I’m Back! With a Baked Stuffed Zucchini Recipe

I am back! I feel like I have been away from the blog forever, and it basically has been – my last post was in February. February?! Working a million hours a week plus school plus (trying to have) a life has pushed other things to the wayside. But I am back and my first focus is better time-management to fit in more blogging! Maybe if I tell my professors this, they’ll give me less homework once fall semester starts….here’s hoping.

Life updates: I am still working my full-time research job but quit my part-time bartending gig to start clinical hours for school. It was hard to leave, and I do miss it, but I know it was the right decision in the long run. I feel much less stressed and, while I did replace it with another part-time job, the new job counts for hours for school plus it’s¬†giving me the real-world nutrition experience I need. So far I really like it! Being in a hospital and getting to see first-hand how patient meals are planned, made, and delivered has shown me SO MUCH in just 4 short months. A good sign that I am on the right career path ūüôā Oh and I got a cat! Her name is Margo and she’s pretty sassy like me. She makes a great addition to my little apartment living.

I also have recently been diagnosed as lactose intolerant. Which sounded like a death sentence to a cheese-addict like myself. However, I have found that cutting out dairy for the most part isn’t too bad. It’s allowed me to be a little more adventurous with cooking and a lot less dependent on cheese for flavor in (almost) every dish. So I am trying to be dairy-free while eating and cooking at home and saving my dairy “splurges” for special meals out, with the help of my good friend Lactaid.¬†I never¬†thought I’d be saying that…

So now it’s time for a recipe! This summer I’ve been eating an abundance of zucchini and squash, and I don’t hate it. My brother’s friend has a farm and I’ve stopped there when I can to get some fresh veggies. Shout-out to my friend and her mom for recommending I make baked stuffed zucchini – it was so delicious! I sort of threw together this recipe with what I had on-hand, so you can play around with it too. Add cheese if you aren’t deprived of all that is good like I am (sorry, I’m still being dramatic about my newly¬†cheese-less life). It’s also a great freezer meal if you have tons of zucchini to use up!

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Baked Stuffed Zucchini

Ingredients:

  • 2 large zucchini, cut in half
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • veggies! (I used diced onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach)
  • 1 cup pasta sauce
  • Cooking spray
  • Spices, salt, pepper

Directions:

1.)¬†Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut both zucchini in half, lengthwise, and scoop out the “pulp” inside. Save the pulp. Place zucchini halves, cut side up, on sprayed baking dishes or cookie sheets.

2.) In a large skillet, sauté olive oil on medium heat and add garlic. Let cook for about a minute and then add in zucchini pulp and veggies. Sauté until soft, then add ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Turn off heat and add pasta sauce. Stir everything together and add spices/salt/pepper, if desired.

3.) Scoop beef and veggie mixture into the zucchini halves. If there is extra filling, you can save and top off zucchini halves after baking or mix with pasta for another meal (that’s what I did!) Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Top with extra pasta sauce and cheese (if desired).

 

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Chicken, Spinach, and Feta Pizzadillas

Ladies and gentlemen, I present…the pizzadilla. Where pizza¬†meets the quesadilla in a¬†delicious, cheesy, heavenly combination that’s perfect for dunking in marinara. The best part is that it can be ready in about 10 minutes! Go crazy with whatever pizza toppings you like…I picked my go-to combo of chicken, feta, and spinach and added¬†some extra tomatoes and garlic. Holy yum. I used brown rice tortillas which I found at Trader Joe’s…I usually use whole wheat, but these had less ingredients so I figured I would try them. They are less soft than regular tortillas, which worked perfectly here; it made the pizzadillas more crunchy and crispy. I made them in my quesadilla maker, which is basically a Mexican George Foreman grill that puts the indentations into the quesadilla so you know where to cut it. So quick and easy to make! These would be great as appetizers too; you could make a bunch of different combinations and have them out for people to enjoy. Or you could eat them all yourself, like I did here. Whatever¬†your heart (and stomach) desires!

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Chicken, Spinach, and Feta Pizzadilla

Ingredients:

  • 2 tortillas
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
  • Pizza “toppings” of choice!

Directions:

1.) Cook pizza toppings (I sauteed the veggies and added cooked chicken) or use them cold. Take 1 tortilla and lay it on a plate. Spread a thin layer of marinara on the tortilla and add a sprinkling of mozzarella. Add pizza toppings and sprinkle with more mozzarella. Put other tortilla on top and place in quesadilla maker, pressing top down, or cook in a skillet, flipping once cheese starts melting.

2.) While pizzadilla is cooking, heat a small bowl of marinara sauce in microwave. When cooked, let pizzadilla cool, then cut into 6 triangles. Serve hot and dip in marinara!

Creamy Dijon-Dill Salmon with Spiralized Cucumber Salad

Let’s talk about how this is the first time I’ve cooked fish at home. I know, it’s about time! But I was nervous…that it would smell the place up, that I would cook it wrong, that I wouldn’t cook it enough, and what do I do with the skin?!…so many irrational fears. I found a recipe for salmon in Cooking Light that seemed super easy and sounded delicious. Too good to be true? NOPE! Simple, delicious, and easier to cook than most¬†poultry or beef. The sauce was SO GOOD and the fish cooked so easily and quickly. Like walk in the door, have a meal ready to eat in 20 minutes quick – there’s nothing better than that!

Since I cook just for myself, I only cooked one fillet at a time. I usually make a meal and then eat leftovers all week, but¬†I knew the fish wouldn’t reheat well. So I just made the sauce in a big bowl and kept the raw salmon in the fridge, and each night I cooked one fillet and smothered it in sauce. Easy and so yummy – my mouth is watering thinking of the sauce right now.¬†I served the salmon¬†with a spiralized cucumber salad, which is a great way to turn¬†garden-fresh veggies into¬†a nice, light side dish.¬†Make this¬†meal¬†ASAP – you won’t be disappointed!

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Creamy Dijon-Dill Salmon

Adapted from: Cooking Light magazine

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp mayo
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 salmon fillets (mine were about 5 oz each)**

Directions:

1.) Preheat oven to 425 F. Separate or cut the salmon into 3 fillets.

2.) Combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl. Place desired number of fillets, skin/skinned side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Spread yogurt mixture over salmon. Bake for 10 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.

**¬†I decided to try the salmon both with the skin and skinned…I liked the taste of both, and both were very moist and delicious. Just keep in mind the skin adds more calories. So use whichever method you prefer!

Spiralized Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 large cucumber
  • Handful of grape tomatoes
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tbsp parsley or cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

1.) Use a veggie spiralizer to turn the cucumber into “noodles”. Chop them a bit in a small bowl to make them into smaller noodles. Cut grape tomatoes in half and add to cucumber.

2.) In a blender, add the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Pour over the cucumber and tomatoes and mix together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You may have noticed that I have stopped putting the calorie/nutrition information for my recipes. This is mainly just because I have stopped trying to track calories and nutrients since, for me, I end up getting too obsessive over this. I lose sight of the real reasons I like to cook healthy foods, which is to make me feel healthy and energized, and instead I start eating things just because they will help me fit my macros or hit my calorie goals. Like a Thin Mint is less calories than an apple, so if your focus is just calories, you pick the cookie. But the apple is obviously the way more nutritious choice! I’ve started listening to my body and eating what my body craves until I am full, which usually ends up being a smaller serving than I may have previously eaten. And if I want a cookie, I have a cookie, and if I want an apple, I have an apple! However, if you all think having the nutrition info is helpful, I can keep doing it. Let me know what you think!

Chicken, Couscous, and Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

So sometimes you have a meal that combines two delicious foods into one, leading you to believe¬†it will be awesome and even better than eating each item on its own. For instance, the bacon cheeseburger pizza or chili cheese fries. However, sometimes this is an epic fail, and you wish you just had one of each item rather than both of them combined into one item that kind of sucks. For instance, the chili cheeseburger (way too messy) and taco pizza (lettuce on pizza never works). This recipe right here was one of those fails. I love stuffed peppers, as well as goat cheese and chicken anything, but the combo just didn’t work for me in this dish. I didn’t think the filling tasted good with the pepper (maybe it’s just me). However, there is good news! The stuffing for the peppers was SO GOOD, so I ended up taking it out of the pepper and plopping it on an arugula salad with some dried cranberries, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. YUM! I also think it might be good in some corn tortillas for a fancy taco or in little filo dough cups as an appetizer. So while I may not make these stuffed peppers again, I would definitely make the stuffing again for salads or a party! However, I will post the recipe as I made it in case you want to try the peppers – maybe I just was having an off day ūüôā

PS: Don’t they look like little pumpkins? I love pumpkins. Sort of excited fall is on its way…but enjoying summer while I can!

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Chicken, Couscous, and Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Adapted from: Cooking Light magazine

Ingredients:

  • 4 large bell peppers (I used orange), tops cut off and set aside, seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 cups couscous, cooked (about 5/8 cup dry)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 pound cooked chicken breast, shredded
  • 2.5 oz goat cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

Directions:

1.) Cook couscous according to package. I used chicken broth instead of water to add some extra flavor. I also made extra couscous and froze it!

2.) Place oven rack in top third of oven. Preheat broiler to high. Line a clear baking dish or cookie sheet with foil. Set peppers on their sides on the foil and coat with cooking spray. Broil 8 minutes, turning after 4 minutes, until slightly charred. Remove peppers from the oven, keeping it on broil (high). Stand the peppers, cut sides up, in the baking dish.

3.) Combine couscous, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, honey, spices, and chicken in a bowl. Stir in about 2 oz. goat cheese. Spoon the mixture evenly into the 4 peppers. Top peppers with the tops and broil for about 3 minutes. Remove from oven, take tops off, and sprinkle the extra goat cheese on top. Enjoy!

Nutrition Info (Per serving, from My Fitness Pal):

Calories 313
Fat 9 g (3 g saturated)
Fiber 6 g
Carbs 34 g
Sodium 490 mg
Protein 22 g

Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Brussels Sprouts Bake

I haven’t been able to post recipes as quickly or as often as I would like to lately – my life has been so busy! Between work and plans with friends and family, it seems like I’ve been running around non-stop. So my recipes to share with you¬†have been piling up! I made this yummy dish about 3 weeks ago. I based it off of¬†this recipe, which I had made when I was doing Paleo and really liked it. Simple and¬†delicious! This time I added Brussels sprouts and baked them with the sweet potatoes. It was so yummy and great for leftovers too! Feel free to switch¬†it up with different spices and veggies too – it’s a very versatile dish.

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Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Brussels Sprouts Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lbs. chicken¬†sausage, ground (or take links out of the casing and crumble)
  • 3 sweet potatoes, diced
  • 1 bag Brussels sprouts (about 20 sprouts), chopped
  • 1 cup chopped peppers and onions (I use frozen)
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

1.) Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a large baking dish with oil and add the diced sweet potato and chopped sprouts. Drizzle with about 3 tbsp olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft.

2.) Meanwhile, add 1 tbsp oil to a skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook until soft. Then add the sausage and cook until no longer pink.

3.) Add sausage, onion, and peppers mixture to the baking dish. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, stirring everything together. Season with any desired spices and serve hot.

Nutrition Info (Per serving, from My Fitness Pal):

Calories 356
Fat 19 g (1 g saturated)
Fiber 6 g
Carbs 23 g
Sodium 699 mg
Protein 24 g

Baked Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash and Spinach Tomato Sauce

Meatballs are the perfect comfort food. Loaded up with lots of sauce and cheese over pasta…how could you not love that? I could probably eat Italian food every day for the rest of my life. But I do like to experiment with lightening it up, that way I can enjoy all the deliciousness without all the guilt. Introducing…turkey meatballs! Using ground turkey breast keeps¬†these very low in fat, while adding¬†chopped¬†carrots and onion keeps them moist and tender. So they still taste just as delicious!

To keep calories even lower and add some nutrients, I used spaghetti squash instead of pasta. I usually¬†love spaghetti squash in any traditional pasta dish, and it doesn’t disappoint here! However, I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t make pasta often because it’s “bad” or because carbs are “bad.” Because veggies have carbs too! However, 4 cups of spaghetti squash has the same amount of carbs and less calories than only 3/4 cup of whole wheat pasta! So as much as I love pasta, and do use it in a lot of dishes, in this case I used spaghetti squash because I like the taste, plus it allows me to have more calories to splurge on the meatballs and sauce ūüôā

For the sauce, I kept it simple and just used a jar of sauce. I think people assume that because I’m Italian, I must make a fabulous homemade pasta sauce that I slave over for hours. But the truth is, I don’t have the time for that, and I also haven’t managed to make a sauce¬†that tastes much better than the jar kind¬†(but recipe recommendations are always welcomed!) My favorite is Newman’s Own Sockarooni – it’s a very flavorful blend of spices, onions and peppers, and chunks of tomato. I added a bag of spinach to it for an added nutritional punch. I topped it all off with some shaved parmesan cheese…perfecto! This is also a great freezer meal; I put two servings right into the freezer so I would have them for nights that I don’t feel like cooking!

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Baked Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash and Spinach Tomato Sauce

  • Servings: 4 servings
  • Print

Adapted from: Hello Healthy

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb¬†ground turkey breast
  • 1/4 cup¬†Italian seasoned whole-wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup matchstick carrots, chopped
  • 1/8 cup minced onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp¬†Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp¬†garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 4 cups raw spinach
  • 1 jar pasta sauce
  • 4 cups baked spaghetti squash

1.) Preheat oven to 400 F.¬†Cut spaghetti squash in half, length-wise. Scrape out seeds and pulp. Spray inside of each half with olive oil spray and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Bake on a cookie sheet, inside facing down, for about 45 minutes, or until the insides are easily scraped with a fork. Let cool, then scrape the “spaghetti” out into a strainer or large bowl lined with paper towel (to soak up excess liquid).

2.) While spaghetti squash is baking, prepare the meatballs. Chop the carrot and onion, then combine with the egg, breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Add in the ground turkey breast and mix everything with your hands. Form into balls and place onto a well-greased cookie sheet. Once squash is done, lower oven to 350 F and bake meatballs for about 30 minutes, or until no longer pink inside. This recipe makes about 18 meatballs.

3.) While meatballs bake, heat olive oil over medium heat and add minced garlic. Add spinach, in bunches, until it is all wilted. Then add jar of sauce and let simmer. Feel free to add your own spices or other veggies to it!

4.) Once meatballs are done, add them to the simmering sauce and heat through for a few minutes. Serve 4.5 meatballs over 1 cup of spaghetti squash. Top with a hearty serving of sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese!

Nutrition Info (Per serving, from My Fitness Pal):

Calories 374
Fat 13 g (2 g saturated)
Fiber 8 g
Carbs 34 g
Sodium 831 mg
Protein 35 g

Pesto Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Feta

I’ve almost been in my own apartment for a whole week – woah! I have to say that I have no complaints so far, other than missing having my roommates around. It can be lonely! But I do love having a whole fridge to myself, being able to do dishes/use the microwave late at night, and just generally being able to do my own thing. Since I was settling into the place this week and didn’t want to cook anything complicated, I made one of my favorite pasta dishes that comes together in minutes.¬†I make this dish often when I need to whip something up that will be quick yet satisfying. This always fits the bill!

I first made this when I ventured¬†out into the “real world,” when I was a rookie cook and new to living on my own (feels like light years ago!) I based it on a dish my college cafeteria used to serve, which was just bow-ties with spinach, tomato, and feta cheese. So simple yet so delicious.¬†I have tweaked it a bit to make it healthier and jazz it up, but I still owe the Stonehill College cafeteria a big thank you for introducing me to this dish!

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Pesto Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Feta

  • Servings: 6 servings
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Ingredients:

  • 1 box whole-wheat pasta
  • 1 bag spinach leaves
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/c cup pesto (or more/less to suit your taste)
  • Feta cheese

1.) Cook pasta until desired firmness. Drain and set aside.

2.) While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large sauce pan or Dutch oven on medium heat. Once oil is hot, start adding in spinach, a handful at a time, until the whole bag is wilted, stirring frequently.

3.) When spinach is wilted, add the can of diced tomatoes to the sauce pan and let simmer for a few minutes. Then add pasta and desired amount of pesto and stir everything together!

4.) Top each serving with Feta cheese and enjoy!

Nutrition Info (Per serving, topped with 1/4 cup Feta cheese, from My Fitness Pal):

Calories 448
Fat 21 g (5 g saturated)
Fiber 10 g
Carbs 54 g
Sodium 680 mg
Protein 18 g