Saturday, November 29, 2014

Past Few Weeks

I feel like I'm always posting about food... and here's another food heavy post!  Although I feel like I should get a pass this week, because it was Thanksgiving.  I haven't posted in a few weeks, so here's a quick recap of what I did, and what I ate.

 It was a busy week last week, because I dog sat for a few days to help my friend out.  It was nice for me, I got to snuggle with Moose, watch tv on a big HD screen, and do some laundry.  I even was brave and took Moose for a walk,  my first walk with a dog where I was actually holding the leash. It was quite an experience for me, a cat person.  Dogs are easily excited, pretty much have ADD, and everyone seems to think they can just talk to you because you have a dog with you.  There's a reason I'm a cat person, I prefer to curl up in corners alone haha. But it was fun playing dog owner for a few days.

That weekend, I cooked what is probably my most favorite lasagna dish: caprese lasagna roll-ups. The photo above isn't my cooking, it's from the original recipe I used, but it would be hard to describe them otherwise.  It's based off of a caprese salad, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.  Basil is basically my favorite spice, so I loved having a good amount of that flavor. And even though I don't generally like tomatoes, it was a nice texture change from the usual lasagna with just sauce and cheese. Most of all, I was proud of myself for cooking the noodles without breaking any in the pot, so that I was actually able to roll them up.

Continuing on in chronological order: last Sunday I had my first cat mom scare, after Neville fell off the fridge.  He slipped on a bag of magnets I had up there, and sprained his hind leg in the fall.  He was limping really badly, and so we spent two hours at the emergency vet getting him checked.  Luckily he just needed some pain meds and was confined to my room for a few days while he healed, and he's not limping anymore.  Let me tell you, it's not pleasant sleeping in the same room as a litter box!

Now, I don't even think he remembers he was injured earlier in the week.

Thanksgiving was also this week.  I stayed up "late" (4 p.m. compared to my usual 2 p.m.) to have dinner at my friends' house, the ones with the dog.  They cooked the turkey, and the rest of us attending -- most from work -- brought side dishes. It was the first time they'd ever cooked a turkey, and it turned out really well! Neville approved too, he gobbled up the leftovers I brought him right away.  My favorite part has always been the mashed potatoes, so I was pretty excited to find that there were two different versions available.  If you're wondering what my contribution was: I was boring and bought basic steamed green beans.

And as for yesterday -- it was a great day. Our Black Friday live coverage went really well, and although there was little local news aside from that,  I still managed to put together a show I was really proud of, and it was off with no problems.  I cleaned my whole apartment, decorated for Christmas (pictures to come soon) and finished the day off watching movies while eating my favorite alfredo sauce recipe over tortellini, and some chocolate cake.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Mac and Cheese

Spaghetti squash is one of my favorite things to make because it's easy, makes a good amount of leftovers for easy meals, and helps me get more vegetables in my diet. I was a little scared of it the first time I tried it, because while I love broccoli, peas, and carrots, I'm not someone who's really into "trendy" healthy food (kale? Why is that a thing?) but since I heard it tasted a lot like actual spaghetti, the pasta lover in me decided to give it a whorl.

Now, it's on the top of my list of things I like to cook.  Since it can make a lot of servings, especially depending on the size of the squash, it can get kind of boring to eat as an average spaghetti dish, like with tomato sauce and meatballs, so I decided to get creative with it.  I'd seen some cheesy spaghetti squash recipes online before, so I decided to try mixing it with my favorite homemade macaroni and cheese recipe, and it was delicious.  So I decided to share it with the internet.

Spaghetti squash:

I always use the recipe from A Beautiful Mess, and I've always had great results, so here it is, with some lovely pictures to illustrate the steps.

1. Cut open the squash.  This is actually the hardest part of the entire recipe, but I had the genius, if I do say so myself, idea to use one of those pumpkin cutters from the kid kits sold in grocery stores ... and my life has now completely changed for the better.  It's so easy.

2. Scoop out the seeds and loose innards, add a light layer of olive oil.

3. Bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  The edges will usually be slightly browned.

4. Using a fork, start scraping at the squash.  It comes apart in thin strands, just like spaghetti!  The first time I did this, I thrilled that it worked, even though I'd already seen pictures of it.

Like I said before, this can be eaten like traditional spaghetti with some warm sauce.  It's also easily thrown in the fridge and heated up, so it can be done early if need be, since the cooking time is rather long.

Cheese sauce:

Recipe adapted from my old Betty Crocker cookbook.  It makes enough cheese sauce for a little more than half of a large squash.

You'll need:
-2 tbsp butter
-1/8 cup chopped onion (or as little or much as you like, depending on how much you like onions, I usually use less)
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/8 tsp pepper
-2 tbsp flour
-3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp milk
-4 oz cubed cheddar (or whatever cheese you prefer)

This time around, I forgot to take nice pictures for the steps... whoops! But it's pretty self explanatory.

1. In a medium skillet, cook and stir butter, onions, salt, and pepper on medium heat, until onion is tender.
2. Stir in flour over low heat, until smooth and slightly bubbly.
3. Remove pan from heat, and add the milk.
4. Return pan to heat, then heat to boiling.
5. Let boil for one minute, stirring constantly -- the sauce should be thickening.
6. Remove from heat, and stir in cheese cubes until they melt.  My cheddar was that orange/yellow color, hence the slightly fake-cheese look in the picture above.  If you use white cheddar, it looks a little more homemade and classic.

7. Put spaghetti squash in a small casserole dish.  I tried to figure out what size mine is for comparison, but it doesn't have a size on it anywhere.
8. Pour cheese mixture over squash.  I recommend adding about half, stirring it in, then add the rest, and stir once again.  It also might be helpful to stir with a fork, because that will help break up the thin squash strands, and give a more even coating of cheese.
9. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned.
10. Serve warm!

I made some green beans to make it even more of a veggie meal, and some tasty baguette toast that I bought at a Eugene bakery.  This makes at least two servings, or more depending on what you pair it with.  Last time I made it, I mixed steamed peas into the cheesy squash when I reheated it, and that was really good.

I think there are a variety of ways to mix it up: add cubed ham, bits of bacon, chicken, etc. Spaghetti squash is also a great pasta alternative for people who are gluten free, and although I haven't tried it, I think that gluten free flour could easily be substituted to make this a gluten free dish.  Note: the flour is used as a thickener in this recipe, and if gluten free flour doesn't have those capabilities, it might not work.  Though Brian is gluten free, he doesn't like baked goods, so I'm not too well versed in how gluten free flour actually works.

Hope you give my recipe a try! If you like cheese, you'll definitely like it. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Playing Adult

Sometimes I feel like I'm just pretending to be an adult.  Does it always feel like this? I'm thinking that it does.  Luckily I live by myself and don't have to be accountable for anyone (besides my cat) because sometimes I really don't feel being a proper adult.

"Sure, my bathroom sink is a little gross... but who's going to see it besides me? Is it ok that I'm having macaroni and cheese again this week because I'm too lazy to cook anything else? Should I really waste these pans to make vegetables?"

Sometimes I give in to the adult voice in my head... lately I've been kind of ignoring it.  Which means I'm really in for some big cleaning this weekend, and making some good dinners.  I am getting better at one thing.  I was more active and more into working on things after work during the summer ... but since my mom and Brian visited, and I decided to stop working out for the winter, I accidentally fell into a rut of just watching Netflix/on demand until it was time to go to bed.  To try and keep myself from turning into some kind of weird couch potato and/or getting my face sucked into a TV (Doctor Who, anyone?) I bought some flannel to work on a scarf, and some stuff to make more jewelry.

So that's what I've been up to lately.  Now the next step is to work on the whole cleaning and eating thing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Willamette National Forest

After a difficult few days at work, it was great to get out and enjoy the Oregon fall over the the weekend.  My friend Carrie said the drive from Springfield to Oakridge was supposed to be very pretty in the fall, so we explored the drive with her other friend who also likes to take pictures.

The route was very pretty, with plenty of colorful leaves, but the best part was when we pulled over to check out a campground in the Willamette National Forest.

It's too late in the season I guess, so there weren't any campers for us to disturb while we walked around.  It was so incredibly green and mossy, exactly what I expected out of pacific northwest forest (thank you, Twilight). Half the campground was right on the Willamette River, which made it even prettier.  I wouldn't mind camping there, and I definitely need to check out some of the hiking trails next spring/summer -- there were so many trailheads stemming out from the road we were driving down.

To finish off our expedition, we stopped by what Carrie said was supposed to be the longest covered bridge in Oregon ... but it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.  Then again, that could just be the New Englander coming out, because I'm pretty sure the covered bridge in Contoocook is longer (and in my opinion, much cooler).

Still, it was fun to check out on such a nice day.  It was surrounded by some beautiful mountains, too.

Getting out and exploring the area is definitely something I should do more of, but I probably will be reluctant now that it's cold.  Although at least then I wouldn't be in my freezing apartment. It's currently a battle of wills between me and my thermostat ... or at least it feels that way.  I guess it's really more of a battle between my comfort levels and my wallet. It was in the low 30s/high 20s this morning though, and I still have yet to turn it on.

Annnd because always, here are some cute pictures of Neville in his favorite hang out spot.

What a creeper.