Chicken Sausage & Squash Rigatoni

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I don’t usually cook with sausage. In fact, I can only think of one other time I wrote about using this ingredient. But tonight, when I was racking my brain trying to come up with something to eat for dinner, I had a flash to a delicious meal I enjoyed recently at Flour + Water in San Francisco with Maris and Jessi, specifically my favorite dish of the evening: homemade penne pasta with rabbit sausage.

Tonight’s dinner wasn’t nearly as fancy (I did work today, after all), but it was good and very filling with the slightly kicky sausage and sweet Delicata squash. The dish consisted of rigatoni, Italian chicken sausage, winter squash, spinach, lots of garlic, and a little bit of saffron.

I know what you must be thinking: Saffron? What?

I actually bought a small bag of this pricey spice a while ago but completely forgot about it until I returned home from BlogHer Food with a tiny container of it in one of the gift bags.

Saffron is the most expensive spice by price and adds a yellowish/orangish hue to whatever dish it’s used. I can’t really describe the flavor other than call it a bit floral, but know that a little goes a long way. The most well-known uses are in Risotto Milanese and Paella Valenciana. In today’s pasta dish, the saffron flavor is subtle but nicely accents the other strong flavors. You can omit the saffron if you’d like, but it’s a nice way to use it if you happen to have it on hand.

Here’s the recipe for Chicken Sausage & Squash Rigatoni:

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White Beans, Spinach & Two Pounds of Buyer’s Remorse

White Beans & Spinach

White Beans & Spinach

What is it about Costco that can trick your mind into believing you need a 12 pound bag of anything? Do they change the oxygen levels in the store or something? I usually try to keep my purchases simple and only buy products I’ll either use quickly or actually have room to store, and if you saw my apartment you’d know it doesn’t leave room for much.

But why is it that I almost always leave Costco with something I don’t really need, and often don’t want? I think the biggest factor might be that I only go to Costco after a weekend workout because it’s convenient, and going hungry can definitely be a hindrance.

In this case the “accidental” purchase was a grape tomato bruschetta mix. Not exactly a coincidence as this particular sauce was one of the sample items served with grilled salmon. Being famished from the killer workout, I tried the sample and really enjoyed it, so much so that I bought it – a freakin’ two pound jar!

The second I got home I was struck with buyer’s remorse, for that and the case of juice, but that’s another story. What was I going to do with this? Surely, I wasn’t going to be buying baguettes every day and making crostini with the bruschetta topping. I needed to find another use for it.

The first thing I tried was to mix a little in with cooked quinoa. It was fine, but not something I was overly eager to try again. The next experiment was to add the mix to one of my favorite combinations: white beans and spinach!

I make this often with slight variations depending on what I have on hand: garlic and lemon juice, olive oil and halved cherry tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, bacon with any of the above combinations, and more.

In this case, I cooked down a half bag of baby spinach over low heat until wilted, added a can of rinsed and drained white beans, and then heated it with about 2 tablespoons of the bruschetta mix. It was really good!

Granted, I’m going to have to make this twice a week until September to use up the jar, but it was a deliciously healthy solution.

And when the jar is gone, I’ll continue to make the dish but with my own bruschetta mix. It’s actually quite easy: mix diced tomatoes with olive oil, chopped basil, and maybe a little minced garlic. Simple, clean and very healthy.

Here’s the recipe for White Beans and Spinach:

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Almost-Cream Sauce Spaghetti with Ground Turkey, Mushrooms & Spinach

Almost Cream Sauce Spaghetti with Ground Turkey, Mushrooms & Spinach

Almost-Cream Sauce Spaghetti with Ground Turkey, Mushrooms & Spinach

It’s a very strange day when I crave something creamy. Maybe it’s because I can feel winter barreling at me like a runaway train, or maybe it’s because of all those delicious looking cream-based soups in the sandwich shop I always walk past but can’t eat because, well, because they’re cream. Either way, tonight I wanted to be a part of the lucky dairy-eating-and-don’t-have-to-think-twice-about-it club.

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So, as sort of a compromise between my drooling tastebuds and sense of self-preservation I made a lightened cream-like pasta sauce in which I mixed a slew of other healthy ingredients, making for an extremely well-balanced meal: extra-lean ground turkey, mushrooms, spinach, leeks, garlic and whole wheat spaghetti.

This isn’t an thick and oozy cream sauce, but rather one that just coats the noodles and ground turkey, creating delicious savory flavors and a clean mouthfeel.

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And for the heck of it, I took out some of the filling just before adding the soy creamer which I used to stuff a buttercup squash and bake. That experiment is dinner tomorrow… I’ll let you know how it is.

Here’s the recipe:

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Healthy Travel Food: Spinach & Apricot Bulgur

Bulgur with Spinach & Apricots

Bulgur with Spinach & Apricots

The best part of my sorta-vacation in Florida this past week was spending a lot – and I mean A LOT – of quality time with my family. Luckily it also included a few mini sessions in an unequipped kitchen with my sister.

And when I say this kitchen had nothing, I pretty much mean it. Okay, sure it had a hand mixer, a mini cutting board, paring knife and a few bowls and pots and pans. But there were no ingredients outside a small shaker of salt. And this time I really mean none. No vegetable oil, olive oil, pepper, flour, baking soda, sugar… you name it, the kitchen didn’t have it.

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The impetus for my sister wanting to learn a few things came from our flight to Florida where I prepared small containers of quinoa with roasted broccoli (an adaptation of roasted broccoli couscous) for a travel snack. Not only did we save a lot of money in airport food, but it was also tastier and healthier than anything we could have found at O’Hare.

So, while I was thrilled my sister wanted to learn how to make a few healthy side-dishes using ingredients like quinoa and bulgur, we literally had to start from scratch. In designing the recipes I focused on produce and basic ingredients that had long shelf lives and were relatively inexpensive. After all, this was just a lesson to show her how these nutritious grains worked so that when she returned home she would feel comfortable using them in the same versatile ways she uses pasta.

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This recipe for bulgur with spinach and apricots was very simple, using just one pot and minimal chopping. Plus, it was filling and nutritious, essentially an ideal side-dish for a busy professional like my sister who is trying to stock her refrigerator with healthy foods for herself and her husband.

The bulgur is hearty and nutty, the spinach slightly bitter which is offset by the sweetness of the dried apricots and squeeze of lemon juice. Finally, the whole dish is topped with a smattering of toasted pecans for added flavor and crunch making a wonderful one-pot dish.

I packed a small container of the bulgur for the plane ride home. No more airport food for me!

Here’s the recipe:

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Kabocha Squash Stuffed with Caramelized Onions, Spinach & Mushrooms

Stuffed Kabocha

Stuffed Kabocha

I’m kicking myself. Yes, you read that right. I am sitting here on the couch kicking myself for being dumb.

Well, I would be if I hadn’t quit yoga a few months ago and could actually move my leg that way. But rest assured, mentally I’m kicking myself.

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Why you ask? It’s because more than a year ago¬† – precisely 1 years and 28 days – one of my favorite food writers posted a recipe on her blog that I’ve been unable to get out of my mind. This entire time I’ve thought about the recipe but never actually got around to making it until this weekend. And it was incredible!

Last fall Dorie Greenspan wrote what she called a “recipe in progress” for pumpkin packed with bread and cheese. It looked great, all gooey and oozy and warm and hearty. But she called it a recipe in progress because it was really about applying the concept of stuffing a hallowed pumpkin or gourd with countless combinations of ingredients.

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While Dorie’s recipe used cheese and cream, my lactose intolerant self decided to limit the dairy to just a small amount of cheese. In its place I added a bunch of sauteed vegetables to the filling for a well-rounded main course or all-in-one side dish.

Instead of a pumpkin I used kabocha, also known as Japanese pumpkin. It has a flavor similar to pumpkin but the flesh is a bit drier, which works well in this preparation, and has a green skin that is beautiful in contrast with the vivid orange interior.

Oh, and did I mention this stuffed squash is incredibly healthy? Kabocha is rich in beta carotene, iron, Vitamin C and potassium, and vegetables like spinach and mushrooms add calcium and other nutrients.

Kabocha

Here’s my take on a recipe in progress: Read more of this >>

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