Holiday recipes – Roasted butternut squash

In an effort to give my healthy, homemade lunches more variety I’ve been looking for different carbs/starches to substitute for my usual roasted potatoes. I’ve never been much of a potato enthusiast, but I love simple diced and roasted white potatoes and sweet potatoes. I ate a lot of them when I was doing my Whole30-ish diet in October. But as much as I enjoy them, I need other options for my weekday lunches so that I don’t get completely burned out on potatoes. While I was in Tallahassee for Christmas I tried out a recipe for mashed butternut squash and it was only semi-successful, mostly due to the fact that I was too lazy to use a food processor. (Note: Mashing roasted butternut squash with a fork doesn’t really work, nor does blitzing it with an electric mixer.) But in spite of its weird texture, the flavor of the partially mashed butternut squash was outstanding, so I saw some potential for a tasty and less complicated version. I basically just used the same ingredients, olive oils and minimal seasonings, but didn’t do anything else after the roasting step. What could be simpler? I make this every couple of weeks and it’s the perfect side dish for just about any meal.

INGREDIENTS:
12 oz diced butternut squash
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Put the diced butternut squash in a large bowl. (I buy pre-diced butternut squash for convenience. My time is valuable-ish and this helps make my healthy lunches more achievable.) Add the olive oil, salt, Italian seasoning, and pepper and stir to combine. Bake at 375 deg F for about 30 minutes, stirring once about halfway through, or until tender and slightly browned. The duration required will depend on how large the pieces of squash are. The Green Giant variety that I usually buy is a small dice, less than 1 inch per piece, so it took less time than the recipes I researched. Enjoy!

Based on Momtastic’s Roasted Butternut Squash.

Three Little Piggies Chili (2017 chili cook-off recipe)

I’ve posted a lot of chili recipes over the years and I like every one, but some have greater mass appeal than others. Judging by my successes and failures at the annual chili cook-off at work, the common factor in my most popular chilis is bacon! My co-workers fall all over themselves for a taste of anything with bacon in it. So as easy as it is to whip up a batch of chili that I’ll enjoy, this year I challenged myself to make something that folks would absolutely love. Of course was going to include bacon, but why stop there? I started with the general concept of my bacon chili, but I replaced the ground beef with ground pork. However, there still seemed to be something missing. Two kinds of pork just wasn’t enough! So in order to turn this recipe up to eleven, and also make the texture something different from my usual chili, I decided to add some delicious homemade carnitas. The spices in the carnitas are complimentary to my chili seasoning so it seemed like the perfect fit. So I ultimately ended up creating this triple pork chili, aptly named Three Little Piggies chili by my friend Anjanette, to take to work for the cook-off and the rest is history! Second place in the judge’s favorites was a much better showing that I ever expected. Not bad for a mild chili. I’ll have to come up with something even crazier next year!

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 lb ground pork
1 medium bell pepper, diced (I like to use a red one for color uniformity)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
3/4 lb carnitas

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cocoa powder) and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. Cut the bacon into 1/2 in pieces. In a large pot (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy (watch carefully because they can burn quickly!), remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Add the ground pork, diced onion, and diced pepper to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook over medium heat until the pork is cooked through. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and stir to combine. Finally, add the carnitas and stir to combine. I am not exactly sure how much I added, but I’m guessing about 3/4 lb. Add more or less to your taste. Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on My Amazing Bacon Chili and My Cincinnati-Style Chili.

Carnitas (NaBloPoMo day 7)

Before I can write about my prize-winning Halloween chili I first have to share this carnitas recipe because I put some if the pork in the chili. I don’t want to diminish the importance of this recipe, though. Not only is it Whole30-compliant due to being sweetened only with fruit juice, but it’s also incredibly simple and delicious. I ate this meat for many lunches during the month of October with roasted sweet potatoes and vegetables on the side, but it would be delicious in tacos if tortillas and cheese are included in your diet. When you don’t have a lot of free time your Crockpot can be your best friend. Slow cook a batch of carnitas either on the weekend or one day while you’re at work and you’ll have protein for days. Now that my Whole30(-ish) experiment is over I might add some BBQ sauce to the leftovers I have in the freezer for a little change of pace. I get tired of eating the same thing more than two days in a row so variety is important. I encourage everyone to customize this recipe any way they see fit.

INGREDIENTS:
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
3-4 lb pork shoulder (or pork loin, which I used instead)
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 onions, quartered
3/4 c orange juice
2 limes juiced

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, paprika, and pepper. I did this the day before to save time. Once you’re ready to put the pork roast in the slow cooker, rub the spice mixture on all sides. I cut my roast into two pieces to make this easier and to have more surface area for the spices. Put the onions into the bottom of the slow cooker, place the pork roast in next, and evenly distribute the garlic cloves on top. Pour the orange juice and lime juice over everything. Cover and cook on low heat for about 8 hours.

Remove pork shoulder from the slow cooker and shred the meat in a large bowl, removing any large fat deposits that remain. Add some of the cooking juices from the slow cooker if you want. I did this because my batch would be refrigerated and reheated for lunches and I wanted to keep it from getting too dry. Add additional salt and pepper, if desired. I added a tiny bit of salt to my lunch portions and it was divine. Enjoy!

Based on Damn Delicious’s Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas.

Day 18 – Homemade taco seasoning

As a follow-up from yesterday, the turkey taco meat I made with homemade taco seasoning was delicious! I’ve always used packaged taco seasoning, but being able to mix my own version without any weird ingredients was very appealing. At some point in the past (I need to check Pinterest to remember exactly when) I tried another recipe for do-it-yourself taco seasoning and I was underwhelmed, but this one is a real winner. The only thing I changed was replacing the 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper with 1/4 tsp of black pepper. If you combine the ingredients in the amounts below it yields about 3 Tbsp of seasoning, which is perfect for 1 lb of whatever ground meat you have on hand. I used turkey because I had some in my fridge that needed to be used in relatively short order. I’ll try it with lean ground beef next time to see if it works just as well.

1 Tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Based on The Garden Grazer’s Taco Seasoning.

Note: I browned the turkey in a skillet, added the seasoning when the turkey was done and cooked for a couple of minutes, and then poured in an 8 oz can of tomato sauce. This yielded the perfect taco meat. If only I could eat it with a tortilla and some shredded cheese!

Today’s meals:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs and breakfast hash (sausage, butternut squash, onion, spinach, and apple)
Snack #1 – Apple
Lunch – Turkey taco meat, roasted broccoli and carrots, and roasted diced sweet potato
Snack #2 – Banana
Dinner – Salad with shredded garlic chicken, red onion, red bell pepper, shredded carrots, nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette dressing

Cincinnati style chili (2015 chili cook-off recipe)

“Between the chili cook-off and doing some actual work, I was exhausted when I left in the afternoon! But it was worth it to see all of my co-workers so happy. Sometimes it feels like we don’t get enough recognition for all of the amazing things we do, so something as simple as a chili cook-off really lifts our spirits.”
11/01/14 webpage post

On Friday we had our annual chili cook-off at work. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Good food, happy co-workers, and Halloween decorations. What could be better? It’s always so much fun. I think I said it best last year when I mentioned that we don’t feel like we get a lot of credit for all of our accomplishments. We really need morale events like the yearly chili cook-off to keep from burning out. It doesn’t cost our program anything and everyone loves it. The participants are always so grateful that we have it, and it’s a fantastic way to celebrate Halloween at work. This year I did something a little bit different with my cook-off entry and made it inspired by of Cincinnati chili. Usually Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti, but I skipped that part because it didn’t really make sense for a buffet-style meal (or for folks cutting carbs). Instead I simply threw in some of the typical Cincinnati chili spices – cinnamon, allspice, and cocoa powder. It was delicious! I had to make a couple of batches to get the amounts of all the spices just right, but I think this recipe is a winner. I didn’t win the chili cook-off (that honor always goes to one of the spicier chilis), but I still loved the unique flavor. It’s just different enough from my traditional chili for me to call this a new recipe!

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 lb lean ground beef (preferably grass-fed)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
1 can (15 oz) reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 can (15 oz) reduced sodium red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper) and cocoa powder and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. In a large pot (I use my aptly-named 5 qt chili pot that I love) cook the ground beef, onion, and bell pepper until the meat is no longer pink. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce and stir to combine. If you are adding beans you can throw them in now too. (I left the beans out of my chili cook-off batch so you can skip them if you want.) Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for at least an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on Half Baked Harvest’s Healthier One Pot Cincinnati Chicken Chili.

Foodie Friday – Buttermilk pumpkin bread

Fall officially started over a week ago, but we’re still waiting for it to arrive here in Los Angeles. But luckily according to my self-imposed rules I can bake with pumpkin again since it’s after September 1st! Until it finally cools off (although this week has been slightly more comfortable) at least we can enjoy pumpkin-flavored treats! Like this delicious pumpkin bread. Last year I posted a great recipe for spiced pumpkin bread, but I’ve been wanting to try a slightly different version for a while. This new recipe contains buttermilk which is always a plus. It does amazing things for banana bread so why not pumpkin bread too? I’m really glad I tried this recipe because it is delicious. Everyone at work loved it, and I ate a few too many pieces of it myself. This pumpkin bread was the perfect way to welcome the fall and celebrate the approaching holiday season.

INGREDIENTS:
1 c canola oil
3 c sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
2/3 c buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (I mixed a homemade version since I was out)
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 c flour

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, mix together the canola oil, sugar, pumpkin, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. I usually use an electric mixer for this to make sure the batter is smooth. Add the pumpkin pie spice (or homemade mix of spices like I made), cardamom, salt, and baking soda and beat until combined. Add the flour to the bowl and blend until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Divide the batter between a couple of greased loaf pans. The original recipe calls for three small loaf pans, but since I don’t have any of those I used one 9×5″ pan and one 8×4″ pan instead. (There was actually some batter leftover in this configuration so next time I’ll try three 8×4″ pans and make slightly smaller loaves.) Bake at 325 deg F for at least 1 hour (mine took a bit longer to set in the middle), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Enjoy!

Based on The Mommy Mess’s Buttermilk Pumpkin Bread.

Foodie Friday – Mustard and maple chicken

This year I’ve been doing a great job of making healthy lunches to take to work, but I’ve gotten into a rut with the meat and vegetable recipes that I use. I have a few favorites that I make regularly (curried chicken tenders, ranch turkey tacos, Korean ground beef), but my taste buds are demanding more options! In an effort to mix things up a bit I tried this new chicken recipe a couple of weeks ago. It’s advertised as the “World’s Best Chicken” so my expectations were high. Luckily it did not disappoint! This chicken is really delicious. Baking chicken is the simplest and least messy way to prepare it, and the sauce is made from basic pantry staples that you probably already have in your kitchen. The Herbs de Provence wasn’t in the original recipe, but I added it because I thought it sounded good. I figure Italian seasoning would be just as good, but I haven’t tried it myself. I will next time. This recipe is definitely going into my lunch rotation. I love it!

INGREDIENTS:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lb)
1/2 c Dijon mustard
1/4 c maple syrup
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning)
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl whisk together the Dijon mustard, maple syrup, red wine vinegar, and the Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning. (When I made this I just sprinkled a generous amount of the Herbs de Provence into the mustard, maple, and vinegar mixture. I’m just estimating that it was about 1 tsp. The amount isn’t really critical.) Place the chicken breasts in an 11×7″ or 13×9″ glass baking dish that’s coated with cooking spray (I use Trader Joe’s olive oil spray). Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then pour the mustard and maple sauce on top. Make sure each breast is coated with sauce. Bake at 400 deg F for about 40 minutes, turning once, or until the chicken is cooked through. Enjoy!

Based on Rachel Schultz’s World’s Best Chicken.

Chocolate chip shortbread cookies

I couldn’t wait for Friday to share this amazing recipe. I’ve been tinkering with this chocolate chip shortbread for a long time now and it is finally perfect. I first tried my hand at shortbread for Thanksgiving 2013 and I was encouraged by the initial results. Since then I’ve made some tweaks here and there to come up with a recipe that I absolutely love. The biggest change was using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar. I shared my first attempt (Chocolate Chip Cookies #41) back with that ingredient swap back in February when I baked desserts for a Super Bowl party. The powdered sugar gave the shortbread cookies an amazing crumbly texture, but I didn’t think they were quite sweet enough with only 3/4 cup. Luckily folks still seemed to like them. However, I thought there was room for improvement. After doing some research about substituting different kinds of sugars in recipes I decided to double the amount of powdered sugar (1 1/2 cups) and see how that worked. Well, the flavor of the resulting cookies was incredible! They were buttery and just as sweet as I wanted them to be, but unfortunately the lovely shortbread texture was missing. So today made another batch with 1 1/4 cups of powered sugar and it’s perfect! I’m so glad I stuck with this recipe until I got it right. Go and make a batch and see for yourself how great these cookies are!

INGREDIENTS:
1 c butter, softened
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 c flour
1/2 c mini chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. (Measure the powdered sugar like flour, loosely spooning it into a measuring cup and leveling the top with a knife.) Since powdered sugar has a tendency to clump (and I don’t own a sifter), I usually use an electric mixer for this recipe. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat until almost completed incorporated, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Fold in the mini chocolate chips. Spread the dough into an 11×7″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 deg F for about 25 min (check after 20 min just in case), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is starting to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 min and then lift the cookies out of the pan with the sides of the aluminum foil. Slice into squares before the they cool (it’s easier while the cookies are warm). Cool completely before eating. Enjoy!

Based on Kirbie’s Cravings’ Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies and Add A Pinch’s Shortbread Cookies.

Foodie Friday – Buttermilk banana bread

In case you happen to be looking for the absolute best banana bread recipe, your search is over. This is the best banana bread in the world! And to think I only discovered it because I had some buttermilk leftover from making a birthday cake for a co-worker! Banana bread doesn’t usually have any dairy products in it, unlike most loaf cake recipes, but adding buttermilk was a stroke of genius. It made the bread incredibly moist, rich, and more cake-like than regular banana bread. I couldn’t get enough of it! And all of my co-workers raved about how delicious it was.

I actually doubled this recipe and made two loaves – one with chocolate chips (mini semisweet chips) and one without – to use up as much of the leftover buttermilk as possible. For a double batch I used 5 large bananas and it worked out great. However, I learned something about optimal pan sizes. Since I only own one 9×5″ loaf pan I baked the second loaf in an 8×4″ pan instead. Unfortunately the loaf in the smaller pan took longer to cook and was actually still a little underdone in the middle (but overdone on the edges) when I finally retrieved it from the oven. The loaf in the 9×5″ pan turned out perfectly so definitely one of those for this recipe. I’m going to buy another large pan so I can whip up two more loaves soon!

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 medium sized ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 c buttermilk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
Chocolate chips, optional

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. (I usually just mix ingredients by hand when I bake, but I made an exception this time.) Add the eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat to combine. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and beat until the flour is incorporated. Fold in some chocolate chips, if desired. Spoon the batter into a large loaf pan (preferably 9×5″) coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 deg F for 50-60 min (mine took closer to 60 min) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 min before turning out of the pan. Cool completely before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Edited on 9/20/15: When I made this again yesterday I doubled the recipe and used three 8×4″ pans to make slightly smaller loaves. However, in this configuration the edges browned too quickly and I had to turn down the temperature halfway through. Next time I’ll try 325 deg F and see if that works better.

Based on Two Peas and Their Pod’s Buttermilk Banana Bread.

Foodie Friday – Curried chicken tenders

Chicken curry is my culinary nemesis. Back in 2012 I even wrote a whole post about it! After trying so many different curry recipes I’d pretty much given up on producing a good result myself, but then I ran across this Martha Stewart recipe. It’s not a classic chicken curry dish since the sauce is more like honey mustard, but it’s simple and really delicious. The curry flavor definitely comes through. I deviated from the original recipe because for simplicity (and laziness) I used canola oil rather than butter. That’s not exactly Paleo, but I tried to make up for it by using raw honey. I probably could have used olive oil or melted coconut oil too. I’ll have to try one of those next time. I also used chicken tenders instead of breasts because it’s easier to split up into lunch portions. I love this dish. The flavor is amazing and the chicken stays tender. I need to remember to make it for my lunches more often!

INGREDIENTS:
1 to 1 1/2 lb chicken tenders
1/2 c honey
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, canola oil, Dijon mustard, curry powder, and salt. Place the chicken tenders into an 11×7″ or 13×9″ pan coated with cooking spray (I use either Trader Joe’s olive oil spray or coconut oil spray). Pour the honey mustard mixture over the chicken and turn each tender a couple of time to coat. Cook at 375 deg F about 30 minutes, turning the tenders once, or until the chicken is cooked through. Enjoy!

Based on Martha Stewart’s Curried Chicken Breasts.