Fall Flavors: Acorn Squash

Fall weather calls for fall flavors! Here in New Jersey, the temperature has dropped and it’s officially time for comfort foods. Instead of making a heavy high-fat dish, try to capitalize on fresher fall flavors that pair well with other seasonal flavors. I recently made a sweet spaghetti squash and wanted to try a savory spin on a different autumn classic: Acorn squash.

I have to admit that this was a first for me! I love eating squash, but it wasn’t a kitchen staple for me until this year. I am a busy, health-conscious home cook, so I look for three things when food shopping:

  1. It has to be easy! If there are too many steps, the odds of me making it after a long day at work drop significantly. If I know I can throw it together in under 15 or 20 minutes, it makes the cut.
  2. It has to be healthy! My body and wellness matter to me, so I want to know that my meals are nourishing.
  3. It has to be delicious! I am a foodie through and through, so if it doesn’t taste good, why bother making it? Sure, I want my food to be nutritious, but I also want to crave it again and again.

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This recipe hits all of the sweet spots and brings fall to your table:

  1. Cut the squash in half and pierce the skin a few times. You can cut piece off of the bottom to create a flat surface so the squash can rest steadily when placed open-face up
  2. Scoop out the inner seeds and pulp.
  3. Coat with olive oil, pepper, and a little salt. You can also try other herbs like garlic or onion powder, thyme, sage, or rosemary.
  4. Roast at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes, or until fork tender.

My favorite thing about squash is that it is high in fiber (5 grams per half cup) which not only keeps you full but is linked to lower blood sugar spikes and to intestinal health, has healthy complex carbs (a half cup has about 15 grams, which is equal to one carb exchange for carb counters), and is filling with very little calories (about 60 for a half-cup serving).

Feeling fancy? The shape of an acorn squash is perfect for stuffing!  Try adding any of the following to elevate this squash from a side to a main feature:

  • Quinoa cooked with orange juice, topped with toasted almonds
  • Farro tossed with olive oil and craisins
  • 2 oz of crumbled lean turkey sausage with sauteed onions
  • Top with sliced pork medallions

 

 

Remember to follow The Peoples Plate for more recipes or for personalized nutrition counseling! What is your favorite fall ingredient?

Why It’s Totally Acceptable (and Nutritious) to be Obsessed with Pumpkin

The air is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter– this can only mean one thing: Pumpkin Season is here!

Whether you love to pick ’em, paint ’em, carve ’em, or just admire ’em, pumpkins are the quintessential fall crop. Pumpkin spice has become the wildest autumn food trend, originally dominating our latte orders and muffin choices but now popping up in everything from cereal to twinkies to cheese (yes, pumpkin spice cheese).

The spice blend itself is a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, which can be mixed into anything for a healthier autumn celebration. Try these tricks:

  • Mix 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix into your oatmeal with 1/2 tsp of maple syrup
  • Add 1 Tablespoon pumpkin spice mix directly into your coffee grounds when brewing your next cup – the flavor will infuse into the coffee– for the pumpkin flavor without the calories and sugar of a traditional latte flavor syrup.
  • Mix 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice, 1/2 tsp honey, and 2 Tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese or low-fat cream cheese for a dessert-like topping for toast or graham crackers

Pumpkin itself is a wonderful ingredient and is packed with beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gets converted to vitamin A in our bodies– so much, in fact, that a cup of cooked pumpkin provides twice your daily need for vitamin A. This helps protect your vision (a lack of A in the diet is linked to night blindness) and directs cell growth throughout your body. They’re also a great source of potassium, which essentially every cell in your body needs to function as it goes hand-in-hand with sodium. You’ll get a nice dose of vitamin C for immune function and antioxidation, too. Pumpkin is definitely deserving of the superfood title.

Pumpkin is not just for pie! You can add it into a huge range of foods with the goal of either rich pumpkin flavor or subtle vegetable addition. Since it’s incredibly low fat yet moist, it often replaces part or all of the fat in a recipe as well as eggs. You’ll often get a different consistency than you’re used to so I would play around your recipes to see the result, but you’ll get a much more nutritious baked good.

  • Have pancake mix on hand and canned pumpkin in the cabinet? Then you can make pumpkin pancakes easily! Try 1 cup mix + 1 cup water + 1/3 cup pumpkin, plus pumpkin spice if desired. For a Food Network semi-homemade version, check out Sandra Lee’s recipe.
  • For a sneakier pumpkin addition, take boxed brownie mix (to make fudgy brownies) or any cake mix (for a fluffier muffin consistency) and add 1 cup of pumpkin. For a family-sized mix (18 ounces or larger), use a full can of pumpkin. You’ll get a fun twist on dessert with less fat and more nutrients!
  • I will tell you that my personal favorite pumpkin recipe is these pumpkin breakfast cookies (check it out here) by Leealicious – I highly recommend them!

 

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe? Share in the comments!

Spaghetti Squash

 

Spaghetti squash is the trendiest new squash (sorry, butternut- we still love you) and is definitely worth adding to your fall dish repertoire. The first time I tried spaghetti squash was actually at my work cafeteria, and I absolutely loved the consistency and subtle flavor but didn’t quite understand how it came to be (Did the squash just have little strings inside? Did you have to press it through a grater?). If you’ve never tried it, imagine a truly spaghetti-shaped zucchini noodle that holds its bite a bit better but has the taste of a mild butternut squash.

img_20180923_1844294391312110323.jpgI bought one myself and cut it open only to see that it looked like a yellow cantaloupe, and my first instinct was that I bought the wrong squash. Trusty Google showed me that I had in fact bought a spaghetti squash and that it would be just as stringy as I hoped once I was through – and it did not disappoint!

I love anything that can increase the volume of a meal without adding too many calories, and this is where spaghetti squash shines; you can have a whole cup with only about 40 calories but good fiber and micronutrients including potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins.

Making spaghetti squash is incredibly easy (almost unbelievably so):

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    Squash immediately post-baking but before spaghetti-ing.

    Cut squash in half vertically (like you’re splitting the stem).

  2. Remove the seeds and the pulp attached to them.
  3. Brush with 1-2 T olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt for a savory dish. Alternatively, brush with 1-2 T butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp syrup for a sweeter version.
  4. Place face-up on a baking sheet and cook at 380F for 60 minutes. It should be incredibly tender.
  5. Take a fork and use it to rake the flesh of the squash. The strings will naturally separate and pull away (I took a video below for you to visualize). Continue until you have pulled out all of the strings and you’ll have your ‘spaghetti’!

I’ve seen savory versions topped with parmesan and herbs, but I love the sweet version for a fall side dish. Either way, you’ll get a lot of volume and flavor without a ton of calories!

 

 

Cauliflower Fried Rice

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Cauliflower is one of the few foods that I believe earns the term ‘super’: it’s high in vitamin C, incredibly low in calories and carbohydrates, and is part of the cancer-fighting veggie group Cassica (along with broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts — better known by the term ‘cruciferous’)

img_20180820_203508_6281132994166.jpg There’s no denying that plain riced cauliflower is visibly quite plain, and cauliflower on its own tends to taste bland — but this veg is a perfect blank canvas for bulking up recipes in a low cal, low carb way!

Although I am a long-time cauliflower lover, this was my first time experimenting with cauliflower rice, and since pork fried rice was a staple take-out food when I was growing up, I wanted to use those same savory flavors — but in a much healthier way.

 

The recipe I used is a loose one, meaning you can increase / decrease / omit / or adjust anything based on your own preferences!

 

Ingredients (Makes 2 large servings of ~1.5 cups)

  • 1 – 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 – 2 tsp rice vinegar (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp Low Sodium soy sauce (low sodium is important- it cuts about 40% of the sodium!)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cups of riced cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1/3 cup green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (I used Minute Rice Brown Rice with Quinoa mix)
  • Optional: 1 egg
  1. Saute the onions in ~1 tsp sesame oil; sweat until translucent. Add in rice vinegar.
  2. Add your cauliflower rice. Season with low sodium soy sauce. Allow to cook together in pan until cauliflower becomes fork-tender but before it gets mushy. You may find it helpful to steam the cauliflower a bit by adding ~2 Tbsp of liquid (chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water will all work) and covering with a lid.
  3. Add peas, sauteed mushrooms, and brown rice to saute pan.  That’s all there is to it!
  4. Optional: Scramble egg and serve atop rice bowl.

If you want to get fancy, here are some other fun add-ins:

  • Chopped scallions
  • Grated ginger
  • Water chestnuts
  • Shredded carrotts
  • Broccoli florettes
  • Snap Peas
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Sesame seeds or Black sesame seeds

 

Healthy Baking Swaps

I love to bake, though when I first started experimenting in the kitchen, my recipes originally fell into two distinct categories:

  1. Delicious and decadent desserts that I bring to parties, holidays, or gatherings not made up of nutrition buffs
  2. Healthy, whole grain, low/natural sugar, lower-fat recipes that most my family kindly refers to as ‘cardboard’

I’ve since done more research on how to improve the nutrition of a recipe without sacrificing flavor, consistency, or appearance. Here are some stellar tips that I find particularly helpful from the experts at King Arthur Flour:

  1. Understand what will change if you cut sugar! 
    Sugar helps give baked goods the signature brown crust with a good crunch, so lowering the sugar will make a lighter product with a fluffier, more cake-like texture rather than crispy.  King Arthur’s has done some fun experiments showing that a recipe suffers if you cut the sugar by more than 50% (http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/03/15/reduce-sugar-in-cookies-and-bars/) Hint: Natural sweeteners have just as many grams of sugar, though they may have trace amounts of other benefits and are generally less processed.
  2. Adding bran? Add more water!
    If you’re adding bran to a recipe for increased omega-3’s and the signature nutty taste, be aware that your product will likely small and dense unless you also adjust the water and add a bit more flour for rising.
  3. For high-quality whole grains, combine your flours.
    While some people do love a 100% whole grain bread (I know I do!), others like the fluffiness of a white bread. This same principle goes for cookies, cakes, etc- some whole grains may add flavor, but too many will make your product denser and will change it drastically from its original shape. Try using half all purpose flour and half whole wheat or other flour alternative for the best of both worlds.

For more tips, check out:

http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/07/11/baking-with-reduced-sugar/
http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/02/10/baking-ancient-grains/