The Greatest Not-So-Bad-For-You Mac & Cheese

This is quite possibly the best mac & cheese recipe I’ve come across.  AND it’s not THAT bad for you.  The original recipe is labeled as “light” and it’s from Cooking Light, but of course all cheese is pretty fattening, so I don’t really like to label any type of mac & cheese dish “light” … hence the “not-so-bad-for-you” label.  This recipe combines some cheese with squash and Greek yogurt, so you still get that creamy texture, but not as bad as traditional mac & cheese.  If you’d like to make it even healthier, you can make it with spaghetti squash like I did here. Original recipe can be found here.

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Ingredients:
3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 [1-pound] squash)
1 1/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups 1% milk
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 spaghetti squash or 1 pound cavatappi pasta

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Combine butternut squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork (about 25 minutes).
3. Place the hot squash mixture in a blender. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt and blend until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; stir in Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.
4. Cook pasta according to package directions OR cook spaghetti squash.  (If you’re unfamiliar about how to cook spaghetti squash, please see my past post here).  Add pasta/spaghetti squash to butternut squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.
5. Heat a small pan coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add panko, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta or spaghetti squash mixture. Lightly coat topping with cooking spray.
6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve!

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How To Cook Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash could possibly be the most amazing vegetable on the planet.  I thought it would be beneficial to do a post on cooking spaghetti squash because I do cook a lot of recipes that involve it.  It’s pretty easy to cook and the hardest part is getting the squash open.  So, without further ado, here’s how you cook a spaghetti squash in 5 simple steps.

1. Buy spaghetti squash (that one’s pretty self explanatory).

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2. Cut spaghetti squash open length-wise.  This can be a little tricky and involves some semi-dangerous knife-work, so be careful!

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3. Scoop out the seeds/middle of the squash.

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4. Place spaghetti squash flat side down on a plate and microwave for 10-12 minutes.

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5. Use a fork to scrape the squash part out of the skin and into a bowl.  Voila!  You have your “spaghetti!”

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***Update – You can also cook it in the oven at 375 for 45-1 hour.  I have also read in the past that cutting the sides off (where the stem is) might make it easier to cut length-wise.  I have also read that microwaving the entire squash for a 2-3 minutes might soften it up and make it easier to cut in half.

Spring Rolls + PB2 Peanut Sauce

Spring Rolls are the greatest thing ever and if you live anywhere near Worcester, MA, I’d definitely recommend trying out Dalat on Park Ave. I went to college right around the corner and this little Vietnamese place has the best spring rolls quite possibly ever.  That’s where my love affair of Vietnamese Spring Rolls (and Vietnamese food in general) began.  Now that I’m on the other side of the country, one of the greatest things about living in San Francisco is that there are spring rolls basically everywhere.  I decided one day that I wanted to try to make these myself (or perhaps it was my boyfriend’s idea – he is obsessed), and it turned out to be a success!  They are fairly time consuming to make, but require no oven and if you make enough, they can be an entire dinner.  I combined a few different recipes to come up with the below recipe and matching peanut sauce, so this is my take on Vietnamese Spring Rolls.  They’re great as an appetizer or if you make 4-5 per person, you’ll have a dinner.  I used this stuff called PB2 for the sauce (which is amazing – basically powdered peanut butter that you add water to – and only about 45 calories and 13 calories from fat) and it makes the sauce recipe a lot healthier.

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Ingredients for spring rolls:
1 lb small shrimp
Bunch of basil
Bunch of mint
Bunch of cilantro
Rice papers
Rice vermicelli (or 1/2 spaghetti squash – you can make it with this!)
Shredded carrots
Head of butter lettuce

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Ingredients for peanut sauce:
3/4 cup PB2 (or 3 tbsp peanut butter)
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp lime juice (or rice vinegar)
4 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp white sugar
2 1/4 tsp garlic chili sauce (I’d recommend this one by Sriracha)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup water (if it’s already a little watery or not enough, you can omit this or add more)

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Directions:
1. Prepare peanut sauce by mixing together all the sauce ingredients.
2. Cook about 1/3 of vermicelli package according to the package instructions (very easy, only takes about 10-15 mins total to cook).  You can also sub this with some spaghetti squash (as pictured) if you’d like.
3. Let peanut sauce and vermicelli cool in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes.
4. Once everything is “prepped” you can start making the rolls.  Fill a big bowl with water and dip the rice paper in one at a time for about 15-20 seconds until it is soft and pliable.  Remove from the water, shake it out gently, and place it on a damp plate.
5. Add a leaf of lettuce, some basil, mint, cilantro, shredded carrots, vermicelli, and shrimp all on top of each other. Pictures below.
6. Tightly roll the ingredients into a  cigar shape and close in the sides.  This step takes a a few tries!  It will be pretty sticky, and you might get a tear or two, but you’ll get the hang of it!
7.  Serve with sauce!

(Please excuse the Christmas tree plate!)

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Dusting Hack

So since I’ve graduated from college, I’ve kind of enjoyed cleaning.  Yeah, I’m aware, it’s weird to enjoy cleaning.  Also “kind of” is the key phrase here.  Theres a lot of things I’d rather do, but, to me, it’s not the worst thing ever.

When I moved into my apartment in Boston after college, I moved in with three people I didn’t know (although, after 4 months, I was fortunate enough to have one of my best friends move in), so I wanted to be respectful and I often found myself cleaning after going for a run or working out (yes, this continued when my friend moved in).  I was already sweaty and gross, and it was a great cool down “workout” from running.  If anyone says to you that cleaning is easy, they’re lying.  Washing the floors and scrubbing the counters takes some manpower!  Anyway, since I’ve gotten my own place, I’ve actually somehow found myself enjoying cleaning a lot more.  I think it’s mostly because cleaning up after myself is not as gross as cleaning up after myself + 3 other people, so that’s an added plus.  Also, I’m only cleaning a few rooms in a small apartment, not an entire house.  So at this point, the whole process is not that bad.  It also gives me some weird satisfaction to see things transform into clean.  And, like I said, I’m very organized, so I like seeing things put away and having a neat house!

Anyway, I was dusting some furniture recently and I was using some Lysol wipes, which work really well in catching dust and cleaning off the surface of things.  However, they don’t always get ALL the dust and there’s usually some wet residue left behind.  So I remembered that I had some old socks that I lost the pairs to under the sink that I was keeping for a situation like this.  I used the sock over my hand as a second swipe, getting all the dust.  Super simple, but they are like dusting gloves and work really well!

Step 1:

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Step 2:

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Boom.  Everything was shiny and clean.

DIY Ombre Pots

So as you will end up eventually noticing on this blog, I really love plants.  I can’t put my finger on what it is I like about them, but I think they bring a lot of life and decoration to a room.  My apartment has a balcony, so naturally I have put a lot of plants out there!  I was looking for an easy way to spice up the pots I have outside, since decorated pots can get fairly expensive, and I’ve been resorting to mostly terra cotta ones because they are super cheap.  However, having all terra cotta pots can get a little boring!  I’m sure that I saw this idea when cruising along Pinterest at some point, but I came up with the idea to spruce up some of my smaller terra cotta pots by giving them an ombre paint job.  It’s fairly easy and you definitely don’t have to be an artist to do it.

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What you’ll need:
One terra cotta pot (this project will work best with small to medium pots and is best to start out with smaller and work your way up to medium)
Two 2 oz bottles (your color choice + white) of Acrylic paint (Folk Art & Americana are good brands!)
Paintbrush (smaller brush size – this is a good example)
Newspaper (so you don’t get paint on the floor/ground!)

Directions:
1. Begin with a plain terra cotta pot (this one is actually plastic, but works just the same!).  Lay down newspaper.

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(^^Pot I used…sans newspaper.)

2. Squirt out a dollop of colored paint and white paint onto the newspaper.

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3. Paint a ring/line the first layer of the colored paint around the bottom of the pot.

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(^^This older lady is extremely impressed by my painting skills.)

4. Add a little bit of white paint to the colored paint and mix.  You might have to add more white paint or colored paint depending on how light/dark it gets.  You’re aiming for slightly less than a shade lighter.

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5. Paint another ring right above (and every so slightly over the top of) the the previous ring.

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6.  Repeat adding paint to make a lighter shade and painting above the previous ring until you get to the top.

7.  Let dry and your pot should have an ombre shade to it!

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Chicken Pineapple Fajita Lettuce Cups

Back in my Boston days I came across these skillet sauces by Rick Bayless at the Star Market near my apartment.  I don’t know what prompted me to try it out, but I instantly fell in love.  The Star Market only carried two, the New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomato + mild red chilies for chicken and the Key Lime Cilantro Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomatillo + green chile for shrimp.  I tried both, and the red sauce instantly became my favorite because it tastes really great with chicken (as it was meant for).  I made the Key Lime Cilantro with chicken and it was definitely good (but probably a ton better with shrimp), but the red one really became my favorite and a staple for me.  I’ve never really seen these anywhere outside of that Star Market on Beacon Street.  That is, UNTIL LAST WEEK.  ANNOUNCEMENT: SAFEWAY IN SAN FRANCISCO NOW CARRIES THESE.  I REPEAT – AS OF LAST WEEK, SAFEWAY IN SAN FRANCISCO NOW CARRIES THESE.  At least, the one in Duboce Triangle.  I know most of you don’t live around here, but I’d definitely recommend taking a look at your local grocery store and see if they have these because I really enjoy them!  They are better than the classic dry taco seasoning and pretty low calorie (25 cal & 5 cals from fat per two tablespoons).  This recipe is one I came up with in Boston using the New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomato + mild red chilies.  It’s a really great summer dish and goes great with lettuce cups instead of tortillas if you want to keep it super low-cal and carb free.  Feel free to use tortillas instead, though!  Also tastes great with some guac and salsa (particularly Newman’s Own Peach Salsa – my favorite, which, unfortunately, I have yet to find in San Francisco) and even a side of chips!

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Ingredients (serves two):
12 oz chicken
One red pepper
One green pepper
1/2 of a large onion (or enough to match the amount of each pepper)
1/2 a bag of New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomato + mild red chilies for chicken
8 oz pineapple chunks
Cooking spray
Iceberg lettuce (or tortillas)
Guac + Salsa (optional)

Instructions:
1. Cut up peppers and onions and spray cooking spray into a large skillet.
2. Cook peppers and onions until soft, but still a little crispy (approx 10-15 minutes).  About half way through, add a little bit of skillet sauce to veggies (enough to coat them).

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3. Place peppers and onions aside and spray pan with cooking spray again.  Cook chicken all the way through, adding a little more skillet sauce when chicken is almost finished cooking.

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4. When chicken is finished, put veggies back in the skillet with the chicken and add the rest of the skillet sauce (1/2 the bag!).  Cook for another 5-10 minutes.

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5. Add in pineapples to skillet a minute or two you are ready to plate.
6. Plate and eat with lettuce cups (or tortillas) and your sides (guac, salsa, and maybe some chips!!).

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DIY Simple-Sew Dog Bandana

Major makes his Laur of All Trades debut! So the story of Major (full name: Major Tom)…he was rescued by my boyfriend about 5 years ago and is now 12 years old. He’s a little up there in age, but he’s doesn’t act it. He’s always been a lounger and his hobbies include: sleeping on the couch, sleeping on his pillow under the desk, sleeping on the bed, chilling with us on the couch…you get the drift. He is a Lhasa Apso-Poodle mix and is the sweetest dog ever. When I was back in NJ recently for my brother’s college graduation, Major went to the groomer (PetSmart – they’re really great there) and he came back with a PetSmart bandana. When I responded to the picture with, “He loves that bandana!”, Kevin responded with “Dude loves bandanas!” I’ve known Major and Kevin for a year and half and this is the first I’d heard of any Major-bandana lovin. Naturally, I was on a mission then to make this cutie his own bandanas. I went to Fabric Outlet in the Mission as soon as I was back in San Francisco and got four different fabrics: island theme (because it’s summer), bad dog skulls (it’s funny because he is the total opposite), western themed trains (because…ADORABLE), and Halloween (the next upcoming holiday!).  I also got fabric for another project, some thread, a hot glue gun + glue, and mod podge (again, for other projects).  In short, Fabric Outlet is awesome.

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I did meet some opposition after I took off the PetSmart scarf and used it to figure out how large I should make this one though…
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He got over it and has been enjoying his new one since!

So without further ado, here’s how you can make your own simple-sew dog scarf!  No sewing machine needed and these particular measurements fit a medium size dog (Major is 25 lbs).  If your dog is any smaller, this will definitely be too big, so I’d recommend getting more fabric than you might need for the first one to cut out a few test sizes (you can use the same proportions, though!).

What you’ll need:
Fabric of your choice (I found a cotton blend that is very similar to a typical bandana)
Sewing needle
Placeholder needles
Thread (color is whatever you think might match the fabric the best)
Scissors
Ruler

Instructions:
1. Trace the measurements you will need (I created a template scarf which I’ll keep moving forward to have an easy trace).

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The top should measure 20″ across, each side 15″, and from the middle of the top to the tip, 10″. (Note: Please keep in mind that this triangle is not to scale. I’m only illustrating what section needs to be what length.)
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 2. Cut out the triangle.

3. Fold down the sides so that the frayed part is rolled underneath the fabric, so the seam is clean.  “Seal” with a needle.  The “fold over” should measure about 1/4″.  If your dog is smaller and you’re hands aren’t as nimble, you can definitely make the “fold over” larger.

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4.  Sew it and you’re done!

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BABY. SLOTHS.

Got your attention?  Taking a break from my regularly scheduled programming of food, plants, and DIY to bring you my new [second] favorite animal BABY SLOTHS.   (Bunnies will always be my numero uno.)

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 ^ Basically how I feel on Fridays or anytime I eat something delicious. ^

 

Soooo I’m a little obsessed and you NEED NEED NEED to watch this baby sloth video.  Seriously.  Having a down day?  Immediate cheer up.  In a happy mood?  Bring it to ecstasy.  Just want to see something cute?  HERE YA GO.  It will melt your heart and I am convinced world peace will occur if it is viewed across the globe.  So spread the word!  BABY SLOTHS SQUEAKING.

And if that’s not enough…here’s some baby sloths getting a bath and then eating hibiscus flowers because it’s like chocolate for sloths. #omgicanteven.  BABY SLOTHS GETTING A BATH.

If it’s STILL not enough (let’s be real…it’s not) I’d recommend checking out http://thatslothblog.tumblr.com/ and the 30 cutest pictures of baby sloths on the internet.

Bruschetta + Grilled Chicken

A healthy protein filled bruschetta dinner!  This is a really delicious bruschetta recipe that tastes just like what you’d get in a nice Italian restaurant.  I really like bread, so I doubled the bruschetta recipe below to make a bruschetta appetizer with bread.  Outside of the bruschetta, this dish is super simple, being comprised of basically a grilled/broiled chicken breast and a side arugula salad (with more bruschetta on top, of course!).  If you want to make an appetizer plus the chicken dinner for two, I would recommend doubling the bruschetta recipe, but if you want just the chicken + bruschetta + some for the salad for two, or just bruschetta, the recipe below is MORE than enough.  Plus, it is very healthy, especially if you use part skim mozzarella! Thanks to Skinny Taste for the recipe!
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Ingredients:

3 medium vine ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
3 oz part skim mozzarella, diced
2 chicken breasts
4 cups arugula
bread (optional)

Instructions:

1. Combine onion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Set aside.
2. Chop tomatoes and place into a large bowl.
3. Combine with garlic, basil, and onion-balsamic mixture from step 1.  Set aside to sit at least 10 minutes or as long as overnight.
4.  Add in the mozzarella cheese when ready to serve.  Your bruschetta is complete!
5. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Grill or broil (or cook however you please, really!) the chicken and top with the bruschetta.
6. Add arugula and top with some bruschetta. Serve!
 

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