Butternut Baked Ziti

It’s officially fall in Philadelphia.  The leaves are turning, frost is on the ground in the morning, Uggs are pulled on over skinny jeans… and pumpkin is everywhere.  While everyone is grabbing their PSL’s this pumpkin season, I’m looking at the less popular fall favorite of mine:  Butternut Squash.  I’m a sucker for the underdog.

I’ve tried out Butternut Squash a few other times, one of my most interesting in the post Butternut Squash Tacos.

Anyway, had to share this butternut recipe with you, it’s warm and comforting and feels like fall.

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The thing about this recipe that is different for me, is that it’s actually pretty complicated compared to my normal posts.  Don’t be intimidated though, the recipe isn’t difficult… the steps are easy, it’s just that there’s a lot of them.  To keep yourself from getting overwhelmed, I recommend roasting the squash while you cook the rest of the meal, and it will break it up pretty nicely for ya.  Another tip, I also ALWAYS try and wash dishes/spoons, etc while I am cooking, so I’m not left with a bunch of pots and pans and cutting boards in the sink.   Continue reading

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

One of my all-time favorite stories about Dave’s horrendous spelling, is that he once spelled “Lasagna” “Liggisana”.  Every time I see the word I say it the way he spelled it.  It just cracks me up.  I literally can’t think, spell, or say the word “Lasagna” without thinking about him.  I love it… too funny.

I suppose the reason for my inspiration to try a Buffalo Chicken Lasagna was perhaps because that Liggisana spelling Dave was in the back of my head telling my subconscious to make a new Buff Chick creation… they’re his favorite.  First we tried Buffalo Chicken Dip which is a classic in our house.  Then we did some Buffalo Spiced Peanuts (yum!), my favorite- Buffalo Stuffed Baked Potatoes, and a new hit- the Buffalo Chicken Soup.  We’ve got a whole lotta buffalo goin’ on over here.  This Liggisana takes our Buffalo Chicken loving to a whole new level.  

The inspiration for this recipe took me to googling some yummy treats.  My favorite out of the few that I found came from one of my go-to healthy recipe bloggers, Prevention RD.  I have saved so so many of her recipes, they are out of this world.  

Check out the recipe for the lasagna below, but also make sure you read my notes afterwards… my lasagna didn’t turn out as perfect as Nicole from Prev. RD’s did!  I think I need to read up on some “do’s” and “don’t’s” on Lasagna… hmmm……

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 lb White Meat Chicken Breast, cooked and cubed (I boiled mine)

3 cups Low-Sodium Marinara Sauce

1 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce or Buffalo Wing Sauce

1/3 cup Water

15oz Fat Free Ricotta Cheese 

2 Large Eggs

1 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Cayenne Pepper if desired

16 Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles, uncooked

9 slices Pepper Jack Cheese

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  Combine chicken, marinara, wing sauce, and water.  In a separate bowl, combine ricotta cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, and cayenne if using.

3.  Spray a 9×13 inch pan with cooking spray.  Spread enough sauce to coat the bottom of the pan.  Arrange 4 noodles over the sauce before spreading more sauce, then a layer of the ricotta mixture.  Add another layer noodles and of sauce repeating the process until you end with a final layer of sauce.

4.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight or bake immediately for one hour.  Uncover and place the pepper jack cheese slices on top.  Bake an extra 8-10 minutes uncovered so the cheese gets nice and melty.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving to firm up so you can get nice slices.

Recipe barely adapted from:  Prevention RD

Sauce on the right, ricotta mixture on the left.

Sauce on the right, ricotta mixture on the left.

Layered and baked!

Layered and baked!

Gotta love the lasagna cross-section shot

Gotta love the lasagna cross-section shot

Served these babies with a plate full of Ceasar Salad- the creamy dressing was a nice compliment to the spicy sauce.

Served these babies with a plate full of Ceasar Salad- the creamy dressing was a nice compliment to the spicy sauce.

So as I fairly warned you earlier… mine did NOT turn out as gorgeous and perfect as I’d liked it to.  Lasagna failures is a common topic in my foodie magazines, so I don’t feel that alone… right?  I’ve done some research and figured out I have a few problems that I’d love to tell YOU about so you don’t make the same mistakes that I have.

First of all… silly little me… all this time I thought my big pyrex was 9×13… it WASNT!  My dish was way too long for this lasagna.  I just couldn’t figure out why it didn’t stack right!  That’s why.  DUH.  I really shouldn’t have told you that, it’s really embarrassing.

One of the KEY tips that will help make your lasagna perfect and not dried out… is the sauce.  Make DOUBLE if you’re worried.  Have extra on hand.  Spreading the sauce on the bottom is key.  Even more key?  The sauce ontop.  You want this sauce to completely coat every inch of pasta on the top of the stacks.  This is what will keep the lasagna noodles from drying out.  

Also, I’ve commented on the original recipe at Prevention RD, and she highly recommended the refrigeration process before baking the dish.  I’ll try that next time!

Veggie Marinara Bake

This is what happens when you let a girl like me loose in a grocery store.  I just go wild.

I have been a very good girl lately with my food shopping excursions- always having a plan for the week including a list and a budget.  This past week, I was feeling rather uninspired and only had one dinner pre-planned.  When I got to the market and saw all of the bright, fresh produce… I finally got the inspiration I needed.  I decided that I wanted to take the idea of baked ziti (not sure why but I had a bad craving for it) and put it together using veggies instead of pasta.

I went through the different areas of the produce section picking out what looked to be the best local veggies I could find.  I went home and threw it together and this is what I came up with:

Veggie Marinara Bake

Makes 4 Large Servings

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon chopped Garlic 

1/2 Vidalia Onion, diced

2 small Zucchinis, sliced into thin circles

1 large Yellow Squash (or 2 small), sliced into thin half-moons or circles

1 Baby Eggplant, cut into small chunks

3/4 cup Shredded Carrots

1/2 Red Bell Pepper, diced

1 small can Sliced Black Olives

Italian Seasoning, Salt, Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper

1 28oz can Crushed Tomatoes

1 package Hot Turkey or Chicken Sausage (I used Wegman’s brand, it came with 4 patties)

1/4 cup Fat Free Ricotta Cheese

1/4 cup Shaved Parmesan (divided, optional)

1/4 cup Grated Parmesan 

1/8 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

Directions:

1.  Wash and cut all of the veggies.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions and garlic.  Saute for a few minutes.  Add the rest of the veggies and saute, stirring occasionally to re-distribute.  Stir in Italian Seasoning blend of your choice or just some Salt, Pepper, and Crushed Red Pepper.  Once the squash and eggplant are soft, add the can of crushed tomatoes (reserve some if you’d like to dip).  Simmer over medium-low heat.

2.  In a separate pan, cook the sausage over medium heat and chop.  Stir and chop and cook until the sausage is cooked through and browned.  Put aside.

3.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare a baking dish with cooking spray.  Add a layer of the veggie/tomato mixture to the baking dish.  Place half of the chopped sausage ontop.  Using a spoon, dollop little sections of the ricotta cheese onto the top.  Add the rest of the veggies, then the sausage, then more dollops of ricotta.  Top with half of the shaved parmesan if using.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly ontop, following with the grated parmesan.  

4.  Pop in the oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the top is browning just a bit.  

*Note: Serve carefully- since there is no cheese or egg throughout the dish, it will not hold shape like a baked ziti or lasagna will.  Just scoop and serve… it’s delicious, trust me.

Before: So pretty :)

Before: So pretty 🙂

The after:  Not so pretty... but it's going to be pretty tasty!

The after: Not so pretty… but it’s going to be pretty tasty!

After it's done baking

After it’s done baking

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Served with a side of garlic bread... nom nom

Served with a side of garlic bread… nom nom

Even good for lunch while I'm working at home!

Even good for lunch while I’m working at home!

At first I was disappointed that my faux-baked ziti did not turn out very pretty.  But then I started thinking about it, and who really cares what it looks like?  This was just a dinner for Dave and I to sit in front of the TV and watch the Eagles game.  I’d much rather have a healthier meal than have it look pretty.  Because this recipe is chock full of fresh veggies, we were able to only divide it by FOUR and still have the total calorie count under 300 (depending on whatever type of sausage/meat you choose).  Amazing.  Don’t you just love pigging out on food when you  know it won’t do any damage!?

What’s great about this recipe is that it’s something different from your typical same-old.  Try it with whatever veggies you have or whatever veggies you prefer.  You can also go crazy and take out the sausage to make it vegetarian! Oh, and the leftovers?  I’m eating them right now for lunch… they are even better!!

 

Posted Last year:  Lunchtime Tuesday

Other recipes you may enjoy:

Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna

Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna

"New" Chicken Parmesan

“New” Chicken Parmesan

Mom's Baked Tomatoes

Mom’s Baked Tomatoes

Mexican Shepherd’s Pie & Feb Secret Recipe Club Reveal!

I have a huge blogging announcement to make!  I was recently accepted into the Secret Recipe Club!  This is something I’m very excited about, it will be a great opportunity to make new blogging friends and try out new recipes.  I have been on a waiting list to join for a few months and today is my VERY FIRST REVEAL!

Let me give you a brief run down of the “SRC”.  First, I am assigned a blog.  From that blog, I am allowed to pick ANY recipe they have ever made… and make it myself.  We’re allowed to make changes and swaps to fit our own tastes and diets too.  Then, we write a post about the recipe and our experience making it.  Finally, everyone will “reveal” their blog post about their secret recipe on the same day.  I get to tell the blog I wrote about and then someone who had me will tell me too!  It’s all very bloggerifically exciting.

Secret Recipe Club

For February, my SRC Blog assignment was Food-Ramblings.  Not only is this girl an AWESOME cook, but we have so so much in common.  First of all, her name is Elizabeth.  She makes and talks about some seriously delicious looking recipes but tries to stay healthy, just like me.  She even includes Weight Watcher points on her posts which is so helpful.

She’s truly an inspiration… she lost 30 pounds before her wedding and somehow managed to keep it off!  You go girl!

After reading through tons of great recipes, I decided to go with one that I thought was super creative:  Mexican Shepherd’s Pie.  Gasp.  How delicious does that sound?  Why haven’t I thought of this?!

Shepherd’s Pie has forever been one of my Mom’s favorite meals.  Growing up, we used to make it and mix it all together turning it into one big pile of delicious mashed potatoes, meat, and veggies.  Sometimes, my Mom would let my sister and I put food coloring in the potatoes to make it more fun to eat.  (gross!)

This recipe on Elizabeth’s blog  stood out to me right away and I had to get workin’.  I made this one two or three weeks ago now!  I was just so excited to try it out.

Mexican Shepherd’s Pie

**Recipe only slightly adapted from Food-Ramblings

Ingredients

1.5 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes

1 Tablespoon Onion Powder

1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

Splash of Half and Half

1/2 Cup Chicken Broth (red. sodium)

1 lb Ground Beef

1 Taco Seasoning Packet

2 Jalapenos, diced

2 Tomatoes, diced

1 can Corn

Cayenne Pepper

1 can Black Beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Cheddar Cheese (red. fat),shredded

Fresh Cilantro

Directions:

1.  Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until soft and easily pierced with a knife or fork.  While the potatoes boil, cook ground beef with taco seasoning and diced jalapenos.  Drain grease if you have any.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Smash the potatoes with half and half, chicken broth, garlic powder, minced onion, pepper, and salt.  Add chicken broth or half and half little by little if you need it to be more wet.

3.  In a foil-lined baking dish, spray with cooking spray.  Spread half of the potato mixture at bottom of pan.  Next, layer ground beef, followed by the tomatoes, corn, and black beans.  Sprinkle Cayenne somewhere in the middle if you’d like it to be spicier.  Sprinkle cheese over top (I used White and Sharp Cheddar).  Spread rest of potatoes over top.

4.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are just starting to brown.  Keep an eye on it!  Sprinkle on some fresh Black Pepper and Cilantro on top.  Serve 🙂

**Elizabeth’s original recipe first of all included a second recipe for Jalapeno Cornbread which I’m dying to try another time!  I made the shepherd’s pie after work one day and didn’t have enough time to try both.  Here are the changes I made:  I used Yukon Gold Potatoes, and less of them with the skins on instead of 2 lbs.  I added Cayenne and Jalapeno (duh).  I also unfortunately didn’t have the 1 cup of skim milk on hand to make the taters so I just used a splash of half and half.  Finally, since I had some on hand, I sprinkled some fresh Cilantro ontop.**

Smash smash smash.

Smash smash smash.

Next, I mixed the potatoes into mashed potatoes with lots of good seasonings and spread half of it into the baking dish.

Next, I mixed the potatoes into mashed potatoes with lots of good seasonings and spread half of it into the baking dish.

Add in some beef, tomatoes, jalapenos...

Add in some beef, tomatoes, jalapenos…

Black Beans, Corn, and some Cayenne for good measure

Black Beans, Corn, and some Cayenne for good measure

Loving two types of shredded cheddah

Loving two types of shredded cheddah

Into and out of the oven it goes... voila!  Amazing!

Into and out of the oven it goes… voila! Amazing!

Close-Up!

Close-Up!

Cross-Section of a Shepherd's Pie... I'm drooling.

Cross-Section of a Shepherd’s Pie… I’m drooling.

Spoon some up and add some hot sauce... call it a night!

Spoon some up and add some hot sauce… call it a night!

We LOOOVED Elizabeth’s Mexican Shepherd’s Pie!  What a GREAT idea!  I loved how she replaced the typical peas and carrots of Shepherd’s Pie with Corn and Beans and exciting flavors which I typically prefer anyway.  YUM!  We ate this for dinner TWICE and a few lunches too… tons of leftovers.

I can’t wait to officially follow Elizabeth’s blog now that she knows who I am 🙂  she has plenty of other amazing recipes I’m dying to try.

shep

In the meantime, PLEASE do yourself a favor and click below to check out these other fabulous recipes that were discovered during this month’s Secret Recipe Club!


Crabcake Mac and Cheese

Guess what?  This rockin’ recipe is featured on Foodie Friends Friday, a great blogging linky party… check it out!

Happy Friday, everyone.

I am so excited to share this recipe with you today!  I have had this recipe on the back burner for almost a year now, and I finally got a chance to whip it up.  This Mac and Cheese isn’t your typical Shells and Velveeta.  It’s Crabcake Mac and Cheese.  It’s a Rachael Ray recipe that combines all of your typical crabcake ingredients with a delicious cheesy sauce and pasta.

Dave helped me make this complicated recipe this past Saturday.  While it did take a lot longer than my normal recipes, we had a lot of fun making it.  I put a college football game on in the kitchen for him, and it was so nice for me to have the helping hand and company.

Before I tell you the ingredients, let me warn you:  do not get overwhelmed by the number of ingredients or steps in this recipe.  Nothing is difficult, it just takes a few steps.  Rachael even suggests that you make the pasta up until the last few steps ahead of time, and then you can finish it off closer to gametime!  … so make sure you block out some time for this one, it will be soooooo worth it!

Crabcake Mac and Cheese

Recipe slightly adapted from:  Rachael Ray

Makes:  4-6 Servings (I think mine made like 10… seriously)

Ingredients:

1lb Pasta (I used Gemelli because it’s so pretty!)

2 Tablespoons EVOO (in honor of Rach)

6 Tablespoons Butter, divided

4 ribs Celery

1 Onion, medium

1 Red Bell Pepper

1 Tablespoon Garlic, minced (or 3 cloves)

1 Bay Leaf

2 Tablespoons Fresh Thyme Leaves, chopped

1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest

1 lb Premium Crab Meat “special” (Rachael suggests 3/4lb Lump but it was super expensive.  Mine was still expensive though, I got it next to the seafood section)

1 1/2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

1/2 Tablespoon Old Bay Blackening Seasoning

3 Tablespoons Flour

2 1/2 Cups Skim Milk

1 Tablespoon Honey Dijon Mustard

1 + Cup Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (1 block Cabot with some leftover, shredded)

1 + Cup Gruyere Cheese (or swiss, again, shredded with some leftovers)

3 Tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

1 Cup Panko Breadcrumbs

1 Handful Flat Leaf Parsley, finely chopped

1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese (or grated if thats all you have)

Nutmeg, to taste

Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.  Cook the pasta in salted water for 3-4 minutes.  Yes, it will be super-undercooked.  That’s what you want!  Cool in the pot of water and then drain.  Put it in a large bowl.

2.  Chop the Celery, Onion, and Red Pepper.

3.  In a Medium Saucepan, heat 2 Tablespoons of EVOO and 1 Tablespoon of Butter over medium high heat.  Add the Veggies, Garlic, Bay Leaf, Thyme, Lemon Zest, Salt and Pepper.  Cook until tender while stirring, about 8 minutes or so.

4.  Add the Crabmeat to the veggie mixture and season with Old Bay (to taste… I used a little extra).  Stir and then remove from the heat.

5.  In a medium saucepot, melt 3 Tablespoons of Butter over low heat.  Whisk in the flour.  Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk.  Bring to a bubble.  Make sure you stir it or it will burn the bottom of your pot!  Season with Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg.  Cook for a new minutes until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

6.  Add the Mustard and the Cheddar and Gruyere Cheeses.  Stir in a “figure 8” motion until all of the cheese is melted in and well incorporated.

7.  Add the Veggie and Crab mixture to the bowl of pasta.  Add the sauce too, and stir.  At this point, you can put into a casserole dish or individual ramekins and refrigerate until you are ready.  If not, put it in your desired dish and preheat your oven to 375!

8.  Next, melt 2 Tablespoons of Butter in a small skillet over low heat.  Add 3 Tablespoons of Hot Sauce.  Warm the sauce and add the Panko Bread Crumbs, tossing to evenly coat the crumbs in the sauce.  Cool for a few minutes.  Add the chopped Parsley and 1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese into the crumb mixture.  Top the Mac and Cheese with the crumb mixture (only if you’re baking right away**).

9.  If you are using individual crocks or ramekins, arrange them on a baking sheet to catch any drips.  Otherwise, stick the casserole dish in the oven.  Bake until heated through with the following times:

Cooking immediately:  10-15 minutes

Cooking from refrigeration:  40-45 minutes **Add the bread crumbs onto the top within the last 10 minutes of baking**

WHEW!!!!!!!!!!!  Okay I warned you it was long, but seriously just read it… you’ll be fine!  And check out these pictures, they’re mouth watering!

I thought all of the veggies chopped were so pretty! Thanks Dave!

Sauteed Veggies

I had to show you the Gemelli! I have a thing for pasta shapes…

Makin’ my sauce! Pre-Cheese.

Here we are, ready to be topped with crumbs and go in the oven.

Ta-Da!!! Baked and crisped topping to perfection.

Like, Oh my gosh.  This stuff is great!  It was a big hit with Dave, my sister, and I.  I brought some leftovers into work too, and my co-workers went crazy.  While this recipe might take you longer than your normal weeknight dinner, you should totally try it… I promise it will be worth your time.  The crab meat can also get expensive, but you can taste it in every single bite… and with all the leftovers you’ll have, you’ll be eating it all week!

PS I love this page!  If you share your love for adorable pasta shapes with me, check it out!

THANK YOU RACHAEL RAY, for yet another freakin’ awesome recipe!  You rockkkkk!