Kitchen Spotlight: Tips on Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Based on personal experience, here are some tips for cooking and using spaghetti squash. While you can microwave or bake the spaghetti squash, I’ve found that it is easiest to boil it before removing its strand-like interior. Here is how I would recommend boiling spaghetti squash:

  1. Use a knife to make a few small holes or cut marks through the skin of the spaghetti squash.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and heat the water until boiling. Once boiling, put the squash in to cook (ease it slowly into the water to prevent burns!), turning it occasionally with a wooden spoon. The squash will likely float in the water but that is fine. After about 15-20 minutes (about 20-30 minutes for a large sized spaghetti squash), use a knife to insert into the spaghetti squash. If it goes through easily, then it is cooked through. Take out the spaghetti squash immediately and let it cool in a colander (excess water from within may also drain out).
  3. Don’t worry if the squash skin cracks open slightly. When cooled cut the squash in half and then remove the seeds with a spoon. Then use a fork to scrape out the noodle like strands into a bowl.

That’s it! If you would like to see a variety of ways to cook this delectable vegetable, check out this post I found listing 50 ways to cook spaghetti squash: http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. Like other hard shelled squashes, you can bake it, grill it, roast it, stuff it, and even throw it in the slow cooker. Have fun experimenting!

(Source: Aggies Kitchen. 50 Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash. http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. October 8, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2017.)

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Sesame-Cashew Snaps

My husband has a love (…ok craving…) for sesame snaps and frequently buys them at grocery stores. It looks deceptively healthy…after all it’s packed with sesame seeds, which are nutritious right? However, a look at the ingredient labels reveals that the snack is basically made up of sugar. For example, of the four ingredients in a Sezme brand sesame snap, three of the ingredients are sugar based. Here is the entire ingredients list: Sesame seeds, glucose syrup, sugar, honey.

I was determined to make a healthier version. But I was disappointed to see that most of the recipes out there on the Internet for homemade sesame snaps or sesame bars use quite a lot of sugar or sweeteners as the main ingredient as well. I really wanted a healthier, lower sugar version. So when I stumbled across this recipe (see source) from bon appetit for Sesame-Peanut Bars Recipe by Molly Mitchell, I was ecstatic!! I tried it out right away, making some modifications and a winner was born! I absolutely love the fact that it only calls for ¼ cup of honey. Try it yourself!

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

Recipe by: Dietitianmom
Makes about 16 snaps

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups raw or toasted sesame seeds
  • ¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup unsalted, roasted cashews (chopped).
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13 inch glass bakeware pan with parchment paper, with sufficient overhang on all sides.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the wet ingredients (sesame seeds, coconut, chopped cashew nuts, salt and optional ingredients like the flaxseed meal and chia seeds if desired).
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients (honey, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla)
  4. Add the wet ingredients mixture to the dry sesame seed mixture and mix well.
  5. Scrape mixture into prepared baking dish, and then press firmly into an even layer, as thinly as you can!
  6. Bake in the oven until golden brown around the edges (at least 20–25 minutes, depending on how thick the mixture layer is).
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until firm (this will take at least 30–40 minutes). Lift the entire parchment piece with the baked layer out of the bakeware (if it starts to crumble, let cool longer) and let it cool fully. Then cut into rectangular snaps.

This is a very easy and versatile recipe, and quick to throw together when the snack craving hits. Use whatever you have in the kitchen, be it toasted or raw sesame seeds, sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes or coconut shreds. I’m sure it will work fine with other nuts too such as chopped pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts! Feel free to experiment! You can also make these bars a few days ahead of time and store them in an airtight jar or container. However, if you don’t intend to eat all of this right away, the best method I’ve found to maintain the crispiness of the sesame-cashew snaps is to freeze them in an airtight container. Then take some snaps out to thaw for about 10 minutes before consuming.

The problem? Now I’m addicted!

(Source: Sesame-Peanut Bars. Bon Appétit. http://www.bonappetit.com.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sesame-peanut-bars. Published September 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.)

 

Coconut Corn Mini-Breads (Dairy & Egg-Free!)

I knew there was a reason I bought this recipe book. Many years ago, I decided to buy a book titled ‘Quick Breads’ by Howard Early and Glenda Morris. I am a novice bread baker, so the idea of being able to make breads rapidly without much dough kneading or rising time was very appealing. However, I never made more than 2-3 recipes from this book over the past decade. This past weekend, we had company over and I decided to have another look at this dusty book on the shelves, to find something to complement the vegan lasagna I had made (we had forgotten to get dinner rolls at the store). To my surprise I found an easy recipe called Coconut Corn Bread using ingredients I already had at home, so I decided to modify the ingredients and give it a try. It was an intriguing combination: coconut and corn? I had made cornbread before but had never mixed both ingredients together before. The result? Our family and guests enjoyed it so much I wanted to share this simple modified dairy-free and egg-free recipe with you!

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used the fortified Silk brand original flavor coconut milk)
  • 1/3 cup of oil
  • 1 flax egg (see directions below)
  • 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 tablespoon of honey (or maple syrup for those who do not want to use honey)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch cake or loaf pan (I used silicon muffin cups instead).
  2. Make the flax egg: Mix 1 tablespoon of flaxmeal combined with 3 tablespoons of water together with a whisk or fork, then let sit for 10-15 minutes. Before using, use the whisk and give it a good mix for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix wet ingredients together.
  5. Gently combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (or when toothpick inserted comes out clean). Optional: at about 5-10 minutes before the baking time was up, I sprinkled some shredded coconut flakes on the tops of the cornbread muffins for an extra flair!
  7. Serve warm or let cool for 5-10 minutes then remove from pan.

You may adjust the ‘sweetness’ factor depending on your preference, by adding more or less honey or maple syrup. Serve warm to complement a meal, or add a little bit of vegan butter, jam or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup on top. Th

is is such a simple recipe that you can also enlist your little helper at home to help out with measuring and mixing the ingredients together!

Fresh Cranberry & Pear Crisp

I initially created this recipe below to use up some fresh cranberries I had on hand from the winter holidays. But my husband and child loved it so much that I’ve made it a few times since, including taking it to potluck meals. Enjoy!

Fresh Cranberry & Pear Crisp

Recipe by: DietitianMom
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 pears (ripened pears work best)
1 cup fresh cranberries, pierced
4 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼-1/2 cup brown sugar (depending on sweetness desired)
1 cup old fashioned/rolled/large flake oats

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  • Peel and cut pear into slices. Layer the pear slices, covering the bottom of a baking dish.
  • Rinse and wash the fresh cranberries, then pierce each with a toothpick. Then throw the cranberries into the baking dish, evenly dotting the pear slices.
  • In a bowl, mix the oats, brown sugar (add the amount you desire), cinnamon, nutmeg and oil together.
  • Sprinkle this oats combo mixture over the pear slices and cranberries in the baking dish.
  • Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly then serve!

Feel free to double or triple the recipe if you like. This is a great recipe to involve your preschooler or older child in, as it’s easy to make and is ready to eat in no time! My preschooler had lots of fun helping me pierce each fresh cranberry with a toothpick. The best part? Since the ripened pears are already sweet, you don’t really need to add too much additional sugar to sweeten the dish. So adjust the sweetness level to what you prefer by the amount of brown sugar you add. This crisp keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and tastes delicious cold too!

Yum! Toastie Corn Black Bean Soup

Have you ever tried combining some toasted corn kernels with black beans? It’s a fantastic combination of health, taste, colors and texture. Our family tried out and modified a recipe we found a few years ago and it became a family favorite meal option. It’s super easy to make because it builds on a ready to heat can or carton of black bean soup as the base, with more added beans and veggies to pump up the taste and nutrition. Try it out and see for yourself!

Ingredients:

  • 1 can or carton of ready-to-heat black bean soup (e.g., Campbell’s Red Pepper Black Bean Soup)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 1-2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of frozen corn kernels (toasted first)
  • 1/4 to ½ cup of chunky salsa or salsa fresca (or to taste)
  • Pepper as desired
  • 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Can be served with avocado wedges or guacamole and tortilla chips

Directions:

  1. Add the rinsed and drained black beans into a pot with the ready-to-heat commercial black bean soup. Add in 1 – 2 cups of water (or more depending on how thick you would like your soup). Cook over medium heat until the beans soften further and the mixture thickens.
  2. Add additional vegetables if desired (see notes below).
  3. Heat a separate saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 – 2 teaspoons of olive oil and heat the frozen corn kernels, stirring frequently until a toasted corn smell begins and the kernels begin to brown. Remove from the heat. Stir these kernels into the soup pot with black beans.
  4. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salsa (homemade or store bought) in and stir well.
  5. Serve soup with tortilla chips, guacamole or avocado wedges (see additional notes below) a sandwich or side salad.

Notes:

You can adjust the amount of water you add, depending on how thick you would like the soup. You may also decide to add the salsa individually at the table according to each person’s taste preference.

It is very easy to modify this recipe especially if you would like to add in more vegetables. For example, you could add in  ½ cup of chopped button mushrooms, a diced orange bell pepper  or a 1/4 cup of chopped mini zucchini wedges into the soup at the beginning when heating up the black beans with water. Another delicious alternative is to cook pasta separately then add some into the final soup before serving. Makes a hearty meal!

To adapt this to a toddler’s meal: You can set aside some of the black bean corn soup for your toddler, prior to adding the salsa. This is so that you can decide how much to add of the salsa (if any) before giving to your toddler. Then you can put some cooked pasta and/or broken up tortilla chips (allow the chips to soften into the soup before offering to toddler) into the soup to serve as an all-in-one meal. Alternatively, offer the black beans, pasta and corn on a plate as delicious finger food pick-me-ups!

Fresh Raspberry Yogurt Cake

raspberryyogurtcake2

Raspberry Yogurt Cake – Dietitianmom.com

This was a recipe that I obtained from the book “Bringing Up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman, in which I jazzed up with some fresh raspberries. I had recently read this book during the spring, and was highly entertained by its witty and informative content. It certainly caused me to ponder many cultural norms and child-raising habits often observed in the United States!

This recipe below was so easy that I was able to make it with my nearly 4 year old this past week. It was her first time in the kitchen and she loved it! The key is to obtain at least one 6 oz  plain yogurt container (or equivalent container) which your child can then use as a ‘measuring cup’.

Ingredients
2 (6 oz) containers of whole or reduced fat plain yogurt
½ to ¾ cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 containers of all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup fresh (or frozen but thawed out and drained) raspberries

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch cake or loaf pan.
  2. Gently combine the wet ingredients (yogurt, sugar eggs, vanilla and oil) into one bowl.
  3. Combine the flour and baking powder into a different bowl.
  4. Add the dry ingredients gradually into the wet ingredients, mixing gently until just combined
  5. Add in the frozen or fresh raspberries (or other fruit).
  6. Bake 35 minutes to an hour, until a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool then serve!

Although the original recipe called for using whole milk yogurt, I found that the reduced fat yogurt I used worked fine as an alternative. Also while combining the dry into the wet ingredients the mixture became quite thick and difficult to stir. But using a wooden spoon, and consistent mixing, the mixture ended up softening down and became more malleable. I used olive oil as the oil in the recipe which worked but you could discern the olive oil taste. Hence, you may want to use a different vegetable oil like sunflower oil or canola oil in this recipe instead. I also found that using about 1/2 to 2/3 a cup of oil was adequate. The first time I made this recipe, I became concerned that the batter was too thick so added a little bit more oil (about 3/4 cup). However, it ended up taking a long time for the batter to cook through. So do not worry if the batter appears too thick. If you end up with the same problem as I did, you can cover the top of the loaf pan with some aluminum foil halfway through the baking process, to prevent the top from becoming overly brown and hard. Enjoy!

 

Oo-La-La! Five-Minute Guacamole Recipe

Ingredients:

2 Avocados

1-2 tablespoons onion, finely minced

2 garlic cloves

1-2 tablespoons tomatoes, chopped

2-4 teaspoons lime juice

¼ teaspoon salt, or as desired

¼ teaspoon pepper, or as desired

 

Directions:

  1. Simply peel and mash avocado in a bowl. Then add all the other seasonings together!

Notes: Feel free to add more onion, salt or pepper as desired. If you would like a richer taste, after mixing first chill the bowl for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to let the flavors blend together before serving.

Serve this as a power snack alongside any of the following options:

Unsalted tortilla chips

Warm pita bread strips

Baked pita chips

Carrot/cucumber/celery sticks

Red, orange or yellow bell pepper sticks

Apple slices

Pretzel sticks

Cheese and flour/corn tortillas as mini ‘roll-ups’

Zucchini crisps

In lettuce leaves as ‘mini-wrap’ sandwiches (feel free to add beans, chopped boiled egg, strips of cooked poultry meat or cheese if desired)

This is a great dish for your child’s afternoon snack or potluck/party/picnic contribution!