Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

May I ask a question? WHY do people like zucchini? I mean, I understand not disliking it, or thinking it’s fine… but, people who LOOOOOVE zucchini? WHY?? I just had to ask. I personally think it’s fine, and I will eat it, but I certainly don’t skip through the produce section, seeking out zucchini with joy in my heart. I’ve always found it to be kind of watery and tasteless, and usually mushy.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

And with a glowing intro like that one… I assume you’re all ready for a zucchini recipe?? Yayyyy, zucchini! Seriously, though – I do try to vary my vegetable intake in the name of health, so I’m glad to have found a way to eat zucchini that I actually enjoy. Not to mention, this recipe is pretty quick and easy, and doesn’t dirty every bowl in the kitchen. Win-win-win.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
serves 2-4

4 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise
half a yellow onion, diced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 pound italian sausage (pork or turkey is fine)
1 can diced tomatoes, drained well
1/2 cup cooked brown rice, farro, quinoa, or wheat berries*
2 oz cream cheese
2 T parmesan cheese
2 T minced hot peppers (jalapeno or cherry peppers are great), optional
3 oz monterey jack cheese, grated
olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper

*You can skip this if making a grain just for this purpose seems like a real pain in the ass. However, I think it’s an excellent use for some leftover rice or quinoa from another meal!

1.) Preheat your oven to 325°F. Using a spoon, scoop the seeds and some of the flesh out of the center of each zucchini half. Lightly drizzle the flesh of the zucchini boats with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay them cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the flesh is soft, but not mushy.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

2.) While the zucchini bakes, start on the stuffing. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add about a tablespoon of oil, and saute your onions until they are translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic (along with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper – always season each layer of the dish), and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3.) Add the italian sausage to the pan; cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is cooked through.

4.) Throw in the drained tomatoes, brown rice, cream cheese, and parmesan. You can also add the hot peppers now, if you’re using them. My husband doesn’t care for hot peppers, so rather than adding them to the mix, I just sprinkled them on top of my zucchini boats, and left his plain. Stir everything together and cook until the cheese is melted and everything is warm.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

5.) Turn on your oven’s broiler. Spoon the sausage mixture into the zucchini, and then top each one with some shredded monterey jack. Pop them under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browned, and then serve!

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

One of the best things about this dinner is that there is no need for a side dish! You’ve got your protein, your veggies, and your whole grains all in one place. And, you can totally change the recipe up to use whatever you have sitting in your fridge. You could do a version with bbq chicken and corn added to the mix… or go vegetarian and use canellini beans and ricotta instead of cream cheese.

Because the seeds and insides are removed from the zucchini (and they get baked, empty and upside down, for a while), it’s not watery at all. It’s just a great vehicle for holding all the delicious fillings! The number of servings you’ll get out of this will vary. For my particular husband, on the particular night we ate this meal, he took down FOUR zucchini halves (I ate two). On another day of the week, he might stop at two halves… or finish plowing through six. It’s hard to say. You could certainly serve this with a nice side salad or maybe some roasted potatoes, and help it stretch farther.

FINALLY, a decent recipe for squash,
Tina

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Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

Carrots are one of those things that I don’t really LIKE… but they’re non-offensive enough (and convenient enough for a quick snack) that I force myself to eat them, because apparently they’re healthy and stuff. I’ve found that the most tolerable way to eat them is paired with something with a bit of spice – for instance, some raw carrots dipped in chipotle hummus (Dear Trader Joe’s, WHYYYY did you discontinue your amazing chipotle hummus?? You’re breakin’ my heart, guys…)

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

Another tough part of the carrot equation is texture. Cooked carrots are… not delightful, in my opinion. Too often they’re mushy, and just plain overcooked. So, given all of the above information, you’re probably wondering why the hell I opted to make these carrots at all! I kind of wondered myself, actually. But, if any unappealing vegetable can be saved, there are two ways to do it: roasting it, or crusting it in a boatload of delicious spices. And I plan to employ the “crusting vegetables in spices” method a lot more from now on, because the results are FABULOUS.

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce
serves 8-10 as a side
adapted from here

2lb small to medium carrots, with tops
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2-3 T vegetable oil
1 cup greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
zest of one lemon
1 T harissa, sriracha, or other chili sauce

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

1.) Set a large pot of water to boil, and prepare an ice bath (fill a large bowl about 1/3 of the way with ice, then add water). As the water comes up to a boil, peel the carrots, and trim their tops to about 1-2″ long.

2.) When the water is boiling, add a small handful of kosher salt, then add the carrots. Allow the carrots to blanch for about 6 minutes – less if they’re particularly small, more if they’re large. After 6 minutes, remove them from the water and put them straight into the ice bath.

3.) While the carrots sit in the ice bath for a minute, mix up your spices. Combine the brown sugar, ground mustard, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl, and set aside.

4.) Once the carrots have cooled a bit (just 2-3 minutes), remove them from the ice bath and pat them dry. Place them into a large mixing bowl, and toss with one tablespoon of vegetable oil and the spice mixture, until all the carrots are well-coated in the spices.

5.) Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat, and add enough vegetable oil to very thinly coat the bottom of the pan. Once it’s good and hot, add a single layer of carrots, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they’re nicely golden brown, and then flip. Keep a close eye on them – if your pan is too hot or you didn’t use enough oil, the brown sugar in the spice mix will burn REALLY fast.

6.) Continue cooking batches in the same manner, until all the carrots are done. While the carrots cook, mix up your dipping sauce. Add the zest to the greek yogurt, and mix to thoroughly combine. Then, add the chili sauce, and swirl it into the greek yogurt (it looks prettier if you don’t fully mix the two together, but it’ll taste delicious either way).

7.) Serve the carrots hot, with the greek yogurt chili sauce spooned on top.

Spice-Crusted Carrots with Lemon and Chili Greek Yogurt Sauce

This recipe might just make a carrot lover out of me, yet. The spice mix is SO GOOD – a lot of savory flavors, some spice, and just a touch of sweetness from the brown sugar. I’ve actually used the leftover spice mix on a few other vegetables this week, and they’ve all been totally delicious! The greek yogurt dip is nice and creamy and cool, but with a bit of brightness from the lemon and the chili sauce, which cuts the richness a little. All of the carrot-haters at our table loved these, and I can’t wait to make them again!

Who knew that boiling purple carrots would turn the water black??
Tina

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

There will come a time, approximately 72 hours from now, that the thought of another piece of turkey will make you want to cry. The idea of one more bite of stuffing, or another mountain of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, will make you groan in discomfort. I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE, you’ll think. And at that point, you’ll be thankful for this recipe – for something warm, comforting, and cheesy, that has NOTHING to do with a Thanksgiving table. It’ll be perfect to make on Saturday morning, and keep warm on the stove while you decorate the Christmas tree… and then to heat up the leftovers on Sunday afternoon, when you’re so burned out on cooking that you can barely even LOOK at food. Pick up the ingredients when you make that last run to the grocery store on Thursday morning, because you forgot chicken stock… you’ll be glad you did.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons
serves 4-6

4 T butter
2 medium leeks
2 medium carrots, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
12oz bottle of ale
1 T worcestershire
1.5 t ground mustard
8oz sharp white cheddar, grated
8oz monterey jack, grated*
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
6oz bread, cubed
olive oil
garlic powder
kosher salt
black pepper

*Two notes about the cheese. First: DO NOT use pre-grated cheese. You definitely want to grate your own cheese for this soup, so you get a nice, smooth texture. Second: if you LOVE sharp cheddar cheese, you can certainly use all cheddar cheese in the soup. I found it to be a bit too sharp for my taste that way, so next time I’ll make it with half sharp cheddar and half monterey jack, as indicated in this recipe.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

1.) First, you need to clean your leeks. Grab a large bowl, and fill it 3/4 of the way with cold water. Cut the roots and dark green parts off the leeks, then cut them in half lengthwise. Cut those halves into 1/4″ thick half moon slices, and toss them into the bowl of water. Use your hands to break up the leaves and swish them around. Allow the leeks to sit in the water for about 5 minutes longer, without disturbing them.

2.) Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter; once it has melted and browned just slightly, add the carrots, and stir to coat with the butter. Gently grab handfuls of the leeks from the water (being careful not to disturb the water too much), squeeze as much excess water out as you can, and add them to the pot. Discard the dirty water left behind by the leeks.

3.) While the vegetables cook, prep your croutons. Preheat your oven to 375°; line a baking sheet with foil, and add the cubed bread to it. Toss the bread with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, a couple good shakes of garlic powder, and a good pinch of kosher salt. Spread the bread into a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

4.) Allow the vegetables to sweat and cook down for about 5 minutes, seasoning with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.

5.) Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, and stir to coat. Let the vegetable and flour mixture cook for about 2 minutes, so the raw flour taste can cook out. Pour in the beer, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, to lift any browned bits.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

6.) Slowly pour in the milk and stock, whisking as you do. Once all the liquids have been added, add the worcestershire and ground mustard, and another pinch each of salt and pepper. Allow the soup to come to a simmer, and let it simmer til it thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes.

7.) Turn the heat to low, and add the cheese to the soup in 4 or 5 batches, whisking each addition into the soup completely before adding the next. When all the cheese had been added, allow the soup to heat back through over low heat (about 5 minutes), and then serve topped with bacon and croutons.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

Not much better in life than a soup with an entire pound of cheese in it, am I right?? This soup is velvety and rich and cheesy, but somehow it manages not to be super heavy. The croutons add a nice crunch, and the bacon lends some smoke… and the cheese makes it cheesy, because cheese was sent to us directly from heaven, to make us happy, and so we should use it at every available opportunity. Or something like that. Either way, this soup is fantastic and super tasty, and it contains no trace of turkey or stuffing or cranberry sauce, so it’s the perfect way to reintroduce yourself to the world of non-Thanksgiving food. You’re welcome.

Cheese is my copilot,
Tina

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

This year, I thought I’d try something new, and post a Thanksgiving recipe BEFORE Thanksgiving! Isn’t that a great idea? Just you watch, I think it’s gonna catch on around the food blog world. I’m practically a genius.

This has become one of my go-to sides this fall. The idea actually came to me after I made a dinner that involved stuffing acorn squash halves with chipotle chicken (I’ll be back with that recipe before too long) – and I LOVED the flavor combination of the sweet squash and the smokey, spicy chipotles. I often find that acorn and butternut squash can be too sweet for my liking, but the addition of some spice completely turned things around. I tried this mash out shortly thereafter, and my husband and I can’t get enough of it! I think it’ll make a perfect side dish for Thanksgiving – a newer, more interesting take on the traditional sweet potatoes (not that I have anything against brown sugar and marshmallows – I’m not a MONSTER).

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash
serves 4 as a side dish

2 medium acorn squashes, halved and seeded
3 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and poked with a fork
2 chipotles, minced
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (2% or full fat – sour cream will also work)
1 T butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
olive oil

1.) Preheat your oven to 375°, and line a baking sheet with foil. Lightly spray the inside of the acorn squash with olive oil, and season the flesh with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Place the squash cut side down on the baking sheet, and place the potatoes on the same sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the squash and potatoes are fork tender (the potatoes might take longer than the squash).

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

2.) When the squash and sweet potatoes are cooked through, allow them to cool for a couple minutes. Use a spoon to scoop the flesh of each into a medium bowl, and add the chipotles, greek yogurt, butter, salt and pepper. Mash until smooth, and well-combined.

Acorn Squash, Sweet Potato, and Chipotle Mash

3.) Spread the mash into a baking dish, and pop back into the over for 5-10 minutes, so everything can warm through. Serve hot.

This could certainly be made ahead of time – I’d say up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate the mash (either in an airtight container, or in the baking dish, covered with plastic wrap), and then reheat in the oven for 20-25 minutes before serving.

I’ve actually found that this makes for a great, quick, weeknight side dish. I throw the squash and sweet potatoes in the oven, and let them bake while I prep the rest of dinner, or work out, or watch some HGTV. Despite needing some baking time, the active prep for this mash is about 5 minutes total! Not too bad, if you ask me. It’s healthy, it’s creamy, it’s a little spicy, and it reheats beautifully – so make a big batch, and use it up throughout the week! You could even spread a little bit on to your post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, to add a little kick.

How can you not love a holiday that basically REQUIRES elastic-waist pants?
Tina