Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spaghetti Squash & Meatball Parmigiana

First, I am offering my sincerest apologies that there are no pictures of this dish.  You see, it was originally inspired by Spaghetti Squash Lasagna over at Skinny Taste.  I intended to follow Gina's recipe to a "t," and not even bother posting it on my blog, so why would I have taken pictures?  My other idea: I was going to make meatballs and serve on the side.  As I was putting it all together though, it took on a life of its own!  I ended up layering the squash with the meatballs, and obviously tons of mozzarella cheese.   It came out of my oven a bubbly, gooey, melty combination of deliciousness.  I've been pretty much obsessing over it all week.  It came out so good that I've even forgiven it for making my apartment a sweltering 80 zillion degrees.  (And have decided to finally buy an air conditioner so I don't have to wait until October to make this again.)  Next time I make it, I promise to update this post with drool-inducing pictures.  Pinky swear!

I'm not going to lie to you.  This is is an intensive dish.  It requires a little elbow grease, and a good amount of time.  (And a cold day or a well air-conditioned home.)  I'll include some short cuts at the end, but expect this to take at least a solid hour with short cuts.  Closer to 1.5-2 hours without.

One last note: I'm not usually one who will substitute spaghetti squash for actual pasta.  I might make it once in a while, but I never expect it to satisfy like real pasta will.  However, I didn't even miss the pasta in this dish.   The squash was still squashy, but completely delectable.

Spaghetti Squash & Meatball Parmigana
inspired by Skinny Taste, meatballs adapted from Cook Yourself Thin (from Skinny Spaghetti & Meatballs in the first cookbook)
Serves 8, 10 WW P+ serving


For Sauce:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
28 oz crushed tomatoes
14 oz tomato sauce
1 Tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp basil
dash parsely

For Meatballs:
2 slices of favorite sandwich bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup water
1 lb ground pork
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 Tbsp parsely
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Remaining Ingredients:
1 medium to large spaghetti squash (I got 4 cups of "spaghetti" from mine)
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
6 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  When oven is preheated, insert spaghetti squash and roast for 1 hour.

2. While squash is roasting, prepare sauce and meatballs.  Place bread and water in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan. Once heated, add onions and garlic and cook until fragrant and just starting to brown.  Add crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Allow to heat through on medium heat for a few minutes.  Then stir in spices, reduce to low heat, and allow to simmer while you prepare meatballs.  (Best to cover to avoid splatter.)

3. Go back to bread and water.  Squeeze out excess water and pour out of bowl.  To soggy bread, add remainder of meatball ingredients.  Mix together with your hands, making sure to keep a light touch, until all ingredients are well incorporated.  Then form balls (in this case, I made the more patties than balls for the sake of adding to the casserole without having to cut them) and add to sauce.  Allow to cook in the sauce about 20-30 minutes, until pork is cooked through - or longer if your squash is still cooking/cooling/being prepped for deliciousness.

4. When squash comes out of the oven, place aside to let it cool.  When it's cool enough to handle (I said I'd wait 20-30 minutes, but I doubt I waited more than 10), slice into it lengthwise with a big knife.  Remove the seeds and gook.  Then take a fork and start raking through the squash.  It will pull away from the skin and look like strands of spaghetti.

5. Now the fun part: Let's build this thing!  Take a couple spoonfuls of sauce from the pan and layer on the bottom of a 9x13 dish.  Add half the spaghetti.  Cover with half of remaining sauce and half of meatballs.  Top with ricotta (you can add just spoonfuls, no need to spread it evenly) and a thin layer of mozzarella.  Then add another layer of squash, topped with remainder of sauce and meatballs.  Cover with rest of mozzarella and sprinkle with parmesan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melty and browned.

I know you're going to want to dive into this right away, but please don't burn yourself!  Give it a couple minutes to cool down.

1. Use pre-shredded or pre-grated cheeses.
2. Prepare spaghetti squash in microwave.
3. Prepare a double batch of sauce and meatballs when you have some time.  Eat half (perhaps over real spaghetti) and freeze remaining half.  When you want to make this dish, just thaw out frozen half.
4. Use jarred spaghetti sauce.
5. Use pre-made meatballs.

Updated 6/2/12 with additional shortcuts.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Recipe Challenge: Beefy Polenta Bake

A few weeks ago, Jena, a fellow WW boardie, enlisted some boardie bloggers for a recipe challenge.  The challenge is similar to (or entirely based on, you pick) Food Network's Chopped.    On April 16th, Jena sent us a list of 4 ingredients and challenged us to create a recipe from those ingredients.  We had until May 1st to create and post the recipe.  Once all recipes were in, each of the "contestants," would check out each other's blogs and vote for the recipe we each think is the best.  The "judging" is supposed to be based on creativity, point-friendliness, and attractiveness.  (My best guess is that attractive means, would you make/eat this?)

As you can see, it's May 2nd, and I'm clearly late in posting.  Oops!  I was on vacation the week the list was sent out and completely forgot about it last week.  I remembered at the very last minute and yesterday was the only time I had to cook.  Luckily, I had an idea!

You know that Mexican dip that's served at almost any party? It's made by spreading cream cheese at the bottom of a pie pan, covering with a can of chili (Hormel's, no beans, duh!), and topping with Mexican blend cheese, then baking until it's all bubbly and melty and delicious.  It's pretty awesome.  Our ingredients for this challenge are kale, broth, cream cheese, and polenta.  The cream cheese immediately made me think of Mexican dip, but the polenta had an Italian feel.  I decided to make an Italian-inspired version of this dip on top of polenta.

(Of course, polenta is really just corn meal.  Corn meal is common in Mexican cuisine, so it's possible, I might try this with a Mexican flare soon.)

I gathered all my ingredients and set to cooking.  But by the time I started cooking it was after 8:30, and my dish wasn't out of the oven until 10:30.  I'd eaten dinner and was completely exhausted, so I wrapped it up, stuffed it in the fridge and decided I wouldn't have it until lunch today.

I was nervous.  I had to post this recipe as I had no time to try to doctor or re-create it.  I just hoped it would be good.  Well, I just had it for lunch and my only regret is that I didn't heat it up longer.  I was very happy with the flavor of the beef (or rather the gravy), especially mixed with the tanginess of the cream cheese.  I'm excited to have leftovers tomorrow, which I can reheat at home in the oven for extra cheese meltiness.  I will give credit where credit is due, and say that I was inspired to make the gravy based on 2 recent recipes I've made: Skinny Taste's Salisbury Steak and Martha Stewart's London Broil Marinade.

So, without further ado, I now present

Beefy Polenta Bake

8 Servings, 8P+ per serving

Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil

Add beef to skillet with veggies and cook until browned through.

Cook polenta.  Chop kale and add to cooked beef. Once kale cooks down, add sauce over beef.

Spray casserole dish with non stick spray.  Spread polenta in dish.  Top with cream cheese, saucy beef mixture, and cheese.  Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted and browned.

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 lb 93/7 lean ground beef
2 stalks kale (about 3 cups, chopped)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 lb instant polenta
4 cups water
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup Kraft 2% 3-cheese Italian blend


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Heat olive oil in a small pan.  Once hot, add garlic and onion.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic.  Then add beef and cook until browned.  When beef is cooked, add kale an cover so that the kale steams and cooks down.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Once water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and stir in polenta.  Mix constantly, until lumps and graininess disappear.  Polenta only needs to cook about 5 minutes.  Taste when done.  Polenta can be pretty bland, so feel free to season to your tastes.  
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and beef broth.  When flour is dissolved, add vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce.  Mix together and pour over meat and kale mixture, allowing to simmer for a few minutes.
  5. While gravy is simmering, coat a casserole pan (I used 9x13) with non-stick spray.  Spread polenta over pan.  Now, this is the tricky part.  You're going to spread the cream cheese over the polenta.  Don't worry if it's not super soft yet, because the heat from the polenta will basically melt the cream cheese and help you spread it out.  Then top the cream cheese with the beef.  Finally, sprinkle with the shredded cheese.
  6. Put dish in oven and bake 20-30 minutes (depending on your oven, I took mine out at 25, but that's because I was falling asleep on the couch and forgot to check at 20).  The cheese should be browned and and the beef and cream cheese should be bubbly.  Enjoy!