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.
Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale
- 2 large spaghetti squash
- 3/4 lb. mild sausage
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch kale
- 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained
- 1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick both spaghetti squash all over with a fork and microwave each one for about a minute, to soften.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Remember those Arby’s commercials that ran awhile back promoting roast beef sandwiches on the premise that they were “Good Mood Food”? These ads always drove me nuts, because even before I was a nutritionist, I could tell you that eating processed red meat on a processed white bun slathered with overly sugary barbecue sauce was not going to be put me (or anyone else) in a good mood. In fact, the opposite is true.
Basically every time I eat fast food–no matter how tasty it sounded when I was really hungry–I always end up feeling super gross afterward. It’s one big reason why, in our family, fast food restaurants have become a last-resort destination reserved primarily for road trips. In the words of my husband, “I’m so hungry I could eat at Arby’s.” (Then again, I totally get that for some families, eating out at more expensive restaurants isn’t financially feasible. We all have to make the best choices we can with the resources we have.)
Thankfully, the American people apparently also saw right through this ad campaign, naming it one of the worst of 2011. (Luv’s diapers’ “Poop! There is is!” topped this list–though I find this one kind of disgustingly charming, don’t you?) We all know that, except under certain circumstances like after a REALLY rotten day at work or a beloved cat dying, junk food leaves us full of regret, not good vibes. So thanks but no thanks on the feeble attempt at deception, Arby’s.
Healthy food, on the other hand, does actually have the power to lift our spirits. Research around the Mediterranean diet shows that this eating plan centered around fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and seafood is linked with lower risk of depression. And I for one can say that I feel far better about myself when I’ve made healthy food choices.
That’s where this Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pomegranate and Chicken comes in. My kids and I had this for dinner the other night as an easy, light meal while my husband was out of town. Often, without my husband to feed, I go easy on myself by heating up something frozen or getting pizza. But once this salad was made, I realized it had hardly taken any time and, with its bed of greens, lean chicken, crunchy almonds, pops of juicy pomegranate, and olive oil-based dressing, I actually felt really good about eating it. Plus, I had some awesome healthy leftovers for lunch the next day. I’d say that’s the REAL Good Mood Food.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, this shaved Brussels sprout salad could also make a nice healthy side dish (without the chicken, perhaps) for the main event. I’d love to hear how eating it makes YOU feel!
Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate and Chicken
For the salad:
- 1 1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts
- 1 green apple, diced
- 1/2 c. pomegranate arils
- 1/3 c. dried cranberries
- 1/3 c. sliced almonds
- 1 1/2 c. shredded chicken
- 2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
For the dressing:
- 1/3 c. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1 1/2 tsp. Dijon
Make the salad:
- In a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, shred Brussels sprouts. (I like to leave some larger bits for textural variety.) Pour into a large serving bowl.
- Add diced apple, pomegranate arils, cranberries, almonds, chicken, and goat cheese to Brussels sprouts and toss to combine.
Make the dressing:
- In a small measuring cup, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Pour over salad and toss to combine.
In the past, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid using tahini. It’s just so expensive, I thought, and what on earth would I do with an entire jar of sesame paste? Sure, I like hummus like any red-blooded Millennial, but I just couldn’t see making that much of it from scratch.
Little did I know that tahini can be used for other things besides hummus.
A few weeks ago I came across this helpful post on Babble that set me straight. Twenty-eight ways to use tahini that AREN’T hummus? The mystery! The intrigue! Turns out the sesame flavor and smooth texture of tahini lends itself to salad dressings, pestos, and even…brownies? While that particular suggestion may be going a bit too far for my tastes, the idea did broaden my horizons. When I ended up buying a jar at Trader Joe’s (for only around $3–far cheaper than I expected) it was with plenty of options on my radar.
This amazing all-purpose tahini sauce started its life as a dressing for a to-die-for roasted cauliflower salad over at Budget Bytes, but in my house, it’s turned into so much more. This week I put it on baked salmon, dipped pita in it, and have been seriously considering its possibilities as a sandwich spread. (With a bit of deli turkey, sprouts, and cucumber, it sounds like Mediterranean perfection.) I could see it working well on grilled chicken, as a veggie dip, or on falafel.
And, if you’re really adventurous, I suppose you could even use it in brownies.
Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce
- 1/3 c. tahini
- 1/3 c. water
- 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- In a measuring cup, mix all ingredients until well combined. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
Do you eat eggs at dinner?
Though I almost never eat eggs at breakfast–I’m more of a grains gal to start my day–I am weirdly, unaccountably loyal to them at dinner. I suppose it’s partly because I grew up eating dinner quiches on a regular basis, but partly because eggs have so much going for them. They’re cheap, first of all, and relatively easy to purchase locally. Then there are all their nutrition benefits. With 6 grams of protein, a sizable dose of vitamins D and B12, and only around 70 calories, a single egg packs plenty of nutrition.
Also, the health concerns that used to plague most consumers about eating too many eggs have been shown to be largely unfounded. Whereas in decades gone by, the medical establishment believed that high intake of dietary cholesterol led to high blood cholesterol, we now know that saturated fat and fiber play a far more important role in blood cholesterol levels. So the days of avoiding eggs for the sake of your HDL and LDL are past.
Which is really good news for this amazing Mediterranean Baked Eggs with Croutons and Tomatoes.
This delightful breakfast-lunch-or-dinner dish comes from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, a fabulous resource I’ve been working my way through since receiving it for my last birthday. If you like Mediterranean flavors (or dig the health perks of a Mediterranean diet), you’re going to love this unique combination of crunchy croutons, garlic-herb roasted tomatoes, tangy feta, and baked eggs. Something about the match of blistered, tender tomatoes against the crunch of croutons and the heft of the eggs has made this one of my new favorite meals.
Made step-wise by baking the croutons and tomatoes at the same time, assembling, and baking again, this recipe may look slightly daunting at first, but ultimately is quite simple once you get the hang of it. Plus, the baking time involved gives you a few extra minutes to toss a light salad–True Food Kitchen’s Kale Salad, perhaps?–to complete the picture of an unforgettable Mediterranean-style meal.
Bring on the eggs for dinner!
Mediterranean Baked Eggs With Croutons and Tomatoes
- 5 c. French or Italian bread, sliced into 1/2-inch chunks--preferably a savory loaf like rosemary or garlic-infused
- 4 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 20 oz. cherry tomatoes
- 6 large eggs
- 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the bread chunks with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and spread the bread into it in an even layer. Set aside.
- In the same large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, tomato paste, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add cherry tomatoes and stir to coat. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pouring any additional olive oil mixture over tomatoes.
- Place both the dish of croutons and the baking sheet of tomatoes in the oven. Bake the croutons for 10 minutes and the tomatoes for 20 minutes.
- Once both tomatoes and croutons have baked, pour tomatoes over the croutons and gently stir together, adding an additional 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Using a large spoon, make six shallow indentations in the mixture. Crack one egg into each indentation. Season with salt and pepper. Return the baking dish to the oven for another 12 minutes or until eggs are just set.
- Let cool for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle crumbled feta over the top and serve.
In a perfect world, every culture would have its own version of nachos. I can see it now: German nachos with a crispy potato base and sausage crumbles on top, Indian nachos with lentil crackers and chicken tikka masala… the list goes on. But since we don’t live in a perfect world, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands, nacho-wise.
Since I’m such a fan of the Mediterranean diet, and that region doesn’t exactly have its own native nachos, I’ve been meaning to make something like these “naanchos” for ages, especially after coming across Rachael Ray’s version years ago. I’m so glad I did! These made the perfect light lunch for my day off yesterday.
With a naan flatbread base, hummus swirl, and gazpacho-flavored salsa, this twist on the usual nachos takes your tastebuds on a tour around the Mediterranean. The gazpacho salsa on top (a riff on my regular gazpacho), is a refreshing pico de gallo-style dip, with manly chunks of red pepper, tomato, and cucumber. Put together with chewy flatbread, cool hummus, and salty feta, I could also see this combo serving as a unique appetizer for entertaining or a nutrient-packed afternoon snack.
Like their namesake, these naancho nachos might just make you go…
Naan-chos with Gazpacho Salsa
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 English cucumber, cut into chunks
- 2 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
- 1/2 large red bell pepper, seeds removed and cut into chunks
- 1/2 red onion, cut into chunks
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 8 mini naan flatbreads
- 1 8 oz. container plain hummus
- 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
- Make the gazpacho salsa: Place garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process for a few seconds until garlic is minced. Add the chunks of cucumber, tomatoes, red pepper, and red onion and process another few seconds until the mixture reaches a pico de gallo consistency.
- Pour the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
- Toast the naan in a toaster/toaster oven. Spread with a layer of hummus, then slice into wedges.
- Place wedges on a serving dish. Top with gazpacho salsa and sprinkle with crumbled feta. Serve immediately, and store any extra salsa tightly covered in the fridge.