Healthier Mac and Cheese (from the Blue Box)

Healthier Mac & Cheese (from the Blue Box)

Ever wonder how basic macaroni and cheese could be healthier? Or tastier? Or just plain different? Get all three with this twist on the childhood classic.

Source: low-fat, low-cholesterol cookbook and brainstorming with Dad.

Box of mac and cheese, tuna, sour cream, milk, and peas or veggie of your choice.

Grab your box of mac and cheese of choice plus a can of tuna, some milk and sour cream, and a vegetable of your choice. Notice that there’s no butter in this one.

Almost done! Macaroni is really easy to tell when it's al dente - it turns a lighter color on the ends.

Cook the noodles according to directions and drain.

Sauce ingredients. Leave the peas until after you've combined the rest or else you can get smashed pea sauce too. I know from experience on this one.

Add sauce ingredients to the warm pan (keep pan on low for best results): 2 tablespoons of milk, 1/3 cup of sour cream, cheese packet, can of tuna (drained), and about half a cup of vegetable. I can see this working well with peas, carrots, mushrooms, or broccoli.

Looks like baby food, but I promise it taste delicious.

Stir well until mixed and warm. Add noddles back to pan and continue stirring until fully incorporated. Don’t be afraid of keeping the burner on low.

Tada!

Recipe:

  • Store-bought macaroni and cheese box
  • 2 tablespoons milk (I used skim)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas or vegetable of choice
  • 1 can tuna in water, drained

Boil water and cook noodles according to box. Drain. Mix milk, sour cream, tuna, peas, and cheese sauce packet in pan on low heat until mixed. Add noodles to pan and mix thoroughly. Serve hot. Makes enough to serve 4 kids or 3 adults.

Note: I substituted the sour cream for butter without my husband’s permission and he noticed a difference in the taste immediately. I didn’t taste any difference, but I sure felt better about subbing 4 tablespoons butter for the reduced-fat sour cream. If you’re not ready to try such a drastic substitution, replace 2 tablespoons butter with 1/4 cup sour cream and adjust until the sauce is a desired creaminess.

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Chocolate Applesauce Muffins

Chocolate Applesauce Muffins

This is what happens when you have a hankering for chocolate muffins but don’t want the calories. I went out searching for a chocolate applesauce muffin recipe after making applesauce pancakes this morning. Not too sweet, sayeth the husband, and also not too dense. Good for breakfast, snack, or dessert.

Source: ButterYum (muffin recipe) and Six Sisters’ Stuff (baking tips)

Ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, applesauce, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Gather your ingredients, as always. (That’s flour and sugar in the background containers.) Use room temperature butter or cut it into small chunks so it will cream well.

Use a hand or electric mixer. Unless you're a masochist and like cramping hands plus chunks of butter in your muffins.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl.

Add the applesauce after you mix in the eggs and cocoa powder. Or don't...like me.

Add eggs and powdered cocoa. Fold in applesauce.

Stir in rest of remaining dry ingredients. Hopefully yours looks more in focus than this one.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until mixed. If you continue mixing it will introduce air bubbles and really fluff up.

Fill 3/4 full or 4/5 full or anything over half full, really.

Fill the muffin tin at least half full, closer to 3/4 full if you can manage.

Lowering the temperture of the oven does something. I just know it makes them rise up and make a nice cupcake dome.

As you put the muffins in the oven, lower the temperature to 325 degrees.

Remove from tin and let cool. Or don't.

Bake for 25-28 minutes. Remove from tin and let cool for 5 minutes.

Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup powdered Dutch cocoa
  • 1.5 cup applesauce (cinnamon flavored is fine)
  • 1.75 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and cocoa. Fold in applesauce. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fill muffin tins about three-quarters full. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 25-28 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Frost if desired.

Makes 12 muffins.

Caramelized Squash with Nutmeg and Cinnamon

Caramelized Squash with Nutmeg and Cinnamon
I don’t really do squash. It’s orange, which is my favorite color, but I never could get around the strange texture and almost bitter taste. Then I discovered this recipe and it was all over for me – I’m hooked. It makes enough for four people who like it and one person who was forced to try some (I won’t say whom).

Source: Ina Garten’s Caramelized Butternut Squash

Ingredients: squash of choice, brown sugar, butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg (not pictured), cinnamon (not pictured).

As per most things that are hodge-podge cooked, not all the ingredients are pictured. There’s your squash, brown sugar, butter, and salt and pepper, but I also added a dash of ground nutmeg and cinnamon as well. It could have used more spices, but I didn’t want to overpower it, this being my first squash recipe and all.

Halve, hollow, peel.

Take the squash and cut it in half, hollow out the seeds, and peel off the skin with a vegetable peeler. This is the easy part.

Dice. Lay out on greased foil. Photograph. (Last step optional.)

Dice up the squash and lay out on a greased pan (if lining with foil, still grease with cooking spray for easy scooping later). The smaller you dice it, the faster it will cook. This may take up to thirty minutes altogether, especially if this is your first time trying to peel and dice a massive squash. The good news is, one squash should feed about four and a half people.

Everything good has butter in it. Julie and Julia say so. They're right.

Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and spices. I only used a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon, but I’d be willing to try up to 1/8 teaspoon of each. Stir the glaze well and pour over the squash. Roll around the squash with your hands until it’s mostly coated with the glaze. Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes, turning squash about every 15 minutes so it cooks and browns evenly.

Just like that, it's done. Sort of.

My recipe:

  • 1 squash, approximately 2-3 lbs. (I used butternut, but I can imagine this would taste good with any winter squash)
  • 4-5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or to taste)
  • dash of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half, hollow out seeds, remove skin with a vegetable peeler, and dice into 1″ or 1/2″ cubes. Line 9×13 or 11×17 pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Lay out squash on pan. Melt butter and mix brown sugar and spices to make glaze, stirring well. Pour glaze over squash and turn to cover. Bake for 45-50 minutes, turning squash every 15 minutes to prevent burning. Serve warm. Makes approximately 4 servings.

Strong Apple Drink

Strong Apple Drink

Confession time: I didn’t create this recipe. My darling husband whipped it up one night based on what we had in the house and my craving for something sweet but sour. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s got just the right amount of pucker-inducing kick. And one it’s in the glass, it’s clear just like the soda, so no one’s the wiser. Well, unless they read this blog.

Strong Apple Drink Recipe:

  • 1/2 oz. Sour Apple Pucker mixer
  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 7 oz. Sprite or other lemon-lime soda

Measure the vodka and pucker into a tumbler. Add soda to dilute to your liking, generally 4-7 oz. For a stronger strong apple, use taller tumbler (highball) glass and double the pucker and vodka.

Easy Spaghetti Pie

Easy Spaghetti Pie

Whether you call it spaghetti pie, bird’s nest pie, or spaghetti lasagna, it’s all the same to me. A childhood favorite from an old church cookbook, my mom used to make this and with a little hodge-podge magic, it tasted just as good as I remembered.

Ingredients, minus spices. It's an occupational hazard: picking ingredients after you've started cook.

Gather your ingredients: spaghetti, two eggs, Parmesan cheese, low-fat ricotta cheese, beef/turkey/Italian sausage, tomato sauce, minced garlic, Italian spices, mozzarella cheese.

Note the original recipe in the background.

Cook about 8 oz of spaghetti according to box directions. While still warm, mix spaghetti with two beaten eggs and half a cup of Parmesan cheese. Dump into greased 10-inch pie plate and form into bowl shape.

To make it more vegetarian-friendly, simply omit the meat or substitute chopped up veggie burgers.

Brown meat-of-choice while pasta is cooking and drain.

Meat, sufficiently spiced. Garlic in the corner, pepper and Italian seasoning with the sauce.

Add minced garlic, tomato sauce, and spices to meat and simmer for several minutes.

Before the oven.

Layer one cup of ricotta cheese and then meat mixture onto spaghetti. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Top with mozzarella and return to oven until melted and browning.

After the oven.

Cut into pie slices. Best served with crunchy garlic bread and steamed vegetables.

On the plate! Exciting. And quickly devoured.

My recipe:

  • 8 oz. of spaghetti, broken in half
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb. ground beef/turkey/Italian sausage
  • 8 oz. tomato sauce (or 6 oz. tomato paste with 1/4 cup water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook spaghetti according to directions on box. Drain. While still warm, toss with 2 beaten and Parmesan cheese. Place in greased 10″ pie plate and form into a bowl shape. Brown meat in pan and drain. Add tomato sauce, garlic, and spices and simmer for at least 5 minutes. Layer ricotta cheese onto spaghetti then add meat mixture. Bake for 25 minutes. Top with mozzarella cheese and return to oven until melted, about 5 minutes. Cut into 6-8 pie slices and serve with bread if desired.

Campbell’s Knockoff Chicken Noodle Soup

Campbell's Knockoff Chicken Noodle Soup

You can thank Dad for this one – no recipe to source here. This came out of a necessity for a basic chicken noodle soup and only afterwards did it remind me of Campbell’s infamous chicken noodle soup. Dad would have added a dozen other veggies and spices, but I was going for the basics here, and it was quite tasty.

Broth in a pan. Exciting.

Start with your base liquid and bring to a boil. I used 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 2 cups water, and 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon. To keep the sodium even lower, use homemade chicken broth (blog post coming in the future).

Starch, veggie, starchy veggie.

Chop up your veggies and choose your pasta. I used about five or six baby carrots, a 1/4 of a celery stalk, and a small handful of spaghetti broken into fourths.

Boil 'em, mash 'em...wait, there's no potatoes in this soup. Nevermind.

Add to the boiling broth. Season as desired. I used a dash of Turkish oregano and Penzeys Spices’ Bavarian spice blend (includes sage, basil leaves, and a few other goodies).

Mmm...chicken.

While your soup is simmering, cook and dice up your chicken. I used three tenderloins left over from General Tso’s Chicken and cut them up as they cooked in the pan. Be sure to use a bit of oil in pans that are not non-stick – a tablespoon of olive oil is sufficient.

Now, with chicken!

Throw in the chicken and let it simmer until you are ready to serve. This soup simmered for 20-30 minutes but it only needed to cook until the noodles were tender and chicken was warmed through.

Looks just like Campbell's, but with bigger chicken pieces. Always a plus.

My recipe:

  • 3 chicken tenderloins or other leftover chicken
  • 4 cups chicken broth OR 4 cups water with chicken bouillon (follow ratio on bouillon)
  • 6 baby carrots, cut into rounds
  • 1/4 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 2 oz spaghetti (or small handful), broken into fourths
  • spices, as desired (I used oregano, crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sage)

Bring broth to a boil. Dice vegetables and break dried pasta. Add to soup and let simmer. Cook and dice chicken then add to soup. Spice as desired. Simmer until noodles are tender or until ready to serve. Add oyster crackers or dry toast to cure a cold within a day or at least make them feel better.

Makes about 4 servings.

General Tso’s Chicken

General Tso's Chicken

Source: Generation Y Foodie

New year, new resolutions – right? That’s the way life goes sometimes. My New Year’s Resolution was to post something again. Four months of guilt is simply too much for me to handle. So without further adieu, I present the latest recipe: baked General Tso’s Chicken.

Ingredients: Oy vey. Just take it one bottle at a time and we'll make it through all right.

Gather your ingredients. All of them should be available in your local grocery store, though you might need to look in the ethnic/Chinese aisle for hoisin sauce and sesame oil.

I used a gallon-sized bag for this since individually dunking and tapping excess gets a little tedious. Beware that it's possible to have incomplete coverage since the chicken can tend to clump.

Dice the chicken into about 1″ cubes and coat with 2 tablespoons cornstarch.

If you don't spray the foil, your chicken can stick to the foil. It works, but it's a lot of hassle. A lot.

Line a 9×13 pan with foil, lightly spray with cooking spray, and spread out the chicken. I baked my chicken at 375 for 12 minutes and then shut the oven off to keep the chicken warm since my sauce wasn’t ready yet.

This is where you add the other liquids. Or you could be like me and forget the vinegar until after the sauce is on the meat. It still tasted fine.

Speaking of sauce, combine garlic, ginger, and sesame oil in a pan and saute until garlic is slightly browned. I used ground ginger instead of fresh so mine didn’t take long to start sticking to the pan. Add other liquids – soy sauce, broth, vinegar, honey, tomato paste and hoisin sauce. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring until the paste and hoisin sauce are fully incorporated.

About that clumping cornstarch, it really does happen if you don't dissolve it first. I tried it with a soup once. Never again.

Dissolve 1 teaspoon cornstarch in about 1/4 cup of cold water and stir until well-mixed. If you try to add cornstarch or other thickener to a hot liquid, it will clump and not dissolve. Trust me on this one. Add cornstarch and water to sauce and simmer until thickened slightly.

Why wasn't my sauce ready when the meat was done? It's those veggies at the top there. I hodge-podge'd a stir fry from scratch without a sauce. Nearly crisped some broccoli trying to get it all timed right.

Once sauce is thickened to drops off the spoon and not a stream of liquid, remove from heat. Place chicken in a bowl and coat with sauce. Toss chopped scallions (about three) and toasted sesame seeds on top.

To eliminate using another dish, put the chicken from the oven directly into your serving bowl and pour the sauce on top, then stir to coat.

My recipe:

Meat:

  • 1 pound chicken tenderloin, diced to 1″ cubes
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch

Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (I omitted by accident and it turned out just as tasty)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Garnish:

  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375. Toss died chicken with 2 tbsp corn starch in gallon-sized bag. Cover 9×13 pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Spread chicken chunks into a single layer and bake for 12-15 minutes.
For sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine garlic, ground ginger and sesame oil and saute for 2 minutes or until garlic begins to brown. Add soy sauce, broth, vinegar, honey, tomato paste and hoisin sauce. Simmer on medium heat for 4-5 minutes, making sure to completely incorporate tomato paste and hoisin sauce. Dissolve 1 tsp of cornstarch in 1/4 cup of cold water. Add cornstarch to sauce mixture, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes until it begins to thicken.
Remove chicken from oven and toss with sauce. Sprinkle sesame seeds and scallions for garnish. Serve with rice and steamed vegetables for a full meal.
If desired, double the amount of sauce and use half for coating steamed or stir fry vegetables.

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