Sunday, September 15, 2013

Spaghetti Squash Casserole ..

Two foods that I adore are cheese and pasta.  I think that I could eat some form of pasta seven days a week ... however, I know better.  Not sure exactly what triggered my brain to remember spaghetti squash, which I probably had not prepared in fifteen years or more, but I am so happy to have "found it" again.  This past week I made a spaghetti squash casserole.  Ingredients:  Spaghetti Squash, My Favorite Red Sauce and topped with Shredded Mozzarella Cheese .. and it was yummy !

 The hardest part of preparing spaghetti squash is cutting the squash lengthwise down the middle.  Cutting it is similar to cutting a watermelon in half, but I think a little more difficult because the flesh of the squash is quite dense, unlike the flesh of a watermelon which is definitely soft in comparison.

The tastiest way to prepare the squash is, once you have it halved (lengthwise), scoop out the seeds, rub the inner flesh with evoo, kosher salt and fresh black pepper.  Place the squash flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Bake at 350 - 425 degrees F for approximately 30 - 45 minutes, until when you touch the skin with a fork, it is soft.

After you remove it from the oven, let it cool until enough so that you can handle it.  Then the fun begins .. take either a fork or a large spoon and scrape away to remove the squash from the skin.

A few tips:

1. Make sure your red sauce is extra thick and chunky because there is a fair amount of water in the spaghetti squash.  Mix as much red sauce with the squash as you desire.

2.  If you are going to add meat to your red sauce, use the leanest ground beef, or chopped bison is even better.

3.  Don't go crazy with the cheese .. sprinkle the mozzarella sparingly on the top.

4.  Lightly oil a casserole dish, put the spaghetti squash and red sauce mixture in the casserole dish and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.

5.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 - 25 minutes.  Keep in mind that all the ingredients are cooked so you only need to make sure that the casserole is heated all the way through.

6.  Make just enough for one sitting ... this dish is best if you bake it only one time.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Food Additives ..

I am pretty conscientious when it comes to reading food labels for two reasons:  For one, I am allergic to a number of ingredients and second, if the print is so small, that I need a magnifying glass to read the list of ingredients, it goes straight back onto the store shelf.

For the most part, my style of cooking is a combination of healthy eating, recipes that are relatively simple but tasty and I am for shortcuts as long as it doesn't adversely impact the integrity of the finished dish.

If you happened to read my last post (Goat Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomatoes), you know that I love cheese.  For a snack I enjoy a piece of toasted whole grain bread which I will pop back in the toaster oven with a slice or two of cheese for an easy open-face melted cheese sandwich.  Another version I make is to toast a thinly sliced whole wheat bagel, then layer it with some sun-dried tomatoes and shredded mozzarella cheese.  After the cheese has melted, I top it with some fresh basil chiffonade.

For convenience, I have been using prepackaged cheeses (both shredded and sliced).  Awhile back I noticed an ingredient on packaged cheese that I was not familiar with but just shrugged it off:  Natamycin and in some cases Microbial Enzymes, which they are both basically the same from what I can tell.  They are added as a mold inhibitor, and I have not seen it on the ingredient list for block cheeses, cream cheese or most other cheeses.

Today I decided to pull out A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives by Ruth Winter, M.S., one of my many food books, to see what information she had on Natamycin:  Natamycin - see Pimaricin ASP; Pimaricin ASP: moderately toxic by ingestion.

Information I found posted by the FDA (M-I-07-3 posted on 29 January 2007) states that:  "In the case of natamycin, the substance is approved as a food additive for use as an antimycotic on the surface of cheese at levels up to 20 ppm, providing that if there is a standard of identity for the cheese ... "

Having made this discovery, I do not plan on discarding any of the pre-sliced or shredded cheese I have on hand; however, in the future I will most likely purchase only block cheeses and then slice or shred my own.  I'm sure I have enough other toxins in my diet that I don't know about !

Friday, July 26, 2013

Goat Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

This is such an easy, delicious and healthy starter/appetizer, sandwich or mid-day snack.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I love cheese, so much so that when I was in sixth grade I wanted my nickname to be Cheese !  I have to admit, goat cheese is not my favorite cheese because for my palette it requires a little work .. I can't just take a dollop of goat cheese and put it on a cracker and enjoy it as much as I do a piece of cheddar or blue cheese. 

One way I do enjoy goat cheese is if I add some sun-dried tomatoes.  Sun-dried tomatoes are packed with flavor, are a good source of fiber and vitamin C and have zero calories from fat.   Sun-dried tomatoes are most readily available either packaged in self-seal plastic bags or packed in olive oil in jars.  My preference is self-seal plastic bags and made without sulfites .. which I purchase at Whole Foods.  If you do use sun-dried tomatoes in self-seal packaging, they should be reconstituted by soaking them in warm water.  I recommend that you should start with cold water and warm it in the microwave or a teakettle.  You should not use warm tap water because of contaminants from your hot water heater found in the hot water pipes.

The recipe for the goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes is approximately 5 ounces of goat cheese, 2 1/2 ounces of sun-dried tomatoes (finely chopped) and 1 1/2 teaspoons of agave.  The agave adds a little sweetness to the tartness of the goat cheese.  Then a nice addition is some fresh basil, either chopped and mixed with some olive oil (as shown on the left) or garnished with some fresh basil chiffonade (as shown on the right).

Spread the room temperature goat cheese mixture on some healthy high fiber bread .. and bingo, you have a healthy, delicious appetizer, sandwich or midday snack !  My choice of bread is Organic Flour Power Bread from German Bread Haus  ( in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  It is whole grain, high in fiber, full of flavor and only 43 calories per slice.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Banana Bread Recipe Rescue !

For the past couple of weeks I have been wanting to make my favorite banana bread recipe that I haven't made in about ten years.  So earlier this week I purchased the bananas so they could ripen.  Friday night I took the egg and butter out of the refrigerator so that they would be room temperature.  Yesterday afternoon .. sifted the flour and set the dry ingredients to the side, beat the egg with the sugar and when it came to adding the milk .. oops !  the recipe called for 1/2 cup of milk and I added 1 cup of milk.

No extra bananas, so doubling all of the other ingredients is really not an option unless I want a bland tasting banana bread.  I have plenty of extra pecans but I don't want to waste the pecans if the finished product is going to be a total flop.  I add the correct amounts of flour, baking powder and salt ... and then my aha moment came .. why not add one cup of wheat germ as I am trying hard to get more fiber into my diet.  So I beat the batter quite a bit more than normal in order to get some extra air into the batter to help it rise and add the wheat germ.

I pop it into the oven and test it after about 45 minutes and the cake tester comes out clean.  Once it cools down, I am pleasantly surprised .. the flavor is very good but it is a little too moist.  So this afternoon I decided to crumble it, put it on a baking sheet and into a 350 degrees oven.  Low and behold I ended up with some really tasty banana nut crumble which I served over vanilla ice cream and will probably have it for breakfast tomorrow morning over plain Greek yogurt.

Recipe Rescue Completed !