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Pumpkin Butternut Squash Turkey Lasagna

September 12, 2014

Is that enough of a mouthful for you? 

I mentioned in my last post that I haven’t been cooking much.  We’ve been eating meals, of course—but lots of easy stir-fries, pastas, sandwiches, etc.  I just haven’t had as much time for grocery shopping and planning specific, cooking-heavy meals. 

But today…ahhhh, today.  For the first day maybe since school started, my schedule was gloriously OPEN—no meetings, no teaching, and not even a huge amount of grading or class prep weighing on my shoulders.  Friends, today was wonderful.  While Lila was at school, I went to the gym, caught up on some writing, and got a massage.  Perfection.

I also had time to go to the grocery store and <gasp> cook dinner.  And I’m glad I did, because this one was a good one.

My friend Ellen was gushing about the amazing butternut squash lasagna she made last week.  That, combined with this pasta sauce that has been sitting in our pantry for about a month:

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…meant that lasagna was on the menu.  With pumpkin sauce.  And butternut squash.  And turkey.  And spinach. 

I used no-cook lasagna noodles in an attempt to save some time, and they did fine.  I do think you can taste a difference between them and regular lasagna noodles though.  They weren’t bad different—just a little different.  And they definitely do save the time (and mess and hassle) of having to boil the noodles.

For the filling, I peeled and chopped a medium-sized butternut squash:

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…and then tossed the cubes with olive oil, dried basil and garlic salt.  Roasted them in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

While the squash roasted, I chopped an onion and cooked it along with 1.25 pounds of lean ground turkey (seasoned with salt and pepper). 

Once that was all cooked, I transferred it to a bowl:

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…topped it with fresh spinach:

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…and then topped THAT with the roasted squash, and tossed it all until it was combined and the squash had wilted down.

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Then the assemblage.  I spread a layer of the pumpkin sauce first, then topped that with lasagna noodles, plus a layer of the squash and turkey:

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Then I topped THAT with shredded mozzarella (just the pre-shredded Kraft kind…judge me if you must), plus another layer of noodles, sauce, and filling.  I finished with a final layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese:

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Covered it in foil, baked it for 30 minutes at 350, then took the foil off and baked it for another 15 minutes until the cheese was golden and bubbly.

Behold:

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It was really, really good.  Ryan and I both agreed that the pumpkin pasta sauce might not be great on everything, but in this dish it paired really well with the rest of the ingredients.  And hey, eat pumpkin now before we’re all orange as oompah loompahs and sick to death of all things autumn and gourd, amiright?

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Lila was a fan too…after it cooled off.  Winking smile 

Glad tomorrow is Friday!

Whoops

September 10, 2014

Wow…did I just take a nearly-month-long break from blogging?

And then did I forget to renew my domain, thus effectively shutting down the blog for a few days?

Seriously, my bad.

Thanks for the e-mails and text messages asking about the blog—I actually wonder sometimes if I just stopped blogging altogether, if anyone would notice or care—and clearly some of you did!

Anyway, I’m not going to quit blogging.  I promise, this blog isn’t going anywhere (for now).  Things have just been flat-out crazy with our return to school this year.  I’m not going to lie—the past couple of weeks have been really stressful.  Between managing Lila’s new school schedule, along with both our teaching schedules and meetings and events on campus, the past few weeks have just felt like one non-stop to-do list.  The blog isn’t the only thing that has suffered—we’ve been eating super simple dinners (umm, frozen pizza anyone?) and my workouts have definitely fallen by the wayside.  Even Ryan and I, who usually see each other a lot up at school, have been kind of like strangers in the night.

Anyway, I’m hoping that things will calm down soon—they have to, because I’m basically like a giant ball of stress right now:

…which isn’t good for anyone.

I hope you’re having a great September, and hopefully I’ll be back soon with regular posting. 

xx

Back to School Balls

August 13, 2014

Guess who started school today?

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Can you believe it?!  Two years ago in August, she was still such a baby:

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…and now she’s heading off to school with a backpack, a lunch box, and big kid underpants! Gah!

I can’t think about it too much.  It’s just too crazy.

Instead, let’s talk about balls.

My sister and I, well into our thirties, still give our mom grief about how healthy our lunches were when we were in school.  The other kids were bringing pb&j on white bread and gushers; we were packing turkey sandwiches on sprouted whole wheat and fig newtons (if we were lucky).  We still give her a hard time about the lack of “junk” in our brown paper sacks.   But secretly, I think we’re grateful.

Because now that I’m a parent myself, I get it.  Would I buy Lila gushers?  No, probably not.  And yep—she eats her sandwiches on sprouted whole wheat bread.  I admit to buying fig newtons every now and then.  I guess my mom taught me well. 

Still, I do want her to have treats to look forward to at lunch time as well.  I made these balls as a healthy, no-bake snack to include in her lunches for school this week.

No Bake Back-to-School Chocolate Chip Oat Balls

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup peanut butter

2 tbsp. chia seeds

1/2 cup finely chopped salted peanuts

Directions:

Mix ingredients well.  Roll into balls.  Keep refrigerated for lunches and snacks!

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I packed one of these in Lila’s lunch today—we’ll see if it’s there when I pick her up this afternoon.  Hope you have a great day!  

Farmers’ Market Dinner

August 8, 2014

Y’all know that we love Huntsville’s Greene Street Market.  It’s every Thursday, and on the Thursdays that we’ve been in town this summer, we’ve made a real effort to go.  It’s just a great way to connect with people from your community (and to come away with amazing food). 

Yesterday, we headed down to stroll the market, where Lila had a popsicle:

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…and we picked up tomatoes (regular and cherry), bread, cheese, peaches, and an onion.  We also bought a giant iced tea (served in a mason jar, of course Winking smile), and a chocolate chip cookie.  Why not?

When we got home, we put together this easy dinner.  Our salad was cherry tomatoes, diced onion, balsamic vinegar, and big chunks of the cheese we bought.  The cheese was interesting—it was meant to be cooked, so I browned it in a pan with olive oil before cutting it into chunks.  The frying really brought out its flavors.  It was delicious in the salad!

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And just so we’re keeping things honest around here, after my long post bragging about how willing Lila is to try new foods, here was her reaction to my urging her to try the cheese:

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Oh well.  You win some, you lose some.  Winking smile

Have a great weekend!

Tips for Eating With a Toddler (Or, How I Got My Kid to Love Kale)

August 7, 2014

Hey there!  Happy Thursday to ya.  This week has felt like a long one over here—I’ve actually had a lot of work to do this week, preparing for our return to school.  Syllabi have been created…independent studies have been approved…e-mails have been sent.  Good times.

We’re also knee-deep in toddlerhood over here—which means more random tantrums, more declarations of “I do NOT!”, and the demand to wear her Cinderella dress ALL. THE. TIME.

Even though Lila has her fair share of two year-old moments (when told that she has to take a bath or put away toys, she now replies “Why are you DOING this to meeeeee???”), when it comes to meal-time, we’re actually doing really well.  I was preparing myself for the toddler phase of eating only string cheese and hot dogs, but…it hasn’t come.  Well, not yet anyway.  And frankly, I don’t foresee it coming in the immediate future, or at all.  Because for a kid to only eat string cheese and hot dogs, you have to only give them string cheese and hot dogs.  We’ve taken a bit of a “tough love” approach when it comes to eating with Lila—as advised by our pediatrician, we don’t give her special foods or meals.  We don’t resort to “easy” foods if we think we’re having something she might not love.  And while this approach can have its repercussions in the short run (we’ve spent a few meals in tears, definitely, and she certainly has gone to bed hungry), in the long run, I think it has paid off immensely.  Here are some of the “food rules” that we’re hoping will get us through toddlerhood:

No Special Meals.  Seriously.

If we’re having kale and steak, Lila is having kale and steak.  If we’re having tofu curry, Lila is having tofu curry.  Does she always eat it?  Not always.  But she tries almost everything.  And if she tries it and hates it—well, if she’s hungry enough, she’ll eat it anyway.  And if she isn’t very hungry, it will stay on her plate and she’ll eat well at the next meal.  Something I’ve had to get used to with having a toddler instead of a baby is that damn it, they remember things!  Don’t you hate that?  They remember that you promised to take them to the park, or watch a movie after naptime, or eat a cookie before bed.  And they definitely remember if, upon telling you that they don’t want kale and steak, you give them a hot dog instead.  By giving a toddler a “replacement meal” anytime there’s something on the plate that they don’t like or want, I think you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of “We’re eating this, but you can have that.”  “We’re eating vegetable soup, but you can have a pb&j.”  “We’re eating chicken, but you can have fruit.”   And the truth is, toddlers, even the most adventurous ones, are picky bastards.  If you give them the power of choosing their own special dinner instead of what everyone is eating, you’re heading down a slippery slope.  Lila isn’t some special fairy child who would choose organic greens at every meal, if given the choice.  No, if given the choice, she would choose chocolate chip cookies and goldfish, just like most other kids her age.  Which is why I don’t give her that choice.  

Beyond just not having the time or energy or, frankly, patience to give her a separate meal, I also think that giving a child something “safe” to eat while the rest of the family has a different dinner teaches kids some lessons that I’m not too crazy about.  First of all, I think it rewards complaining.  Lila whines and complains enough about wanting to wear her princess dress every day; I don’t need to hear complaining at meal time too.  I also think it teaches kids that they should like everything—that if something is unpleasant or unlikeable to them, then the parent is always going to be right there to swoop in, take away the offensive food, and replace it with something the kid approves of.  You know what?  Not everything in life is likeable.  I hated math, but I still had to do it.  Not everything in life is tasty.  And sometimes, you just have to sit there with something you don’t like.  Broccoli isn’t always going to turn into a hot dog, and I want Lila to learn that lesson early.

Don’t assume you know what your kid likes and doesn’t like.

This is a big one for me.  Sometimes I think about how incredibly exciting it must be to be a toddler—everything, literally everything, is new to you.  I find myself constantly surprised by Lila’s tastes—certain foods or meals I thought for sure she’d love, she ends up not eating at all.  And sometimes, meals that I serve thinking she won’t even touch get wolfed down with a smile and demand for “more!”

A few weeks ago, we ate a soup with ground turkey and kale.  I thought that Lila would probably end up just eating the turkey, and most likely wouldn’t touch the kale.  Imagine my surprise when she began shoving piece after piece of the kale in her mouth, asking again and again for “More kale please!”

You know who will never eat kale?  The kid who never has the chance to because his or her parents have already deemed it something that they wouldn’t like.  Give your kids a chance—they might surprise you.

Limit snacks.

We had to learn this one the hard way.  During the school year, Lila was eating a pretty big snack with her nanny—usually something like popcorn or goldfish—and then by dinner time, she was so full from the snack still that she wouldn’t eat dinner.  We’ve tried, recently, to make snacks a bit smaller and earlier in the afternoon, and that has made a big difference in what she eats at dinner.  If Lila comes to the table hungry, there’s a much greater chance that she’ll eat whatever is on her plate instead of turning up her nose and simply waiting for the next meal.

Make food an active event.

We take Lila to the farmers’ market every week—or at least we try to.   When we’re there, we’re big on taking the samples that most booths offer and allowing her to try everything—last time, she tried chocolate goat cheese, smoked bacon pimento cheese, and a bite of a delicious heirloom tomato.  Then, as we strolled, she snacked on tiny cherry tomatoes right out of a paper bag.  Do we shop at the grocery store?  Of course.  But I want Lila to know that the grocery store isn’t the only option, and that food doesn’t magically appear on those cold, white shelves.  I want her to understand that food is grown by someone—that it is a result of hard work and love.  We recently planted coriander seeds in our yard, and Lila has loved watching the cilantro grow taller and taller, from tiny sprouts to the full-sized herb.  We also took a trip to a nearby goat farm this summer, where Lila played with the goats and then enjoyed goat’s milk ice cream.  I think it’s fun for her (and for us!) to make all of these connections to the food she eats, rather than just shoveling it down without a question or who or what it came from.

Don’t strive for perfection.

Lest I make it sound like Lila is maintaining a steady diet of heirloom vegetables, quinoa, and organic meats, let me be clear: we eat junk food.  She has goldfish nearly every day.  We eat dessert.  We eat pizza.  After eating those cherry tomatoes at the farmers’ market, she also enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie the size of her head.  There are days when she doesn’t eat a single vegetable.  But—and this is a big but—that isn’t every day.   If she doesn’t eat a vegetable on Monday, I do my best to get her eating some on Tuesday.  You can’t be perfect.  Toddlers are going to go through picky phases—they just are.  But I’ve learned that instead of giving in to the picky phase, I hold out—as hard as that might be.  I hold out, and keep filling her plate with variety…and eventually, what I’ve found is that her curiosity (or her hunger, ha) wins out. 

Eating with a toddler isn’t always easy—but it can be incredibly fun and, for a food-lover, rewarding.   I do believe that you have to invest time in teaching your kids to eat.  And I know—some kids (and some adults) are super picky.  But I think you can either indulge in that pickiness, or you can fight to overcome it.  I think we’re fighting the good fight at our table. Smile 

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If you have kids, what kind of eater are they?  Any tips for toddler and/or kid eating?

Last Days of Summer

August 4, 2014

You know those final days of summer, where you’re basically in total denial of it being over? Yeah, we’re in that mode over here.  And I know, I know—we’re not allowed to complain when we get a full three—geez, almost four—months off.   But how it it possible that those months go by in a blink?  Sigh.

This weekend, we tried to soak up some summer fun.  We went to a birthday party on Saturday and hit up the pool after church on Sunday:

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Lila has also been SUPER into play dough lately—this is what Ryan created when she said “Let’s make Mama!”  The resemblance is striking, no?

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On Friday, I made a version of arroz con pollo.  I used pre-spiced rice, which I’m pretty sure is against the rules…but this was really tasty.  Ryan loved it.

I seasoned (garlic salt and pepper) these skin-on chicken thighs:

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…and then browned them in olive oil, about five minutes on each side.  I removed them from the pot and added the rice, a can of diced tomatoes, and about a cup of halved green olives, stirring for about five minutes until the rice was coated in the oil.  Then, I returned the chicken to the pot, along with 2.5 cups of chicken stock.  Let it all simmer for about 30 minutes, until the rice was done.

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Garnished with cilantro that I grew from seed on a whim!

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Even Lila loved it.  And Tenny can’t stay away from anything with chicken.

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I never really cook with chicken thighs, but we both really liked them—so cheap, and I do love dark meat. 

Got a busy Monday—meeting at noon, meeting at one, going to see a house (don’t ask), and then dinner with friends.  The oven repair guy is supposed to come by this morning, too.  Whew!  Have a great day!

Oh, hey August

August 1, 2014

Damn—when did August get here?!?  We have less than three weeks before school starts.  Time to start working on syllabi and assignments—ugh.  How is it possible that every year, summer goes by more and more quickly?!?

When last we spoke (you know what I mean), we were wrapping up our Oregon trip.  On our last full day, Ryan and I did an amazing hike up to the top of Paulina Peak, which overlooks Lake Paulina:

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Beautiful! And definitely a hike that we were happy to do without a toddler, haha.  We love hiking with Lila, but not all hikes are two-year old-friendly.

And then…it was time to travel home.  This involved a three hour drive to Portland…a four hour flight to Dallas…and a 1.5 hour flight to Huntsville.  Oregon, I love you but you are officially too far away.

Lila did great, but was seriously BEAT by the final flight:

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Now that we’re back in Huntsville, we’re doing our best to enjoy these last sweet days of summer before they slip away.  We’ve been hiking up on Monte Sano:

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It ain’t Paulina Peak, but it’s only five minutes from our house. Winking smile 

We’ve met up with friends for some pre-semester drinking:

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Totally necessary. 

Yesterday, we headed to our favorite Huntsville farmers’ market—the Greene Street Market.  Lila snacked on cherry tomatoes as we browsed:

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Can I just say that we’ve turned some sort of corner in terms of toddler eating?  This week, at least?  She’s been eating like a champ—all sorts of fruits and veggies.  I guess even picky toddlers aren’t immune to the appeal of summer produce. Smile 

After loading up at the market, we walked down to Big Spring park and watched the fish and fed the ducks:

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…and then finally headed home for a farmer’s market dinner.  We had something else planned, but couldn’t resist digging into all our new goods right away:

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That salad is topped with farmers’ market cherry tomatoes and some raw gouda that I bought as well.  The hummus (from The Hummus People) was masala garlic-flavored, and was SO good.

Finished it all off with a farmer’s market double-chocolate cookie.  Oh summer…please don’t go!!! Smile

Hope you have a great Friday!  Happy weekend!

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