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 ~

Cheesy Quinoa Bites

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Have you been reading a few of the posts I’ve written?  If so, you’ll remember that I posted about a Quinoa “Mac” and Cheese.  Have you tried it yet? Isn’t it yummy? It really has all the indulgence of macaroni and cheese, but some goodness of the extra fiber and protein from the quinoa.  Since we’ve been on a quinoa kick around here (it is just so nice to be able to buy it in bulk!), I wanted to think of another recipe that I could make that Olivia could eat for lunch while I was at work.  Enter the Cheesy Quinoa Bites.  I know, you’re probably thinking that these are just another spin on the Mac and Cheese – just in smaller ‘bites’ form.  I promise you – although there are some similarities (cheese + quinoa), the addition of some white beans and the absence of the panko crust take it to another flavor dimension..whoa…flavor dimension. So deep.  

These little cheesy quinoa bites are packed full of protein and fiber from both the quinoa and white beans, packed full of nutrients from all the vegetables, and packed full of yummy taste from oh-so-yummy cheese.  Honestly, you can’t lose!  Another big perk is that they’re crazy easy to make and you can easily pop the whole batch in the refrigerator and warmed up.  I haven’t done it myself, but you probably could even freeze them and just warm them up when you and baby are ready to eat them.  Enough typing – let’s get started!

What You’ll Need:

2 cups cooked quinoa (again, for extra flavor, we cooked our quinoa in low-sodium chicken broth)

8 egg whites

1 cup of shredded carrots **

1 (15 oz can of white beans)

2 cups of chopped up broccoli **

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

4-6 teaspoons of garlic powder (you know darn well I’m going to put in way more than this!)

1 teaspoon of onion powder

Parmesan Cheese to top

Cooking Spray (we just used coconut oil and took a paper towel to grease up our mini-muffin tin)

What You’ll Do

Grease up your mini-muffin tin.  Grease up your tin.  

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Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients.  

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Portion out the mixture into the mini-muffin tins. They won’t really expand, so feel free to pack up each little muffin “well”!  If you’re cheese lovers like we are, then feel free to sprinkle some Parmesan Cheese on top, or even some more shredded Cheddar cheese.

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Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the edges are starting to brown.  Let them cool and pop em out! That’s it! So easy!  This makes about 48 “bites”.  

** ALTERNATIVES **

Honestly, throw in whatever chopped veggies you have! Shredded zucchini? Yup! Cauliflower? Why not? Go veggie crazy!  

Whatever veggies (or even variety of cheese) you choose, you’ll take comfort in knowing you and family are eating something packed full of fiber, protein, and nutrients!  Plus, they’re cheesy so you know they’ll Taste Oh-So-Good!

~ M ~

Meatloaf “Cupcakes”

Hey, what day is it? What day is it? Mike, Mike…what day is it? HUMP DAAAAAAY!  And hump day means that I need to think of what I can prepare Olivia for lunch for the remainder of the week while I’m at work.  I was trying to think of what to make when meatloaf kind of popped into my head.  I remember pinning a Turkey Meatloaf “Cupcake” that Tyler Florence had posted on Parenting.com. [I co-admin on a fantastic closed group on Facebook that is all about “Feeding the Littles” and part of our page includes a Pinterest board that a few of us pin to – feel free to follow our Pinterest board!]  I decided to try out the recipe tonight with the small tweak of adding in diced carrots.  Yes, I know I have said I don’t want to have to sneak in vegetables all the time to baby.  But, I also believe that there is always a place for adding in extra veggies wherever you can – just tell your kid that there’s yummy veggies in it, too!  The recipe also calls for crumbled cornbread (mmm…cornbread), but since we had none on hand, we used regular old breadcrumbs we had on hand from Trader Joe’s.  And the last variation we had on ours – no bacon. I know…that’s the part of the recipe I wanted to keep in! But, again, we didn’t have any bacon on hand – so this will have to do for now!  Next time, bacon for sure!  I thought this recipe was so cute, too, because it has the added option of ‘frosting’ your ‘cupcake’ with mashed potatoes.  Adorable.  

What You’ll Need:

Few tablespoons of Olive Oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 cup carrots, chopped

3/4 cup breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 pound ground turkey

1/2 cup (a generous 1/2 cup) barbecue sauce (we got the All-Natural BBQ sauce from Trader Joe’s)

1 egg

A few tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley

2 Potatoes

What You’ll Do:

Line your cupcake tin with cupcake liners.  

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Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  You may want to go ahead and make your mashed potato frosting first so that it has time to cool so you can handle it while you’re “frosting” the cupcakes.  Peel and cube the potatoes.  

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Put it in a pot of salted water and bring the pot of potatoes to a boil.  Boil for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Drain and just mash away.  I added a little milk, a pat of butter, and a sprinkle of garlic powder.  

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I decided not to use any salt (as I normally would in mashed potatoes) since 1) Olivia doesn’t need all that extra sodium and 2) there’s already enough flavor (and sodium) in the meatloaf from the barbecue sauce.  

Next, prepare your meatloaf cupcakes.  Saute your onions and carrots in the olive oil for a few minutes until soft and tender.  Put aside when done.  

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In a large bowl, combine your breadcrumbs and buttermilk.  Wait for about 5 minutes, or until the buttermilk has fully absorbed into the breadcrumbs.  Add in your sauteed veggies, the ground turkey, the barbecue sauce, egg, & parsley.  

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Here comes the fun part (or the gross part, depending on who you’re asking!).  With clean hands, get in that mixture and massage it! Get all in it and make sure it’s mixed thoroughly.  

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Divide the turkey mixture into the cupcake tin evenly.  

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Pop into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the meat is thoroughly cooked.  Let the “cupcakes” cool a bit and then frost with mashed potatoes!  

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You’ll definitely want to wait for it to cool a bit, otherwise your mashed potato frosting will kind of…melt a bit.  

And there you have it!  An adorable way to eat some yummy + healthy meatloaf!  

I’m not gluten-free nor do I have egg allergies, but a mom in that Facebook group I mentioned above gave me a great tip. If you’re either allergic to gluten or eggs (or both), just omit the breadcrumbs and eggs. Instead, substitute 1/3 cup flaxseed meal for every 2 pounds of meat. Just dump it in dry into your meat mixture. And voila! A great breadcrumb AND egg substitute!

No matter what route you take – breadcrumbs/eggs or flaxseed meal, it will be a meal your family will enjoy! TJ and I tried one tonight. And trust me when I say…it Tastes Oh-So-Good!

~ M ~

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 ~

Creamy Tomato + Spinach Pasta

Ahh…family dinner time.  What a wonderful concept, right? A gathering of your most loved ones around the table eating a healthy, delicious meal with fuzzily loving conversations going on.  This happens every night in your home, right?! Sure, in theory, this is wonderful. But what I’ve learned as a new mom is that getting together a family dinner that is nutritious, delicious, easy/fast, and affordable is…well…it’s not always so feasible. Or, at least, I don’t always have the energy for it.  I’d love to think I could be that mom who could whip up together an amazing meal my family fawns over every night, but I’m not.  When I’ve had a particularly rough day, sometimes the food bar at Whole Foods will just have to do (hey, at least it isn’t fast food, right?!).  However, there are those few tricks up my sleeve that I can pull out on those days I have the energy to pull together such a meal.  Pasta is always a safe bet in most households.  You probably have all the ingredients you need in your pantry at any given time to make this quick pasta dish.

Delicious? ✓

Nutritious? ✓

Fast & Easy? ✓

Affordable? ✓ (In fact, I priced out this dish, and it comes out to roughly $0.90/serving!)

Did those check marks pique your interest?  If so, then let’s get started, shall we?

What You’ll Need:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1 onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced (minimum 4 cloves! Throw in more, like we did, if you love garlic!)

1 (15oz) can diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 Teaspoon dried basil

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Fresh cracked black pepper

Pinch of salt

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

2 ounces Mascarpone cheese **

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1/2 pound of Penne Pasta

A big bunch of fresh spinach (about 9 ounces or so)

What You’ll Do:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the penne and cook until tender (or according to your package directions).  Drain the pasta.  While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the diced onion and minced garlic until translucent – about 5 minutes.

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Add the diced tomatoes, with the juices, oregano, basil, red pepper, salt, and black pepper to the skillet.  Stir to combine. Add the tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water. Stir until the tomato paste is dissolved.

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Add the mascarpone cheese to the skillet.  Turn your heat down to a medium-low.  To help this go a bit faster, you can use a whisk to stir the sauce until the mascarpone has fully melted in and the sauce is creamy.  Add half of your Parmesan to the skillet and whisk again until it is melted.  Add the rest of the cheese in and whisk again.  Add the fresh spinach and gently stir until the spinach has wilted. Don’t forget it will look like a LOT of spinach at first, but spinach wilts down considerably!

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Add the pasta and stir until everything is well coated in the sauce.  Salt & pepper as needed.

**VARIATIONS**

If for some reason you don’t like mascarpone cheese (huh?!) or simply can’t find it, you can substitute cream cheese, which is a bit denser and creamier.

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Tonight, we served up our dish with a hearty side of sauteed tomatoes (simply sautee the cherry tomatoes in olive oil and garlic until they blister and turn soft).  So yummy!

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This dish is not only chock full of healthy veggies/fruits, it is also a great affordable family meal that Tastes Oh-So-Good!

~ 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 ~

Risotto with Spinach + Peas

As much as I love vegetables, I will be the first to admit that I probably don’t eat enough vegetables. Scratch that. I know I don’t eat enough vegetables most days.  Although I always make sure to feed Olivia wholesome, nutritious foods, there are days I struggle with putting enough vegetables in her meals.  I am proud to say, however, that though it is a struggle at times, I have done a pretty darn good job 😀

Tonight’s dinner was a little indulgent, a lot of vegetables, and a whole lotta delicious.  I’m a sucker for Risotto. That creamy, oh-so-delicious risotto.  Makes my tummy swoon with joy. TJ makes a fantastic risotto with mushrooms that I’m sort of obsessed with.  Because mushrooms can be a bit on the rubber-y side and because Olivia only has about 4 teeth, I decided to make this risotto to share with Olivia instead.  It was also great because we had all the ingredients already on hand since most of these are staples in our kitchen.

I think making risotto seems to intimidate people because it seems like it would require a lot of work.  While risotto does require a bit of ‘babysitting’, it truly isn’t a difficult dish.  Your efforts will pay off!

Ready to get started?

What You’ll Need:

2 cans (14.5 ozs) of reduced-sodium chicken broth (The recipe for a homemade one is at the bottom of this page here)

A Few Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Finely Chopped Onion

Salt & Pepper (As I’ve said before, I try not to cook with salt in our house so I omitted the salt)

1 Cup Arborio Rice

1/2 Cup Dry White Wine** (I used a non-alcoholic wine. I’ve written more about it below)

1 bunch of finely chopped spinach (about 10 ounces or so)

1 package (10 ounces) of frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (who am I kidding, I used about 3/4 cup!)

2-3 Tablespoons Butter

What You’ll Do:

In a saucepan, heat up the chicken broth and 2 cups of water. Bring it to a simmer and keep it lightly simmering.  In another saucepan, drizzle in your olive oil and saute up your chopped up onions until they are translucent. This will take you about a few minutes.  Season your onions with some salt and pepper.

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Next, add in the arborio rice and stir until the rice is nicely coated and mixed in with the onions for about 1 minute.

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Add in your wine and stir for another minute or so.  The rice will absorb most of the wine up.

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Take about 2 cups of the hot broth and ladle it into your rice and onion mixture.  You’ll want to stir this occasionally. (Remember how I said you’ll have to babysit it a bit?)  Once that liquid has absorbed into the rice, ladle in about another cup of hot broth and stir occasionally.  Wait until the liquid has absorbed before adding yet another cup of broth.

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Keep going with this process until the arborio rice is tender and creamy.  You may not use all the broth up.  This whole process may take you about 20-30 minutes.  This is why people tend to think making risotto is difficult – it requires you to ‘stay’ with it.  But you can stir! I have faith in you!

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Once your arborio rice is ready, stir in your Parmesan cheese, peas, spinach, and butter.  Mix well.  Season with some more salt and pepper if you desire.

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You’ll want to serve this immediately for the best result.  If you’d like, top with a bit more freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

** VARIATIONS**

Contrary to popular belief, the alcohol doesn’t completely burn off when you cook with it.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem with some wine.  However, since Olivia would be partaking in this dinner with us, I didn’t want her getting any leftover alcohol.  We ended up this wine for a traditional wine.  It was a bit citrus-y than I would have liked in my dry white wine I would have cooked with in a Risotto, but hey…better than a drunk baby, right? 😀

TJ and Olivia weren’t quite ready to join me for dinner just yet, but I couldn’t help but sneak in a few bites of my own first!  Decadent, chock full of vegetables, and Tastes Oh-So-Good!

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~ M ~