Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cajun Sausage & Peppers with Spaghetti Squash

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 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.

 First, you'll saute the onions, peppers, and sausage in a pan (read the recipe do this in stages). I used andouille chicken sausage, but have also used smoked turkey sausage as well. You can use regular smoked sausage if you prefer, but I prefer using chicken or turkey sausage (it's leaner...aka: "healthier").

 Next, add in 1/2 cup of stock. As you can see, I'm just adding in water. That's because I prefer to use chicken base. A jar of it will last you awhile and in the end, it's WAY cheaper than buying stock every time you need it and it's so much more flavorful and easy! I prefer "Better the Bouillon" brand.

 If using base, add it to the pan and stir. You'll use 1 teaspoon for every 8 oz/1 cup of stock called for, so for this recipe, add 1/2 teaspoon.

 Now, you'll add your spices and stir everything up and cook it for a few more minutes. Just so you know, the recipe calls for 1 Tablespoon of the Cajun seasoning and if you use the Weber brand it's going to make it speesy-spicy! I like a kick to my food, but if you don't, I'd recommend to start with just 1/2 Tablespoon and add more to taste at the end.

 Add 1/2 cup of half-and-half (or heavy cream), stir in and let cook a few more minutes until it starts to thicken up a bit.

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.

Lastly, remove the pan from the heat, add grated Parmesan cheese to the mix (I also had mozzarella cheese on hand, so I added that too), and stir it all together. If yours is still really runny, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and it will thicken up as it sits.

 And that's it! Doesn't it look YUM?! (Well, it you should make it!)

I GAH-RAN-TEE (yes, you have to say that in the "Zatarans" N'awlins accent! C' KNOW that you know what I'm talking about!) your taste buds will be loving this!!  It's being added into my meal's legit good.



Cajun Sausage & Peppers with Spaghetti Squash
Yield: 4-6 servings 
  •  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     

Cook spaghetti squash (either in oven or microwave), shred strands with a fork, place in a bowl and set aside. Heat 1 TBL olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan and saute the onions and bell peppers. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage and cook another minute. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock to the pan and scrape with a spoon to remove any browned bits that have formed in the bottom of the pan, about 30 seconds. Add the thyme, basil, cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper (optional) and cook for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half to the pan and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the spaghetti squash to the pan. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Top with additional grated Parmesan and cajun seasoning (if desired).

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Chicken & Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup

It's cold here in upstate South Carolina! I'm talking, wind chills in the single digits cold!  For the South, that's like negative temps for you Northern folks! When it gets cold outside I crave warm soup. And one of my favorite comfort soups is broccoli cheese soup. It's been my favorite for as long as I can remember. If there's the option to order it at a restaurant, I'm likely ordering it! I know it's probably not the healthiest soup, with all the cheese in it and butter and flour, but I've tried to lighten it up and make it as healthy as I can think! I use coconut milk and fat free half & half instead of whole milk, whole wheat flour, lots of broth/stock, and reduced fat cheese instead of full fat. I also add in some rotisserie chicken breast to get a dose of meat and extra protein in it. You're welcome to use your own boiled chicken breasts, but I like the ease of using the rotisserie...I only need part of the breast, it's already cooked for me, it's usually cheaper than buying just a pack of chicken breasts (at least at my local grocery store!), and I can use the rest of the chicken to eat off for other dinners or lunches! There's also a bit of hot sauce to give it a SLIGHT kick (but it's barely noticeable!). I take the easy route and just get the steamer bags of broccoli and microwave them half the recommended time on the bag. Why did I use 2 types of milk and so much broth? Well, the coconut milk can have a strong flavor, so to make sure the soup didn't taste like an Asian soup, I had to balance it out with a little bit of dairy and lots of stock. The result? A cheesy, delicious warm your toes soup (that I have to tell myself to NOT eat 10 bowls of!)

 Side note: My parents gave me one of their old camera's to use for my food photos. ("Old" as in my Mom has a habit of buying nice camera's, getting frustrated with not being able to figure out how to use it, and then buys another one and passes the "old" one on to my Dad to use for work! This one was only bought last year, so it's not "old" by any means! Thanks, Mom for getting frustrated with it! :) ) Hopefully I can figure out how to make the pictures look as good as all these awesome blog photos (mine NOT being included...). I need some practice with my food staging!  Either way, thanks to my awesome parents for your generous gift! (And I hope the lack of photo skills doesn't deter you from eating this soup!)


Chicken & Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup
Serves: Approximately 6-8

3 TBL extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 TBL whole wheat flour
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup fat free half & half
4 cups vegetable broth/stock (I like to use "Better than Bouillon" base)
2 cups low sodium chicken broth/stock (again, I prefer "Better than Bouillon" base)
24 oz frozen broccoli florets steam bags (cooked half of recommended cooking time in microwave)
2 cups rotisserie chicken breast, diced into bite size pieces (I just break it apart by hand)
5-6 cups reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp kosher salt (more to taste)
1 tsp ground black pepper (more to taste)
2 tsp garlic powder (more to taste)
1 tsp hot sauce (Frank's is good)

Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add in the onion and saute for about 4 minutes, or until soft. Sprinkle the flour onto onions and cook 2-3 minutes, or until no more lumps appear. Add in the coconut milk, half & half, vegetable & chicken broth, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and hot sauce. Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer over medium heat about 15 minutes. Add in broccoli and cook 10 minutes. Add chicken and cook 10 more minutes, or until broccoli is tender. Remove from heat and immediately add cheese, stirring until melted. Taste and add more salt, pepper, garlic powder, or hot sauce if needed.  May serve with optional french or sourdough bread or alone. Enjoy!

Bon Appetit,