Quinoa + Veggie Casserole

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!  I hope your weekend was filled with tons of love and affection.  And, if it was anything like our weekend, filled with food.  TJ and I never celebrate Valentine’s in the most traditional of ways. We always celebrate a day or two (sometimes a week) before or ahead (who needs to fight all those crowds?!).  We have opted for cheap, delicious meals in lieu of fancy shmancy overpriced restaurants.  We have gone to Disneyland instead of doing anything too romantic.  We’ve even done a scavenger hunt race.  Now, that we have Olivia, we wanted to continue our non-traditional celebrations, but also sprinkle in a little of that cheesy heart stuff that a little kid loves.  

So, our weekend was full of food.  It is the way we would celebrate, after all!  Instead of boring you with all that we ate, I’ll share with you what we had last night.  We went to an incredible restaurant downtown, Marugame Monzo.  They specialize in handmade udon noodles. Oh man.  We had such a fantastic time.  Olivia had a whole bowl of Zaru Udon (chilled noodles with a dipping suace) to herself! Man, can that girl eat!  After dinner, we headed to The Pie Hole, a fantastic place that specializes in all things pie, both sweet and savory.  We, of course, had a little sweet treat to end the night.  Needless to say, we need some healthy meal alternatives to counter-balance all those indulgences!  If you’ve read some of my past posts, then you already know that I’m heading straight to our Quinoa.  It’s such an easy choice for us. High in fiber and protein and, best of all, Olivia loves it!  We chose to make a casserole dish.  We saw a recipe that was similar to this that used brown rice, but since we’re on our quinoa kick, we decided to substitute it.  This is a lovely cheesy casserole dish with tons of vegetables.  It’s super easy to make – which is always a great perk!  As always, you can substitute whatever veggies you have on hand.  Today, we used carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and peas.  Also, Enough chattin’ – let’s get started!

What You’ll Need

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 cup of cauliflower florets, chopped

1 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 cup peas

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

1/3 cup + 1/2 cup of your favorite tomato sauce

1/3 cup + 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

8-ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 cups cooked quinoa (we cooked ours in chicken broth)

salt, to taste (we omitted the salt due to the sauce + chicken broth + cheese, but if it’s for a mainly adult audience, go ahead and pop some salt in for added flavor!)

What You’ll Do:

Preheat your oven to 375.  Grease an 8×8 baking dish.  We greased ours with a little coconut oil.  Make sure your veggies are chopped up into bite-sized pieces.  

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Heat your oil in a large saute pan and add your veggies.  Saute the vegetables until the vegetables are tender.  

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Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large bowl.  Add 1/3 cup of pasta sauce, 1/3 cup of ricotta, and 1 cup of the mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  

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In another bowl, combine your quinoa, salt (if you’ve chosen to include it), 1/2 cup pasta sauce, 1/2 cup ricotta, and 1/2 cup mozzarella.  

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In your baking dish, press half of your quinoa mixture into the baking dish.  Spread all of the vegetable mixture on top, followed by the remaining quinoa mixture.  

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Bake for 50 minutes.  Once it’s done, allow it to cool for around 30 minutes before you serve it up.

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Fiber? Check! Protein? Check! Veggies? Check! Healthy? Check! It passes a bunch of tests!!  And, more importantly, it Tastes Oh So Good!  Enjoy!

~ M ~

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Quinoa “Mac” & Cheese

I know. It’s January, which means all of us are still trying to eat healthier for the new year. Am I right? We are supposed to be eating yummy salads all the time and feeling super fantastic about it. BUT let’s be realistic. I’m not eating salads left & right and baby girl sure would be mad if I just tried to feed her nothing but salad all day long.  Yes, we all love some good salads and veggies. But we all need a little indulgence!  So, instead, I’ve been trying to lighten up some comfort food and classics.  That’s where this Quinoa “Mac” & Cheese comes in.  Super indulgent with that yummy, creamy cheese sauce. But just a little less guilt-inducing using quinoa and throwing in some chopped veggies. I know, you’re saying to yourself “There’s cheese in that recipe!”  “There’s butter!” You’re right. There’s all of that. But everything in moderation, right?  It really is a win-win!

Sure – maybe it doesn’t taste exactly like macaroni & cheese. But I can guarantee you this. It’s still yummy, the whole family will still love it, it’s filling, and it won’t make you feel like you’ve broken those New Year’s resolutions just yet!

Ready to get started? Let’s do it.

What You’ll Need:

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cup Whole milk

A large pinch or two of nutmeg

A large pinch of salt

8 ounces of shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup uncooked quinoa – we cooked our quinoa in chicken broth for a little extra flavor)

1 cup of shredded & diced up carrots **

1 – 1 1/2 cups of diced broccoli **

FOR THE TOPPING:

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

4 Tablespoons of butter, melted

3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

What You’ll Do:

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a saucepan add 3 tablespoons of butter and melt it down over medium heat.  Add the flour.  Whisk continuously until a paste forms.

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Whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium/high and bring to a boil whisking the whole time. Stir in the nutmeg, salt and cheddar cheese. When sauce is smooth remove from heat.  Throw in your veggies and quinoa into the cheese sauce.

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Transfer the mixture to a baking dish.  We used an 8×8 baking dish.  If you have a smaller cast iron skillet, I’d throw it in there.  Since we have a larger cast iron, we didn’t want the mixture to turn out too thin in the skillet, so I would only throw in our Quinoa mac & cheese into our cast iron skillet if I 1.5x or 2x this recipe.  In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter, Panko breadcrumbs, and Parmesan.  Sprinkle over the casserole and pop in the oven for about 20-25 minutes (until it’s bubbly).

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** ALTERNATIVES **

You could easily substitute in your favorite veggie in this dish – a few bunches of spinach? Kale? Mushrooms? Go veggie crazy! Add in those nutrients you crazy animal!

No matter what veggies you use, no matter if you use a cast iron skillet or casserole dish, no matter if you use the more common white quinoa or less common black quinoa – I assure you this is a comfort dish you can feel less guilty about.  Healthy comfort food that Tastes Oh-So-Good.

~ M ~

Savory Breakfast Pudding

Ahhh, Fall.  My very favorite season.  I’ve lived in Southern California for most of my life now so we, unfortunately, don’t get too much of an Autumn chill and I miss it so (I spent my childhood on the East Coast where there are actual seasons).  Nonetheless, Fall remains one of my favorite seasons.  The chill in the air (though today is supposed to be a toasty 85 degrees) and the start of my favorite holidays (um…hellloooo Thanksgiving!).  

For the past few years, our dear friends have hosted a Fall Breakfast at their place.  Oddly enough, even if we are lucky enough to have a chilly weather streak, without fail it is always unseasonably warm the day of Fall Breakfast!  This year, with our friends having moved into a beautiful new place, Fall Breakfast was a wonderful way to help break in the new place.  Only thing is, our friends also have a brand new baby.  Those of you who have been through new parenthood know that the last thing you want to do is to host a party and cook up a storm.  The natural solution? Your friends do most of the cooking and you just sit back and enjoy.  And that’s what we did.  All the friends were responsible for a dish or two and breakfast came together quite nicely.  It was also Olivia’s first Fall Breakfast with our friends and their baby girl’s first official Fall Breakfast.  Quite momentous.

For our dishes, we thought we would do one sweet dish and one savory dish.  TJ and I figured that he’d make some pumpkin pancakes at their house the morning of.  I decided the savory dish to complement that would be our Savory Breakfast Pudding.  It’s a bread pudding – but savory.  That description kind of throws people off a bit, but I promise you it is delicious.  It is like a breakfast sandwich – in casserole form.  I originally got this recipe from an Emeril Lagasse recipe.  I’ve changed a few things about it to suit out tastes a bit more.  Either way you go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

What You’ll Need:

2 tablespoons of butter + 2 tablespoons of melted butter

1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin rings

About 6 ounces of bacon, roughly chopped

About 6 ounces of sausage, casings removed and crumbled **

Few teaspoons of minced garlic

8 large eggs

3 cups of whole milk

1 cup of heavy cream

1 teaspoon of Essence (recipe below if you want to make your own, which I highly recommend)

Large pinch of salt

Pinch of fresh ground black pepper

8 stale croissants, torn up into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups of grated Fontina or Gouda

1/2 cup of bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Paremsan

What You’ll Do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish.  We just lightly greased our dish with butter.  In a skillet, melt 1.5 tablespoons of butter and toss in your onions.  Saute the onions until they are soft and starting to caramelize. Throw in your chopped up garlic and cook another few minutes.

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In another skillet, melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter.  Add your bacon and cook for about 3 minutes.  Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel.  In the same pan, cook up your crumbled sausage for about 3-5 minutes until browned.  Remove the sausage and drain on a paper towel.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs up.  Whisk in the milk, cream, salt, pepper, and Essence.

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Once it is all mixed in, throw in your torn up croissant pieces.  Make sure the croissant pieces are covered in the egg mixture.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

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Now, throw in your sausage, bacon, onions, and 2 cups of grated Fontina or Gouda (we used Fontina here because..well, because that’s what Trader Joe’s had on hand that day!).  Stir to combine and let sit for another 5-10 minutes.

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Pour the mixture into your lightly greased baking dish.

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Bake covered for 40-50 minutes, until almoat completely set.

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What we did is prepare the dish the night before the breakfast.  You can assemble it up to this point (before you pop it in the oven).  Cover it with foil and pop it in your fridge, unbaked, for 8 hours/overnight.  The next morning, we simply started by uncovering the dish and baking it for the 40-50 minutes, as directed above.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs (feel free to use seasoned bread crumbs, etc. It is quite delicious), grated Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons of melted butter.  Uncover the pudding (if you’ve covered it with foil to prevent crazy browning) and spread the Parmesan bread crumbs evenly over the pudding.

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Increase your oven temperature to 375 and pop the pudding back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes (yup, pop it in while the oven is increasing in heat…no need to wait for it to fully get to 375).  It is done when the top is nice and toasty and the rest of the pudding is set (just insert a knife and see if it comes out rather clean). Wait 15 minutes before eating. There you have it! This is best served hot.

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** VARIATIONS **

Play around with the type of sausage you’d want to put in.  Hot sausages are great to use and gives this dish a nice kick.  We have even used Kielbasa and just chopped it up super small.  Whatever you’re in the mood for, try it out!

This is a great dish to bring over for a potluck, great for holiday breakfasts when the family is all gathered around.  It is so easy and you can just let it soak up all the great flavors overnight.  Next morning, pop it in the oven and there you have it – a great breakfast ready for the family (or friends, of course!) that Tastes Oh-So-Good.

Emeril’s Essence

This is a great combo of seasonings to have on hand and you can find his recipe here.  I have also listed out the ingredients below for your convenience (I’m so nice, right?!).

2 1/2 tablespoons of Paprika

2 tablespoons of Salt

2 Tablespoons of Garlic Powder

1 Tablespoon of Black Pepper

1 Tablespoon of Onion Powder

1 Tablespoon of Cayenne

1 Tablespoon of dried Oregano

1 Tablespoon of dried Thyme

MIx it up. And, in the words of Emeril – “BAM”! You’ve got yourself some Essence.

~ M ~

Vegetable Casserole

On the menu tonight is macaroni & cheese and our vegetable casserole.  The macaroni & cheese we are making tonight is my Mother-In-Law’s recipe and it is a closely-guarded secret.  Unfortunately, for you, that means I won’t be sharing that delectable recipe here!  What I can tell you about the recipe, though, is to use large elbow macaroni.  I’m telling you – it’s genius! It means all the yummy, cheesy goodness is guaranteed to get into all those large nooks & crannies.  So good.

Because we didn’t want to bring over just macaroni & cheese (because, after all, a new mama needs some veggies to help her stay nourished and strong), we decided to make our vegetable casserole.  This casserole dish is a great way to get a ton of veggies in one bite.  I got this recipe from a friend, originally, and she put in bell peppers.  I’ve got to admit. I’m not a bell pepper fan.  Never have been.  Interestingly enough, I asked my mom and she doesn’t like them either.  Perhaps I don’t like them because they were rarely cooked in our household (although we rarely ate artichokes and I could bathe in artichokes I love them so much).  Because I don’t like bell peppers, I omit them from my own recipe and tweaked a few more things about it to suit our tastes.  This casserole dish is incredibly easy to throw together and from start to finish takes only about an hour.  It is a great dish for dinner parties and is a welcome side addition to many of the heavy, creamier casserole dishes typically found at parties.  Ready? Let’s get started.

What You’ll Need:

1 medium potato, peeled & cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 medium yam, peeled & cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 medium carrots, peeled & cut into 1/2 inch pieces

5 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 red onion, sliced thinly into rings

2 small zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick pieces

Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Cayenne Pepper

2 large red tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices

1/2 cup (or more) of freshly grated Parmesan

2-3 Tablespoons of Italian Bread Crumbs

A few fresh springs of basil, for garnish

What You’ll Do:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the potato, yam, and carrots and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 9×13 baking dish.  Sprinkle with the pepper, salt, garlic powder, cayenne (really, any seasonings you’re prone to!) and toss to coat the vegetables evenly.

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Make sure the vegetables are spread evenly at the bottom of your baking dish.  Now, arrange your onion slices evenly over the vegetable mixture.  Think of it as your ‘lasagna’ noodles, if you will.

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Next, arrange the zucchini slices on top of the onions evenly.  Drizzle another 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the zucchini and sprinkle a bit more salt/pepper/seasonings.

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Top it off with your slices of tomatoes.

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In a separate bowl, combine the grated Parmesan and bread crumbs.  Once it is mixed, sprinkle the mixture evenly over the tomatoes.  Drizzle your last remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top.

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Bake uncovered until the veggies are tender and the Parmesan bread crumbs are toasty brown.  This will take you about 40 minutes (it could be longer depending on your oven, etc.).

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Garnish with your fresh sprigs of basil to finish.  And there you have it!

Our macaroni & cheese with our side of vegetable casserole was delicious and hit the spot!  Though I can’t give you the recipe to my Mother -In-Law’s mac & cheese, here is the final product, fresh out of the oven!

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Our dinner was comfort food at its finest! Easy, Simple, and Tastes Oh-So-Good!

~ M ~