Sunday, January 28, 2018

Baked Pasta with a Squash, Ricotta and Garlic Sauce

This delicious and cheesy pasta dish is comforting while still being healthy!

My husband came up with the idea to make a pasta sauce from butternut squash. He will come up with recipe ideas from time to time, and then I help him try to implement them. He thought of putting ricotta in the sauce (he really likes ricotta) and I suggested the roasted garlic. We went through a few iterations, and actually decreased the amount of pasta in the end, to make more room for delicious roasted vegetables.

Baked Pasta with a Squash, Ricotta and Garlic Sauce
Yield: 8 Servings

Cheesy sauce:
1 medium butternut squash (or other winter squash), about 2 1/2 lbs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 head of garlic
10 oz ricotta cheese (2/3 of a 15 oz container)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 - 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 onions, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, cut into half moons
2 medium heads of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
Olive oil
salt and pepper

8 oz short pasta (penne, rotini and cavatappi work well) - whole wheat is healthiest!
1 cup shredded cheese (use your favorite)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Peel the butternut squash and cut into rounds. Spread out in a single row on the baking sheet, spray well with cooking spray, and season with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and cinnamon. Bake squash for 30 minutes, flipping over every 10 minutes and re-spraying, or until soft and caramelized.

Roasted butternut squash
Gently remove the outer papery edges of the head of garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top 1/2 inch or so, just to expose the individual cloves. Put on a piece of foil and drizzle with a little oil, then wrap up the foil so it is completely covered. Roast at 400 for around 45 minutes, or until soft and caramelized but not dried out. To save time you can put it on the same baking tray as the squash, and check on it after the squash has finished cooking. Let garlic cool, and then squeeze out the individual cloves.
Roasted and caramelized garlic
Put the squash, garlic, and ricotta in the bowl of a food processor. Add about 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth to start, as well as 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Process until very smooth. Add additional vegetable broth, if necessary, to make a sauce-like consistency. I try to make mine similar to a thick marinara, or almost like a can of pumpkin puree. Depending on the water content of your squash, you may need more or less liquid.

Once the sauce is made, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Line two baking sheets with foil, sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread out the onions and cauliflower on one tray, and the zucchini and broccoli on another tray. Drizzle the veggies with some olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until veggies are soft and caramelized. The zucchini might cook faster than everything else, so remove it before it falls apart if the rest of the veggies haven't cooked.

Reduce oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, stir well to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom, and cook according to instructions on the box. Check 1-2 minutes before the recommended time. Once the pasta has finished cooking, reserve some of the pasta water and then drain the pasta and return it to the pan. Add the squash ricotta sauce and all of the roasted veggies, and mix well. If the sauce is too thick to stir, add a few splashes of the pasta water.

Spread out well in a 9x13 pan. Cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle cheese evenly over the top. If the pasta looks a little dry, add a few splashes of the reserved pasta water (don't stir after you add it). Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Feel free to use any vegetables that you love or that are in season! Sauteed greens would be great, as would some roasted eggplant or sauteed mushrooms.

The squash ricotta sauce can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days before mixing together the pasta.

You can make this entire dish in advance, and store it in the fridge for up to 1 day before cooking. Increase covered baking time to 30 minutes, and you may have to increase uncovered baking time to 20-25 minutes (keep an eye on it).

Store leftovers in the fridge - they reheat really well!

For anyone counting containers (21 day fix or 80 day obsession), this is:
1 yellow 
2 green 💚💚💙 
1 blue 

Just pair your favorite protein with it and you have a full meal!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Harvest Rice Bowl with Squash and Brussels Sprouts

Harvest Rice Bowl with Squash and Brussels Sprouts

This is my FAVORITE fall dish! It has all of the best parts of fall - delicious squash, caramelized brussels sprouts, apples, cranberries! As listed below, it makes a giant amount. Feel free to cut everything in half if you don't want as much food. Also feel free to switch out any of the ingredients. Want to use chopped figs or raisins instead of the craisins? Want to use pear instead of apple? Go for it!

Harvest Rice Bowl with Squash and Brussels Sprouts
Yield: 10-12 side servings
Adapted slightly from Iowa Girl Eats

1 medium butternut or acorn squash (or 2 big sweet potatoes)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
2 lbs brussels sprouts
salt and pepper
1 1/3 cups brown rice
3-4 oz sharp cheddar cheese (white or yellow)
½ cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
½ cup dried cranberries
1 large (or 2 small) apple

¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 clove garlic, minced (or ½ tsp crushed garlic)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel and dice the squash into ~1/2 inch cubes. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder, and lots of salt and pepper. Spread out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring a few times throughout, until soft and caramelized.

Trim brussels sprouts, and then shred (cut each one in half, and then slice the halves). Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until tender and slightly charred.

Meanwhile, cook brown rice according to package instructions. If you have it, replace some of the water with vegetable stock. (We cook brown rice in our Instant Pot and it turns out perfectly every time - for this recipe you would want 1 2/3 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth or water)

Dice the cheese. Core and dice the apple (you can leave the peel on). Toast the nuts until golden brown and fragrant (5-7 minutes at 350 F usually works well).

Mix up the dressing – it works well to add everything to a mason jar and then shake up really well. Just make sure the lid is screwed on tight. 

Using a GIANT bowl, add rice, squash, brussels, cheese, apple, nuts, and cranberries. Toss well. Drizzle over some of the dressing and toss until everything is coated. You probably won’t need all of the dressing, so don’t pour it all on at once. Store leftover dressing in the fridge – it is good on salad.

Serve warm or at room temperature. 
If you are bringing this somewhere, the rice, cranberries, brussels sprouts and butternut squash can all be made and mixed up in advance. I would then re-heat that portion, and then mix in the cheese, nuts, apple and dressing right before leaving. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Baked Coconut Shrimp

Every once in a while I'll go through my Pinterest account, and I'll look for recipes that I pinned but never tried. There are so many great recipes that are posted and shared every day, and it's impossible to try them all! I will come across something that I want to try out right away.

The original recipe
Last week I came across this recipe for baked coconut shrimp, and I knew I wanted to try it out. I have been on a big shrimp kick lately, and this sounded like a new delicious way to make them. I already had all of the ingredients on hand (shrimp, eggs, cornstarch, shredded coconut) so it was easy to try out. I made them as directed, and liked it, but immediately wanted to try and make it better. (Note - if you don't care about the changes I made and why I made them, feel free to skip straight to the recipe!)

I'm really picky with how my shrimp are cooked. If they are overcooked they end up tasting like rubber. The original recipe had said to cook them far longer than I was comfortable doing. I went with my gut and ended up with perfectly cooked shrimp, but a pale coating that wasn't uniformly cooked. I knew I would have to make some changes to get both perfectly cooked shrimp and a crispy coating.

My testing station
I wanted to make some changes to the coconut itself. When added as is (shredded, straight from the bag) you can end up with a ton of coconut on your shrimp. My husband tried some and said he liked it, but it was perhaps too much coconut. I put some in a mini food processor so the pieces were much smaller. I also tried a few different versions, with mixing the coconut with another ingredient. The original recipe is gluten-free, so I tried using almond meal with the coconut, but unfortunately it didn't work very well. The almond meal is a much finer consistency than my chopped coconut, so the two ingredients didn't stick to the shrimp uniformly. (It might work well if you use chopped almonds rather than almond meal - please let me know if you try this!)
Panko breadcrumbs were actually the perfect size to match the coconut, and helped make the coating crispier.
*Note - I have read that you can crush rice crackers to use as a substitute for panko breadcrumbs if you are looking to keep this recipe gluten-free*

Better, not perfect
I added some seasoning to multiple steps of the recipe. I added salt and pepper straight to the cornstarch, and added salt, pepper and cayenne to the coconut and panko mixture to add a little heat. I think this helped with the overall flavor. Feel free to modify the amount of cayenne added if you would prefer more or less spice. In addition, I tossed all of the shrimp with the cornstarch mixture at once, since it helped uniformly coat the shrimp better, and also saved me from an additional step in my assembly line.

The first time I made this recipe I overbeat the egg whites. It said to take them to soft peaks, but I think they ended up being too fluffy to easily stick to the eggs. You want them to still be slightly foamy, so you get a lighter coating on your shrimp. Otherwise you will end up with a lot of egg whites, which will not only affect the flavor, but will also affect how long they need to be cooked. This website has some good pictures that shows the progression of beating egg whites. The picture for Step #4 is pretty much where you want them. If you take them all the way to soft peaks (the picture in Step #7-A) they are too far. Don't fret if that's where you end up - it will just take a little more effort to coat the shrimp, and you may have to knock off some of the egg whites before coating with coconut.

Finally, this is probably the biggest improvement on the dish. I pre-toasted the coconut and panko! This way I could get away with cooking the shrimp for less time, while still having a crispy exterior. The coconut and panko get golden brown before they are used to coat the shrimp, and then they get a little extra golden in the oven. Spraying the pan as well as the coated shrimp with nonstick spray encourages some extra browning.

Recipe: Baked Coconut Shrimp
Yield 2 large servings or 4 side servings

The length of time you need to cook the shrimp is highly dependent on both the size of the shrimp and your oven. I am giving a recommended cooking time, but feel free to check a little early.

1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/3 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
1 lb shrimp; thawed, de-veined and peeled
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (use less if you are sensitive to heat)
2 egg whites (room temperature)

If your shrimp is frozen, put it in some lukewarm water to thaw while you are getting everything else ready.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

While the oven is preheated, chop up the shredded coconut. This is really simple in a mini food processor, but you could probably chop by hand with a sharp big knife. The goal is to get small uniform pieces.

Put the chopped coconut and panko on the baking sheet, and toast for 8-10 minutes. Make sure to stir every few minutes, since everything around the edges will cook more quickly. Set aside and let cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (you can re-use the one from toasting) and spray well with nonstick cooking spray.

Nice and golden brown after toasting
Peel your thawed shrimp. Cut out the vein if it wasn't already removed. Pat them dry.

In a large container, preferably one with a lid, add the cornstarch and 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.

In a large bowl with high sides (or the bowl of a stand mixer), add your two egg whites.

Mix the coconut and panko with the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, the remaining 1/4 tsp pepper, and (up to) 1/8 tsp cayenne. Pour about half of it in a wide shallow container or plate. You may need all of it, but it is best to add it bit by bit so you can save any leftovers that don't come into contact with the shrimp.

Once you have everything else ready, you can beat the egg whites. They can deflate easily so you want to wait until you are ready to start. Start on low-medium speed until the egg whites become foamy, and then increase the speed to high. This can be done using a stand mixer or a hand mixer. The egg whites are ready ~15 seconds after they turn white. You want them to still have small bubbles and look slightly foamy, but be white all the way through and no longer translucent.

Still a little foamy, not quite at soft peak stage
Throw all of your shrimp into the container with cornstarch. Put the lid (make sure it is tightly closed) and shake well until all of the shrimp are coated. They don't need to have a heavy coating, so shake off excess as you go.

My assembly line (after I had finished breading all of the shrimp)
The round container at the upper right is my extra coconut and panko
Holding the shrimp by the end (where the tail was), dip it lightly in the beaten egg whites. You want a thin coating of egg white so the coconut will stick, but you don't want too much there. Tap off any excess. It really helps if you keep one hand dry (for picking up the shrimp) and the other hand as your 'dirty' hand (for dipping in egg).

Place the shrimp in the coconut mixture. Either use your dirty hand to gently flip it over, or use your clean hand to sprinkle the top with coconut. Pick it up with your dirty hand and let any excess shake off.

Place the coated shrimp on the prepared baking sheet, and continue with the rest of your shrimp. If you run low on your coconut/panko mixture, pour more into your shallow container/plate. Once you have coated all of the shrimp, spray with nonstick cooking spray. It helps if you spray from a distance (about 1 foot above) so you don't knock off any of the coating.

Coated, sprayed, ready for the oven!
Put the tray in your preheated 400 F oven. After 6 minutes, pull out the tray and flip over all of the shrimp. Spray them again. Bake for the following amount of additional time:
Shrimp that are 31-40 count/lb - bake an additional 3 minutes
Shrimp that are 21-30 count/lb - bake an additional 4 minutes
Shrimp that are 16-20 count/lb - bake an additional 5 minutes
* This time is approximate and depends on your oven - check one of the shrimp early to make sure they are not overcooked*

Serve with sweet chili sauce (I love the one from Trader Joe's).

These are delicious and so much healthier than the fried version! Even if you split it into only 2 servings, it is less than 500 calories a serving while providing you with over 50 grams of protein. (These calculations include all of the coating - if you don't end up using all of it, there are even fewer calories per serving)

Disclosure - I have included affiliate links in this post. If you buy any of the products I recommend on Amazon, I get a tiny tiny percentage of the sale, but it's still the same price for you