Food Adventures: Spaghetti Squash Is No Pasta

I have been pretty good with my goal of trying one new food a week, although I haven’t been writing about them. I started a post about brussel sprouts, but even I was bored as I wrote¬† it so I figured it wasn’t worth sharing. This past week I tried spaghetti squash, and I think it’s worthy of some commentary.

To sum up my feelings on spaghetti squash, I would say it was a huge waste of my time.

Top things I didn’t like about spaghetti squash:

Difficult to cut in half and dangerous. As a person that is prone to kitchen accidents, I tend to avoid hacking into anything with a large knife. I was not able to cut into the spaghetti squash. I had to ask my husband for help and he still had to hack into it swiftly and strongly with a meat cleaver. Perhaps we don’t own the right tool for this job, or simply didn’t know what we were doing, but I am still calling it strike one against the squash.

Time Consuming. The squash took 40 minutes in the oven to cook, and I think mine was a little undercooked. It was a large squash, so I should have bumped it up to at least 50 minutes, but to me that’s a long time to cook one ingredient of an overall meal. I knew this going in, and upon reflection it was aggressive of me to plan this meal on a Monday night after a day of work and then my evening workout. I wasn’t even starting my meal prep until after 7PM. I don’t blame the spaghetti squash for my poor planning, but it’s not an ingredient that will ever become part of my weekly meal rotation due to the huge time suck.

Messy. I used a recipe I found online for a spaghetti squash chow mein, and I added chicken to it to round out the meal. As a side note and to give the recipe due credit, it was very tasty. But, between the pan to cook the spaghetti squash in the oven, the pan to cook the chicken, the stove top skillet for the veggies and final mixing of all ingredients, the sauce mixing bowl, and the cutting board, the mess really added up. I also had bits of squash flying all over the place as I was scraping the squash to make the spaghetti strands. I am sure this was my own fault for rushing and slightly under-cooking the squash, but regardless, the kitchen was a disaster.

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Not Filling. This is my biggest issue with the spaghetti squash. The meal was very tasty, and I would have considered tackling everything over again at some point, but the fact is I went to bed feeling hungry. At a minimum, with the time investment, mess and risk of injury, I at least wanted to feel satisfied and full. If it was a tasty and filling meal, I could disregard all my other issues.

My first thought when I went to bed hungry that night was I didn’t eat enough. I had enough of a portion leftover for a decent size lunch the next day, which I ate around 1-2PM with a Greek yogurt. By 6PM, I was starving again, so that blew my portion theory unless I was suppose to eat the entire pan in one sitting.

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I had told my best friend, who happens to be a registered dietician, about my spaghetti squash issues. Her solution for my hunger problem was to add a starch to the meal. She commented that the meal would have gone great with rice. True, but this confused me. My first reaction was making rice would have added ANOTHER pan to my mess. But more importantly, I bought spaghetti squash because I thought it was a substitute for pasta. I easily could have made this meal with pasta and saved a lot of time and frustration, but I was trying to be healthy and save on calories. If I need to make rice to feel full, then why not just use some wheat pasta and skip the squash altogether? The meal already had a lot of other vegetables. She told me that people substitute spaghetti squash for pasta in the same way they substitute cauliflower for mashed potatoes. They are non-starchy vegetables and low in calories, but they aren’t going to make you feel full.

She suggested next time to just use it as a vegetable side dish. Well, that was it for me and the spaghetti squash. I’m not putting in all that work for a side dish. Since I made it, I also talked to a friend of mine who is a vegetarian and she seemed quite appalled by my negative feelings towards the spaghetti squash. She indicated I should give it another chance. Spaghetti squash apparently has a following out there. People seem to love it, so maybe I am in the minority.

Well, I love the idea of it, but it’s just not my thing. Big disappointment!

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Food Adventures: Escarole

escaroleIn my trip to the grocery store this week to explore new foods, I decided on escarole. I’ve probably had this leafy green before and just didn’t realize it, but I’ve certainly never purchased it or used it as an ingredient. When I was buying it, I saw so many varieties of greens, I could probably try a new one every week for the next two months! I won’t because that would be boring, but I could. I’m considering kale as the next new green on my agenda, but not for a few weeks.

I never chop my own greens for a salad, I have been buying the bagged salad for a long time, so even shopping in the lettuce area was a somewhat new experience. I felt like such a healthy person buying my lettuce, and it was so nice and crispy. The bagged salads just aren’t the same as a really fresh head of lettuce. Not that I’m going to abandon my lazy bagged salad and start chopping a bunch of fresh greens,¬† but it’s good to remember for special occasions.

I didn’t end up making a salad with my escarole, instead I opted for soup. There are so many recipes out there, I could have gone in multiple directions. With the frosty New England weather in the last week, I decided a hot soup would help keep me warm. Escarole is a member of the endive family, and it gives a nice bite to soup!

This soup was so ridiculously easy to make, and I have been eating it every day this week for lunch. It’s perfect for me since I have trouble making time for lunch every day. I have it ready to go in a big pot the fridge, and I just scoop out a cup or so and heat it up in the microwave. I added some extra broth to stretch the recipe.

Source: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-escarole-soup

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Chicken Escarole Soup

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup chopped cooked chicken breast
2 cups coarsely chopped escarole (about 1 small head)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine tomatoes and broth in a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes. Add chicken, escarole, and oil; cook 5 minutes.

Very tasty and great on a cold day!

Food Adventures: Quinoa

quinoaAs part of my updated goals to keep my 40-week journey interesting, I promised to try one new healthy food and recipe each week in an effort to expand my horizons. For my first adventure, I decided to try quinoa. I’ve heard about quinoa, but I didn’t really know what it was or how to prepare it. As I did some research on quinoa recipes, it sounded like one of the world’s most perfect foods. I found website after website listing the health benefits of this unique seed, so how could I go wrong. It’s a great source of fiber, high in protein, gluten free, rich in iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and phosphorus, AND has low levels of carbohydrates. That all sounded good to me.

Mainly, I chose quinoa as my first adventure food because I felt desperate to find a new side dish besides rice and potatoes. I had hesitations about it because I once tried to make my own tabbouleh, and I discovered that bulgur wheat is just not my thing. Quinoa and bulgur wheat seem like they would be in the same ballpark of taste and flavor, so I had low expectations.

Regardless, I went to the store and bought a bag of quinoa, which didn’t seem very exciting. Honestly, uncooked quinoa looks a LOT like birdseed. Have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. It was easy to prepare, and I really liked the texture. It had a bit of a pop to it and very slight crunch. It cooks up the same way as rice, except I had to soak and rinse it first. It wasn’t super flavorful on its own, but I found a recipe for a ‘Grecian Quinoa Salad’ that was very tasty, and was able to provide me with some veggies for a nice well rounded meal.

I served this with a grilled chicken breast, and it made enough for a nice dinner portion for my husband and me, and I have leftovers for lunch today:

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The recipe I used is below, which I modified from one I found online to cut the sodium and fit my personal taste, but here is the original recipe, to give credit where it’s due for finding this tasty treat: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/colorful-quick-quinoa-grecian-salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1.5 cups no-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sherry wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped cucumber
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
3 tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon minced shallots

Place quinoa in a bowl; cover with water. Let stand 5 minutes; rinse well, and drain.

Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan; stir in quinoa. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Uncover; fluff with a fork. Cool to room temperature.

Combine olive oil, lemon rind, lemon juice, sherry wine, and salt in a large bowl. Add cooled quinoa and the remaining ingredients; toss well.

I’m anxious to try some other recipes for quinoa and explore some other uses.

Give quinoa a try! Tasty, easy to make, and healthy, you can’t go wrong.

Magic Recipe: Pan-Cooked Pineapple Swordfish

swordfish2blogJPGThis is one of my staples of the week, I feel like it’s a ‘magic’ meal because I usually make this on Saturday night, and it hasn’t had any negative effects on my Sunday weigh-in day, to date.

This makes 2 servings, which I split between my husband and me, and I normally give my husband a bigger portion:

1lb fresh swordfish, cut into chunks
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 small can of pineapple chunks in 100% juice (8 oz can)
1/4 cup sherry cooking wine
1 Tbls. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbls. lemon juice

Swordfish

Mix soy, sherry, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, and the juice from the pineapple together. Marinate swordfish chunks in the sauce for 30 minutes. Cook swordfish and pineapple in roughly half the sauce in non-stick pan at about medium-high heat on stove top until swordfish is cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Serve over rice. Discard the unused sauce.

Enjoy!