Butternut Squash Pasta Bake

butternut squash pasta bake3

Oh, butternut squash – how I love you. As a kid I never was served butternut squash. While I became more adventurous the older I got, something about squash didn’t appeal to me (probably the texture – I hate mushy food). After hearing my dietetic friends rave about butternut squash this and butternut squash that, I figured I had to break down and give it a chance. How had I been missing out on this heavenly food for so long?!? I was in love instantly. Then I added sage to it and I was in heaven. Ever since I have been making squash dishes a regular occurrence in our house. Since I don’t like mushy foods, I usually use the squash as a sauce or a component of the meal, but don’t often eat it plain. Since I’ve fallen in love with squash, our garden is always full of winter squash and sage plants.

This dish is a simple way to throw together a delicious casserole. Using squash as the sauce cuts out the sodium and sugar often added to other pasta sauces. You don’t need to bake it in the oven unless you choose to put the cheese on to (and who doesn’t love cheese, right?).

butternut squash pasta bake2

Butternut Squash Pasta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried whole grain pasta (8 ounces), prepare
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups cooked butternut squash*, cubed
  • Milk (amount needed will vary)
  • 1/8 cup dried sage or 1/4 cup fresh sage, diced
  • 1 package frozen spinach (10 ounces), thawed
  • 1/4 cup pepitas or other seeds
  • 4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Saute the onion in olive oil. Add the vinegar and mix well. Continue to cook down to desired consistency. Set aside.
  3. In a food processor, place all of the squash. Pulse/process until desired consistency. Add milk to think the mixture if needed.
  4. Add the sage and pulse to mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add the spinach and pulse until combined. Add the onions and pulse until combined.
  6. Pour the sauce mixture over the pasta and mix well. Transfer to a the prepared dish.
  7. Top the dish with seeds and then shredded cheese.
  8. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

*Tip – preparing winter squash can be a pain. To save time, I dedicate 1 weekend day in the fall to prepare cups of squash. After they are cooked, I portion them into quart freezer bags, so they are ready to go when I need them. I usually portion 1/2 of the squash cubed and 1/2 of the squash already pureed or mashed up.

Sunday Food Prep

sunday food prep

Sundays are busy days at our house. J  cleans (could I be any luckier?!) while I cook up a storm in the kitchen. During rotations I just don’t have time to cook during the week. And if I do have time, I really don’t want to slave away in the kitchen after a 10-12 hour day. Here is an example of what we eat for the week:

Back Left – Salads

  • Fresh lettuce washed and chopped, ready to eat
  • Celery sticks, washed and trimmed
  • Cucumbers and Tomatoes, washed and diced, ready for salads

Front Left – snacks

Center - Breakfast and Lunch

  • Roasted mixed vegetables with wheat pasta and balsamic vinegar. Roasted veggies are so easy – just throw them in a large pan, toss with olive oil and spices, and roast at 425F for 30 minutes stirring every 10 minutes or so to prevent burning.
  • Egg Bakes - the easiest way to get a vegetable serving in before 7am

Back Right – Dinner

  • Crock pot chili, half for this week and for the freezer for a week when I don’t want to cook ;)

Front Right – Dessert

  • Black bean brownies, because pregnant women love chocolate and desserts…and since I’m a dietitian I will feel less guilty if I know they are full of nutritious black beans.

 

 

Black Bean and Corn Soup

2013-08-24 05.20.10

During the summer CSA we got a TON of sweet corn. I  mean a ton – 12 ears per week. That is way too much for 2 people to safely eat. My routine was to roast all 12 ears in the oven the night we got them. I would save the number of ears I thought we could eat in the week and then remove the corn from the others. By the end of the summer, despite eating corn like it was going out of style, we still ended up with 3 gallon freezer bags filled with corn.

When fall rolled around I decided it was time to start making a dent in the corn. Over the summer we also inherited a few gallons of tomatoes from my dad’s farm and a decent amount of hot peppers from our own garden (probably the only fruitful plants in our garden). What better to make with all of these items in the fall than soup! Pair that with a bag of dry black beans and you have a simple, nutritious, and filling meal.

2013-08-24 05.21.42

While you can use canned black beans (be sure to drain and rinse!), I chose to use dry beans since that is what I had on hand. It is best to prepare these separate and in advance. If you don’t, you run the risk of excessive gas in your soup (and subsequently in you). You can remove the gas by soaking them in water the night before you use them. You can then add these soaked beans to your soup directly. If you do this, they may be firmer than you are used to, so another option is to cook them fully before adding them to the soup. If you like to cook them in the crock pot before using them, here is a great resource. What I did was soak an entire bag overnight, cook them in the crockpot (per the link above), and then used only what I needed for the recipe. The rest I put in a freezer bag and stored in the freezer until I needed them again.

2013-08-24 06.23.04

Crock-pot Black Bean and Corn Soup

Ingredients
These are all estimates, as I don’t measure when I am putting things into the crock-pot for soup

  • 2 cups of corn (I used sweet corn but regular would do as well)
  • 6 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2-3 cups cooked/canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup diced hot pepper (less if you don’t like spice)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Additional options – ground beef/turkey, shredded chicken, shredded zucchini, diced green peppers

Directions

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in the slow cooker
  2. Add water to desired consistency (soupy vs stewy)
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.

C-Sections and Future Obesity Risk

A new study published last week found some interesting results – children born via c-section are 26% more likely to be overweight and 22% more likely to be obese.  Numerous media outlets reported on the story (here, here, and here). This is not a cause and effect relationship, so if you had a c-section PLEASE don’t worry that you have doomed your child to be overweight or obese. There are many factors that may be the cause of this and the authors even admit the link could be due to confounding variables.

While the rate of elective c-sections is up to almost 33% of all births, only 2.5% of these are because the mom requested a c-section. The others are due to medical factors or inpatient providers. One medical reason that jumps to mind immediately is a large baby. Many of the c-sections I assisted with on my rotation were because the baby wouldn’t fit. Big babies have been shown to have an increased risk of childhood overweight and obesity. For some reason the researchers did not control for birth weight.

I don’t plan to start scaring my patients by telling them that if they have a c-section their child will be overweight or obese. I honestly think that the findings we are seeing are more closely linked to other variables. The birthing process provides many benefits to mom and baby and it is difficult to know what role is plays in future obesity risk.

Crock Pot Chicken Masala

Back in 2007 I spent a month in India for a “HIV/AIDS and public health challenges” volunteer experience. It was absolutely amazing. We were completely immersed in the culture, which scared the crap out of me at first. I flew alone – for the first time alone and the first time ever on a plane for more than 3 hours. It was a 26 hour non-stop flight. I arrived at the Delhi airport, surrounded by a language I had never heard before (Hindi). My ride was no where to be found and I had no idea how to figure out how to contact him/her. Thankfully a half hour later I found them. And they didn’t speak English. They were employees of the NGO that my non-profit was affiliated with. They weren’t dressed very nice, but were nice to me. I couldn’t help but feel a little skeptical about the situation. Before we left the airport I tried to call my parents and J to let them know I arrived safely. My phone disconnected me 3 times and they were, of course, worried something happened to me. Thankfully it stayed connected long enough to hear I was OK and that they should call J to tell him I was safe. I then went with the two Indian men I had just met to an old van. Yes, one of those creepy vans without side windows. They loaded my luggage up for me and I sat alone in the backseat without a seat belt (because they don’t use those in India). I was honestly so scared that I might not make it through the night, but I knew I had to trust that everything would be fine. The ride was an experience I will never forget. It was my first glimpse into the chaos of Delhi driving. When we were at stop lights, children and women begged at our car (just like you may have seen on Slumdog Millionaire). I had never seen anything like this. We finally drove down a dark ally, my heart racing, and arrived at my hostel. The hostel keeper didn’t speak English, of course, and my two other travel partners hadn’t arrived yet, of course. The women at the hostel were very nice and helped me get settled into the room we (the 3 girls) would share. I was so scared and had no idea what was going to happen next. After I fell asleep there was a loud pounding at the door – it was my travel partners (but my mind went to the worst possible scenario, of course).

Taj

After that moment the trip improved greatly. One of the girls spoke Hindi, which made all the difference. Our experience was amazing. We were immersed into India. Working and living in conditions similar to those of the lower-middle class of India (which would be poor in the US). We worked with homeless children, men dying of HIV/AIDS who were disowned from their families, young boys who were already addicted to drugs, amputees who lost limbs from drug use, women who had been abused, and so many more amazing people. This was an experience I will never forget. I went from being scared to death of a country to not wanting to leave. I still hope to go back someday and experience India all over again.

loving her new glasses

A woman in Old Delhi who just was fitted for these new glasses

teaching English in the village

Teaching English in a Village

india-child in slums

A young boy in the slums of old Delhi

nutrition classes for eye healt

Nutrition classes in the slums of Old Delhi for eye health

 

During our time there we ate a lot of traditional Indian food. We usually ate whatever was prepared for the people we were serving, so there was tons of dal with rice and nann. We often ate with our hands. The food was absolutely delicious. I ate the best mango I have ever had in my life  - so ripe I could peel it with my hands. I fell in love with paneer and kheer (and probably put on a few pound because of it). Occasionally we’d venture out and eat at a local restaurant, which was always amazing. I only made the mistake of getting something too spicy once the entire month, was a pretty good success. 

thewhole group

Since being home, I have tried to make Indian dishes occasionally. The cumin, chai, cinnamon, and masala spices bring back memories instantly. A friend of mine made us Chicken Tikka Masala when I stayed with her in Madison a few months ago. It was so easy and SO delicious. I made this for J a few weeks ago and he loved it too. I served it with the very Indian side dish of green beans, haha, but it needed a vegetable! If I were doing it again I would add raisins to give it a touch of sweetness.

chicken masala

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
(unfortunately I don’t know the source of this recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 24-oz chicken breast or thighs (1.5 pounds)
  • 1/2 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup basmati or long-grain rice
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (or plain non-fat yogurt if you want a non-fat option)

Directions

  1. In a 4 or 6qt slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, and masala. Place the chicken on top, cover, and cook on low for 7-8 hours (or high for 3-4 hours).
  2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Prepare the rice before serving.
  4. Just before serving, stir the cream into the masala. Serve over rice with cucumber relish.

Black Bean Brownies to Die For

blackbean brownies

These owey-gooey brownies are possibly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. They are rich, fudgey, and moist. And what is even better – they are made with black beans so you can actually say they are healthy. I don’ think it gets any better than this (and I swear this isn’t only coming from a pregnant woman!). J took them to work and didn’t tell anyone that they were made with black beans. they were gone in an hour and everyone was raving about them all day. The people he works at aren’t your typical “health nuts” and would probably haven’t given them a shot if they knew they contained black beans. Let’s just say their lunches occasionally consist of a bag of doritos, little Debbie snack, and a mountain dew. You get the idea.

If you have dietary restrictions, these may be the recipe you’ve been waiting for. They are gluten-free dairy-free, egg-free, and vegan. Usually when I see that list I run and hide and think there is absolutely NO WAY they could taste like a real brownie – but they do!

Black Bean Brownies
Recipe slightly modified from Chocolate Covered Kate

blackbean brownies2

Ingredients

  • 1 15-oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
    (be sure they are gluten-free if you need)
  • 1/2 cup honey
    (use maple syrup or agave if you are vegan)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup add-is: chocolate chips, caramel pieces, nuts, etc… whatever you are in the mood for.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9″ x 9″ pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Combine all the ingredients except the add-ins into a food processor and blend until completely smooth (about 2 minutes).
  3. Stir in the other add-ins. Pour into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes*. Let cool completely. Enjoy!

*the original recipe says only 15-18 minutes. I did 18 minutes but the toothpick was still coming out with moist batter. I thought maybe it had to cool and would firm up, but after 20 minutes of cooling they were still the consistency of under-cooked cookies. I put them back in for 5 or 10 more minutes (I can’t remember….sorry!) and then they firmed up perfectly. I think the difference is when you use oil vs coconut oil. The coconut oil is solid at room temp and makes items more dense. If you choose to use coconut oil, then you can expect them to finish closer to 15 minutes, where canola oil users can expect them to finish closer to 25 minutes.

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

Brussels Sprouts. To think I went 26 years of my life without them. Thankfully I sucked it up and roasted a pan of them 2 years ago…and then subsequently ate the entire pan in 2 days. These are one of my favorite winter vegetables. Roasted them in a no-fail way to win over non-believers. A friend of mine mentioned a shredded raw brussels sprout salad she made and it got me thinking that it was time to venture out. I wasn’t quite ready for raw sprouts, but shredded I could do. Then I found this delicious looking warm Brussels sprout salad over at a Beautiful Mess and I was sold. I made a few changes for what I had on hand and my personal taste. This recipe ends up being the best of winter with a touch of summer with the hint of lemon.

warm sprout salad

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad
Recipe from A Beautiful Mess

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts
  • 2/3 cup craisins
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt + pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Shred the Brussels Sprouts in a food processor. I chopped them, but think it would have been better if I had used the shredding function because the pieces were all different sizes.
  2. Heat 1tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sprouts and toss with oil. Cook until bright green. Add craisins and cook for a few more minutes to warm them.
  3. Clean the food processor and then add the  mayo, garlic, and lemon juice. Pulse until well combined. Leave the processor running and add 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper for your personal taste.
  4. Pour the dressing over the hot mixture. Coat well.
  5. Serve warm and enjoy!

Tangled Twigs and Twine

100_1711

In the midst of the craziness called life, I have taken up a new hobby. I should probably be studying to figure out how to save people’s lives, but instead, I am crafting. I guess even doctors need to take breaks once and a while.

100_1704

For Christmas I made wire wrapped necklaces for a number of my friends any family. I was surprised how impressed they were with my “skills” and was told by a few I should consider selling them. I had a free weekend, brainstormed my plan, and decided to give it a try. And with that, Tangled Twigs and Twine was born.

100_1692

The necklaces are all handmade by me – not someone I pay or someone overseas.

They are bird nests of beads wrapped in wire.

chain (2)

They come with 3 different size beads, with the final product measuring just under 1″ to about 1 1/4.”

They are sold with or without an 18″ 1mm chain.

100_1687

My most favorite part of all is the packaging. The paper mache box is hand stamped with the cutest birds on a twig. The box is filled with “nest” material for the necklace to rest on. I hope you love them as much as I do. Please head over to my shop and take a look!

First Trimester Has Come and Gone

Last Thursday I wrapped up my first trimester and entered week 14 of pregnancy. Despite the less than pleasant effects of pregnancy, time has been flying by. Thankfully the last two days I’ve been feeling much better, with only an hour of nausea here and there. I think things are starting to look up :) Here are some pictures of my progress:

(I decided I don’t need my belly floating around the internet, so I removed my “starting point” picture. Maybe I’ll have a before and after comparison next fall/winter)

week 8 (3)

Week 8

week 8 (1)

Week 8

week 10 (4)

Week 10

week 10 (5)

Week 10

week 12 (1)

Week 12

week 13 (4)

Week 13

week 14 (1)

Week 14

week 14 (5)

Week 14

Peanut Butter Bean Bars

The second I saw these blondies I had to make them. Then I reminded myself that all thing in moderation and I decided to wait a few weeks. Well worth the wait. These dense, delicious treats taste nothing like beans and completely like peanut butter cookies. This is the perfect way to sneak in extra fiber and nutrition while also cutting out unnecessary starch. You’re family will never guess these are grain-free.

peanutbutterbeanbars3

Delicious Peanut Butter Bean Bars
Adapted from Ambitious Kitchen’s Flour-less Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies

Ingredients

  • 1 (15oz) can garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 ts baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup chopped nuts*
    the original recipe called for chocolate chips but I wanted something less sweet. You can use anything here, or omit this all together. 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a small square baking pan (8″ x 8″) with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, chop the nuts if they are not yet chopped. Remove and set aside.
  3. Spray the food processor with cooking spray (lightly). Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process on high  until the batter is smooth (this took about 5 minutes).
  4. Add nuts and fold in with a spatula.
  5. Spread mixture into the baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and pull from the sides.
  6. Cool in the pan completely. Cut into 12 squares. Enjoy!

Note: if you want to make edible cookie dough or cookie dough dip, stop after step 4. The dough is completely safe to eat at this point. Perfect for pregnant moms-to-be who miss their raw cookie dough :)