Today is Day 3 of no school/work thanks to the ice storm that blew through the Upstate of South Carolina on Monday. We're expecting record lows for our area tonight and tomorrow night (SINGLE DIGITS with wind chills BELOW ZERO!!) As a result, that means I have time to photograph my meals and blog! YAY! So, yesterday was "Fat Tuesday", aka: Mardi Gras. I've only been to "Nawlins" once for a speech therapy convention, but what a fun experience it was! My first meal I had there was the most amazing Shrimp Po' Boy from a little hole in the wall restaurant that I'd have no idea where to tell you it was located (maybe near my hotel??). Po' Boys are New Orleans classics and for the past few years, that's been my Fat Tuesday ritual. I decided to do something a little bit healthier this year though. My Mom sent me a recipe that she found on Facebook for this amazing looking cajun shrimp and sausage pasta dish. I changed it up a bit, but mostly stuck to the recipe and it turned out pretty fantastic! And it's really pretty simple to make too! Doesn't take too long to dice the onions, peppers, and sausage and it's a one pot recipe to top it off! The recipe calls for making your own "Essence" seasoning (I'm assuming this is taken from Emeril's Essence seasoning that you can buy in the store). However, I just decided to buy my own Cajun seasoning...and seeing how Emeril's Essence cost nearly 5 bucks, I went for the Webber's version that was only a little over 2 bucks and it turned out to have a lot of flavor and heat! Instead of using pasta, I also substituted spaghetti squash, and it didn't leave me missing the extra carbs from the pasta at all. What's this "spaghetti squash" thing, you may ask? Oh my friend, let me introduce you to a wonderful healthy alternative! It looks like a butternut squash, but when you cook it, you can shred it with a fork and out comes strands of squash that resemble spaghetti! "Girl, I know what spaghetti squash is...I use it all the time" you may also say. BUT, did you know you can just cook it in the microwave?! ("Say WHAT?!"). Oh yes! That's the ONLY way I ever cook it! Baking it in the oven for 45 minutes is just not something I ever have time to do, and why bother when you can pop it in the microwave for 12ish minutes instead??
Here's how to cook spaghetti squash in the microwave:
- Pop the whole squash into the microwave for 3-4 minutes (this will "tenderize" it so you can better cut it)
- Remove from microwave and very carefully use a large knife to cut squash in half, lengthwise (this isn't the easiest part, even though you've tenderized it already...BE CAREFUL!)
- Use a spoon to "de-gut" the seeds and membrane in the middle (much like a pumpkin)
- Put the cut squash in a microwave safe baking dish cut side up or down ("they" say to put it down, but I've done both ways and it really doesn't matter), and add about 1/2 inch of water to the bottom. Cook on high for 8-12 minutes (cooking time will depend on the size of the squash selected.) See picture below (though, it should be noted, my microwave isn't big enough to hold a baking dish large enough for both halves, so I have to cook mine in 2 batches).
- Remove dish from microwave and remove squash from dish (will be hot! use pot holders!)
- Take a fork and scrape vertically all along the squash to remove the strings of squash; spoon into a bowl and set aside (It should look like the picture below).
I hope that helps make using spaghetti squash as an alternative even easier for you!
Now, for the main course!
First of all, here are some of my "special ingredients" I use in the recipe: Better than Bouillon chicken base, the Weber N'Orleans Cajun seasoning, and jarred minced garlic. Y'all. If you don't use base or bottled garlic...why not?? If I'm just making a meal for myself or close friends, I always take the easy route with garlic and just use the kind in the jar. That way, my garlic isn't constantly going bad, and it's already minced for me. If I'm making a "special" meal (i.e.: my parents or a friend's birthday...you were thinking "date", right?? Ha! What's a "date"?!). Anyways! As I was saying...if I'm making a special meal, then I get the real stuff and pull out my garlic crusher, but otherwise I just use the jarred/bottled stuff.
Now you'll add 1/2 of the spaghetti squash to the pan (or if using a small spaghetti squash, add the whole thing). Stir it all together and let cook for a few more minutes.
And that's it! Doesn't it look YUM?! (Well, it IS...so you should make it!)
I GAH-RAN-TEE (yes, you have to say that in the "Zatarans" N'awlins accent! C'mon...you KNOW that you know what I'm talking about!) your taste buds will be loving this!! It's being added into my meal rotation...it's legit good.
Cajun Sausage & Peppers with Spaghetti Squash
- 1 medium spaghetti squash, cooked and shredded (see recipe above for microwave directions)
- 1 TBL olive oil
- 1 TBL Cajun seasoning (if you're sensitive to spice, start with 1/2 TBL and add more to taste)
- 2 andouille or smoked turkey or chiken link sausages, sliced and quartered
- 1 medium diced green bell pepper
- 1 small diced sweet onion (or 1/2 medium)
- 1 TBL minced garlic
- 1/2 cup chicken stock (or 1/2 cup water plus 1/2 teaspoon chicken base...what I prefer)
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp kosher salt (more to taste)
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper (optional)
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese