Spinach and Feta Quinoa Cakes with Yogurt Dill Sauce

I have learned from experience that just because something looks good on Pinterest does not mean it’s going to look (or taste!) Pinterest-worthy.

I happened to have some quinoa left over from dinner the night before, so I thought I’d check out my food board to see if I had previously pinned anything I hadn’t yet tried. These quinoa cakes caught my eye, so I figured I would give them a shot. Worst case scenario, we could always order a pizza for dinner. Luckily for me, this recipe from  Panini Happy delivered!

I served these in whole wheat pitas with the yogurt dill sauce and sliced cucumbers and couscous on the side. Delicious!!

Quinoa Cakes

Spinach and Feta Quinoa Cakes with Yogurt Dill Sauce

½ cup plain Greek yogurt, reduced-fat or whole
2 tbsp finely chopped scallions
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 oz chopped baby spinach
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cups cooked quinoa
2 oz crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp chopped fresh dill
¼ tsp grated lemon zest
½ cup bread crumbs

To make the Yogurt Dill Sauce:

Whisk together the yogurt, scallions, lemon juice, and 2 tsp of the dill in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate the sauce for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to meld.

To make the Quinoa Cakes:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium-size bowl.
  2. Add the eggs, quinoa, feta, remaining dill, lemon zest, and about ¼ tsp black pepper and mix well. Mix in the bread crumbs and let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the bread crumbs to absorb some of the moisture.
  3. Heat a sauté or grill pan to medium-high heat.
  4. Form quinoa patties about 2 ½ inches in diameter and ½ inch thick. Place the patties on the pan, in batches if necessary, and close the lid. Grill the patties until they’re cooked through and browned on the outside, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve warm with yogurt dill sauce.

Butternut Squash, Chicken and Lentil Stew

My friend Jess shared this recipe from Hallmark Magazine with me several years ago, and it’s been a favorite in our house ever since. The hearty flavors make it perfect for a chilly night, and the combination of chicken and lentils creates a protein powerhouse.

The recipe makes enough for us (two adults and a 3 year old) to have dinner and lunch the next day, so be sure to halve it if you don’t need that much.

Butternut Squash Lentil Stew

Butternut Squash, Chicken and Lentil Stew

2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs
¼ cup flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped sweet onion
2 carrots, cut into pieces
1 large stalk celery, with leaves, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup lentils
4 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
2 tbsp savory
2 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp sage
2 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp pepper

1. Cut chicken into pieces and dredge into flour, salt and pepper until coated.
2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add chicken, cook until golden on all sides, about 5-8 minutes.
3. Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm.
4. Add the rest of the olive oil to pan. Add carrots and onion, and cook about 3-5 minutes.
5. Add celery and cook about 1 minute or until softened.
6. Add the broth, lentils and spices. Bring to a boil over high heat.
7. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 5 minutes.
8. Add the squash and cook covered about 30-35 minutes or until both squash and lentils are tender.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.

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Broccoli Bacon Mac and Cheese

Anyone who has a preschooler can tell you that mac and cheese is one of the main food groups. I am lucky that Olivia is a really good eater, but if she’s ever given the choice of what to eat for dinner (or lunch, or breakfast for that matter), the answer will always be mac and cheese.

So I am always looking for ways to sneak in the healthy stuff. For this Cooking Light recipe, I used veggie pasta and mixed in steamed broccoli. The smoky bacon and creamy cheese make this dish seem decadent while satisfying both a picky palate and a nutrition-minded mama.

Mac and Cheese

Broccoli Bacon Mac and Cheese

8 oz uncooked vegetable elbow macaroni
1 bag frozen chopped broccoli florets (I prefer the steam-in-the-bag variety for convenience)
1 ½ cups 1% low-fat milk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp salt
3 pieces precooked bacon, chopped (like Hormel’s Fully Cooked Bacon)
1 ½ tsp unsalted butter
4.5 oz reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

 

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Meanwhile, steam broccoli according to the directions on the bag.

2. Combine milk and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 1-2 minutes or until crisp. Add butter to pan; swirl until butter melts. Add milk mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese. Add pasta and broccoli to pan, stirring to coat.

Mac and Cheese

 


Chicken, Mushroom, and Pea Pasta

One of my new favorite frozen shortcuts is the Woodstock Mixed Mushrooms. This organic mixture of shiitake, shimeiji, field, and abalone mushrooms makes any dish seem gourmet when it’s really just as simple as opening up a can or package of regular old button mushrooms.

mushrooms

I love the earthy flavor that these mushrooms give this pasta, and the peas add a nice contract of fresh brightness. The best part is that this meal is straight out of the freezer and kid-friendly, which makes it perfect and doable for a busy weeknight dinner.

Chicken Pasta

Chicken, Mushroom, and Pea Pasta

Frozen grilled chicken strips (like the Tyson Grilled & Ready Chicken Breast Strips)
1 bag of frozen peas
1 bag of frozen mushrooms (like the Woodstock Mixed Mushrooms mentioned above, though you could use fresh mushrooms as well if you have them)
1 package spaghetti
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
Salt
Pepper

1. Cook spaghetti according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the chicken and mushrooms and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the frozen peas and sauté for one minute. Add the spaghetti and remaining olive oil and mix well to combine.

4. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, add salt and pepper, and toss pasta.


The Best Pumpkin Bread. Ever.

I love, love, love pumpkin bread! Nothing says “fall” more than those warm, spicy flavors. Luckily, my husband and daughter share my love. In fact, after I make this bread for the first time each fall, Olivia asks for it at least once a week. The best part is, the recipe makes three full-sized loaves or, in my case, one full-sized loaf and 4 mini loaves. We usually eat one of the mini loaves right away and then tightly wrap the rest and freeze them. I take out a loaf the day before we plan to eat it and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

This is the best pumpkin bread I’ve tried—moist, cakey, dense (but not too dense), with a nice crust. Simply put, it’s delicious!

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour three 7×3-inch loaf pans or one 7×3-inch loaf pan and 4 mini loaf pans.

2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

3. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Adapted slightly from allrecipes.com Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread


Cookbook Giveaway: Lighten Up, America!

Lighten Up, America!The folks at Cooking Light will release their latest cookbook, Lighten Up, America!, on October 22nd. But as a Cooking Light blogger, I got a sneak peak at some of the lighter versions of regional American favorites featured in the book. After spending an hour flipping through every page, I had bookmarked at least 50 recipes that I plan to make.

Having grown up in the south, some of my favorite dishes aren’t exactly known for their health and nutrition stats. A few recipes I have featured here—including collard greens, corn pudding, and key lime pie—get a healthy makeover in Lighten Up, America! I’m especially curious to try the corn pudding because my version is more sweet than savory, like the recipe featured in the book.

The best part about getting an advanced copy of the cookbook is that Cooking Light sent me two so that I could share one with one lucky reader!

Enter below for your chance to win your very own copy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 


Review: Belly Bandit’s Upsie Belly

There’s an old wives’ tale that says if you’re carrying your baby low and all out in front, you’re expecting a boy. Well either that’s completely opposite for me, or the doctors have been way off for the past 8 months. Let’s hope it’s not the latter because there’s a lot of pink going on in our house.

While carrying all out in front has its benefits, it also puts tremendous strain on your lower back. Every time I get up (or bend down, or roll over, or walk …) I get shooting pains through my sciatic nerve and have to hobble around like my 90-year-old grandmother. Still, I scoffed when my doctor suggested I start wearing a maternity support belt. She described it as “this harness that goes over your shoulders and under your belly,” and all I could picture was a Pepsi delivery guy. Ummm, no.

Photo via Bellybandit.com

But a couple of months ago, the pain got the better of me and I caved. I tried on several different versions at the maternity store and settled on the Belly Bandit® Upsie Belly. It was by far the most expensive one there ($70 as compared to $25-40 for the others), but I chose it for several reasons:

1. It was the most comfortable one I tried on- and when you’re hugely pregnant and uncomfortable enough as it is, this is incredibly important.

2. Of all the different types, this one was the least obvious under my clothes.

3. The design was simple- going around the back and securing under the belly- in a way that didn’t make me feel like I needed an engineering degree to put it on everyday.

The best compliment I can possibly give the Upsie Belly is that I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get it. It has been a lifesaver these past couple of months! As soon as I put it on, I feel instant relief in my back and support for my belly.

Is it invisible? No, of course not. I don’t usually wear it with dresses (it’s much easier to hide with pants and a top), and there are some shirts where it’s more obvious than others. But for the most part, it’s discreet enough that people don’t even realize I’m wearing it. It’s definitely more hidden than the stark white over- and under-the-belly contraption I tried on while shopping, that’s for sure.

I don’t normally wear the Upsie Belly to work because I sit at a computer all day. When sitting for long periods, the belt puts added pressure on my lower belly, which is both uncomfortable and makes me have to pee even more than I already do. But when I know I’m going to be on my feet, I never go without it. Not only does it help to alleviate my sciatic pain, but it lifts my belly up just enough to give me some relief from the pelvic pain and pressure that I’ve been experiencing.

If your doctor has recommended that you invest in a support belt, I would highly suggest at least trying on the Upsie Belly. Yes, it’s more expensive than most, but for me, it has been worth every penny. I think if I had opted to save the money and get one of the other ones (which were more uncomfortable and more obvious), I wouldn’t wear it as much as I do the Upsie Belly.


Monsters, Inc. Boo Halloween Costume

Last Halloween, I decided to get crafty and make Olivia’s costume—Boo from Monsters, Inc.

Monsters Inc Boo

Now, I am no seamstress. I worked in the costume shop in college as part of my theatre minor and somehow managed to sew my own sleeve to the dress I was making. So if I could pull this off, I’m pretty sure anyone can do it.

For the most part, I followed this excellent tutorial from Tiny Iron Fists with a few adjustments. In order to get the round bowl shape for the head piece, I actually covered a lightweight plastic bowl in the fabric. Instead of just using pipe cleaners to hold up the eyes, I wrapped a section of wire clothes hanger in pipe cleaners and glued them into holes that my husband drilled in the bowl.

As I don’t own a sewing machine, I ended up hand-sewing this entire thing. I do not recommend it. What could have taken me 30 minutes on a Singer wound up taking me somewhere in the neighborhood of a week, week in a half because there’s only so much sewing I could handle per day. If you have access to a sewing machine, for the love, USE IT!

Despite this costume taking forever to complete and being much more of an undertaking than I originally planned, it was all worth it on Halloween night to see the smile on this sweet face!


2013 Taste Test Awards

The October issue of Cooking Light featured the 2013 Taste Test Awards, comprised of 41 different foods in 20 categories. The focus was on fast, convenient foods, which is perfect for my busy family. Some of the categories were really specific (like Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil and Boxed Chardonnay), but I was happy to see that some of my favorites made the cut.

I especially appreciated the fact that not every category winner was some obscure, expensive brand. I noticed that several of the winners were the Walmart Great Value and Target Market Pantry brands- both accessible and affordable.

Reading through Cooking Light’s categories and winners made me realize that there are a few categories/items that would be sure to make any list I might come up with. So, for what it’s worth, here are my additions:

1. Best Dry Spaghetti: De Cecco 

2. Best Sweet Pantry Snack: Quaker Popped Snacks in Apple Cinnamon

3. Best Greek Yogurt: (Tie) Chobani and Dannon Oikos

4. Best Low-Fat Ice Cream: Edy’s Slow Churned

5. Best Hummus/Baba Ganoush: Sabra

6. Best Fat-Free Sour Cream: Breakstone

7. Best Chewy Granola Bars: Fiber One Oats & Chocolate

8. Best Boxed Mac & Cheese: Annie’s Deluxe Whole Wheat Shells & Extra Cheesy Cheddar

9. Best Jarred Salsa: Santa Barbara Mango with Peach from Costco

10. Best Barbecue Sauce: Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce

 

What items would make your taste test list?

 


A Doc McStuffins Birthday Party

Olivia is three! And like most kids, she has become more opinionated about her birthday party with each passing year. This year, she decided that she wanted a Doc McStuffins birthday party. For those who are unfamiliar with the good doctor, Doc McStuffins is a cartoon on Disney Junior about a little girl with a magic stethoscope who fixes all the broken toys. It’s actually a pretty cute cartoon, and I love the fact that the main character is a girl who is NOT a princess. So I was more than happy to indulge Olivia’s theme choice.

I decided to use Paperless Post instead of mailing out invitations this year. Best idea ever! My stepmom designed this adorable invitation, which I uploaded into one of the full photo designs. I removed the text overlay option, added in everyone’s email addresses, hit send and … done! I was able to track everyone’s responses, send messages to invitees, and it was all for FREE.

Doc McStuffins Invitation

Given the fact that I am roughly the size of a whale right now and can’t move without crazy sciatic pain, I went very light on the DIY for this year’s party. I did, however, manage to make a cute sign for the front door …

As well as a few pennant garlands. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make your own pennant garland, if you’re interested.

I couldn’t resist these bright pink hydrangeas for the table!

I set up a “clinic” in the basement for the kids to be able to give the stuffed animals (and each other) a check-up, complete with fun Band-Aids and a variety of doctor tools.

Instead of traditional favor bags, I set up a “pharmacy” so the kids could make their own goodie bags to take with them. I found Doc McStuffins sticker sheets at Walmart, Doc McStuffins mini coloring pages at Target, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Annie’s Fruit Snacks, and a few different types of candy—everything in shades of pink, purple, and blue to match the theme.

I also made pink (i.e. strawberry) cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and pink and purple sprinkles. I think these were the highlight of Olivia’s day because, as each new person came in the door, she greeted them with “It’s my birthday! And we have cupcakes!!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the cupcakes (or any of the other food for that matter). I blame my pregnancy brain. I ordered most of the food from Wegmans and Costco this year—I was not up for making everything from scratch like I usually do—but I did make my mom’s edamame orzo salad, which was a hit. I’ll be sharing that recipe soon, so be sure to check back!

It is definitely harder to throw a child’s birthday party when you’re eight months pregnant, but Olivia’s excitement when she saw the decorations (and the cupcakes) made it all worth it. Not to mention the fact that I got a huge hug and a “Mama, I love you—this was the best birthday ever!” at the end of the evening. Yep, totally worth it.