Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Butternut mac and cheese

Butternut mac and cheese is a hearty, meatless dish that even the pickiest eater will love; so good, they'll never suspect it's healthy!

Healthy butternut mac and cheese

This recipe originally appeared in 2013 on the Kitchen Apparel blog, as part of a blog swap. Since that blog is no longer active, Sandra, its owner, graciously gave permission for me to repost it here at Yankee Kitchen Ninja. We'll miss Sandra's gorgeous photography and healthy recipes but wish her much luck and success in her new endeavors.

As part of the blog swap, given that we planned it for October, we considered making something with pumpkin. Then, as now, we realized that we were already completely sick of pumpkin (and assumed you probably were, too) so instead opened our topic up to all fall squash.

And, out of “all fall squash”, we both ended up making a pasta dish using butternut squash.

But come on, who can blame us? It's the squash that, with a little butter and maple syrup, can nearly taste like candy.

(Not quite like candy, I realize. But more like candy than, say, a paper bag though, right? Bear with me, I tend to be dramatic when it comes to trying to get you to make a recipe I like.)

Sandra's recipe (which I'm happy will live on as part of Yankee Kitchen Ninja!) was a gorgeous, delicious pasta with butternut squash, broccoli and cranberry beans. I urge you to try it. But I also urge you to try this butternut mac and cheese recipe -- it's freakin' awesome, and only partly due to the fact that Mr. Ninj actually ate it.

Little back story: Mr. Ninj is not a fan of vegetables and claims that it's not often the taste but the texture that turns him off (he is genuinely afraid of asparagus in any form). It's sort of like having a 3-year-old picky eater, to which I'm sure many of you can relate. So when he saw the roasted butternut squash sitting on the kitchen counter as I pulled this dish together, he freaked. I assured him that, because it was being incorporated into the cheesy sauce, he'd never even know it was there.

I was lying, of course -- but, holy smokes, it turned out to be true!

Blogger Tricks

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ginger spiced plum sauce

Spread this easy ginger spiced plum sauce on grilled chicken or pork, turn it into a jammy vinaigrette or swap it for fruit puree when baking.

ginger spiced plum sauce -- perfect on grilled meat or in a jam vinaigrette

Yep -- it's happened once again. It isn't even October yet, but every yoga-pants-clad food blogger is waxing poetic about all the pumpkin-spiced things that bring her joy. Except The Ninj. I may be wearing the ubiquitous yoga-pants uniform of the work-from-home writer, but I'm still refusing to talk about pumpkin. I'm still hung up on end-of-summer / beginning-of-fall fruit.

Plums to be exact, which you'll recall featured prominently in my recent fresh plum breakfast cake. Good lordy, y'all, I haven't even gotten started on apples yet, let alone pumpkin!

(And, frankly, when the heck did fall become all about pumpkin of all things? Not apples, not butternut squash, but pumpkin? I blame Starbucks.)

Plus, I realized, much to my chagrin that, given my lack of a real garden this year, I haven't canned or preserved very much. And that, my friends, is more than a little TRAGIC.

The lack of canning and abundance of fresh plums brought me to this ginger spiced plum sauce. ERMERGAHD, this stuff is so heavenly spread on freshly grilled chicken or pork -- just the right amount of earthy spice, tartness and sweetness. Shred the chicken and mix in the plum sauce and you've got the basis for an Asian-inspired taco that will blow your mind.

I have even mixed this plum sauce with a little oil and vinegar to make a jammy vinaigrette for a peppery arugula salad. And I also think it would be lovely baked into some marmalade muffins or my favorite homemade granola.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ginger pear green smoothie

[ While I been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser, all opinions are mine. Thanks for supporting the brands that support me! #BestLifeProject #CollectiveBias ]

Ginger pear green smoothie: an easy portable power breakfast packed with protein that's also low in calories, gluten free, dairy free, vegan ... and delicious!

easy and healthy ginger pear green smoothie

Pears are one of my favorite things about fall. I'm less about pumpkin and more about pears. And lately I've been kind of obsessed with the pairing of ginger and pears (pairing pears -- ha ha! -- I didn't even plan that). And it's not just in recipes: I recently went a little cray cray when I found a ginger-pear hand lotion.

So when I was asked to incorporate Vega Essentials shake powder into a recipe, I knew it would be a ginger pear smoothie. (Which only makes sense because you shouldn't eat hand lotion, no matter how awesome it smells.)

I've really gotten into a smoothie groove lately. When you're trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, smoothies can be so helpful. They make eating a healthy breakfast easy and are a perfect afternoon treat when I'm in the mood for a little snack. Way better for me than answering the siren call of cookies!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fresh plum breakfast cake

Fresh plum breakfast cake -- a not-too-sweet treat, perfect for showcasing end-of-summer juicy ripe red plums.

Fresh plum breakfast cake

I found some gorgeous, juicy, ripe red plums at a local farm market recently and my brain immediately jumped to plum cake. A plum cake that you could eat for breakfast.

When I was really small, we had an Italian prune plum tree in the backyard of our house in New York. Now, mind you,  I barely even remember this house (we moved when I was three) but the plums factored in heavily. In fact, I have only three total memories of the place:

  1. Dancing in my next-door BFF Nancy's rec room basement to a real jukebox that played my favorite song at the time -- Elton John's "Crocodile Rock"
  2. Being heartbroken when I got sick all over my favorite stuffed elephant pillow (it was blue and I called it "Nelliephant") and it had to be thrown away
  3. Pulling little purple prune plums off the tree in the backyard, rinsing them under the spigot on the back of the house and eating them, still warm from the sun

Seriously. Those are my only take-aways from that house.

But those plums! My mom used to turn them into this amazing, dense plum cake that I loved -- largely because it wasn't too sweet and, after we'd had it for dessert the first evening, she would often let us have a piece for breakfast, too. Because fruit is good for you, I guess.

Unfortunately, my mom was out of town recently when I scored my red plums so I didn't have access to her recipe. And I wasn't sure I wanted to mess with a classic by trying to use the juicier red plum instead of the prune plum, so I turned to my favorite, reliable baking source -- Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours -- for an alternative.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Crockpot chicken tamale pie with cornbread crust

This healthy crockpot chicken tamale pie cooks low and slow during the day and is finished with a spicy, crunchy cornmeal crust.

crockpot chicken tamale pie with cornbread crust

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. As much as I love summer, especially for its t-shirt and flip flops easy-peasy dress code, I'm always excited when fall arrives. Cooler temperatures, snuggly sweaters, crisp autumn leaves -- I love it.

Fall is also a great time for slow cooker recipes. A good slow cooker recipe can make the whole house smell like home-cooked goodness, without your needing to lift much more than a finger.

While this crockpot chicken tamale pie with cornbread crust is technically finished off in the oven, it's still a hugely easy recipe, perfect for weeknight dinners or for when you have a house full of guests to feed and you actually want to spend time with them instead of locked away in the kitchen.

We normally think of tamale pie as being made with fattier pork cuts; to keep this dish on the healthier side, I've used boneless skinless chicken breasts.

The flavors are bold and just a little spicy, so it's totally kid-friendly. But if you're more adventurous, feel free to add the other half of that jalapeƱo in the ingredient list to the sauce.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Five minute healthy chocolate pudding

No-cook five minute healthy chocolate pudding: perfect for a brown bag lunch, a healthy snack or a guilt-free dessert. #backtoschool #glutenfree 

5 minute healthy chocolate pudding: no cooking, no refined sugar, no dairy

OK. Labor Day was yesterday so now I can be excited about fall and back-to-school time!

(Although I refuse yet to be excited about pumpkin. Plums and apples haven't even had their chance to shine yet, people. Let's save all the pumpkin hooha for October, shall we?)

Anyway, back to back to school. I'm not going back to school nor are my dogs (although they could probably use it), but I'm excited regardless. And the reason I'm excited is this super easy, five-minute healthy chocolate pudding.

Yes, pudding. Why do pudding cups excited me? Because I pack lunches. Healthy lunches. And who could possibly say no to a healthy chocolate pudding cup in his lunch bag?

Not Mr. Ninj, the recipient of my healthy lunch bags.

Let's be honest. Whether you're 8 or 48, it's pretty sweet to have a little dessert-y type item in your lunch bag to finish off your noontime meal. In fact, it has been proven that eating something sweet at the end of a meal signifies to your brain that you're full and you should stop wanting to eat more food. (It's a true fact because I read it somewhere once. Yep, super scientific, you can quote me on it.)

Heck, I even went out of my way to style the photos of my five-minute healthy chocolate pudding in such a way that the lunch-bag-packing intention was entirely obvious.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Watermelon strawberry yogurt smoothie

[ While I have been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser for this post, all opinions are mine alone. Thanks for supporting the brands that support me! #HappyBlending #CollectiveBias ]

This delicious yogurt smoothie is loaded with protein, probiotics, fiber, fresh fruit and even some secret veggies: healthy breakfast never tasted so good!

watermelon and strawberry yogurt breakfast smoothie

While I love fall and the cool weather it brings, I try not to rush it because it also means the end of summer -- which means the end of bountiful, healthy, delicious summer veggies and fruits.

Other food bloggers may have already gotten started on PumpkinFest 2015, but not me: I'm still buying as much ripe fruit as I can get my hands on!

Which means I knew exactly what ingredients to use when I was chosen to create a smoothie recipe using Chobani Greek Yogurt for Smoothie Week, being celebrated at the Kroger Family of Stores this week. Even though it's September, it's still the perfect time to enjoy watermelon, which will be in season for a little while longer.

For this watermelon strawberry yogurt smoothie, I used fresh watermelon but, once the cooler months roll around, you can use frozen watermelon instead; it's a great way to get the feeling of summer back any time of the year. Because of its high water content, watermelon freezes beautifully. I cut it into chunks, spread them on baking sheets, freeze until just firm, then store all the chunks in zipper bags in the freezer. Freezing them individually means you can easily remove only as many pieces as you need.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Make your own kale powder

It's easy to make your own kale powder in the oven or a food dehydrator -- a great way to sneak lots of veggie nutrition into smoothies, soups and more.

Make your own kale powder for smoothies, soups, baking and more

When summer begins to wind down, my preserving instincts kick into high gear.

I start to panic: Fall is coming. What will I do without juicy fresh tomatoes? Or handful after handful of fresh basil? Or ripe peaches? Or fresh greens from right outside my back door?

Right now, my freezer is full of peaches, blueberries, strawberries and watermelon for winter smoothies and my pantry is loaded up with marinated dried tomatoes that I can turn into an amazing pasta sauce or layer on pizzas. And making a winter store of pesto and basil chimchurri is on my to-do list for next week.

So what about the greens?

While I have tried freezing heartier greens like kale and collards, they're really only good for soups and stews once thawed, as their cellular structure really breaks down once frozen. The best way I've found to preserve fresh greens is to dehydrate them and turn them into vegetable powders.

In the past, I showed you how to make tomato powder, which is an awesome way to add a huge pop of fresh tomato flavor to soups and pasta sauces or mix with yogurt or salad dressing to create a veggie dip. All it takes is a few hours in a food dehydrator or on low temperature in your oven.

Making greens powder -- in this case, kale powder -- is accomplished the same way.

My favorite use for this kale powder is very sneaky. Regular readers know Mr. Ninj, who never met a vegetable he liked, is my equivalent of mommy bloggers' picky 3-year-old eaters, so I'm always on the lookout for stealthy new ninja-like ways of sneaking vegetables into his diet.

Mixing this kale powder into his morning smoothies has become my secret weapon!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tomato and ricotta summer sandwich

Layer the ripest, juiciest tomatoes on fresh, hearty bread with ricotta cheese and avocado for the perfect summer sandwich.

fresh tomato and ricotta summer sandwich with avocado

I know you're back in school, kids -- well, some of you. The ones that live near me here in the South anyway.

And I know apple-picking has begun in Vermont.

And I know that we're dangerously close to the beginning of OMG-EVERYTHING-PUMPKIN-FEST 2015, but I'm still celebrating summer. ( #stillsummer )

Summer veggies, anyway.

Despite the fact that the squirrels ate every single tomato from my plants as soon as they appeared, let alone waiting until they turned even a tinge of orange, I've been noshing on ripe, juicy tomatoes as often as I can -- especially in tomato sandwiches -- thanks to the many apparently squirrel-less local Kentucky farmers.

For about two years now I've been carrying around a page torn from a back issue of House Beautiful magazine, of all publications, that featured an open-faced avocado sandwich from Gabrielle Hamilton's NYC restaurant Prune.

It caught my eye because it featured tomatoes, avocado and ricotta cheese -- probably three of my most favorite ingredients. Evah.

But I never wound up making it because it was a little too fancy schmancy for me. I don't keep preserved lemon peel, pearl onions and poppy seeds on hand -- and the preserved lemon peel was said to be the star ingredients. (Note: I first typed that as "poopy seeds" which I think is an infinitely better and funnier name and would certainly make them the star ingredient. Well, at least the most interesting ingredient.)

Whatevs. Ninj ain't got that kinda time at lunch, dig?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Basil chimichurri

Basil chimichurri is slightly spicy and full of summer garden-fresh herbs: a perfect marinade for grilled flank steak or skirt steak.

Basil chimichurri sauce

I've been rockin' the hashtag #StillSummer on all my social media posts this month, lest we all get caught up in the back-to-school rush and forget to enjoy the warm, wonderful weather.

Which for me is largely about grilling and eating al fresco!

Truth: Part of why I love grilling so much is because I don't do it -- Mr. Ninj does. Which means that I get a little bit of a break in meal prep whenever we grill. Sure, I still make the salads and sides but it's fun to have my load lightened a little, especially during the week.

(And he's such a good sport. I'll just call out, "You're grilling tonight!" and he's completely OK with it.)

Another reason I'm reminding myself and everyone else that it's #StillSummer is because of fresh summer produce. Seriously, is there a better time of the year to be a healthy eater? I could pretty much live on sun-warmed fresh tomatoes, corn and peaches during July and August and never get sick of them. Plus, the basil in my yard, which, sadly is the only thing that the squirrels and deer haven't completely decimated, is prolific to the point of being out of control.

At this point, I usually make a ton of pesto and pop it into the freezer to enjoy during the fresh-veg wasteland that is winter.

Since I have so much basil this year, I decided to use it to make this riff on chimichurri, substituting basil for the usual cilantro. It turned out to be the perfect sauce marinade for grilled flank or skirt steak.