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 ~

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 ~

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.  Hold on.  Lactation cookies?!  What are those?? Do they have breast milk in them? Will it cause someone to spontaneously lactate?! Why would I eat these?!

Calm down! Calm down!  These are really just yummy cookies with a title that may turn you off a bit.  There are no crazy ingredients in here nor will it cause someone to start lactating randomly.  Promise.  Instead, these cookies incorporate a few ingredients that are known galactagogues.  What’s a galactagogue, you ask?  Simple – something that promotes lactation.  Some examples of foods or seasoning/herbs that encourage lactation include oatmeal, flaxseed, brewer’s yeast, and fenugreek.  Lactation cookies usually combine three galactagogues in the recipe: oats, flaxseed meal, and brewer’s yeast.  Again, these won’t make you spontaneously lactate (men, you reading this?!).  I mean, how many times have you eaten oatmeal in your life?  And how many times did you randomly leak breast milk? I’m guessing that number is close to 0.   Instead, if you’re producing milk, they just kind of … help the process along.  Many make lactation cookies when they’re experiencing a low supply.  So, it’s a great way to encourage lactation while getting in a little yummy treat.  Because one of my dearest friends just had a baby last night (gaahhhh!! So excited!), I, along with another awesome friend, helped put together a breastfeeding basket (yes, she indicated she would be, or at least trying, breastfeeding).  The basket included some magazines, some nursing pads, hair ties and bobby pins, lotion and chapstick, and nipple cream. Here’s the basket we made for her:

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I also wanted to make her some lactation cookies.  Not because she has a low supply, but just to show her that there are some yummy ways to encourage your supply later on.  I will be printing out the recipe and giving it to her for the future.  So, let’s get started with the recipe!

What You’ll Need:

4 Cups Whole Wheat Flour

3 Cups Old Fashioned Oats, uncooked

2 tsp baking soda

3 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 cups (or 3 sticks) of unsalted butter

2 cups of firmly packed brown sugar

4 tablespoons of water

1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal

4 tablespoons of brewer’s yeast

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 16-oz can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, but pure pumpkin)

1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup of chopped pecans

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What You’ll Do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix the 4 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal and let sit for at least 5 minutes.  In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, yeast, cinnamon, and salt and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until it is nice and creamy. Slowly beat in the brown sugar. Once that is done, add in the vanilla, egg, and flaxseed mix. Beat until smooth.  Next, add in the pumpkin and mix well.  Slowly add in your dry ingredients and mix well.  Stir in your oats, chocolate chips, and pecans.

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You can use your hands for this part to ensure all the oats get covered.  You don’t want dry oats in your cookies!  Place the dough in 1.5 inch lumps, about an inch or two apart.

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Bake for 13-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and and cool on a cooling rack.

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If you’re truly experiencing a low supply (and I mean truly experiencing a low supply and not just nervous about it), you can have up to 4 cookies per day.  If you just want a great treat while you happen to be breastfeeding, well, pop a cookie every now and then!  Good for you and baby (indirectly) and Tastes Oh-So-Good!

~ M ~

Crockpot Curry Chicken

This is quite the busy day or two.  Today, my dad, who lives in Thailand, is coming to visit for 2+ weeks.  In fact, TJ is out picking him up from the airport right now.  We still had some cleaning to do around the house but I wanted to make sure that we had something healthy and delicious to eat for dinner tonight once he arrived.  Not only that, last night, baby O gave us quite a fever scare.  Long story short: two days ago, baby O had a fever. Her first time sick! It was quite a high fever of 103.6.  Called the docs and because she was acting fine, they just told me to keep a close eye on her.  Next day, her temp was 99.1.  I figured she was just fine.  Later in the day (last night), we took her temperature just before her bedtime and we found it to be 104.9.  Eep!  First-time mom jitters!  Instead of calling the docs (after-hours, so we couldn’t reach them anyways), we just rushed to pediatric urgent care.  We gave her a fever reducer and the good doc checked her out. She looks fine.  Apparently, it’s just an unusually high fever for a cold virus.

After last night, and because my dad is coming in today, we wanted to make sure we had something quick and easy to cook.  Out comes the crockpot.  Wait…wait…don’t leave this page!  I know, images of 1970s cooking are running through your head and you are imagining tons of sodium-laden condensed soups used.  Don’t fear!  No condensed soups here! I promise!  This recipe really is healthy, easy (5 ingredients or less!), and, most importantly, delicious!  Have you ever had those wonderful Japanese curry rice dishes?  They’re delicious!  We make those often, as well, but when you need something to throw into a crockpot, this recipe is a great quick fix!  Now, let’s get started!

What You’ll Need:

2-2.5 pounds of chicken thighs*

1 16-oz jar of salsa

1 16-oz tub of fat-free or low-fat sour cream

2 generous tablespoons of curry powder

A generous heap of minced garlic

What You’ll Do:

Ready for this easy recipe?  Spray your crockpot with a cooking oil.  Ok – so, I don’t really like to use those cooking sprays, so instead we just use coconut oil (the one from Trader Joe’s is fabulous and cheap) and spread a thin layer with a clean paper towel or brush the crockpot (or pan for other recipes) with the coconut oil.  Throw in your chicken.

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In a mixing bowl, mix together the sour cream, salsa, curry powder, and garlic.

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Once it’s mixed together, throw it into the crockpot over the chicken.

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That’s it! Really! Now, just cook that in your crockpot from 4-8 hours.  I know, that’s a huge range.  If you’re cooking fresh or refrigerated chicken and you want to cook this on high, it will likely be done in 4 hours.  Frozen chicken on high will take an extra hour or so.  Low heat? Well, then, add some hours to it.  Just test the chicken!

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*Now here’s my caveat to the chicken (remember I starred it above?).  Use boneless, skinless chicken thighs…that will also reduce the cooking time slightly.  But if you want something a bit more decadent, leave the skin on and the bones in.  Is it any surprise to you that I like my chicken with skin on, bone in? Either way, I promise you the chicken is tender and delicious!

Tonight, we served the curry chicken over rice (brown rice to eat a bit healthier – going to Hawaii in a few weeks!) and some steamed broccoli and cauliflower.  The broccoli and cauliflower was just steamed and not all that fascinating, I know.  But with a delicious curry sauce like that, you probably won’t need to do much to your sides!

**VARIATIONS**

As I said earlier, skin on, bone in, skin off, boneless – whatever!  You decide!  Also, if you have some fresh veggies handy, throw in some chunks of carrots and slices of onions.  Absolutely delicious!

Baby O loves curry of all sorts (this Thai mama is proud!) so she can definitely partake in this meal, though she didn’t tonight since she is still recovering from her fever.  Oh, don’t worry, she will get to enjoy some later in the week, though! I’ll make sure to save her of these melt-in-your-mouth, tastes oh-so-good leftovers.

~ M ~