to not let your chicken stick to the bottom of your pan). It was coming together nicely – after fifteen minutes I flipped the chicken thighs:

I cooked everything for about ten more minutes. After the chicken thighs were done cooking, I took them out of the pan, transferred all of the liquid to a sauce pan and started making my au jus. I heated the liquid up (which is olive oil and chicken juices) added half a cup of white wine, and the juice of a lemon. I added salt and pepper. I continued to heat the au jus to reduce it just a bit, stirring it frequently. After about five minutes I was happy with the consistency – I poured it into a small bowl and served it on the side of the chicken.

I made a quick salad of greens and fresh vegetables to go with the chicken. If I had thought of it I would have cooked up some polenta to go with this dinner too – next time! The final product was really wonderful – but I think next time I might do chicken breast instead of thighs. I can’t wait to make this again!

If you are getting sick of eating plain old chicken breast at dinner, too – take my word for it. Give this method of cooking a try. It really develops flavor and having the au jus on the side is just the best treat ever! Well worth it and it is pretty simple to make.

A perfect week night dinner!

What’s For Dinner!?

Hi there blog readers – sorry it has been a while. Don’t worry – the Cookbook Project will continue soon. But for right now things are a little hard. Bare with me!

Tonight I got home from being with Grandma a little after 7 o’clock. I was tired – but I decided I needed to dedicate a little bit of time to figuring out what Mom and I could eat for dinner the next couple of days.

I had a beautiful bunch of basil that I picked up at the local farmers market on Saturday. This whole bunch of basil was only $3! I thought it was the best bargain of the day.

The one thing on my cooking agenda for the weekend was to make pesto with this great basil. So on Sunday night I got to work. I toasted two tablespoons of pine nuts, I washed my basil, I smashed four cloves of garlic and the pesto was underway in no time.

Before coming home, I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up two chicken sausages and a bunch of kale – I had an idea in my head of what to do along with the pesto.

A new dinner came together in my head – orecchiette with chicken sausage, grape tomatoes, kale and pesto.

While I started the pesto, I put a pot on the stove to boil my pasta water, I cut my grape tomatoes, I rinsed and cut the kale.

The lemon juice that I put into the pesto really helped it turn a bright green. It did not taste complete until the lemon juice was processed into the rest of the mix.

I heated some olive oil in the pan, cut open the sausage casings. Once the oil was hot, I added the chicken sausage and started to break up the meat and browned it. Once the sausage was cooked (mostly) through, I added the tomatoes, kale and a little of the pasta water (a couple of tablespoons) to give the mixture a little liquid. I loved how bright the kale was as it cooked!

I actually did not add any seasoning to this dish as it was cooking away – because I had salted the pasta water, the pesto had salt in it and the sausage was hot and spicy! Once everything had cooked down (a few minutes) I added the pasta into the mix. Then I put two tablespoons of the pesto into the pan.

I was definitely keeping this meal on hand for quick, go to dinner this week. But I figured I had to have a couple of bites to make sure it had good flavors. I grabbed one of our small bowls (can you even tell this is a small bowl by the photo!?) and added a little bit of everything into it. I topped it with some pesto and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The recipe was a success – the only thing I would have done was add more kale (i’ll cook more up tomorrow) and I would have added more than the one cup of grape tomatoes – but that was all I had on hand. The flavors worked really well together! It was definitely hard not to have a cup of this stuff! I can’t wait to have this for dinner tomorrow.

And with that, I’m signing off to organize and get myself ready for a long week ahead.

As I was running out the door this morning (at 5:55 AM in case you were wondering) I was thinking about the Cookbook Project. I grabbed one of my favorite cookbooks, hoping I could find a good recipe to make tonight. One of my favorite cookbooks is Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way. If you don’t have it – check it out, you might love it as much as I do!

During lunch I looked through the book to find a good recipe to make for tonight. I had originally thought Supreme of chicken with balsamic vinegar and shallot sauce… But for most of the day it was a bone chilling 48 degrees. (Yes, seriously. I was wearing my Patagonia vest all day in the office and at home. The second I got home the first thing I did was change into my fleece pants. FLEECE PANTS on June 2!!)

Because of the wintery weather, I opted to go for Jacques’s Instant Vegetable Soup. I just love this soup. I always change up the vegetables, but today I stuck with the recipe.

I used zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, onion, baby kale, and scallions in the soup today. I shredded the first four ingredients and roughly chopped the kale, and cut the scallions into thin pieces. I used five cups of water and one cup of chicken broth. As I was preparing the vegetables, I heated up the liquid on the stove. Soon enough everything was coming together. I added a little less than a teaspoon of salt, and a good amount of freshly ground pepper. I also grated up one clove of garlic and added it to the soup.

I added the onion and carrot to the broth first, since these vegetables can always cook a little longer. Next I added the kale (kale is a hearty vegetable that can stand up well to the heat). Then the mushrooms and finally the zucchini and scallions.

I tasted the soup as things were cooking along. I was immediately a little nervous. there didn’t seem to be much flavor developing. I was a little confused – and I was definitely hoping that this soup was not going to turn into a complete disaster.

On another burner I was boiling water so that I could cook a small pasta to add to the soup. In the soup pot I stirred in two tablespoons of instant grits. (I could have used three like the recipe called for – but I figured since I was adding pasta, I could do with a little less.)

I am not quite sure what happened to the soup. But somehow – it all came together and when I put the finishing touches on it, I could not get enough!! I went back for another small helping of the soup. Is it the Gruyere cheese that pulls everything together? Is it just that the flavors needed to come together for a few more minutes?! Whatever it was – it certainly worked.

I was so thrilled to be eating this soup on such a cold night. It really hit the spot.

There are many things I love about this recipe. You can make it with many different types of vegetables – basically you can use anything that you have on hand. The preparation of the vegetables is so easy and quick – who doesn’t love getting their grater out after a long day!? I had fun grating the vegetables – and even rough chopping my kale. I did all of these steps while I was waiting for the stock to come to a boil. Another wonderful thing about this recipe is that it comes together so quickly once you have everything on the stove. It is also such a cost effective recipe. The most expensive thing I bought for the recipe was the Gruyere cheese which was $7.50 – the rest of the ingredients came to maybe 6 dollars. Not bad for such a delicious meal – and I will be able to use a lot of the left over ingredients in other meals this week. One note – if you garnish this soup with parsley, it brings it to a whole other level. I highly recommend it! I served this soup with a glass of red wine and a chunk of hearty sour dough bread. A perfect meal, if you ask me.

That wraps up the second official installment of The Cookbook Project. Happy cooking, everyone!


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