You want to know the best part about having friends with kids?
There is always someone that is just as, if not more, excited to take a trip to the local fro yo joint!
This little guy and I have many things in common, including our love for mixing 5 different frozen yogurt flavors and adding gummy worms to the top.
You know what else 4-year-olds are great for? Helping to add a little imagination to ordinary healthified brownies. But more on that later!
First thing is first: Speaking of adorable little children, a HUGE congratulations goes out to my brother and his wife, who welcomed their first child to the family on Wednesday night. I’m a first-time Auntie, my parents are first-time grandparents, and we are all madly in love with her. She is quite simply – perfect. I’ll be headed to NY to meet her next month, and I am counting the days!
Hope she is ready to hear the first reading of “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”
Now before we get into the mouth-watering recipe that titled this post, I must talk about the “warm front” that hit Omaha this week. I haven’t run outside since a couple weeks ago when it was 60 degrees, so once the temperature climbed above zero, I decided to head for a little jog around the frozen tundra that I call home. The country music was blaring, and I was definitely in the zone…until I ran across a batch of ice and bit it. HARD. Oooops.
There was a small bruise to my knee and my pride, but luckily I don’t think anyone saw :-).
Now, let’s move onto this magical recipe. When I saw Erin’s recipe for Skinny Greek Mac n’ Cheese on Pinterest, I was literally drooling from the pictures alone. It looked so cheesy, crispy and comforting. Then, a thought came into my head, “I wonder how this transfers to spaghetti squash…”
With that, the mad kitchen scientist was off to play! I made some adjustments to the recipe, and the end result was a satisfying and savory casserole that was screaming with all of my favorite Mediterranean flavors.
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 red peppers, chopped
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 10 oz package of spinach
- 6 cloves of minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons dill
- 1 package of pita to make 1 cup crushed pita chips*
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
- 2 cups non-fat milk, divided
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 package Cabot Light White Cheddar Cheese, shredded (or similar cheese)
- 1 1/2 cups fat free cottage cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cup crumbled fat free feta cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives, sliced
- 4 -5 cups cooked spaghetti squash (1 large or 2 medium squash)
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Start by making pita chips: cut 1 package of pita into small triangles. Coat with cooking spray on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on coated cookie sheet and cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping over after 10.
- Pierce spaghetti squash with sharp knife and microwave for 12 minutes.
- While chips and squash cook, coat large sauté pan with cooking spray on medium heat. Add the onions and cook about 5 minutes until they begin to be translucent. Add red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and garlic and cook until the peppers are tender, about 6 additional minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and set aside. Re-coat pan and cook up spinach. Set aside.
- Remove chips from oven and set aside. Leave oven at 400 degrees and coat 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
- Remove spaghetti squash from microwave and shred. Place in strainer and press out moisture using towel. Put spaghetti squash in large bowl and place spinach in strainer. Press moisture out of spinach.
- In a large saucepan, heat 1 3/4 cups milk over medium-high heat until steaming (do not boil). In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour until smooth, then add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of dill.
- Add sauce to bowl with spaghetti squash and mix. Next, fold in sautéed vegetables, sundried tomatoes, spinach, feta cheese and olives. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish.
- Place pita chips in bag and crush with can or rolling pin. Mix 1 cup pita crumbs with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tablespoon dill. Sprinkle over the top of casserole.
- Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve with leftover pita chips and hummus or tzatziki.
- *You may also use premade pita chips
Now, if only my food photography skills could catch up with my improving cooking skills. Anyone want to sponsor me in a food photography class? Joking. Sort of.
If you’re really feeling ambitious, you can go ahead and serve this up with some homemade tzatziki sauce. Use this recipe – it’s easy. Promise.
I made this dish twice for both my parents and friends, and for the rents, I added some chicken. Dad doesn’t do vegetarian. I also learned a couple things from trying this out a more than once: 1) You must ring ALL excess moisture out of that spinach and spaghetti squash. Put some muscle into it! 2) Adding dill helps to take the Mediterranean flavor over the top.
Like many of my recent recipes, this falls under the category of healthified comfort food, because it’s still freezing outside, and we all need some warm, delicious food that won’t add on the lbs. Here’s how it went down in the kitchen.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you: those are my feet in the picture! I used them to crush my homemade pita chips in a plastic bag. As the Greeks say, “OPA!” If you’re short on time, the pre-made pita chips work just as well.
I’ve really enjoyed remaking comfort food classics over the past few weeks. I think it’s fun to explore different ways to use spices and flavors to make our favorite comfort foods just as enticing! This dish will definitely fulfill all of your mac n’ cheese urges, while delivering lots of protein and fiber.
Now, onto the other cheesy portion of this post.
When I left Omaha for college, I thought I would never look back. I was off to Chicago to fulfill my big-city dreams and become the brilliant writer that I had always wanted to be. College, and all of the adventures that accompanied it, was truly one of the best experiences of my life.
(Post-College, but you get the idea)
Then, the real world hit me. I would visit Omaha about once every six months from Chicago, and every time I had to leave, I was hit with a little pang of sadness. I missed my friends, my parents and that comfortable “feeling” that only home can provide. The years flew by, my friends got married and had children, I moved to NYC to pursue bigger dreams and that pang started to feel like heartbreak (I know, I’m dramatic).
(Nothing can replace these ladies)
Now, I wasn’t just missing my best friends, but also, I was missing watching their children grow up. It made me sad to see that Brody had grown a foot since I last saw him, and little Samantha had learned to talk!
(Too cool for school – I obviously bought her these shades.)
The contrast of the bustling, non-stop, yet lonely NYC life with the warm, comforting feeling of my hometown and all of the people in it only made it even clearer where I belonged. Yet, it took me four more years to get back here!
Yesterday, Becca and Brody came over for a little baking date, and, as I watched Brody furiously mix away at his patented healthified brownies (recipe to come!), I couldn’t help but feel extremely lucky to finally be back home.
(Does it get any better than this?)
I have had a few moments in my life where I’ve felt, “I’m right where I belong,” but it hasn’t happened in a long time. Yesterday was one of those moments.
AND,as a bonus, it resulted in some chocolatey loaded brownies.
It feels good to be HOME.
Of course, the ironic part of it all is that now that I’m finally home with my parents and close friends, I have an adorable niece waiting for me back in New York!
That’s where airplanes, Facetime, and Skype come in! Congratulations to Eric and Julie – I cannot wait to meet her!!
No workout to share this week – cheesy feelings are Sometimes Healthy
Favorite comfort food?
Last cheesy “I belong here moment”?
Do you feel the way I do about your hometown?