Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale

Last weekend, while I was out at the toddler cooking class I teach once a month, my husband got together with a group of guys for a Sausage Festival. I’m not being gross. They literally hung out for several hours making sausage. I kinda wish I could have been there, because this is one aspect of food production I have never personally experienced…and, though it’s not terribly glamorous, it’s pretty interesting! So before I dive into this tasty Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale–which, of course, uses the sausage from the Sausage Festival–here’s a little glimpse into the process.

Apparently it all starts with pork shoulder, cut into chunks.

Then the pork goes through a grinder…


And gets mixed with a blend of spices–in this case, parsley, garlic, fennel, and red pepper flakes.

 

And finally, the part everyone knows and loves: filling the casings with the meat to make links!


Pretty floral apron optional.


As far as I’m concerned, the best part about the Sausage Festival is that we now have homemade sausage to last until Kingdom Come. The guys made both links and bulk sausage, so I was only too happy to use some of the bulk kind up in this hearty, Mediterranean-style Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash.

It all starts with yourr basic giant yellow squash, baked and scraped to get those signature squiggly strings so reminiscent of pasta. In the meantime, you’ll brown some sausage and wilt some kale in a bit of garlic-infused olive oil on the stovetop. Toss these yummy goodies–plus some sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, and cannellini beans–with the squash strings. Refill the shells, top with a sprinkle of mozzarella, and bake one more time for the finished product!


As a one-dish meal, this Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash is full of nutrients from the kale, beans, tomatoes, and squash, makes a ton, and reheats well. I think you’ll enjoy it, even if you don’t have the luxury of homemade sausage.


Print Recipe
Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale
A hearty, mostly veggie dinner with flavors of the Mediterranean. Leave off the sausage for a vegetarian version!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick both spaghetti squash all over with a fork and microwave each one for about a minute, to soften.
  2. Slice squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Place squash halves cut side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes.
  3. While squash bakes, prepare the rest of the filling. In a large pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until browned and crumbled. Remove from the pan and place on paper-towel lined plate.
  4. Using the grease left behind by the sausage (or supplementing with olive oil), saute garlic and kale until kale begins to wild and garlic begins to brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add cannellini beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan and cook an additional minute or two. Place mixture in a large mixing bowl, along with cooked sausage.
  5. When squash has finished baking, remove from oven and scrape most of their contents into the mixing bowl, leaving a small border of flesh. (Be careful, squash will be hot!) Mix squash strings, sausage, and kale mixture thoroughly.
  6. Divide the mixture among the four squash halves and sprinkle with mozzarella. Place back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted and filling is warmed through. One serving equals half of a squash boat.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Snack Review: Fishpeople Salmon Jerky

If you had told me a few weeks ago that my new go-to snack would be dried Alaskan salmon, I would have thought the idea was…well…pretty fishy. I don’t usually think of seafood as snack food. (I did, however, just learn that whale milk ice cream is gaining popularity. Apparently it’s almost 50% fat and tastes like “a mixture of fish, liver, milk of magnesia, and castor oil,” so…maybe this is a thing now?)

Here’s the deal, though: As a freelance health and nutrition writer, I often get, ahem, interesting emails from PR people for various companies, asking me to try out their products so I can write about them. I’ve been offered all sorts of intriguing and off-the-wall stuff, from athletic wear to “designer” turmeric to plant-based sports drinks. I got a free tote bag and water bottle from Morton’s salt. (Yes, featuring the iconic umbrella-carrying salt girl.) I’ve been offered free online yoga subscriptions and services to cure headaches. And I was recently given a pre-screening of a new movie made by the guy who played Toby on The Office, and asked to interview him. Sometimes it’s a pretty sweet deal!

It’s hard to know when to say yes and when to say I’ll pass on these many products. But sometimes something comes along that sounds genuinely compelling, and this salmon jerky by Fishpeople was one of them.

First, let me just say that I dig the name “Fishpeople” and the company’s rather eccentric, stuff-of-Grimms-fairytales logo (pictured above) of a man/fish creature carrying a fork–or is it a trident? Is he a person? Or a fish? Is he going to eat people? Or fish? The world may never know.

When I tore into my first bag of jerky, I was excited, since I love salmon, but wan’t sure what to expect. I mean, I’ve had plenty of smoked salmon (which I also adore) and lots of beef jerky (I went through a jerky phase in high school, I confess), but what does fish look and taste like when you put it through the drying process?

I had my choice between Original flavor, Ancho Chili + Lime, Rainbow Peppercorn, and Lemon Zest + Herb. I decided to start with Original. Admittedly, the smell upon first opening the bag was a bit overpowering, even for someone who really likes salmon, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I tried the bits of dried fish and was pleased to discover they were extremely tasty! Chewy, certainly, but not nearly as tough as beef jerky, and with a slightly sweetness that complements the fish’s natural flavor.

I’ve now worked my way through the various bags of jerky and enjoyed them all. (Rainbow Peppercorn is by far and away my favorite.) I’ve sprinkled them on salad for an easy protein topping and snacked on them before bedtime. I even think you wouldn’t be remiss adding them to a sandwich, perhaps to make a salmon BLT.

Although–as mentioned–I wouldn’t normally think of eating dried fish for a snack, I’m really coming around to the idea. I mean, who says we have to eat any certain type of food at any meal? My 9-year-old likes to eat meatball sandwiches for breakfast, and sometimes I think he’s better off with that than a bowl of super sugary cereal in the mornings. So maybe salmon as my bedtime snack isn’t such a bad idea (as long as I brush my teeth before snuggling in next to my husband).

I say this especially because so many packaged snacks are high-calorie and packed with garbage. Dried salmon, on the other hand, is extremely low-calorie (each Fishpeople bag contains two 90-calorie servings), full of omega-3 fats (the kind with evidence-based links to brain health), and high protein (not that we need a TON of protein, but 12 grams per serving is a nice boost). Plus, they contain far less sugar than the average granola bar or yogurt I’d usually reach for.

Though the PR person I’d emailed with had emphasized portability as one of salmon jerky’s main selling points, I just don’t think I’m quite hipster enough to, you know, stash a bag of dried salmon to munch on during my flight to Coachella. But for an at-home snack my future self will thank me for? One that’s good for me and is actually really tasty? Yes, I’ll gladly grab some salmon jerky any day.

You can find Fishpeople’s products on their website, or on Amazon.

Thai Peanut Chicken Pasta

I’ll level with you. Although this recipe calls itself “Thai” Peanut Chicken Pasta, I’m really no expert on determining what defines Thai food. I’ve never been to Thailand, and my experience with Thai cuisine has been limited to a few very tame menu choices at a local chain of Thai restaurants. For all I know, people in Thailand don’t even eat chicken. Or pasta. Or peanuts. (In fact, according to the Internet, peanuts are more of an Indonesian ingredient.)

You’ve probably heard how, when Asian people come to the U.S., our “Asian” food is unrecognizable to them. I can attest that the two times I’ve eaten truly authentic Chinese food, it was NOT your run-of-the-mill sweet and sour pork. We’re talking beef tendon, tilapia peppercorn soup, and basically a real-life version of this scene from A Christmas Story. Truth be told, probably the only reason I finished was to not be rude to my gracious hosts.

So, again, an Asian food expert I am not.

What I do know, though, is that this recipe is a winner of a chicken dinner. With whole grains for fiber, chicken for protein, carrots and cabbage for veggies, and a sweet peanut sauce, it’s the whole package. It came to the rescue this past Monday night when our family was running around like crazy with various busy-busy December activities. A one-dish meal that gets on the table in 30 minutes? Exactly what I need this time of year–don’t you?

So whether it’s truly Thai or just truly tasty (and easy and quick), I’m a fan. I think you will be, too.


Print Recipe
Thai Peanut Chicken Pasta
An Asian-inspired one-dish meal perfect for busy weeknights, this recipe boasts whole grains, veggies, and chicken in a tasty peanut sauce.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. While pasta cooks, make the peanut sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, honey, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ginger.
  3. Drain pasta and toss with 1 Tbsp. sesame oil to keep from sticking. Set aside.
  4. Wipe out pasta pan and heat the other 1 Tbsp. sesame oil on medium heat. Add carrots and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and green onions and saute another minute or two until the cabbage begins to soften.
  5. Add the pasta back to the pan, along with the chicken and peanut sauce. Stir well to combine and continue cooking on low until heated through.
  6. Garnish with additional green onion slices, peanut pieces, and/or sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Dinner, Then Dessert.

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Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme

 

Who’s ready for Thanksgiving? Know what you’re making? Need a last-minute dessert? These Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme could be the impressive after-dinner sweet your gathering needs.

I was chatting with a friend the other day and told her all I have to do for the big day is provide a salad for my husband’s family’s get-together. “How did you get off so easy?” she asked. I hadn’t thought much about it, but she’s right: since I don’t host Thanksgiving, I don’t have to worry about cleaning my house, don’t have to provide a slew of side dishes, and I certainly don’t have to get up in the wee hours to put a turkey in the oven.


Still, since I so enjoy cooking–and the many delicious flavors of the holiday season–I’m actually happy to make additional dishes for Thanksgiving. Though pots de creme (a velvety, creamy pudding, if you’re not familiar with the term) is traditionally made with chocolate (recipe here if you happen to need one!), this unique boasts the flavors of pumpkin and maple syrup. It’s not unlike a crustless pumpkin pie, just creamier and richer. And it’s surprisingly simple to make, with just seven easy ingredients.

So even though I don’t technically have to make a dessert for the big feast, I don’t mind if I do!

Print Recipe
Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme
A simple, creamy pumpkin custard sweetened with maple syrup!
Servings
ramekins
Ingredients
Servings
ramekins
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a heavy saucepan, whisk together half and half, maple syrup, and pumpkin. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. In a large bowl, combine egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Slowly add hot pumpkin mixture to egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. For easy pouring, transfer to a large measuring cup with a pouring spout.
  4. Set out six ramekins and divide pumpkin mixture between them. Place ramekins in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish, then carefully pour hot water into the space between ramekins until it reaches halfway up their sides.
  5. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake 40-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Chill at least two hours before serving. Dollop with whipped cream, if desired.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Epicurious.

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7 “Health” Topics You Won’t Find On This Blog

This week I got really angry. Like, “write a super-long, frothing-at-the-mouth Facebook rant and then delete it” angry. Like “go for a run to shake the anger and come back still feeling angry” angry. And it all had to do with what passes for “health” in this day and age.

As a freelance health writer, though I’ve been getting plenty of great work lately, I continue to stay open to new publications and previously unexplored avenues. So a couple weeks ago I responded to a call for new contributors from the health editor of a major women’s magazine. (One you’ve definitely heard of.) It seemed like a really exciting opportunity to even be considered for creating content for this magazine. I felt like if this came through for me, I really would have hit the big time.

And, in a way, the opportunity did come through: I received an email from the editor with an invitation to pitch her some story ideas. But when I read the description of what she (and the magazine) want to cover in their newly revamped Health section, that’s when my anger–and, underneath it, my sadness–began. Because every. single. item. on her list was something that stands in direct opposition to my integrity as a licensed nutritionist, or just as a thinking person who cares about the truth.

When I chose nutrition as a career, I never expected that one of the challenges I’d face would be frequent tests of my personal and professional ethics. Sure, maybe I would have predicted that some wacky supplement company might occasionally want me to sell their bogus product or that I might encounter some nutritional charlatans here and there. But to see the opinions presented as facts, the controversies for controversy’s sake, and the outright lies that major publications want to pass of as “health journalism” really grinds my gears, and it’s happening ALL the time. There is so much bad, biased, faddish, and nonsensical advice going around–and since my mission is to share evidence-based, trustworthy health information, that makes me mad.

So here’s a bit of a manifesto about what I personally (and this blog) stand for when it comes to nutrition and health. Here are 7 topics you won’t find me writing about–here or anywhere else–and why.

1. Foods to remove from your diet. These days we love to hate certain specific foods. I believe many people want an edible scapegoat to point to as the culprit behind their health problems. It’s the gluten! It’s the dairy! It’s the lectins! While it’s true that there are some things most of us probably shouldn’t be eating much of, if ever (like Flaming Hot Cheetos, let’s say), we’re all products of our overall diet and our entire environment. As a nutritionist, I find it more valuable to focus on general patterns that to demonize individual foods. Unless you have an allergy or disease that’s actually aggravated by a certain food, I don’t believe in totally ousting one thing or another.

2. Detoxes and/or cleanses. I’ve said it on this blog before, and I’ll say it again: Your body is already equipped with its own detox system. It’s called your liver and kidneys. Yep, believe it or not, your body does a pretty awesome job of filtering out toxins on a daily basis. So you really don’t need to do anything special to help it do so harder or more efficiently. If you’d like to change your diet to be healthier, that’s fantastic! (If you want to do it in the long-term, even better!) But slow and steady usually wins the race, not of a blitz of über-health followed by a return to poor nutrition.

3. Fad diets. The only time I’m interested in writing about fad diets is when I get to expose them. (Which I’m all too happy to do!) Though I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach, I myself subscribe to a mostly Mediterranean diet and feel confident that a lot of basic nutrition advice can be applied to most people. Eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats, and not too much sugar. Is it exciting? Nope. Is it good for you? I believe it is.

4. Nutrition buzzwords: Mmm…adaptogens. Yes, they’re a real thing, and no, I don’t care to focus on them. See “fad diets” above.

5. Celebrity trends. Just because someone’s butt looks amazing on TV or they have a million Twitter followers doesn’t mean their health habits are something we should emulate. So what if Kim Kardashian dropped 20 pounds by eating baby seahorse heads? That doesn’t make it a good idea. Reliable health information comes from professional, (and usually credentialed) sources.

6. Fat positivity. I absolutely think that practicing compassion toward ourselves and our journeys of health is a wonderful thing. But I see the body positivity/anti-fat-shaming movement often crossing a line into celebrating actually unhealthy behaviors. Healthy weight leads to better health outcomes. As a nutrition professional, I cannot, and will not, deny this.

7. Pointless complaints. I’ve literally seen a health publication asking for articles about how, because the media has given so much attention to unhealthy thinness and obesity, medium-sized women are being marginalized. Real issues of health inequality exist, I am 100% sure, but my personal mission around nutrition and health has far more to do with highlighting what we can do for our wellness than stirring up pointless unrest. Aren’t we all angry enough already?

To see some health topics I DO love to talk about, check out my Nutrition page!