Veggie-Filled Mac n’ Cheese

Veggie Mac and CheeseApparently, I’m a bad blog-runner. Life gets just a little crazy, and I go three weeks without posting. Woops. But now I’m back in a normal groove, at least for a little while.

It’s been an interesting month. A month filled with comfort food to help distract me from certain stressors that’ve been on my mind constantly. In the last 30-ish days, I decided to move out of New York and in with a boy (ew, gross). I feared not being able to keep my job due to this move (but, thank goodness, I am!). I apartment-hunted via Skype with said boy. We chose an apartment.  I took a weekend trip to help him move in. We picked out (and fought about) furniture. And I set a moving date for myself (April 26th!) and started packing my apartment. That’s a lot of decisions in very little time for someone who hates being decisive. It’s been unbelievably stressful, but also overwhelmingly exciting. And I couldn’t have made any of these decisions without my  (very patient) friends and parents. Oh, and maybe that boy. 

While this recipe (and photos) is actually over a year old, it’s basically the same thing I’ve been throwing together regularly over the last month: A healthier take on classic comfort food. Sometimes that’s been stovetop mac n’ cheese with veggies (yes, I used Velveeta — deal with it), sometimes it’s been chicken-quinoa meatballs with homemade tomato sauce, and sometimes classic rice and beans. Those are all great things to throw together in 30-minutes after work, but this one… this one’s more special. Perfect to make on a Sunday afternoon. The cheese sauce is made from scratch (but is simplified, and super easy), your choice of fresh vegetables take center stage, and you can use whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta for added fiber (super important).

Veggie Mac n’ Cheese

What You’ll Need:

1 cup broccoli
1 1/2 cups spinach
1 cup tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best!)
1 pound small pasta (I used gluten-free shells, but you could use any gluten-free whole-grain, or whole-wheat short pasta)
1 1/2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

What to Do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a medium baking dish with olive oil.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a healthy pinch of salt. Add noodles, and cook until al dente (according to package instructions), about 8–10 minutes. Drain, and set aside.

In a medium frying pan, prep your veggies. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add broccoli and spinach to pan. Sautée until broccoli begins to tenderize. Add tomatoes and peas and continue cooking until heated through. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, warm milk and chicken stock over medium-high eat. Once simmering, reduce heat to medium. Add one handful of cheddar  at a time, stirring to melt in between additions. Once all cheddar is added, add ricotta and Parmesan and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Add veggies and pasta to the cheese sauce, and stir until everything is evenly combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. remove foil, and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and edges are bubbling.

Beef Stir Fry with Tatsoi, Blue Aprons, and Friends

Back in September when my good friend Kelli told me she was leaving her job at Greatist, I was super super sad. Kelli was sort of my partner in crime at work in a lot of ways — I could always count on her to join me in inappropriately early office cocktails, and to join me on office errands or planning group activities (and making sure they actually happened seamlessly). 

But when I found out a little more about the company she was going to work for, I was super excited for her, and that this new company existed! Blue Apron is a grocery delivery service that sets you up with pre-measured ingredients and recipes/instructions for three meals every week (each recipe serves 2). They come up with some really awesome, inventive recipes and give you basically everything you need to make them. It’s home cooking made easy, basically.

Ginger Beef Stir Fry with Tatsoi

So one weekend a few months back after she started her new job, Kelli invited me over to test out a Blue Apron recipe and see for myself how their product worked. There was chopping and sautéeing and also lots of drinking. (It was this Saturday evening Kelli introduced me to my new go-to cocktail, the sidecar. I’ll have to share one of those recipes very soon…) The recipe we made — Ginger Beef Stir-Fry with Tatsoi and Jasmine Rice — was full of flavor and came with a pretty good proportion of protein-to-veggie-to-carb. We threw it together in less than 30 minutes and were perfectly full after chowing down. Blue Apron currently offers both Meat/Fish and Vegetarian boxes, and as soon as they offer a gluten-free box, I’ll definitely be signing up!

Head on over to Blue Apron for the recipe! And check out what they have in the lineup for next week and see if they deliver to your area, too. It’s a really fun concept to give a try, and I highly encourage you to test it out.

While you’re waiting for your first box to arrive (wink, wink), here are a few of their other recipes I’ve been dying to give a try!

Pork Tamales with Smoked Chili Sauce
Pork Tamales with Smoked Chili Sauce

Apple n’ Oatmeal Pancakes

Apple n' Oatmeal Pancakes

Sundays are my happy days. I try to sleep as late as possible, I usually have the apartment to myself, I let myself page through magazines for way too many hours, and I typically also try to cook something to have for dinner for the rest of the week. That time spent alone in the kitchen is, I think, pretty much what keeps me sane. Usually, I’ll skip breakfast on these days in favor of nibbling on whatever I’m cooking throughout the day. But then there are those Sunday mornings I just really want to settle on my couch with a big café au lait and a hearty breakfast. Last Sunday was one of those days.

Having to avoid gluten, brunch foods are pretty limited: eggs, oatmeal, yogurt. But on this day, I was sick of all the standbys. I wanted something heartier, something a bit more special. So I decided to create a little twist on the classic oatmeal. Voila — oat pancakes. Maybe this was just an excuse for me to smother oatmeal ingredients with butter, but regardless, they came out great and will definitely be on my Sunday brunch rotation regularly from here on out. I used apples here, but you can very well use any other fruit you like — I think pears, mango, banana, blueberries, peach would all work very well!

Maybe I’ll tackle one of the soup recipes from that Bon Appétit next…

Apple n’ Oatmeal Pancakes

Apple n' Oatmeal Pancakes_doubleServes 2 (3 small-ish cakes each)

What You’ll Need: 

2 cups oat flour (you can make this at home by throwing 2 cups rolled oats in a blender or food processor)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup milk
1 apple, cored and diced small
Butter, for cooking
Extra apple slices and honey  or maple syrup for serving

What to Do:

In a mixing bowl, combine oat flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, cinnamon, honey, and milk.

Stir until evenly combined.

Add in the apple chunks, and stir again to incorporate.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, and add butter to melt.

Once skillet is hot and butter is melted, cook the cakes in batches, 2-3 minutes per side, or until nicely browned and cooked through. You’ll want to add a little more butter before each batch. (Note: If you have a cast iron skillet, use it! That’s the best way to get those perfect crispy edges!)

To serve, stack, spread with butter, top with apple slices, and drizzle with honey or maple syrup and a little sprinkle of cinnamon. Voila!

Roasted Red Pepper, Chicken, and Spinach (Easy) Bake

Chicken, Red Pepper, and Spinach Bake_longWhile I love spending time in the kitchen, I hate nothing more than being stuck in the kitchen while trying to entertain company. I want to sit back, have a few drinks, and relax with them! Naturally, recipes that require a little prep that can easily be done beforehand and thrown in the oven just before serving are super necessary when cooking for a crowd.

Or, like I did with this batch, you can throw it together on a Sunday afternoon and have it to eat for lunch or dinner throughout the week. It’s got all the necessary elements: lean protein, veggies, and a little starch. Plus, lots of flavor from a few very simple ingredients.

ChickenPepperSpinachBake_wide_2

(Note: As I’m writing this post, a few days after making the original recipe, there is a pizza in my oven topped with the last bits of chicken, peppers, and spinach (on a layer of this homemade pesto!). This is, as I’ve just discovered, also an amazing, delicious, perfect, and wonderful way to use up leftovers!) 

Roasted Red Pepper, Chicken, and Spinach Bake

Chicken, Red Pepper, and Spinach BakeServes 4 (with side)  

What You’ll Need:

1.5 pounds chicken (2 large breasts, or 4 smaller ones)
1 large jar roasted red peppers
2-3 cups fresh baby spinach
EVOO
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
Dried oregano, basil, and/or parsley

For serving: 3-4 cups cooked quinoa, brown rice, cous cous, or equivalent

What to Do: 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a medium-sized baking dish with a drizzle of EVOO and set aside. Combine salt, pepper, and herbs in a small pinch bowl and set aside.

Prepare the spinach and peppers so they’re ready for assembly: Rinse and dry spinach and set aside. Remove peppers from jar and pull apart or slice into 1-inch strips if need be. Set those aside, too!

Slice chicken breasts into thin cutlets. I like to do this by simply cutting through each breast horizontally into about 3-4 thin, long, wide slices. Set aside.

Now it’s time to assemble. Alternate layers of the ingredients in the baking dish: Chicken, a sprinkle of the salt-herb mixture, a few spinach leaves, and peppers. Then start over (chicken, herbs, spinach, peppers), and repeat until you’ve used up all the ingredients.

Sprinkle the top with a bit more pepper and herbs. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and the balsamic vinegar.

Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Serve on top of rice, quinoa, or something similar, and garnish with some freshly-grated parmesan cheese and pepper. Enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Sometimes, a girl just needs a cheesy, BBQ-y, semi-unhealthy-but-let’s-just-pretend-that-didn’t-happen pizza.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Yep, just like this one. One of the blessings and curses of not being able to chow-down on any gluten-filled slice of greasy pizza lining the NYC sidewalks is that if I want to indulge, I usually have to make it myself. So, while it takes way more work, I also inevitably end up making it healthier. Like, for instance, on a super-thin brown rice tortilla instead of a super-doughy traditional pizza dough. While the texture’s clearly different, it still seves the same purpose of getting those awesome, gooey toppings into your mouth.

BBQ Chicken and Red Onion Pizza

Serves 1

What You’ll Need: 

1 brown rice tortilla
1/2 a chicken breast, shredded
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (roughly) (homemade or store-bought, you choose)
1/4 of a red onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 – 1 cup shredded cheddar jack cheese (the amount depends on just how stressful of a day you’ve had, clearly)
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped

What to Do: 

Heat the oven to about 425F. Throw the tortilla in the oven on a piece of aluminum foil. (This is my super-sneaky trick to avoid washing a  cookie sheet. Shhh!) Let heat/crisp up for about 3–5 minutes (or until light brown).

In the meantime, combine the shredded chicken and about half the BBQ sauce in a small microwave-safe bowl or mug. Toss to evenly coat. Then, stick in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until warm. (If you don’t like using the microwave or don’t have one, this can be done in a small pan over medium heat on the stove.

While the chicken is heating and tortilla is crisping, make sure your onion is finely sliced.

Once the tortilla is slightly crisp, remove from oven and spread with as much of the leftover BBQ sauce as you’d like. Next, top with chicken, onion slices, and cheese.

Once the tortilla is topped, put it back in the oven (carefully, on the tin foil), and bake until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on it!

While the pizza is baking, make sure you have your finely chopped fresh parsley.

Once the cheese is melted and the edges of the tortilla are super-crispy, remove from oven and let it cool slightly on a cutting board. Sprinkle with the parsley, slice into wedges, and enjoy!

Brussels Sprout and Cherry Tomato Hash

I’m having a love affair with Brussel’s sprouts.

Brussels Sprout and Cherry Tomato HashIf I walk into any grocery store in a dazed, post-work stupor, I typically lunge right for the sprouts, returning home to attempt any number of simple, comforting preparations, from whole-roasted with cloves of garlic to shredded into a lightly sauteed slaw. The obsession all started with the Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Dig Inn, a small chain of quick-service (but super high quality) restaurants in NYC that serve super healthy, super high quality “real food.” Those sprouts are like crack, and they are the drug of choice in my office.

All other recipes paled in comparison to those sprouts.

And then I magically created this. (I’ll admit it — a few months ago!)

One day, right after Hurricane Sandy hit New York and I returned from a (perfectly timed) vacation, I walked into my local grocery store to find a massive sale on all things produce. (I’m guessing this had to do with that whole “no power” thing). Brussels sprouts for $1.50 a container! Orange cherry tomatoes for $1.99! I nearly died I was so happy. So I (naturally) overfilled my basket with both, convincing myself I could create something of substance from my little green and orange friends.

That night, I shredded some sprouts, sliced some tomatoes, and went searching through cabinets for anything else to make it special. My tride and true favorite, balsamic vinegar, some onion, half an orange, and (of course) wine. What resulted was sweet with just a hint of tartness, and a divine partner to sticky brown rice. The next day, it perfectly topped a roast chicken breast. I’m pretty much convinced this combo would be good on top of just about anything — maybe even ice cream (though don’t quote me on that).

Brussels Sprout and Cherry Tomato Hash

Serves 2

What You’ll Need:

1 small container brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup orange cherry tomatoes, quartered lenghwise
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 onion (or shallot), chopped
1/2 cup water (or white wine)
juice from half an orange
salt and pepper
olive oil

What to Do:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a frying pan.

Sautee onion until it begins to soften.

Throw in the sprouts and water (or wine).

Cook over medium until the sprouts begin to soften and the water is mostly absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Once the water’s absorbed, add the tomatoes and a few tablespoons more water, if it looks like you need it.

Cook until the tomatoes begin to soften.

Add the vinegar and orange juice and cook down until the vinegar has evaporated (about 5 minutes).

Serve with brown rice, and a simple protein like roast chicken if desired.