I Can’t Believe It’s Not Pasta – Spaghetti Squash with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Spinach

October 30, 2011 § 8 Comments


See those silky golden strands of yumminess? They looks like delicate pasta noodles don’t they? But they aren’t. Dieters, have no fear – what you are looking at is spaghetti squash. I’ve heard of spaghetti squash for years but never actually tried it. I’ve seen lots of recipes for it but never noticed it in the market and never saw it out on a menu in a restaurant. Tonight while strolling through Whole Foods, there was a beautiful display of all kinds of squash and there it was – I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I grabbed the spaghetti squash, determined to figure out how to make this pasta lover’s alternate.

After a few quick google searches, I used this recipe as my starting point. Honestly the hardest part of this recipe is getting the darn squash cut in half and cleaned. With the effort it took I was a bit worried about the rest of the night – but alas, it was all easy as pie from there.

Before going in the oven, they were drizzled with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. This had me pause for a moment. I knew the nutmeg is a go-to for squash but I was making a garlic base sauce for this, would nutmeg work? We would soon find out…

I roasted them for 30 minutes. In my haste of reading how to cook these babies, I mis-read and only cooked them 30 minutes despite the referenced recipe saying to do just 30 minutes they had to go in the microwave first. Oops. Honestly though, the resulting dish had just the slightest crunch that I really enjoyed. Next time I may cook them longer but I actually really liked the way it came out.

I sauteed some sliced garlic in olive oil over low heat. To this, I added one sliced shallot to give a mild onion flavor. I don’t cook much with sun-dried tomatoes but just opening the can made me question this. The smell just transports you to a sweet, sunny, tuscan day. A few spoonfulls of chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a splash of the juice went into the pan. Lastly, two handfulls of spinach went in. A little salt and pepper to season, some red pepper flakes for some heat, and the pan was set to low while the spinach wilted.

Now to get the squash out of their shell. I looked at the squash and just started scraping – it seemed to work. Scrape, scrape, scrape and little strands appeared. Once completely scraped out, the “spaghetti” was added to the pan. The last touch was a tablespoon of Earth Balance vegan buttery spread to add some creaminess (also, my first time actually using this product) and the dish was topped with some fresh basil and the toasted pine nuts.

Not only does this dish come across as elegant and gourmet, it is delicious and complex. The squash while delicate, had a slight crunch to it. The brightness of the sun-dried tomatoes and basil contrast the warm pine nuts and rich garlic nicely. The spinach adds even more healthy goodness to the dish. Oh, and that nutmeg? Yeah, it rocked. That little kick of warmth made me want to curl up and start listening to Christmas music tonight. Yes, I realize it’s still October.

All in all, this was an awesome dish. I’ll definitely be picking up the spaghetti squash next time I see it in the market. I’m looking forward to trying all sorts of pasta recipes out on this carb alternative.

Tip: I saved the squash seeds and toasted them as a little experiment. I read they were edible and figured I might as well give it a try before tossing them. The finished seed is deliciously nutty and slightly chewy. I’ll be enjoying them on a salad this week.

If you like the idea of pasta made out of vegetables, check out this yummy recipe for garlicky zucchini noodles with tomatoes and chickpeas.

Spaghetti Squash with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Spinach
Serves 3-4 bowls

Ingredients

1 spaghetti squash, cut in half and cleaned of seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
2-3 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, sliced (plus juice)
2 cups spinach
1 tablespoon Earth Balance vegan buttery spread
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
5-6 basil leaves, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half. Clean inside until all seeds and strands are removed. Rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bake for 30-40 minutes until done.
  2. Toast pine nuts in large pan over low-medium heat about 10 minutes until golden, set aside.
  3. Saute sliced garlic and shallot in two tablespoons olive oil over low-medium heat. Once fragrant and garlic is soft, add sun-dried tomatoes and juice and heat tomatoes through, about a minute or two.
  4. Reduce heat to low, add spinach, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and cook until wilted.
  5. Once squash is cooled, scrape down the center and around the sides to release the “spaghetti” strands. Mix in with spinach and tomato mixture. Fold in vegan buttery spread until melted. Top with pine nuts and basil.
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Love, Loss, and Learnings

October 25, 2011 § 11 Comments

Sometimes life doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. No matter how we put the pieces together they just don’t add up. We are left scratching for meaning, desperate to find some hidden realization below the surface.

I’ve already been exposed to much loss in my life. I’ve always been able to come to terms with it one way or another. But this loss has struck me hard – my dear friend Erin passed away last Monday after her courageous 3 year battle with breast cancer. Always optimistic and a beacon of hope, it is hard to believe the unthinkable happened.

Erin taught me so much, it is hard to take it all in. I learned the most from her as I watched her fight cancer – diagnosed at stage 4, she lived every moment to the fullest, continuing to realize her hopes and dreams. Even going on to get married to the love of her life in a castle in Spain. She was unstoppable.

Thinking back, it was actually Erin who first introduced me to veganism years ago. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to the facts she was giving me but now realize the profound effect they had and will continue to have on me. She had just been diagnosed and decided to meet that diagnosis with a fight – her new world consisted of juicing and yoga daily as well as a mostly vegan diet.

In fact, my newfound veganism was renewed while reading Crazy, Sexy, Diet by cancer survivor Kris Carr. Erin introduced me to the book a few months ago, and I have no doubt it will continue to influence me and my food choices for the rest of my life.

I think its normal to find yourself filled with regret at the loss of a loved one. There are many things I regret; ironically, or not, my biggest regret is not cooking for her the last time I saw her. Her cancer was spreading and making it difficult for her to perform basic tasks around the house – including cooking. I had just taken her to her last radiation appointment and tried to convince her to let me come over that weekend and cook for her. She said not to bother, she’d be OK. Unfortunately, I listened.

If you’ve found this post – please take the time read Erin’s story in her own words here. No woman should be diagnosed at stage 4. I hope what she went through will be a lesson learned for all young women to take signs of risk seriously. And if you’re thinking of cooking a lovely meal for someone just because – do it. I wish I had for her.

Erin, I miss you.


A Vegan Oasis – Candle79

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Candle79 is one of the vegan restaurants we scouted out on our trip to NYC last week. I can’t say enough good things about this place – nice staff, comfortable environment, and most importantly, amazingly flavorful and wholesome vegan food! Whether you are vegan or not – I highly recommend checking them out if you’re in NYC.

Overall the meal was fantastic. We thoroughly enjoyed all the options we had and the fact that we didn’t have to worry about what was in them. Portions are a tad on the small side – this is an upscale restaurant so with an appetizer and desert, it is perfect. Pricing was perhaps a bit high, but considering all ingredients are fresh and organic – not to mention delicious – its well worth it! They have a cookbook coming out November 1, and it will likely be my first vegan cookbook I buy it inspired me so much.

The restaurant has a quaint entrance on 79th street on the Upper East Side. The downstairs is pretty contemporary feeling with sleek lines and warm colors. We were seated upstairs in the back which was fine but next time I’m definitely asking for the front upstairs as there were booths and sweet tables by the window.

The meal started with a little treat from the chef. It was a crostini with some type of spread – I believe it was eggplant and artichoke. Whatever it was, it was amazing. I should warn you – these pictures seriously stink! I need to invest in a camera. I hate taking photos with flash but looking back at these, flash may have been better. Sorry.

We were really tempted to order the guacamole timbale as an appetizer as the next table had it. However, given that guacamole is often on the restaurant menus in Orlando, we went with the tri-colored beet salad with endive and almond cheese and kalamata olive vinaigrette. OK, first things first, I’ve never had a kalamata olive vinaigrette before but I will be figuring out how to make it because it was really delicious. I wouldn’t have every thought to pair olives and beets but it worked very nicely. Also, this was my first forray into nut cheeses. This is a common for vegans and I’d yet to try one anywhere. The almond cheese in my opinion tasted almost like a very dense whipped cream – perhaps like a mousse-like creme fraiche. It provided just enough creaminess to the dish to compliment the salty vinaigrette and hearty beets.

Luis ordered an impressive wild mushroom squash risotto. The risotto was drizzled with cashew cream and topped with frizzled leeks. The crispy leeks were a very nice compliment to the creamy, rich but simple risotto. The risotto was just decadent enough to be truly enjoyable but didn’t leave that harsh full feeling once we finished.

I ordered the live zucchini manicotti. The “live” should have warned me this would be a cold dish but it didn’t and I was a tad surprised to take a bite and meet cold food. But despite the lack of warmth – this dish had tons going for it. The zucchini are cut very thinly to roll into manicotti and stuffed with a vegetable portobello pistou. The pistou was actually almost like a tapenade mixed with diced portobellos. The dish is finished with a tomato sauce and topped with a parsley pine nut salad. A perfect bite of all elements was bold and vibrant. I’m definitely going to use this for inspiration at home – I’ve been thinking I can even just buy pre-made tapenade and mix with some mushrooms for a quick fix similar to this.

Last but my gosh certainly not least – dessert. Dun dun dun! Aside from some delicious vegan chocolate chip cookies from the Whole Foods bakery, dessert hasn’t been on my mind in the past three months. But I couldn’t resist the tempting menu. As a mousse lover, I ordered the chocolate peanut butter bliss and boy was it bliss indeed. Chocolate mousse and peanut butter mousse are layered and covered in a chocolate shell and then finished with a tart berry coulis. Honestly all I can say is yum. And this was truly decadent – for such a small little dessert, the two of us couldn’t even finish it.

There’s no doubt we’ll be going back to Candle79 next time we venture to NYC. I’m so glad we found this little gem on the Upper East Side. We almost missed it entirely by trying to eat near our hotel in Midtown. Luckily a quick google search and scan of the yelp reviews confirmed we had to go. As a matter of fact, I just finished Crazy, Sexy, Diet which I was reading while there, and many recipes in the last chapter are from this very restaurant and we almost missed it entirely!

Until next time, I’ll be waiting for that cookbook to come out.

Dreaming of Seeds, Roots, and Leaves – Review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

October 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

This post is long overdue. I’ve been meaning to write it for some time now as I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle several months ago. The book influenced my thinking about my relationship with food so much, that I thought it only fitting to provide a full review here. In fact, it was while reading this book that I decided to undertake my 30 day vegan challenge.

I was first introduced to Barbara Kingsolver probably 10 years ago when I read her stunning novel, The Poisonwood Bible. She has an amazing ability to portray a place and its people with such depth that not only do you feel like you’re right there in the midst of it all – but it makes you idealistic, wanting to make the world better. While that novel dealt with Africa and had me ready to pack my bags and go make the world a better place, this one is much closer to home and frankly way more manageable – this is about transforming your kitchen table.

The basic premise of the book is local eating, but that barely does it justice. Kingsolver’s family embarks on 365 days of eating only foods that traveled less than an hour and ideally from farmers they know – the majority of that being grown themselves. Throughout the book she explains the ups and downs of this lifestyle, not to mention the hard work, dedication, and self control it takes to achieve it. In the end, I guarantee despite the perceived daunting task of living off your own back yard, you’ll be compelled to plant something, anything to call your own, even if it is just a pot of basil.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but until reading this book, I’d never stood in the grocery store wondering how odd it was that we had so many choices – and the same choices year-round. It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t see a bright juicy tomato in the dead of winter. In my defense I guess, Florida doesn’t suffer from winter like the rest of the country, but still. Likewise, instead of rejoicing at the sight of dirt on my food, I thought it was somewhat, well, dirty. How did this happen? How did we become largely oblivious to the basics of life and so far removed from the only thing that sustains our very existence?

This book really caused me to pause and think – think about what goes into my mouth ever day. What are my actions doing to those around me? Am I supporting my local neighborhood with every bite, or some far off land and doing more harm than good by perpetuating that buying cycle? One of the strongest takeaways was the amount of oil we spend transporting foods. I don’t know if I’ve been living under a rock, but it seems we as a nation spend all kinds of time discussing the cost of our cars and gasoline, but no one ever talks about the cost of our dinner plate – and I’d argue, the vast majority of normal Americans don’t realize the impact. According to the stats in this book, we consume almost as much fossil fuels in the transportation of our food as we do by transporting ourselves via cars. She says each food item has traveled an average of 1,500 miles – that’s pretty insane when you stop and think about it.

Not only will Kingsolver give you plenty of stats and figures that will make you really stop and think if you want to keep going the way you’ve always done – she also shows us a whole world of amazing fresh and complex flavors unattainable through “traditional” contemporary means – aka the supermarket. Your mouth will be watering with every description of vegetable and bean variety planted in her back yard. Shockingly she says, Americans eat less than 1% of vegetable varieties that were grown a century ago. Less than 1%! No wonder you can walk the supermarket some days and still feel like there is nothing to eat. It becomes same old, same old, because no matter what week you go, you pretty much get the same stuff, just different prices.

Not only can local eating be better for your taste buds, neighbor, and the environment, but it can have drastic benefits for your health. If you really eat local, you essentially cut out all the processed crap we are so used to. She says that one third of our healthcare costs are paying for our bad eating habits. Imagine if we just cut it out?

The meat section is very informative with somewhat detailed information on the harsh realities of factory farms. One of the hardest chapters to read in the book for me was where she talks about harvesting her own chickens. But the reality is – you can only know the life they’ve lived if you grow them yourself. It is the safest way. I’m now mostly vegan and haven’t had chicken in months. That chapter pretty much solidified the vegan decision for me. I figured, if I can’t do it myself, I shouldn’t eat it. But that’s just my point of view. If nothing else, moving away from factory farming isn’t just good for the animals, it’s really much better for your health.

In the end, Kingsolver weaves together an idealistic tale of living off your own land and hard labor which while nice to dream of, is somewhat unrealistic for the vast majority. But she does inspire consciousness with every bite which I know has made a huge difference in my life. Sure, there have been days I’ve bought the asparagus even though I know it’s not in season, but I’m making small steps where I can – reading more labels and paying attention to where it all comes from, trying to cut out the crappy fillers in our foods (soy and corn), and being more conscious and grateful about those that produce that food.

If you’re at all curious about our food system or even just think reading descriptions of foods is delicious – then this is a book for you. Just be prepared. She’s gentle with her stats and opinions, but once planted, the seed grows.

New York City – Museums, Parks, and Vegan Chow

October 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

I know my last post was about a vacation, but trust me, I’m not used to two vacations in a row! In fact, this one seemed to creep up on us out of nowhere and we found ourselves scrambling at the last minute to prepare for our trip to New York. I’d had two solid weeks of travel so all I craved for the weekend was my own bed and snuggling with my dog. But, we were going out of town for something very special – it was the wedding of one of my best friends. Plus, I figured there had to be tons of great vegan restaurants to explore in metropolitan NYC!

Luis had never been to New York but by the end of hour one he was already trying to figure out how we could  move there – oh, and it was pouring down rain! I’ve been to New York City probably 10+ times. I always loved the hustle and bustle but have always remembered it as being too much chaos for me to ever live with. But it wasn’t that way this time. There was still that great NYC energy, but it wasn’t overwhelming at all – in fact, I was really sad when it came time to leave.

If it weren’t for our dog Chloe, I think we’d be trying to figure out how we could make a move there work. I’m not sure she’d transition so well from her big back yard where she can “hunt” all night long to a tiny 500sf apartment. Surprisingly though I noticed there are so many dogs in the city – but where do they potty? This one question bothered me the entire time we were there. I’ve decided the sidewalks must be the lucky spots. If those dogs are happy maybe Chloe would be too?

We spent the weekend strolling through the streets of Manhattan, enjoying the energy all around us. In fact, I would have usually planned every last second but instead left it to chance and we just walked where we wanted and let fate guide us. By accident we ended up at Bryant Park and I think that was my favorite 30 minutes of the trip – just sitting and enjoying the crisp air and children playing on the green grass, even rolling in it.

Our friend’s wedding was in New Jersey. It was a wonderful evening, one of those weddings where you can really see the couple growing old together – complementing each other in every aspect and having little tears creep out the corner of your eye as you hear them say their vows. They wrote their own and I especially loved the line of “I vow to love us some kids into this world, because I know you’ll make an eccentric mom.”

It was in the backyard of the bride’s New Jersey home and had twinkling candles hanging from the branches and mason jars overflowing with flowers on the table tops. It was a perfect evening and I am so happy for them both.

On Sunday we ended up randomly at a market on Lexington while trying to go somewhere else entirely. It was that very market where I actually ate the best thing of the whole trip – street side grilled corn. Simply grilled, a little chile and salt. Hot, spicy, and juicy – so juicy in fact that with each bite a little would squirt and I’d have to make sure I didn’t hit anyone! It was seriously good. I wish I would have snapped a pic before chowing down.

I’m a huge art buff and still can’t believe we left without visiting a single art museum – but we had too much fun just walking and taking it all in. We did pay a visit to the History Museum which was fantastic. Highly recommend the marine and blue whale room on the bottom. In fact, it was pretty hard visiting this museum as a vegan. Some of the content was a bit much for me. I wonder if all museum workers are vegetarian?

I was really looking forward to this trip for the food. Not the usual NYC pizza I would have usually stuffed myself with but good, wholesome, vegan food. I was actually quite surprised at how hard it was to find vegan options in the city. There are certain pockets of town that have more vegetarian options but we always seemed to be in the wrong area. And as always is the case, the vegetarian options were often loaded with cheese making them not vegan friendly. We made it work though. Except for the wedding, I was able to eat vegan the rest of the trip and Luis didn’t do too bad either.

Some of the great meals we had were at Candle79, Cafe Frida, Gallo Nero, Ess-a-Bagel and the aforementioned corn 🙂

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