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Creamy, Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese

January 18, 2019

Happy Friday! We are waiting for a snow storm that’s supposed to hit our neck of the woods sometime today, long-overdue since we’ve hardly had any snow and very mild weather all winter thus far, and I’m over here baking pasta dishes and prepping for a weekend spent indoors watching football.

I’ve been planning/dreaming of making this dish for over a month now – ever since I made a similar dish with butternut squash from Food & Wine for a Christmas party in early December. While I enjoyed the process of peeling and cubing and cooking the butternut squash before actually making the sauce, for a weekday meal it was hardly an approachable method. It seemed obvious that I could swap out the squash for canned pumpkin and get a similar result with less fuss – and while the flavor profile was slightly different I was shoveling hot bites of this in my mouth the second it came out of the oven. So I think it’s safe to say it was GOOD.

One thing to note: This dish (similar to the original I made in December) is best served hot. It’s fine re-heated, but for maximum creaminess and best texture, making it straight through is best. Additionally, I wouldn’t suggest prepping this in advance and baking it later. I did that for the Christmas party I hosted, and I felt that the pasta had absorbed too much liquid while it sat in the fridge, so once again, making it straight through being optimal. It doesn’t take long to assemble and with the help of a high-powered blender (Yay Vitamix!) the sauce becomes incredibly creamy. Enjoy!

Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese
Makes one 13×9-inch pan (6 to 8 servings)

Ingredients
1 box (16 oz.) penne pasta (I used Barilla Plus high protein penne)
20 oz. pumpkin puree
3 cups chicken stock (not unsalted)
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 1 hour up to 4 hours, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Crushed red pepper flakes, if desired

Directions
Heat oven to 350°F.

Cook pasta according to package directions, removing from water when the pasta is very al-dente and has some bite to it. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce and you don’t want it to be mushy. Drain; set aside.

While pasta is cooking, in a large high-powered blender combine the pumpkin puree, chicken stock, cashews, garlic, salt and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Blend until very smooth and no lumps or texture remains. Note: You may have to work in batches depending on how big your blender is.

Combine the pasta and sauce, stirring until pasta is evenly coated. Transfer pasta mixture into a 13×9-inch greased baking dish. Spread evenly in dish. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Cover dish with aluminum foil.

Bake pasta, covered, 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 to 25 minutes more or until bubbly around the edges and the top is golden. Remove from oven and top with crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve immediately.

Variations:
I think the flavor profile of this dish lends itself to adding in some type of protein, specifically some ground sausage or chopped chicken, which could be added to the dish before baking.

Alternately, you could add a drizzle of basil pesto to the top of the dish before serving or top with some toasted walnuts after baking for a little crunch.

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

January 7, 2019

Chances are some of you out there made some type of resolution related to health, am I right? And while I’m certainly NOT one to make resolutions related to weight loss these days, I think health goals like having more energy, eating less sugar, eating more veggies, and moving your body more are all worthwhile and noble goals to have for the year to come.

With that in mind, I also know that I love to bake, my girls love to bake and we love easy, grab-and-go type breakfasts. So while I certainly DO want to help my kiddos enjoy fewer sugary treats, I am not about to give up baking and baked goods.

Our family’s solution? These Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins! They’re made with almond and oat flours, no refined sugar except for a few chocolate chips, and just a little bit of good-for-you olive oil in place of the butter or vegetable oil found in most muffins and baked goods.

My girls loved these from the start, and so did the rest of the family! Bonus: They can easily be stored in the freezer and re-heated for a breakfast on the go that’s quick and tasty!

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup oat flour*
1/2 cup almond meal
1/3 cup old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions
Heat oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper baking liners; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, maple syrup and honey. Stir until well-combined. Add in the banana, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla and stir until combined.

In a second bowl, combine the oat flour, almond meal, old fashioned oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin liners. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until muffins bounce back when lightly pressed on in the center. Cool 10 minutes in baking pan. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely.

*To make your own oat flour, simply process old fashioned oats in a high-powdered blender (like a Vitamix) until mixture forms a flour and is evenly processed.

Instant Pot Pasta Marinara

January 2, 2019



Hi friends! Happy New Year! I’m so excited to dive into the new year over here with a RECIPE! If you follow along on Instagram then you know that one of my goals for the year to come is to write more over in this space and return to sharing more recipes. Recipe development has always been a love of mine – but when I was working developing recipes full-time in my day job I got a little burned out sharing recipes on E&C. But since most of my time these days does not focus around recipe development, it’s left me with a creative hole that I’m longing to fill here.

I’ve been a little slow to the Instant Pot game – mainly because I had a slow cooker and it worked fine and I couldn’t justify another large appliance in my already packed kitchen. But when my trusty slow cooker broke a couple months ago, I decided to buy this multi-cooker that functions as both a slow cooker and instant pot in one. It also browns/sautees and is basically the appliance of my dreams because it does so many things in a single appliance. Trust me, you really do need this appliance if you’re time-pressed and hate doing multiple dishes.

One meal that we make often at our house is pasta with meat sauce; Joe loves eating it for lunches since it makes great leftovers and the girls are always happy to have noodles in some way, shape or form. And while it’s not hard to make pasta with meat sauce, once you factor in the pan for browning the beef, and then a pot for boiling water and then you combine it all at the end, you’ve gotten more than a couple pans dirty in the process. But! I’m happy to report there is a super easy solution when you use your Instant Pot for doing all the things: Browning the meat and garlic, and cooking the pasta in the sauce without any straining or pre-boiling required. So easy and dare I even say fun to cook this way?! Full recipe below!

Instant Pot Pasta Marinara
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 6 minutes
Total Time: 16 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. dry pasta (I used mafalda noodles but any short pasta would work)
24 oz. marinara sauce
16 oz. water
1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Directions
Set the Instant Pot to the brown/sautee setting. Once heated, add in the ground beef and cook, breaking up and stirring frequently until the meat is fully cooked through. Drain excess grease and return to pot. Add in garlic and cook 2 minutes more.

Add in the pasta, marinara sauce and water; stir. Lock on lid and make sure steam valve is set to closed. Set to “rice/risotto” setting for 6 minutes. Once cooked, release steam valve and let sit two minutes. Remove lid and stir in the heavy cream, if desired. Spoon into bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired!

Family

Random Acts of Kindness Cookie Decorating Party

December 9, 2018

This post is sponsored by Soapbox Influence in partnership with Vanilla MasterCard Gift Cards.  As always, all opinions are my own. I carefully select which sponsored posts to take on with YOU, my awesome readers in mind! I hope this party helps inspire you this holiday season. #VanillaGiftWinnerWonderland #VanillaGift

We frequently purchase gift cards at our local Walmart, including these Vanilla MasterCard Charming Characters Multi-Pack $20 gift cards that I used in the cards (pictured below) for our random acts of kindness. For every Vanilla MasterCard Gift Card purchase until 12/23/18 participants will be entered to win one of over 100 different prizes, including a grand prize of a $10,000 Macy’s shopping spree! To enter, after purchasing your gift card, go to https://www.winner-wonderland.com/ to enter.

Christmastime, and the month of December, really, is a time when adults have plenty of Christmas parties and events to attend, but a little person Christmas party? Well, we decided to tackle that this weekend with a few of our favorite little people and their mommas for a Preschooler Random Acts of Kindness Cookie Decorating Party! If you’re thinking that toddlers and preschoolers decorating Christmas cookies with sprinkles and frosting sounds like a hot mess, then you’re right! It was a bit crazy (as pictured above) but we also had a great time on a cold and snowy Saturday decorating cookies, drinking coffee (the moms) and listening to Christmas music while the kids played.

Here’s a bit more about the party structure and details that make it happen:

-I provided all the supplies so friends could just show up and enjoy themselves! All the supplies were purchased at Walmart, where we do nearly all our grocery shopping these days, and for ease and convenience I used pre-made dough since the focus was really on the cookie decorating! I made around 100+ cut-out cookies and got a variety of toppings, including sprinkles, candies, gum-drops, candy canes, etc. I DID make the frosting from scratch because it’s worth every bit of extra effort. 😉

-Lately Joe and I have been really conscious that we want Ainsley and Collins to grow up thinking about others rather than becoming super self-focused, so when I was approached about partnering with Vanilla MasterCard Gift Cards to find a creative use for gift cards this holiday season, I immediately thought about how they could be used to make someone’s Christmas a bit brighter! Each family who came to the party left with a plate of decorated cookies and a card with a $20 gift card in it to deliver to someone as a random act of Christmas kindness!

-We knew it would be a mess letting littles decorate cookies, so we decided to put down plastic painter’s tarp under the table. It was a great idea because all we had to do was wrap up the tarp after the party and wipe down our table and clean-up was a breeze!

-Let’s be honest: The mom’s ended up decorating a lot of the cookies after the first 15 minutes, when the kids lost interest and started playing with toys, but any excuse to get together and celebrate the season is a win in my book!

-If you want your cookies to look good and cohesive, stick with a color palette. Even cookies decorated by little people can look good when you stick with a color scheme (we did red, green and white) that makes everything look cohesive. Another idea would be blue and white. Or white with gold and silver sprinkles. Or white and red. Plus, it’s easier to plan around, too!

We had such a great time and it was a tradition I would love to continue every year! Plus, knowing that the cookies and gift cards when to brighten someone’s day make it even more special. With so much focus on ourselves and our own loved ones this holiday season, it’s nice to shift the focus to those around us more often.

Madison

Healthy Taco Casserole

September 23, 2018

Happy Sunday, friends! I’m doing a little slow Sunday morning meal prep and planning for my weekly meal planning newsletter and this is one of the recipes that will go out in a bit! If you aren’t signed up yet, each Sunday I send out our family’s meal plan to serve as inspiration for you in your meal planning efforts. It’s nothing fancy, but I hope it’s helpful, and it certainly keeps me on track! You can sign up HERE if you’re interested in getting a meal plan sent to your inbox each week.

I’m always looking for more family-friendly recipes that aren’t terribly difficult to make and are pleasing for little kiddos. This recipe is just that – easy to make, pleasing for nearly everyone, filling yet healthy. If you are looking for a new casserole recipe to add into your rotation this fall as temperatures drop, I highly recommend adding this into your rotation.

This week I divided up the recipe into five lunch containers for Joe’s lunches this week. I’m also including some lettuce and sour cream on the side so he can top this with some traditional taco toppings before eating. While I doubt the chips will stay good and crunchy throughout the week, I’m hopeful it still tastes great!

Healthy Taco Casserole
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium orange, red or yellow sweet pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 cups hot-cooked brown rice (I like Trader Joe's frozen brown rice bags)
  • 1 cup mild or medium salsa
  • 1½ cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (not the "taco" cheese with seasoning)
  • 1 cup crushed whole grain tortilla chips
  • Lettuce, guacamole, and sour cream for serving, if desired
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking dish. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the peppers and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes or until onions are browned and peppers are tender.
  3. Meanwhile, brown ground beef; drain. Return beef to skillet and add in ½ cup water and the taco seasoning mix. Simmer 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in the brown rice and the sauteed peppers and onions, along with the salsa and 1 cup of the cheese.
  4. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining ½ cup of the cheese and the crushed tortilla chips. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and hot. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Serve with desired toppings.