Tag Archives: low carb

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

I’m not a squash fan. Or at least, I didn’t use to be. I’ve been gradually teaching myself to like it. The main trick I have learned in teaching myself to like new foods is to start by cooking it in a similar recipe as foods I do like.

I like spaghetti. With red sauce and cheese.  Now I’m not going to tell you that spaghetti squash tastes exactly like spaghetti. It doesn’t really. In fact, it doesn’t really taste like much at all. When you cook it with cheese and spaghetti sauce, mostly what you taste is cheese and spaghetti sauce. But the spaghetti squash has a nice texture (a little firmer than an actual noodle but not that different) and it’s a great conveyance for your favorite flavors.

The star of this dish – for me – was the ricotta topping. It’s hard to feel like you are missing out when you are eating something so rich and creamy. And here’s the kicker. My daughter ate SQUASH and it was all because she loved the ricotta stuff so much. I gave her a tiny spoonful of this dish (I have a rule that you have to at least try everything once) and told her if she hated it she could make herself a sandwich. Normally she hates squash, so this is how I was expecting it to go down. But instead she went back, loaded up her bowl and ate it all. It was some sort of squashy miracle.

One note on cooking the squash: some people cook it whole, some cut it in half. It will cook faster if you cut it in half (in about 45 minutes or so), but wrestling these things into submission when they are raw is not always easy. I found it much easier to break this sucker down when it was cooked and tender, so I left mine whole.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin
(from Recipe Sweet)

1 spaghetti squash

1 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, drained and smooshed with your fingers or coarsely chopped (or you can use diced ones)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn

Gratin Topping:
1 (15 oz.) container part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400˚. Poke your squash with a fork or knife a few times and place in the oven whole (I put mine on a pan just in case it leaked some juices). Roast for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until tender. Let it cool just a bit so you can handle it. (You can do this the day before or earlier in the day if time is an issue).

Slice it in half, scoop out the seeds in the middle (discard the seeds), and then using a fork, comb through the squash, creating “spaghetti” strands. Place these in the bottom of your baking dish. Drizzle with just a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss a bit with your fingers to combine.

Looks like spaghetti!

Looks like spaghetti!

In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Add garlic and crushed red pepper.  Cook and stir for a minute. Add tomatoes, salt & pepper, Italian seasoning and wine. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes. Pour over the top of the squash and spread out so all of the squash is covered.

Smother anything in this sauce and it will be good.

Smother anything in this sauce and it will be good.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan and seasonings.  Carefully spread ricotta mixture over the top of the red sauce.

Ready to cook!

Ready to cook!

Bake at 400˚ for 40-45 minutes, until lightly browned. Dig in!

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Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I always have a more productive day (with a lot less snacking) if I start off with a little protein in the morning.  These little egg cups are quick to throw together and they bake while you’re getting dressed and brushing your teeth.  Perfect for weekday mornings.  Or any mornings.  Or an afternoon snack.

I usually keep a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my fridge for little things like this.  I prefer the kind that are packed in olive oil, but you can use any kind you like.  They give a huge punch of flavor to just about anything.  I had leftover asparagus from dinner the night before.  If you don’t I would recommend a quick toss in a pan or microwave just to soften it a bit, although if you like it on the crunchy side, it’s not absolutely necessary.  Feel free to adjust the ingredients in this dish to your tastes, adding or removing elements as you like.

Baked eggs with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.

Baked eggs with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.

Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

For each ramekin:

2-3 stalks asparagus, cut into bite size pieces
1 tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, sliced or chopped (I usually buy the ones already in julienne strips)
1 strip bacon
1-2 eggs
1-2 tbsp. crumbled or shredded cheese (I used queso fresco)
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Spray each ramekin lightly with cooking spray or rub with olive oil.  Cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.  Crumble or chop.

Layer your ingredients in the ramekins.  I started with the asparagus.


Then the sun-dried tomatoes. No worries if there are some bits of cold oil stuck to them, it permeates the dish nicely as it cooks.


Top with bacon and some of the cheese.


Break two eggs carefully on top.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and remaining cheese.


Carefully put into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until eggs are set.  This paired perfectly with some homemade hash browns.  Want to know how to get them just right?  Click here for my hash brown recipe.


Baked eggs with hash browns on the side.  Mmmm!

Baked eggs with hash browns on the side. Mmmm!



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Steak with Shiitake Sherry Sauce

We don’t eat much red meat these days, so when we have steak it’s a real treat!  I scored some beautiful shiitake mushrooms at farmer’s market this weekend and they paired perfectly with my little hunk of cow. I’ve also made this sauce to spoon over pork chops or chicken.  But the steak was mmmm…plate-licking good.

With the opening of farmer’s market this weekend I had LOTS of veggies on hand so we made this a low carb affair with lightly roasted asparagus and cauliflower “fries”.  Yum!

Steak with Shiitake Sherry Sauce

Steak with Shiitake Sherry Sauce

Steak with Shiitake Sherry Sauce

2 steaks (whatever kind you like best will work fine)
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, halved or sliced
1/4 cup sherry
1 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces

Make sure steaks are dry so you get a good sear.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and set aside.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and let it get hot (if you flick a few drops of water in the pan it should sizzle if it’s ready).  For medium-rare, cook steaks 3-4 minutes per side (or to the doneness you prefer).  Remove from pan and let them rest while make the sauce.

Add mushrooms and sherry to the pan.  Sauté 2-3 minutes.  Add a few grinds of pepper.  Remove pan from heat and whisk in the butter.  Slice steaks across the grain and spoon sauce and mushrooms over the top.

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Jello Pinwheels

Jello is one of those things that’s fun to make, fun to play with…and that I usually have no desire to eat.  I’m not sure why that is.  Is it that I associate it with being sick and low-carb diets?  Maybe.  I don’t hate it, but I rarely go out of my way to have some.  My kids feel the same way.  That being said, occasionally we see a recipe that needs to be made, just for the fun of it.  So we’ve made the jello aquarium (complete with Spongebob and friends), we’ve pinned jello oranges, and now we’ve discovered jello pinwheels.

These jello pinwheels are easy to make, and they involve marshmallows, which in my opinion only improves the jello.  They are definitely a fun snack, especially for the smaller kids I think.  I’d love to tell you we gobbled them up like crazy but I think we had more fun playing with them and making them than actually eating them.  But if you’re a jello fan, they are a must.

Jello Roll-ups

Jello Rollups
(from Joy of Jello)

1 (3 oz) package of jello
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square pan with cooking spray.

Stir together water and jello powder and microwave for one minute.  Remove and stir to make sure all the jello is dissolved.  Microwave a few seconds more if needed.

Add marshmallows and return to microwave for 20-40 seconds, until marshmallows just begin to puff.  This is the key to a successful marshmallow layer! If you overcook the marshmallows they will just dissolve and you will not have two distinct layers.

Whisk quickly until marshmallows have dissolved.  Pour into prepared pan and chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes, until well set.  The creamy marshmallow layer will float to the top.

Remove the pan from the fridge.  The jello should be very firm and easy to handle.  Gently pull one side away from the pan and lift the entire sheet onto the counter or other clean surface.  Starting at one end, roll up tightly.  With the seam side down, cut into 1/2 inch pinwheels.  An easy way to do this is with a piece of thread or dental floss.  Simply put the string around the roll, cross and pull. Makes 10-12 pinwheels.

Easiest way to cut the pinwheels.

Easiest way to cut the pinwheels.

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Asian-Inspired Pork Loin and Slaw

I love mixing marinades.  I always feel like a mad scientist, tossing in a bit of this and a dash of that.  Rarely measuring.  One of the nice unexpected benefits to blogging is that it has forced me to write down what I do and how much I do it with, which has made it possible to reproduce good results.

I actually started out with the makings for an Asian slaw, and needed something to go with it, so I decided to go with an Asian(ish) pork loin.  I honestly have no idea if they would ever make it like this in Asia, but the flavors have a distinctive Asian twist so we’ll just roll with it.  When you have a well-stocked pantry, you can pretend you’re from anywhere, right?  Normally I would do these two dishes in two separate posts but they went together so well, I thought I’d just throw it out there together.

I never used to be a huge fan of pork, but I absolutely adore pork loin.  It’s lean, but juicy and it soaks up just about any marinade you put on it and just gets tastier.  And they are just about foolproof to cook.  Depending on where you shop, sometimes they are a little pricey, but I keep my eye out for sales, and when I see one I stash a few in my freezer.

Asian-Inspired Pork Loin and Slaw

Asian-Inspired Pork Loin and Slaw

Asian-ish Pork Loin

1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. chili garlic sauce
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1-2 pork loins (1 package usually has 2 loins in it)

Mix together marinade all ingredients in a large zip lock bag, then add pork loin.  Marinate at least 30 minutes or up to a couple of hours.

My favorite way to marinate since it's easy to reposition so all of the meat gets some love.  You can do it in a dish or bowl if you prefer.

My favorite way to marinate since it’s easy to reposition so all of the meat gets some love. You can do it in a dish or bowl if you prefer.

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Place loin in a shallow baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, brushing once or twice during cooking with leftover marinade (do not brush with marinade during the last 5 minutes of cooking). It should be done, but if you want to test it, a meat thermometer should read 145˚ in the center of the loin.  Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.  It should be slightly pink in the center.

Juicy wonderful pork loin.

Juicy wonderful pork loin.  Best when it’s slightly pink in the center.

Asian Slaw

1 small head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 bell pepper, chopped or sliced
2 carrots, shredded
2 green onions, sliced
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper

Mix all ingredients.  I recommend letting it sit for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, before serving so flavors can mingle.

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Mushroom and Sausage Ragú with Creamy Polenta

I’ve never been a fan of grits.  I think it’s one of those things you have to grow up eating to appreciate.  But I love polenta.  This doesn’t really make sense because they are basically the same thing.  And yet, it’s true.  I don’t know if it’s the way it’s cooked, or the way it’s presented or if it’s just in my head.  I suppose in the end it doesn’t really matter.  In any case, this post is about polenta.  Which is wonderful.  Especially when you mix cream cheese and butter into it.  If you are on a gluten-free diet, or just wanting something different from rice or potatoes to smother with something, eat this.  You can thank me later.

Topping off the polenta is a delicious mushroom and sausage concoction.  Together it was heaven on a plate.  When I first showed this recipe to my daughter Claire she was suspicious of the whole thing.  It didn’t look like much.  But in the end, she made the loudest yummy noises of all.  This disappeared in record time but it will definitely be making a reappearance in our kitchen very soon!

Mushroom and Sausage Ragú with Creamy Polenta

Mushroom and Sausage Ragú with Creamy Polenta

Mushroom and Sausage Ragú with Creamy Polenta
(adapted from Cooking Light)

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces hot Italian sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 – 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked polenta
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon butter

To make polenta, bring broth and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add polenta, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 15-20 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, cream cheese, and butter.

Meanwhile, eat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Remove sausage from casings. Add sausage to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage from pan.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms; sauté 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in sausage, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium; simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.  Serve over polenta.

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Huevos Rancheros Cups

I love Huevos Rancheros but I’m not always in the mood to make (or eat) a big huge breakfast.  And let’s face it, it’s probably not the greatest thing for my waistline either.  But healthy diet or not, there is no way I’m giving up Mexican food.  So…I made this stripped down version for a quick and healthy breakfast.  It’s not as elaborate as most huevos rancheros dishes but it is definitely delicious and it’s the perfect size portion for eating healthy too.

I usually keep a batch of salsa in my fridge for things just like this.  I occasionally buy a jar when I’m feeling lazy.  The other day I looked in my fridge and found a jar in there that had to be at least six months old.  It was still fine.  How is this possible?  Makes me wonder what goes in it that keeps it from going bad.  In any case, I prefer to make my own.  If you want to as well you can find my salsa recipe here. It will keep in the fridge for several weeks, if it lasts that long.

Huevos Rancheros Cups

Huevos Rancheros Cups

Huevos Rancheros Cups

For each ramekin:

1 corn tortilla
2-3 tbsp. salsa
2 eggs
1-2 tsp shredded jack or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400˚.  Spray ramekin with cooking spray or rub with a bit of oil.  Slice tortilla into strips and fan out in the bottom of the ramekin and up the sides.


Top tortilla strips with a scoop of salsa.


Break eggs on top of salsa.  Top with a sprinkle of cheese.


Pop in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Jiggle to make sure eggs are set (if not leave in for a couple more minutes).  Remove carefully and eat!


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