Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

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I know, I know…this isn’t really acorn squash season, but whatever – it’s delicious. This was actually a recipe I made a while back, but never posted – and thought you guys might like it! I’m a huge fan of foods that carry other foods. Soup served in bread bowls, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed peppers, tacos…lol.

I love acorn squash. It just feels like comfort food. No matter how you cook it, it’s just makes you say “mmmmm” and smile a little. It’s naturally quite sweet, but still takes on so many rich flavors. I love pairing it with earthier sides like barley, wild rice, quinoa, etc to balance it’s natural sweetness. It doesn’t need a ton of seasoning, but when done right, it elevates to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Typically, I slice up my acorn squash into cute little half moons, sprinkle them with whatever flavor profile suits my cravings – sometimes sweet with maple syrup (that’s definitely a treat), sometimes curry, or cinnamon, sometimes a kick with some chili or chipotle thrown in there.  But when I made this, I decided on stuffing the bowl with Quinoa, spinach, chopped up portobello mushrooms, onion and garlic.  Topped with a balsamic glaze, and it was pretty phenomenal.

INGREDIENTS:
1 Acorn Squash – halved, & seeds scooped out
2 Medium Cloves Garlic – minced
1/2c. Quinoa – uncooked
1c. Baby Spinach
1 Portobello cap – chopped into small pieces
1/4c. chopped red onion
1/2c. Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
1T butter
*little bit of shaved parmesan (optional)

 

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DIRECTIONS:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat meat of the squash with 1 tbsp oil, sprinkle with pinch each salt and pepper and place meat side down on a large baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook quinoa according to package directions
  • when the quinoa is almost done, add 1T olive oil and butter to a small skillet, add garlic until aromatic, then add mushrooms until they begin to cook through, and onions until they become soft.  Lastly, add the spinach until it begins to wilt. This should all take about 5-6 minutes or so.
  • Once quinoa is done, mix this in with the mushroom/onion/spinach mix and mix around on SUPER low heat, this is just to let the flavors all mix together and stay warm.  Take off the heat and set aside until the Squash have finished cooking.
  • Remove the squash from the oven, flip them over, and fill them with the mixture, sprinkling the optional shaved parmesan on top.  Put them back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes or so.
  • While they are back in the oven, you will make the balsamic glaze.  In a small pan, add 1/2c. balsamic vinegar, and wait for it to boil.  Once boiling, lower temp and keep at a simmer for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let it get all saucy.  I found that it was almost ready after those 8 minutes – I prefer mine to be a bit runnier though.
  • Remove squash from the oven, and drizzle glaze over the top, and enjoy!

 

 

What to do with boring shredded chicken

My favorite protein to prep?  Shredded chicken.  Boring, shredded chicken.  Nothing fancy, just simple chicken.  Why, you may ask, is this my favorite thing to prep?  Because it is a blank canvas.  It’s just the base that I can play with throughout the week.  One thing that holds so many people back from meal prepping, is the fact that they think if they meal prep, it will be the exact same thing every day for a week. That it will be dried out and hard to stomach by the end of the week. Well, sometimes it is, so what we need to do is to figure out how to make these meals something that you will actually enjoy and look forward to throughout the week.

This week, one of my ProCoach cohorts is working on eating protein at every meal, hitting their protein goals throughout the day, and keeping an eye on portion sizes to make sure they stay on track. Eating protein at every meal is not necessarily difficult, but I wanted to incorporate this habit into this week’s recipe.  So this week, I have several meals made up with the same base shredded chicken breasts.  Now – these are only three of the hundreds of meals you can create with this.  These are just a few that I played with this week.  So listed below are recipes for:

Crock Pot Shredded Chicken Breasts (BASE)
Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Bowl
Pesto & Avocado Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken Tacos

First up, we have the recipe for the base, which is the basic crock-pot shredded chicken.  This recipe is super easy, and the shredded chicken, when stored properly, does not dry out over the course of the week, which is key!

CROCK POT SHREDDED CHICKEN BREASTSIMG_3483
INGREDIENTS:
3lbs Chicken Breast (about 4 large)
1c. Chicken Broth
1t Salt
1t Pepper
1t Garlic Powder
1t Onion Powder

DIRECTIONS:

  • Place chicken breasts in crock pot, pour chicken broth and seasonings over chicken.
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 2-4 (low usually keeps the chicken juicier)
  • Remove chicken from crock pot and shred chicken with two forks.
  • Allow chicken to cool and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator

 

BUFFALO CHICKEN QUINOA BOWL
Using the shredded chicken that you so conveniently already have in the fridge…putting together the rest of this bowl is a breeze!

INGREDIENTS:
4oz. Shredded chicken
IMG_34871/3c. Black Beans – cooked & drained
1/4 Avocado – medium
1/2c. kale (I lightly sautéed mine in a little coconut oil to soften it up)
1/4c. Corn – Steamed
1/2c. Quinoa – cooked (I used quinoa brown rice blend)
1/3c. Cherry Tomatoes -chopped with red onion, s&p
Garnish: Shredded Cheese & chopped cilantro
Frank’s Red Hot
1T Butter

This made for a HUGE bowl, obviously you can cut the amounts in half, I had some leftovers from this.

DIRECTIONS:

  • Sautee Kale in pan, once it starts to soften up & wilt a little, set aside.  Add the chicken to the pan with butter & Franks and toss to mix together.  Heat on medium to low to reheat chicken with the sauce.
  • Steam corn, rinse beans, slice up avocado and set aside.
  • Prep tomatoes – quarter them, add finely chopped red onion and season with S&P, set aside.
  • Cook Quinoa, add to the bowl, add the rest of the ingredients which have already been prepped
  • Garnish with cheese and chopped cilantro.

Here’s my trick with this – it seems like a crazy amount of prep work, but I find success by having a lot of this stuff prepped ahead of time, or finding little shortcuts.   Here are two of my no-so-secret tips that make recipes like this really easy – and just a matter of scooping things into a bowl.

  • I usually have a couple cans of black beans rinsed and ready to go & also a jar of chopped super chunky “Salsa” (like the one above) in my fridge at all times- I put them with my eggs, on my salads, in bowls like this, burritos, just plain as a snack, the options are endlessproduct_rts_organicredquinoa
  • I buy individual quinoa cups that microwave for 1 minute…because it’s one ofthosethings I despise cooking, and I love eating it…this makes it easier for me to stay on track!

 

Pesto & Avocado Chicken Salad Sandwich
I made this as an open-face sandwich that I melted cheese on, but I have also had this as a cold chicken sandwich in a pita pocket, which works well when bringing it on the go, or even mixed into a salad!

INGREDIENTS:IMG_3490
4oz. shredded chicken
1/3 avocado – medium
1T finely chopped red onion
2T Basil Pesto
2T Whole Grain Honey Mustard (homemade)
1/3c. Kale – chopped (very lightly sautéed if desired)
2 slices Ezekiel bread – toasted
Sliced Cheddar Cheese – optional

DIRECTIONS:

  • Preheat oven to 350º
  • Add Chicken, pesto, red onion, avocado to bowl and mix until completely combined.
  • Toast bread, spread honey mustard, then stack kale, and then chicken mix.
  • Top with cheese if you want
  • Bake in the oven until cheese starts to melt – about 3-5 minutes, then broil for 1-2 minutes to finish it off.
  • As mentioned above – this chicken salad is delicious, and is so yummy warm or cold!  A great alternative to a heavy mayo chicken salad!

 

Chicken Tacos

So I’m not going to write up a recipe for tacos…because I assume you have made them
before, but I AM going to include a recipe for homemade taco seasoning that I’ve been using for years.  Tacos are pretty simple – add what you like, keep it fresh and delicious, and enjoy them – because tacos are one of the greatest things ever created, and always feel like a fun, exciting treat, even when they are SUPER healthy! I’ve never met anyone who isn’t amped up when they talk about having tacos for dinner.  So if you haven’t already, start making your taco seasoning!

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INGREDIENTS: (this will last you for a while…not just for one night of tacos – well, maybe, I don’t know how many tacos you plan on eating)
2T Chili PowderIMG_3499
1/2t Garlic Powder
1/2t Onion Powder
1/2t Crushed Red Pepper
1/2t Oregano
1t Paprika
3t Cumin
2t Salt
2t Ground Black Pepper

 

Crunchy Veggie Quinoa Salad

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This week, I found myself in an interesting situation.  I prepped for a completely different meal to post about (and it WILL be posted someday), cooked it, and something seemed a bit off with the oven.  So…after my friendly Eversource guy came through, I am currently not able to use my stove, and will hopefully be back to cooking soon once I have a new oven!!

But, as I brought up to my nutrition group, these are the kind of situations that can sometimes throw people off their healthy eating/diet/nutrition plans.  What happens when you all of a sudden cannot cook? When the pans you had for your meals this week are now not possible? When the microwave is your only source of heating up food?  Well, you scrap the plans you had, and figure out something else.

So, we are in for another vegetarian meal this week, and I am not complaining at all!! I first found this recipe on a site called AvocadoPesto.com, made just a couple modifications to it, and here we have an amazing quinoa salad (never cooked quinoa in the microwave before…who really needs a stove anyway?)

Can you please for a moment appreciate all gorgeous color???  Okay.  Moving on.  One of the modifications I made to the recipe on AvocadoPesto, is I doubled it…because after just looking at it online I already knew I would want more than a couple servings.

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This can be used as a meat-free dish, but to be honest, I would love some grilled chicken mixed in here!  While this does take a bit more prep time (lots of chopping), I don’t mind, because the end result is fresh and crunchy and absolutely delicious. PLUS…it’s basically a two bowl dish – one for the quinoa, one for the dressing, so my only clean-was the two bowls, a knife and the cutting board.  Doesn’t get easier than that!

INGREDIENTS:
yields about 4-5c. quinoa salad…so a lot.  
1c. Broccoli finely chopped
2c. Quinoa cooked according to package instructions
3/4 small red onion, diced (raw or very lightly sautéed – use your personal preference)
1/2c. Carrots, grated
1.5 Handful Cilantro, chopped
1/2c. Chopped Green Onions
1/4c. Slivered Almonds (original recipe called for peanuts which would be yummy too!)

DRESSING:
1 Lime – juice & zest (+ more juice to taste)
2t Sesame Seeds
2T Guten Free Tamari
2T Sesame Oil
2T Rice Vinegar
3 cloves garlic. minced, and very lightly sautéed
1 inch piece of Ginger, minced – add this bit by bit to taste – a little bit goes a long way.
1T honey (optional: I added this because I only had a little ginger – sweetened it up a bit)

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Directions:
1. In large mixing bowl, combine quinoa, raw broccoli, red onion, carrots, cilantro, green onion, almonds, and gently mix it up until it’s all combined.

2. In small bowl whisk together all ingredients for dressing

3.  Pour dressing over quinoa salad, and serve warm!  (I’m pretty sure it will also be delicious cold!)

4. Store any leftovers in an airtight container, or even better, divide it up into small containers to bring to work with you for lunch!

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Enjoy!