This is one of those recipes that I have a hard time believing isn’t on my blog anywhere already. It’s a favorite cold-weather comfort food in our house, and it’s somehow has missed the prying eyes of the blog up until this point. In fact, when I told Craig I was photographing this for the blog the other day, he said, “Wait, Chicken Tetrazzini isn’t on your blog yet? How is that?” And then we proceeded to go through other classic dishes in our house that somehow aren’t on here yet (Mexican Bean Salad, I’m looking at you).
I love this recipe so much not because it’s quick to make (it certainly isn’t) but because it makes so much. Logically, I know I could double or triple almost any casserole recipe out there and make extras to stash in the freezer, but I tend to forget to do that until I’m deep in the midst of cooking. But with Chicken Tetrazzini, the freezer-cooking aspect of it is built-in. When I make Chicken Tetrazzini, I make extra, and that’s that.
This recipe serves a crowd—probably 12-16 people if you cooked it up all at once, but since we’re a family of two (for now!), we freeze the extras. This recipe will make four 8×8 square pans (which is a good amount to serve to four people with a side salad and some crusty bread or two people for dinner, with leftovers for lunch) or two 9×13 pans (each enough for 6-8 hungry, hungry hippos). Having a few extra Chicken Tetrazzinis in the freezer is like having a well-stocked food savings account.
Those extra casseroles are also perfect for giving away. This dish makes a great neighbor casserole. You know, the kind that you pack up with a bagged salad, a loaf of French bread and deliver to the very grateful family down the block who just had a baby. Or to the busy single Dad who just broke his leg. Or to the family that is mourning the loss of a beloved grandparent. It’s not fancy. It’s not gourmet. It’s not even very pretty. But it is creamy, carb-y, and flavorful. It’s giving someone the gift of few relaxing minutes in front of a home-cooked meal without the work. And that’s a gift that a lot of folks will cherish. And they don’t even have to know that you just pulled it out of your freezer.
If you’ve never had Chicken Tetrazzini, it sounds Italian, but it’s really not (although, it is named after an Italian opera singer, Luisa Tetrazzini). It’s a good ole American casserole invented at the beginning of the 20th century. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Chicken Tetrazzini (although, I suppose if you’re a mushroom-hater, this isn’t the dish for you). It’s like if you combined chicken and dumplings with the best chicken fettucine alfredo you’ve ever had and then baked it all under a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs. Yum!
Traditional tetrazzini is usually a pretty heavy dish, packed with heavy cream, a bucketload of cheese, a bunch of butter and white pasta, but it’s an easy one to lighten up. I cutback the butter, leave out the cream, go light on the cheese and sub in whole grain pasta. It’s still not a light dish, but it’s now a more reasonable weeknight dinner—especially when paired with a nice side salad. You could easily go diet-overboard on this recipe and use non-fat cheese and sub in spaghetti squash for the pasta, but I, for one, believe that even lighter comfort food should still be comfort food. And that means using some real cheese and butter (and for the love of all things holy, actual pasta). You’d be amazed at what kind of decadence you can get from just two tablespoons of butter!
Prep Time: 1 hour | Cook Time: 30 minutes | Makes: 12-16 servings
- Cooking spray
- 2 pounds whole grain spaghetti, broken in half
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 large stalks of celery, diced
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 36 ounces button mushrooms, sliced, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- 8 ounces softened cream cheese
- 2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese (get good stuff, this is where a lot of the flavor comes from)
- 2 large chicken breasts, cooked and cut into small bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spray either four 8×8 baking pans or two 9×13 baking pans with cooking spray, set aside.
- Fill a large stockpot with water, bring to a boil and cook spaghetti, stirring frequently, until just shy of al dente. You want it a little bit crunchy still as it will soften in the oven. Drain and set aside.
- While the pasta cooks, melt the butter with the olive oil in a large stockpot over high heat. Add in the onion, garlic, celery and red pepper flakes and cook until veggies are tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
- Add half of the mushrooms to the onion mixture, sprinkle on half the salt, then repeat with remaining mushrooms and salt. Cook until mushrooms have softened and released the majority of their liquid, about 15 minutes.
- Add in the wine to the mushrooms, and then stir in the flour until the flour is incorporated. Add in the broth, thyme, sage, parsley, pepper, basil and nutmeg.
- Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese, parmesan cheese and cooked chicken. Once cheese is melted, stir in the cooked spaghetti, a handful at a time, until well-incorporated.
- Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared baking pans. Sprinkle tops with breadcrumbs.
- To bake immediately: bake casserole in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
- To freeze for later: let casserole cool to touch on the counter, then wrap tightly in a layer aluminum foil and plastic wrap (I like using two layers to protect from freezer burn). Label and freeze. Use within 6 months for best results.
- To bake frozen casserole: thaw casserole overnight in fridge, then bake covered in 350° oven for 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
What’s your favorite comfort food casserole? Any other tetrazzini fans? What about tuna noodle casserole (another missing-from-the-blog favorite)?
It’s been a long while since I shared a What I Ate Wednesday with you guys (back in August!). If you’re new around here, What I Ate Wednesday is a weekly pictorial look into a single day of eating. It’s a great way to see what folks are doing for meals and snacks, plus, it’s just flat-out fun to get a peek into bloggers’ everyday lives through their eats. You can learn more about WIAW here.
I really enjoy doing WIAW, but I was hesitant to bring it back while I’m pregnant, because the controversy surrounding what a pregnant lady should and shouldn’t eat is right up there with gun control and which of Rory Gilmore’s boyfriends was the best (Logan, obviously). And admittedly, with my morning sickness and food aversions, my eats haven’t been the healthiest or cleanest lately. But I decided to go ahead with it because I think it’s nice to see an honest picture of how someone eats throughout a day in all situations—even a pregnant lady who is struggling.
So that being said, I know you all are super supportive and awesome and will cut me some slack when my dinner is a PB&J on white bread (scroll down). And then maybe say a little prayer that my morning sickness will relinquish me from its grasp some time soon. Alrighty, onto the eats for this week (which were photographed on Sunday).
I’m pretty consistently waking up between 5-6am everyday, not because I’m done sleeping, but because my belly is so empty and it demands I wake up and fill it. I usually stumble around the dark kitchen and grab something easy, like this bowl of granola and milk, Greek yogurt and orange juice. I learned early on in pregnancy that protein is king when it comes to keeping morning sickness at bay, so I’ve been eating a ton of yogurt.
Breakfast #2 happens a few hours later, once I’m actually awake enough to function. Kodiak Cakes with scrambled eggs, fruit and milk. I used to be a total skim milk kind of girl, but then I switched to 2% early in my pregnancy for the extra fat and protein (which was especially important back in the first trimester when my diet was almost entirely made up of saltines), and now I don’t think I’ll ever switch back. 2% forever!
Grab a banana to hold me over until lunch. My days lately are always front-heavy, meaning I eat a lot until lunch (when I feel mostly normal) and then after about 2pm, I start feeling really bad and have to force myself to eat. I don’t have morning sickness, I have afternoon/evening sickness. I haven’t made and eaten a “real” dinner in four months.
Lunch is some chicken salad on rye crisps with some veggies and hummus—which I didn’t eat. I’m not sure why I thought I could eat hummus considering one of my biggest food aversions right now is garlic. Hummus=garlicky, in case you didn’t know. But the rest of it was delicious! And Craig is happy that he gets the tub of hummus all to himself.
The aforementioned PB&J dinner. Normally I try to get a snack in between lunch and dinner, but I really wasn’t feeling the whole eating thing on this particular afternoon. But I gotta eat, or the nausea just gets worse. Dinner was the monochromatic combination of PB&J (on white potato bread, which has been my bread of choice during pregnancy), tortilla chips and cottage cheese (for the protein).
One of the best pieces of advice I got early on in pregnancy is to eat right before bed to help keep morning sickness at bay (and some people even eat during the middle of the night, too), and it definitely helps for me. And empty tummy is an unhappy tummy. This is my standard nightcap: Greek yogurt, a granola bar and a piece of fruit (this being the yummiest pear ever).
Big thanks go out to Jenn at Peas and Crayons for hosting this fun food-filled party. If you guys haven’t clicked over to the main WIAW post yet, you should! There are so many fun eats and so many new blogs to discover.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten so far this week?
Is it too early for me to start loading you guys up with Super Bowl recipes? We’re less than a month away, and Super Bowl season is one of my favorite times of year for cooking. And after this weekend’s crazy awesome Colts win, I’m way too jazzed to keep my excitement to myself.
Maybe it’s because I’m such a crazed sports fan, but I think that game day foods are where I really thrive in the kitchen—especially healthier, lighter options that’ll please everyone. To me, there is nothing more fun than setting up for the big game with platters of mini-treats for everyone to enjoy while rooting on their favorite team. Some of my best memories with family and friends involve a TV, the big game, and a whole bunch of yummy game day appetizers.
I think part of the appeal of healthy game day food is that no one expects to get healthy food at a game day party. I love coming up with bite-sized, game-friendly treats that are shockingly good for you! Surprising people is fun. You go into a watch party expecting to gorge yourself for hours on plate after plate of cheesy, beefy, salty snacks. No one expects to see healthy, light options sitting on the smorgasbord. It’s a welcome surprise for those of us who are health-conscious, and a nice little bit of subterfuge for those who hate healthy food (but never suspect anything is up, because the results are so yummy).
I also love how totally unfussy game day food is. No fancy garnishes, hard-to-find gourmet foods, or utensils needed here. Game day food is hard-working, blue-collar goodness. It’s the kind of food that you can serve to both your favorite aunt and your seven-year-old nephew—and they’ll both come back for another round. It’s the kind of food that begs to be spilled on shirt fronts during big plays. It’s the kind of food that is delicious piping hot out of the oven at kick-off (or tip-off or puck-drop) and still just as yummy come overtime.
These little wonton cups satisfy a lot of the standard game day food requirements: they’re bite-sized, hand-held, and full-of-flavor. They also fulfill some of my healthy food requirements: they’re made with real food ingredients, they’re vegetarian (which isn’t usually a requirement for me, but at game day parties, it’s nice to provide folks a meatless option amongst the bevy of meat dishes), and they’ve got a nice added nutritional punch of protein and fiber thanks to the lentils.
And if you’re worried about the lentils turning folks off, let me tell you, they’ll never know lentils are in here. Lentils work beautifully as a meat substitute because they have a nice chew and texture that feels similar to the heft of biting into meat, and when they’re packed with all kinds of spicy flavor and topped with great toppings like cheese, sour cream and avocado, there isn’t a single touch of lentil-flavor. If you’re hesitant to work with lentils as a meat substitute, I promise you have no reason to be. In fact, two of my most popular recipes on this blog are lentil-as-meat-substitute recipes (Lentil Sloppy Joes and Mexican Lentil Stuffed Shells), and they’re so well-loved because the lentils totally work. No earthiness. No crunchy-hippie-health food store taste. I promise! Plus, as an added benefit, lentils are cheap! Cheap is good. Especially when you’re feeding a crowd of hungry sports fans.
If you’ve never worked with wonton wrappers before, you can usually find them near the tofu in the produce or deli area of your grocery store. Make sure you look for an all-natural brand (some of them are made with yucky chemicals). The wrappers are usually used to make (duh) wontons, but they have a ton of non-wonton-y uses. You can use them to make ravioli, pizza rolls, crackers, and lots more. I love using them like I do here—as a liner for a mini-muffin tin to hold all kinds of flavorful fillings.
One word of warning when baking wonton wrappers: they go from super soft and pliable to crazy crispy in a flash in a hot oven. The first time I baked wonton wrappers, I overbaked them (even though they didn’t look overbaked) and they were so crispy and hard that I had Cap’n Crunch-style scrapes on the roof of my mouth for days afterward. The key is just to pop the wrappers in the oven for a few minutes to harden a bit, but to pull them out before they get dangerously sharp—it’s about 5-7 minutes in a 400° oven for me. That gets them golden brown and crunchy on the edges, but still easy to bite into.
Lentil Enchilada Wonton Cups
- 1-1/2 cups brown lentils
- 1 package of taco seasoning (or make your own)
- 3 cups water
- Cooking spray
- 48 wonton wrappers
- 4 ounces softened cream cheese
- 1-14 ounce can of enchilada sauce (or make your own)
- 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
- Sour cream, chopped avocado, sliced green onions, diced cilantro and other toppers
- In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils, taco seasoning, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender (but not mushy)—about 25-30 minutes. Depending on the age and type of lentils, you may have to add a touch more water to achieve this.
- While the lentils cook, preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a mini-muffin tin with cooking spray and press a wonton wrapper into each of the cups. Set aside.
- When the lentils are finished cooking, remove from heat, stir in the cream cheese until melted.
- Spoon about one tablespoon of the lentil mixture into each of the wonton cups. Top each cup with about a teaspoon of enchilada sauce and a sprinkle of cheese (you will probably have enchilada sauce leftover).
- Bake cups in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes—just until the cheese is melted and the corners of the wonton wrappers begin to brown. Do not overbake!
- Remove from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from muffin tin and keep warm. Repeat process with remaining 24 wonton wrappers and the remainder of the filling.
- Top each cup with sour cream, chopped avocado or other desired toppings, or set toppings alongside cups for guests to customize themselves.
More Healthy Game Day Favorites
What’s your favorite game day food?
One of the most frequent requests I get is to do more posts on menu planning. Planning a weekly menu is something that has been ingrained in me since I was a wee little tot. I remember sitting down with my Mama on Saturday mornings at the kitchen table and she’d ask what I wanted to eat that week, and we’d fill in the days with our favorites (and always marking “FFY” next to Fridays—Fin for Yourself—basically leftover night). Then, she’d build the grocery list and we’d head out to the store.
Now, I’m very lucky to have that kind of background in menu planning, but I know it’s a real struggle for lots of folks. I get emails almost daily asking me to pull together menus for my blog. It can be really hard to make sense of all the recipes and meal ideas out there, plus keep an eye on nutrition and health. I’ve gone back and forth about doing menus here (after all, not everyone likes to eat the same things and not everyone agrees what constitutes healthy and what doesn’t), but I figured if it’s something people are still requesting after all these years, I should try it out.
If you guys like this, my plan is to post a new two-week menu every month. Admittedly there will be a lot of my own recipes in these (because I know those are delicious and work well in time-crunched weeknight situations), but I’ll also include recipes from outside sources that I love and use. My goal is to only include recipes tested by moi, so you can feel confident that your Tuesday night dinner wont flop. And, each menu will follow my own personal philosophy for healthy eating, which means that life is too short to skip out on the occasional slice of cake or bowl of mac and cheese. I’m also trying to avoid weird, hard-to-find or expensive ingredients. I 100% believe that you can eat real, clean, healthy food on any budget and in any region (yes, even if you don’t have a Whole Foods nearby), and these menus should work for everyone! I will say, these menus do focus some on food prepping, because that’s how I work. So you’ll find lots of grab-and-go recipes that need to be prepped ahead of time for optimal grab-and-go-y-ness.
Please chime in if you have any suggestions for how I can make this better for next month. Alright, let’s get to the menu!
If your house is anything like ours, breakfasts are a whole lot less like the Leave It To Beaver sit-down-at-the-table kind and a lot more like the oh-gosh-I-should-grab-something-quick-before-work kind. So this list is a lot of grab-and-go style breakfasts, with a few weekend-style breakfast thrown in.
- Greek Yogurt Bowls with Banana, Berries and Granola—Want to save some cash? Make your own yogurt and your own granola.
- Apple Pie Spinach Smoothie, Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter—Adding whole wheat toast with peanut butter is one of my favorite ways to round-out a breakfast with whole grain carbs and healthy fats and protein. Not into toast? Feel free to sub in whole wheat English muffins or bagels.
- Herbed Egg and Turkey Cups, Fruit, Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter—These cups hold in the fridge for a while, so feel free to make up a big batch on the weekend and stash them for grab-and-going come Monday.
- Whole Wheat Cottage Cheese Pancakes with Maple Syrup
- Apple Cinnamon Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats—Don’t think you have time for steel cut oats? The slow cooker is your friend.
- Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter, Apple Slices and Cinnamon—This one of my favorite grab and go breakfasts! Carbs, protein, and fat—all in a handheld yummy slice of toast.
- Heat and Eat Quiche Breakfast Sandwiches, Fruit—Just like the cups, these can be made ahead and stashed in the freezer.
In our house, leftovers are the king of lunch, and you’ll have a lot of leftovers thanks to cooking dinners every night. But I’ve included a few lunch ideas that aren’t leftovers for variety.
- Easy Black Bean Quesadillas—A lunchtime staple around here. Plop a whole wheat tortilla in a skillet over medium heat, spread on some salsa, black beans and shredded cheese, top with another tortilla. When the cheese has melted, flip the quesadilla over and cook until crisp. Remove from pan, slice into quarters and serve with salsa, guacamole or sour cream for dipping. If you want, you can make your own tortillas, too (so yum).
- Salad in a Jar, Whole Grain Crackers—Use a quart-size jar and some source of protein (chicken, tofu, beans, etc.) for a filling and crazy easy lunchtime salad.
- Curried Chicken Salad over Greens—You’ll see below that we’re roasting a chicken for one of the dinners. You’ll use the leftover chicken meat for this salad. One of our favorites!
- Leftovers—Learn to love ‘em! You’re going to be cooking 14 different dinners over the course of this two-week plan, you’re bound to have delicious, healthy, ready-to-eat leftovers for lunch. Embrace ‘em! Promise me you won’t let all that delicious food go to waste, k?
I think snacking is super important to keeping up with a healthy eating plan. Not only does it help keep your blood sugar regulated and your belly from grumbling, but the fact is, snacking is fun! And it’s a fun way to help break up the day.
- Ants on a Log—Kids and adults alike love these. Fill celery stalks with peanut butter and top with raisins. Crunchy, creamy and sweet! Plus, the fat and protein in the peanut butter goes a long way to help your belly feel satisfied between meals. You can also sub in cream cheese or another nut butter if peanut butter ain’t your thang.
- Veggies with Hummus—Dipping carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers into hummus is a great way to get in some veggies and some protein. Just watch your hummus portions! Those dips add up fast. I like to measure out an amount of hummus into a bowl instead of dipping straight from the container. You can also make your own hummus and adjust it to be lighter by going easy on the oil.
- Peanut Butter Cookie Date Balls—It used to be that dates were a “weird” food only available at health food stores, but I’ve now seen them even at my small town grocery store.
- Fruit—Fruit is the original grab-and-go snack! Make sure you stock up on your favorites at the store. Grab some fresh pears, apples, bananas, clementines, or whatever else fruit looks good to you and reserve it just for snacking.
- Sweet and Spicy Roasted Chickpeas—Satisfy that need for a crunchy afternoon snack with these guys. Make up a big batch on the weekend for easy snacking.
- Air-Popped Popcorn—You might be used to salty, buttery movie theatre popcorn, but the plain air-popped stuff is actually remarkably flavorful and at only 30 calories per cup, a great filling snack! It’s also crazy cheap. A bag of kernels runs about $2 and will last you forever. Don’t have an air-popper? No worries, just put 1/4 cup of kernels in the bottom of a small brown paper back (think lunch size), fold the top down, lay flat in the microwave and microwave at 100% for 2-4 minutes, or until the popping slows down.
Alright, up until now, we’ve been repeating recipes, but dinnertime is where we switch it up. Variety is the spice of life! But just because you’re making different dinners almost every night doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the kitchen for hours and hours. I’ve included lots of quick, weeknight-style dinners that work for even the craziest days plus some slow-cooker meals that take just a few minutes in the morning. You’ll also find a lot of meatless options, because I’m a big fan of keeping meals meatless frequently (it also helps free up some grocery budget to splurge on more expensive free-range, organic meats).
- Slow Cooker Ham ‘n’ Beans with Cheddar Yogurt Cornbread—This is one of my favorite winter meals because it’s delicious and crazy affordable. If time is too crunched to make cornbread, sub in a hunk of crusty whole grain bread.
- Wheatberry Cabbage Rolls with Steamed Broccoli—These are a weekend meal, but they make a ton, make awesome leftovers and are incredibly delicious!
- Toby Ziegler’s Roasted Chicken with Roasted Root Veggies—Roasting a whole chicken may sound intimidating, but it’s actually a crazy easy one-pot dish.
- Penne Rosa with Shrimp with Garden Salad—Feel free to skip the shrimp for a bonus meatless dinner.
- Mexican Lentil Stuffed Shells with Garden Salad—Toss some avocado, cilantro and lime juice on the salad for a Mexican twist.
- Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup with Salad and Garlic Bread—This is hands-down one of my favorite soups on this blog. So yummy and comforting!
- Shrimp and Grits—This recipe is sized to serve one, but you can easily multiply it.
- Vegetarian Thai Quinoa Chili—For the ultimate chili experience, serve it topped with chopped cilantro, avocado, shredded cheese, chopped onions and sour cream. Yum!
- Open-Face Hummus Tuna Melt with Steamed Broccoli—Tuna melts are total comfort food for me, and with this hummus twist, they stay light and healthy.
- Buffalo Chicken Bites with Sweet Potato Tater Tots—Utensil-free night! Perfect for a Friday night movie night or a game night.
- Portabella Cheesesteaks with Roasted Potatoes—An oldie-but-a-goodie! This recipe is still in constant rotation in our house. Make sure you use whole grain buns (whole wheat bread even works) to get the most nutrition.
- Black Bean Burgers with Kale Chips and Roasted Potatoes—Not a kale chips fan? No worries, just sub in another green veggie (steamed broccoli, sautéed green beans, etc.). The black bean burger recipe makes quite a few, so freeze up the extras and they’ll be ready for quick lunches and dinners later.
- Homemade Pizza with Whole Wheat Crust—Customize this pizza to suit your family’s likes and dislikes. Our favorite combo: pineapple, feta and bacon. Yum!
- Leftover Night—If you haven’t used up your leftovers for lunches, now is the time to clear out that fridge. Bring out all the 1/2 cups of this and one serving of that, heat them up and let everyone pick their poison. Today is also a great time to freeze and meals that you have a lot leftover (like say, the black bean burgers or the chili).
I believe life without chocolate is not a life at all—I make sure to always include treats in my menus. Life is too short to avoid dessert! And treating yourself a little bit everyday with healthier options is a great way to make sure you stay on track and don’t end up bingeing on processed cookies from the store.
- Dark Chocolate Squares—You can buy individually wrapped dark chocolate squares or break a full-sized bar into squares for individual servings. These squares are a great way to add a little bit of a treat to your workday lunch.
- Banana Soft Serve—I like to eat my banana soft serve straight up, but you can doctor it with peanut butter or cocoa for a really fun treat!
- Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Cookies—These cookies have a weird ingredient in them (sucanant), but you can easily sub in brown sugar or cane sugar.
I’ve also put this menu plan into a printable for you to download and hang up right on the fridge for easy reference (and make sure to Pin this post so you can access the recipes easy on your smartphone or tablet when cooking in the kitchen). I went ahead and slotted the recipes into the standard workweek format (so longer, more time-intensive recipes on the weekends), but feel free to mix it up if your schedule isn’t typical. If this doesn’t work for you, you can at least get an idea of how I’d pair everything together, and use it as a base to make your own menu (maybe using this blank menu planner).
P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my good friend Melissa and her clean eating menu plans. For a while I’ve been trying to figure out the logistics of posting a menu, and hers definitely helpled me figure out a (hopefully) user-friendly system. Make sure you go check them out (and stick around on her awesome blog for a while, too).Thanks, Melissa!
Are you a big fan of menu planning? What are your go-to weekly dishes?
Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve been having a good week. I remember office-life and how hard it was to concentrate at work in these last few weeks of the year. You’re almost there! Almost vacation time. Yay!
To further distract you, I have another totally awesome holiday treat that you should probably make this weekend. And guess what? This one is kinda, sorta healthy! Yay! These little chocolate clusters would be an absolutely great homemade gift for the health-conscious person in your life that maybe doesn’t want to go totally overboard with the holiday gluttony.
Heck, they’d even make a great gift for someone who is diving face first into the dessert buffet—they’ll never know these sweet, tangy, crunchy candies are actually good for them, too! Of course, moderation is key, and downing a few dozen of any holiday goodie (even these healthier candies) is no good, but one or two at a time make a perfect treat.
These clusters are made with heart-healthy, protein-packed raw almonds, antioxidant-powerhouse blueberries and a nice, heavy coating of good-for-you dark chocolate. Basically, these are a superfood wrapped in junk food clothing (which is pretty much my favorite kind of food).
I chose dried blueberries because I love their antioxidant powers and their tangy taste, but you can easily sub in whatever dried fruit makes you happy—dried cherries or cranberries would make for an especially festive treat! You could also leave out the dried fruit all together and mix the almonds with raw peanuts and cashews and make a mixed nut cluster. Yum!
If the health benefits of these guys didn’t sell you, the ease of them should—you can make two dozen of them in about 15 minutes with ingredients that you probably already have kicking around in your pantry. These are the perfect sweet treat for last-minute gifts. Pack them between layers of parchment paper in a nice box with a pretty bow, and you’ve got a gift that will wow most people on your list. They don’t need to know that it took you less time to make their gift than most folks spend in the shower everyday.
I added just a tiny touch of sea salt to the top of each of these clusters, because there is really something about a little bit of salt that just sets off chocolate and almonds. Plus, I think the sea salt looks like a pretty little dusting of snow—fitting, right?
Skip the sea salt if you’re using salted nuts (which I don’t recommend—you have no way of controlling the salt content) or if salted sweet foods just aren’t your bag. Trust me though, it doesn’t taste salty, the salt just helps to make the flavor of the clusters multi-faceted.
If you’re wondering, these suckers are headed into my holiday gift tins along with bags of Cheddar Cheese Straws, Rolo Turtles, Spritz Cookies, plus a few other yet-to-be-determined cookies. And maybe a batch of fudge. Because I just don’t know when to quit. Hopefully our mailman isn’t diabetic.
Enjoy! Have an awesome weekend.
Dark Chocolate Almond and Blueberry Clusters
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 5 minutes | Makes: About 24 clusters
- 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
- 2 cups raw, unsalted almonds
- 1-1/2 cups unsweetened dried blueberries
- Sea salt, optional
- Fit a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan filled with 1″ of water over medium-high heat. Add in the chocolate, and heat, stirring frequently, until completely melted—about 5 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix together the almonds and blueberries in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- When chocolate is melted, pour into almond mixture and toss until almonds and blueberries are mostly coated.
- Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the mixture onto waxed paper, forming into a cluster shape. Repeat with remaining mixture. If desired, sprinkle each cluster with a small pinch of sea salt.
- Let cool and harden for about 15 minutes at room temperature, or transfer to fridge and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
Who has fun plans for this weekend? Anyone going out-of-town? Visiting family? Drinking a gallon of eggnog and bingeing on Christmas movies?
Whenever I do my holiday baking, I try to break up the deluge of sugar with a few savory (or at least, less sweet) treats, too. Everyone gets so many tins full of sugar cookies and fudge and snickerdoodles, that I always find it nice to get something a little bit different, too (although, admittedly, my tins this year will also include sugar cookies, fudge and snickerdoodles).
This year, I’m including some dark chocolate almond and blueberry clusters (a recipe that’ll be headed your way soon) and these cheddar cheese straws in my holiday tins and treat boxes. If you’ve never heard of cheese straws, no fear, that probably just means you aren’t from the South. Cheddar cheese straws are mega-popular in the Southern U.S., and for good reason—they are addictingly delicious. The best way to describe them is like a crumbly, cheesy, buttery sugarless cookie. They kinda remind me of the texture of a Cheddar Bay Biscuit from Red Lobster (random reference, anyone?). They have that melt-in-your-mouth kinda quality, but they’re spiked with sharp cheddar and a teeny tiny bit of heat from hot sauce and cayenne pepper. They’re crazy good.
They’re called cheese straws because traditionally, you fit a cookie press with a certain die that pushes the dough out in a big long log (or use a piping bag), and then you cut the log into individual 3″-4″ straws for eating. The straws are then served hard breadstick style, in an upright container, so they look like straws in a cup.
But because these savory cookies are crumbly and fragile, I’ve found that using the other dies in my cookie press and keeping them in small cookie form helps them from breaking when packed in a holiday treat tin. Plus, I think these little cheesy flowers are so much more adorable than the traditional straws.
Interestingly enough, I had my first ever cheese straw experience while visiting my husband grandmother in Canada (decidedly not Southern). She served us these little tiny cheesy cookies that I couldn’t seem to stop grabbing. I’ve yet to ask her how she came across the recipe for something that is so Southern in Northwestern Ontario, but I’m forever grateful to her for introducing me to the world of savory cookies.
If you don’t have a cookie press (although, I highly recommend getting one, they are so fun to use, and make super quick work of a lot of fun holiday cookie recipes—here’s the one I have), you can easily just form this dough into small balls and flatten with your hands or a damp fork (peanut butter cookie style) and bake them that way. For sweet cookies, I’m normally a big, fat, chewy cookie kinda girl, but for these, you really get the best experience from small, thin cookies. You want the cookies to crisp up a bit. and you want the cheese to be able to brown (yum). Think more “small cookie-shaped cracker” than “big, gooey cookie”. If you catch what I’m throwing.
Cheddar Cheese Straws
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 10 minutes | Makes: About 3 dozen small cookies
- 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (shred your own for tastiest results)
- 1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
- 1-3/4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- In the basin of a food processor, add in the shredded cheese, butter, egg and hot pepper sauce. Pulse until well combined.
- In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and dry mustard. Add in the salt.
- Working in two batches, add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture in the food processor. Pulse until combined after each addition. After all the flour mixture has been added, continue to run food processor until dough comes together into a solid ball (it will start out as small pea-sized balls, and then come into one large ball).
- Fill a cookie press with the dough and attach the desired die. Press the cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 1″ apart. Or, if you don’t have a cookie press, roll the dough into 1″ balls, place on ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten using a damp fork in a cross-hatch pattern.
- Bake in preheated oven for 10-13 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown, and the edges are beginning to brown. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely before storing in airtight containers.