Italian Chickpea “Meatballs” with Herbed Tomato Sauce

IT’S MARCH MADNESS BABY!!!!

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I’ve gone completely off the deep end. Mike doesn’t even know how to handle my new-found love of all things basketball. But tell me there’s $100 at stake, and I take shit seriously.

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I joined the NCAA pool at work, and in my determined fervor to not lose, I spent (no joke) 3 hours cramming college basketball knowledge into my previously sports-neutral brain. I studied stats. I read player analysis and game predictions from various sports writers. I compared different brackets online and looked into why a team was chosen over another and whether it was the best choice.

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What this experience teaches us is that I am highly motivated by prize money. I won’t say how my bracket is doing, because I’ve also developed a bit of a serious superstition problem, but I will say I’m going through withdrawals at the moment since the games don’t continue until Thursday. Like I said, Mike is wondering who I am and what I’ve done with the real Jen.

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But really – she cooks AND she likes basketball? He’s not complaining.

What You Need:

  •  1 spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
  • IMG_135315 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium eggplant cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

Combine the tomatoes, eggplant, onion and garlic in a large dutch oven or baking dish and bake, covered, for about 45-60 minutes. It’s done when the veggies are soft and cooked through with their juices at the bottom of the dish.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, egg, all the spices and the cornmealand blend until well-combined. This is your “meat”ball dough.

Scoop the dough out of the food processor and form into small round balls. Set aside.

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Once the tomato and eggplant mixture is done baking, scoop out the veggies using a slotted spoon to separate them from the juices.

In the food processor, blend the tomato and eggplant mixture until it becomes a chunky sauce.

Pour the sauce into a slow cooker and add the chickpea balls.

Cook on low for 1-2 hours (I cooked for 2 hours and kept on warm for another hour while I was at work).

Serve over baked spaghetti squash and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

And I will say that some of the “meat”balls did break apart in the crock pot (just a bit) but all that happens is the tomato sauce turns into a delicious “meat”sauce. YUM.

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Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts Casserole

I’m a sucker for advertising.

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It’s funny to me because I work in marketing, so I’m not a stranger to the ways in which brands sell to consumers. But I’m still a sucker. Banana Republic, in particular, has really tapped into the best way to get me into their store. Just send me an email that says, “Hey, you haven’t been here in awhile and we miss you! Come back!”

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Well, ok! I’d love to! And suddenly I’m scrapping my plans for an afternoon run (wholesome, healthy, FREE) and driving to the store. They miss me! I have to go!

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Everyone wins though, because I’ll stop off at the grocery store too, and get food for our dinner. Along with something I saw a commercial for that I now most definitely need to have.

What You Need:

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  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, stems chopped off and sliced into quarters
  • 1 acorn squash, halved with seeds removed
  • 1 cup dry wild rice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 375F

Place the acorn squash halves face down on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until the skins begin to brown and pucker.

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Simultaneously, cook the wild rice according to package directions. It usually takes about 45 minutes so it’s good to start it early so it can cook while you prepare the rest of the meal.

While the squash and rice cook, place the Brussels sprouts, walnuts and cranberries in a large dutch oven or casserole dish, mixing well.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients (mustard through crushed red pepper) and set aside.

When the squash is done, gently remove the skins by peeling them off (you may find it easier to flip the squash right side up and scoop out the flesh).

Fold the squash into the Brussels sprouts mixture.

Pour the mustard sauce over the entire dish and bake, covered, for 20-30 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are soft. Some may have leaves that dry out or slightly blacken – this just means they’re done.

Serve over the rice and enjoy!

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3-Ingredient Gluten Free Banana Pancakes

Whenever I go out to breakfast, I have the same dilemma: do I get pancakes, or eggs?

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On the one hand, eggs means home fries, hot sauce, and cheese. All great things.

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On the other hand, pancakes are pancakes. Sweet, syrupy fluffiness…it’s hard to decide.

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Well I have a solution, and it’ll save you money too since you can make these delightful 3-ingredient pancakes in minutes in your own kitchen, and enjoy them whilst relaxing in your pj’s.

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What You Need:

  • 1 1/2 bananas, mashed completely with a fork in a medium mixing bowl
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Oil or butter for the pan

What You Do:

Using a fork, mix together the mashed banana, eggs and brown sugar until thoroughly mixed.

In a skillet warmed with melted butter or oil, pour the batter into pancake-like rounds. Cook for about 3 minutes – little bubbles should form on the surface of each cake.

Flip gently and cook another 3 minutes. You’ll want to flip them again to cook each side one more time. They’ll be ready when each side is golden brown.

Enjoy with syrup, peanut butter, nutella, mixed berries or whatever topping you prefer.

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Heavenly Slow Cooker Meals: Sweet Pepper, Corn and Potato Stew

You know what’s really great? Frozen vegetables.

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Everything outside has been noticeably dead since mid-January when the temperatures plummeted and sucked the life out of everything. I’m skeptical about where my tomatoes are coming from at a time like this, because I’m pretty sure it’s not the farm upstate.

So frozen veggies! What an idea! For these slow cooker meals, it’s a great solution. Not least of all because I’m usually only making a slow cooker meal in the first place because I am trying to save time. So if I don’t have to slice up a vegetable, that’s a big win.

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One quick note about this dish – if you don’t eat dairy or you hate the idea of buttermilk, leave that ingredient out of the recipe. Another option is to top the dish with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

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What You Need:

  • 5 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into cubes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 10oz bag frozen sweet corn
  • 2 cups chopped bell peppers (I used red, yellow and orange for some summertime color)
  • 5 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (seeded if desired to reduce spiciness)
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded cheddar

What You Do:

Put everything except the buttermilk into the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 8 hours, or high heat for 4.

When it’s done, add the buttermilk and stir well. Top with cheddar cheese.

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How to Make Yummy Grilled Cheese on Gluten Free Bread (and Tomato Soup)

I’m pretty new to eating gluten free, but the longer I maintain this diet, the easier it gets and the better I feel. I have more energy, I feel healthier, and I make better food choices, especially when it comes to snacks.

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But as anyone who has eaten gluten free bread knows, it’s not quite the same. It doesn’t hold together as well, and it doesn’t toast the same way as regular bread. But it still makes a decent grilled cheese. I served it with this delicious tomato soup.

I’m sharing this recipe because I’ve decided this is the best way to make a grilled cheese on gluten free bread. Putting the cheese on both sides of the bread really seemed to help keep it all together. And the cheese kind of oozed out of the bread and toasted onto the outside, which ended up being just marvelous. Plus, the tomato soup is amazing. So there’s that.

What You Need for the Grilled Cheese:

  • 2 slices regular or gluten free bread
  • Enough butter, softened, to cover one side of each slice of bread
  • 10 thin slices of your favorite cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices tomato
  • 2-3 avocado slices, mashed into a spread
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

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What You Need for the Tomato Soup:

  • 12 plum tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp ground sage

What You Do to Make the Grilled Cheese:

Heat a medium skillet on low-medium.

Butter the bread sides and prepare cheese slices, tomato and avocado before placing the bottom slice in the pan.

Place cheese sliced on the bread in one single layer that covers the bread surface.

Place the tomato slices on the cheese.

Next, spread the mashed avocado and sprinkle the crushed red pepper on top so it sticks.

Press down another layer of cheese slices on top of the avocado and cover with the top bread slice.

Slowly cook, flipping often because the bread will stick easily to the pan. Add more butter if necessary. Remove from heat when the sandwich is lightly toasted and the cheese is melted (mine didn’t fully melt but I couldn’t keep the bread on the stove any longer).

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What You Do to Make the Tomato Soup:

Preheat oven to 400F

Halve the plum tomatoes and layer them in a large baking dish.

Add onion slices and garlic between each layer of tomatoes and over the top.

Cover and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and pinched with the skin broken, and the juices bubbling.

Place everything in a food processor and pulse until it is roughly blended and thick.

Pour into a large bowl and stir in the thyme and sage. Serve alongside the grilled cheese and enjoy!

 

Hot Italian Sausage and Roasted Pepper Risotto

So I’ve started watching this new TV show called The Last Man on Earth.

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At first the show really depressed me. I mean, it is kind of sad to think about a virus killing everyone off and then being the one person who’s left. All those lonely nights, right? But I guess having your choice of any car, any home, any ANYTHING would be pretty sweet. Who needs running water when you’ve got all the outfits?

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Of course, (spoiler alert), it turns out he’s not the last person on earth. He’s since met two women so, I think we know where this show is going. In the meantime, they’re giving us a real glimpse into how to survive in an abandoned world.

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In the second episode, they made meatballs out of raisins. I don’t know about all that, but I do know this dish is better than raisin meatballs.

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What You Need:

  • 1 pound red, yellow, orange and/or green bell peppers, seeded and sliced in half
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, divided
  • 3 large links hot Italian sausage, cut into slices (I always pull off the casings but that’s just me.)
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded if desired to reduce spiciness, and diced
  • 1 cup arborio (risotto) rice
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 4 oz. firmer goat cheese for serving

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 350F

Lay the peppers out on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for about 20 minutes or until roasted (the skin will be pinched and they may have blackened or caramelized around the edges).

When the peppers are done, chop roughly and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the coconut oil and, when warm, add the sausage and cook, turning frequently to heat all sides.

While the sausage is cooking, heat the other tablespoon of coconut oil in a large frying pan and add the onion, garlic and jalapeno, sauteing and stirring frequently until onion is soft and translucent.

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Add the risotto and mix well.

Add one cup vegetable broth and stir constantly, keeping the dish on a simmer, until the broth has evaporated. Continue adding the broth one cup at a time until it has all absorbed or evaporated.

Mix in the salt and pepper.

Drain excess liquid from the sausage pan and blot out the sausage on paper towels if you like it less greasy like me.

Add the sausage and roasted peppers to the risotto and stir well.

Top with goat cheese. Enjoy!

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Broccoli and Shrimp Stir Fry with Homemade Sweet n’ Sour Sauce

I read through my old journals from junior high and high school this weekend. And…wow. Just wow.

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Here is what I learned about myself in a nutshell: I was completely boy-crazy in junior high (honestly, was anything else going on in my life at that time?!?); I enjoyed writing with brightly-colored markers (but who doesn’t); and I over-analyzed EVERYTHING – although anyone who knows me today wouldn’t be surprised by that.

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My favorite journal discovery, however, was an entry from 1999 (I was 15), where I actually made a list of things I was currently unhappy about. On this list were such existential revelations as: material wealth, Geometry, worrying, rules, pimples, and getting up early. Yes, this list is real. How one makes the jump from material wealth to pimples in a list of biggest concerns, only 15-year-old me can understand.

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My life was beautifully uncomplicated for years, but I apparently just couldn’t handle the simplicity of it all. Hormones are a bitch, amiright? It’s a wonder I never really made it as an actor – I was very, very dramatic. At least now I can pour my latent angst into my cooking.

What You Need for the Stirfry:

  • 1 1/2 cups Basmati, Jasmine, White or Brown rice (I used Basmati but it’s your preference)
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup sliced yellow onion
  • 1 cup sliced white button mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 bag frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

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What You Need for the Sweet & Sour Sauce:

  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup distilled white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup white cane sugar
  • 2 tbsp garlic chili paste
  • 1/2 cup red and green bell pepper, VERY finely chopped (I put mine in a food chopper)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch (see below for substitutes)

What You Do to Make the Stirfry:

Cook the rice according to package directions and set aside, keeping covered and warm.

Thaw out the frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water (the package will have these directions. I usually switch out the water one or two times until the shrimp are fully unfrozen.)

In a wok or large pan, heat olive oil and add all the vegetables (broccoli through bell pepper).

Cook vegetables until soft, stirring well. Add shrimp and continue cooking until shrimp are cooked through.

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What You Do to Make the Sauce:

Fill a medium sauce pot with all of the ingredients for the Sweet & Sour sauce and bring to a boil.

The sauce is basically easy to make but needs a lot of attention. Keep it at a boil and stir constantly. It’s similar to a balsamic reduction in that it will be a liquid consistency for about 10-15 minutes until all of a sudden it will very quickly thicken. This is the part you have to be aware of because you must remove it from the heat immediately or else it will burn. I learned this the hard way and might be buying a new pot this week.

After about 10 minutes, add the corn starch (you can also substitute corn starch for flour, or gluten free flour).

You’ll know when it’s done because it will be thick and syrupy.

Serve the veggies over the rice and top with the sauce. Eat with chopsticks for a complete experience.

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