Thanksgiving Prep: Mexican Rice Stuffed Butternut Squash

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This Mexican rice stuffed butternut squash makes the ultimate Thanksgiving side dish! Plus, it’s beautiful to boot!

About this squash:

Stuffed squash is the new sweet potato casserole. At least in my book, only because I don’t like sweet potato casserole. At all. It’s squish mashed potatoes with cinnamon and topped with marshmallows. Marshmallows have one place they need to be, and that’s delicately smashed between two graham crackers and a giant piece of Hershey’s chocolate.

I’ll tell you one place they don’t belong, ANYWHERE NEAR THANKSGIVING. I have some pretty aggressive feelings on sweet potato casserole, and I refuse to apologize for them. Moving on, though, let’s talk about this Mexican stuffed squash for a hot second. Stuffed squash is one side dish that’s guaranteed to please. For one, it’s beautiful. The vibrancy of the colors make it almost as pretty as a bouquet of of flowers. Except instead of dying, this squash gets devoured. Horray!

About Thanksgiving and life: 

This Thanksgiving is a little different than last years, because instead of going back to Cleveland to spend it with my family, I’m going to Chicago to spend it with my boyfriend’s family. Yep, we’re officially THAT official, although we might have hit that mark when we decided to put an offer in on a condo downtown.

BUT, in my head, spending the holidays with a new boyfriend is kind of a big step. I’ve met his family plenty of times, and absolutely love them (we’re even Facebook friends). There’s just something, though, about spending the holidays when them. It’s intimate, a cherished time of year often reserved just for close friends and your close family members. Joining as the new girlfriend to the eldest son is a little bit daunting, to say the least.

So, friends and fans, what would YOU bring to Thanksgiving dinner when you’re the new girlfriend? His mom and sisters are gluten-free, and I know they’re going to have desserts down pat. A side dish, maybe? Something simple, like this squash or these carrots? Or would you opt for something sexier? I’m a little nervous, which means I’ll bring a bottle of wine (that I’ll chug out of nerves), four side dishes and at least 3 bouquets of flowers. Seems normal, right?

Mexican Rice Stuffed Butternut Squash

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: About an hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup uncooked cooked rice (I used brown)
  • 2 cup vegetable broth
  • 15 ounce can of black beans, drained
  • 2 large tomatos, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 large avocado, seeded and chopped
  • Fresh parsley or cilantro

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Slice the squash in half and clean out the seeds. Separate the butter in half and place chunks over each half. Roast for about 40 – 45 minutes, or until fork tender. when squash is soft, use a spoon and remove the flesh. Either mash or cut into bite-size pieces. 
  2. When the squash is roasting, make the rice by mixing the rice and two cups of vegetable broth in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until rice is fully cooked. 
  3. Fluffy the rice with a fork and mix with the butternut squash, black beans, tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, red onion, garlic and 1/2 cup cheddar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Spoon the rice mixture into the squash halves and divide evenly. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake until everything is heated and cheese is melted, about 8 – 12 minutes. Garnish with avocado and chopped greenery.

Nutritional information per serving (about 1/2 squash):

Calories: 250
Fat: 9.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Protein:  8.5 grams

Thanksgiving Prep: Easy Balsamic & Garlic Roasted Carrots

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These easy garlic roasted carrots are the perfect Thanksgiving side dish!

About these carrots:

Can you get an easier dish than these garlic and balsamic roasted carrots? No, you can’t. They’re so easy, it’s almost embarrassing I’m posting a recipe for them. But I’m a food blogger and that’s what food bloggers DO during the holidays. With a week away to the stuffyourfaceuntilyourpantsdontfit holiday, you’re probably looking for recipes that are easy to make and relatively healthy, right? I mean, I know I am and I’m not even cooking the entire meal. My favorite part about these carrots is the garlic. 5 cloves, you guys. 5 delicious cloves are minced and sprinkled over these beauties. You may not be able to kiss your loved ones after noshing on these carrots, but at least your kitchen will smell aromatic and absolutely delicious. Plus, who kisses anyone on Thanksgiving anyway? Your mouth is busy doing other things, like eating ten pounds of mashed potatoes and an entire turkey.

About life:

Can we talk about how I failed at Paleo 3 days after starting it?

Diets have never been my strong suit, which is entirely why I keep going up and down within the same number on the scale and can’t seem to make it budge in the direction I want it to. It seems to always move UP instead of down, despite my best efforts to eat healthfully and workout 5x a week. But, there’s one thing I’m trying to learn and apply to my 2018 – that a number doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy and healthy. Of course, you want to have some idea as to how much you actually weigh, but the number shouldn’t be your only driver to your health.

It’s a hard lesson for me, as a girl who still weighs herself everyday and does feel down when the number doesn’t align with the one I have in my head. We all have that number, the oh so desirable “goal weight.” The number where we say to ourselves “When I’m this number, I’ll be happy,” or “When I finally hit XXX, I’ll fall in love.” Funny enough, that’s not how life works. Because that kind of thinking only means one thing, you’ll never be happy with your weight, even at that magical number. Trust me, I’ve hit my goal a few times in my life and when I hit it, I only wanted to lose more. I replaced the number I hit with another one, an even more unrealistic number. Was I happy? No. I picked and purged just as much as I did 10 pounds heavier.

So this year, and especially this holiday season, I’m going to try NOT to think about the numbers. I’m going to try just to focus on keeping up with the healthy habits I’ve already adapted and find other ones that’ll continue to bring me strength and happiness. for me, that’s my workouts, my studies and eating a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet. What is it to you?

Easy Balsamic & Garlic Roasted Carrots

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 6.
Prep time: >10 minutes
Cook time: About 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 large carrots
  • 5 large cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and parsley)
  • Dash of salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons high quality balsamic vinegar

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Chop the ends off the carrots. Cut into 1 1/2 inch slices or julianne. Chop the garlic.
  3. Layer the carrots onto the parchment paper. Drizzle liberally with the olive oil. Sprinkle the carrots with garlic, herbs, salt and papper.
  4. Roast for about 20 minutes, stopping to toss 10 minutes in, or until fork tender. Drizzle with balsamic and serve hot.

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 150
Fat: 7.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 1 gram

Easy Fall Cheese & Charcuterie Board

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This easy entertaining fall cheese and charcuterie board is the perfect addition to any fall party, especially Thanksgiving!

Surprise, it’s Thanksgiving tomorrow! Not really, but you get the gist. That’s precisely why I’m sharing one of my favorite entertaining recipes with you today – a fancy a&# cheese and charcuterie board! Now, people ask me all the time why I bother making boards like this when I can’t eat half of the things on it (like the meat). My answer to them is really quite simple.

MORE CHEESE FOR ME. Jokes aside, there’s nothing I love more than preparing food for the people I care about. It just so happens that all of the people in this category are die-hard carnivores. So, even if I’m not going to be indulging in prosciutto, I know they’ll love it and that’s reason enough for me to want to add it to the plate.

Even though I love an nice cheeseboard, the was entirely my boyfriend’s idea. This particular day wasn’t just a regular one, it was the day he was going to meet my mother for the first time. So, knowing she has a penchant for fancy cheeses, cured meats and wine (like mother, like daughter), he suggested we make her a little board so she had something to enjoy when she got home from work.

I know, he’s the best. As we were unpacking the groceries and he was guzzling wine out of nerves, he suggested that we make the board beautiful enough for her and for the blog (#thatcontentlife). At that point, the rusty wheels in my brain started turning and, before you know it, I was cutting petals off the flowers he got me and was arranging pancetta and fig jam like a mad woman. After almost an hour of styling and photographing, my little brother got home and demolished half the tray. Luckily, I was able to snag a photo to send my mom so she saw the beauty it was before two hungry boys had their way with it.

She approved, by the way. Of both the tray and the boyfriend, which is the best we could have hoped for. Oh, and I haven’t had any cheese since because I might have eaten about 5 pounds in the form of soft camembert and raclette.

Quick and Easy Fall Cheese & Charcuterie Board

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4 – 6.
Prep time: About 15 minutes
Total time: 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1 loaf crispy french bread, sliced into 1 – 2 inch slices
  • 8 ounces your favorite crackers (I love these buttery table crackers)
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced proscuitto
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1 log of your favorite cured salami (we used this pepper crusted one from Boar’s Head) 
  • 4 – 6 ounces olives
  • 1/4 cup fig jam or your favorite fruit preserves, divided
  • 1 bunch grapes
  • Fresh berries (about 2 cups)
  • 6 ounces soft cheese (we used camembert)
  • 5 ounces strong profiled hard cheese (we used raclette)
  • 6 – 8 ounces mild cheese (we used this Cabot cheddar)
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons dijon mustard

Directions: 

  1. Arrange the cheese and meats around a large wooden cutting board or serving platter. I like having the cheeses on separate ends of the board and the meat filling in around it.
  2. Then add the berries, olives, grapes, crackers and bread around the cheese and the meat. Make sure to save some spots on the board for the jam and other condiements.
  3. Place the jam and the mustard where there are some empty spots. You can either put them in small ramekins or directly on the board like I did. There’s really no rhyme or reason to how I decorate, just stack the ingredients high and add some fresh blooms and greenery for contrast.

*Note, because it’s hard to determine the serving size, we can’t really figure out the nutritional information. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies + Home Renovation

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Y’all, it’s pumpkin whoopie pie season and I’m not even mad about it. 

About these cookies: 

Actually, pumpkin whoopie pie season started two months ago but I was in Croatia eating truffles so…I know, my life. However, now that I’m home for the entire month of November, I’m catching up on all the things i’ve missed – like pumpkin desserts. And cream cheese frosting. And cookies. And cake. And pie. Good thing I chose TODAY to go Paleo, right?

WRONG. All I want to do is eat these cookies, thankfully I made them weeks ago and there’s not even a morsel left to remember. Because I’m weak and I’d probably eat 4 in a row and then force myself to go to Orange Theory again tonight out of shamerage. It’s a thing, google it. My mom, the ultimate cookie baker, said these are one of the best things i’ve made all year, and after taking a big bite (for photo purposes, obvi), I had to agree. They’re most definitely one of the fluffiest, sweetest and most decadent cookies I’ve made to date.

The thing with whoopies is they’re almost always left off the desert table because they’re not the most attractive. Unlike thumprints or pinwheels, which are radiant and beautiful, whoopies aren’t the most festive. However, that’s no reason not to indulge in these cakey little bites this holiday season. Add some styling, like I did. Serve them with some fresh star of anise or roll them in crushed walnuts or even edible glitter to give them a pop of color. I’m all about the accessorizing, even in food. Do yourself a favor, make these for Thanksgiving. Whether you style them or not, they’ll be the biggest hit on your pie table. You might have to seperate them from the apple because nobody is going to touch that pie after trying these. And we all know how jealous apple gets.

About life: 

Beyond whoopies, I’m basically just sitting on pins and needles because we’re still patiently (cough not really) waiting for the offer to get accepted on the most beautiful two-bedroom condo in all of Chicago. But, I’ve been pinning all of the rain showers and claw-foot tubs, subway tiles and vintage sinks in the world to get ready for it. See, the place is actually in AMAZING condition, but the main bathroom needs to be gutted. Completely. So, we’re going to install a rain shower (insert heart eye emoji here), subway tile, a vintage sink and some cute industrial lighting fixtures to bring it all together. I’ve never had a place that needed a reno like this, so I’m beyond excited for the potential possiblity.

[Pin inspiration]

If we get it, of course. So please, cross all of your appendages. It’s in such a fantastic part of the city and is within walking distance to great cafes, an OrangeTheory, Whole Foods and everything in between. And, you know, it would help me get out of my parents house. Because at nearly 32, it just isn’t cute anymore.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies 

Yields about 10 medium – large sandwiches.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 14 – 16 minutes

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • Dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 6 ounces light cream cheese
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Dash of cinnamon

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt together. In another bowl, mix the brown sugar, canola oil, applesauce, pumpkin puree, egg and vanilla. Once mixed, add in the flour mixture a cup at a time and stir until fully combined.
  3. Using a spoon, scoop the dough onto the sheet. The cookies will spread a little, so place them about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. If you want the tops to be smooth, use a piping bag or smooth them out with your hand. I left them as is and kind of dig the almost oatmeal like texture.
  4. Bake for about 12 – 16 minutes, or until they spring back at the touch. Place on a wire cooling rack and let cool.
  5. Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and cinnamon together until thick and creamy.
  6. Once the cookies have cooled, add a large dollop of frosting on the top of half of them and place another cookie on top to make a sandwich. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Nutritional information per cookie sandwich: 

Calories: 350
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 34.3 grams
Fiber: 1.23 grams
Protein: 5 grams

Creamy Squash & Carrot Soup

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This creamy squash soup is perfect for fall evenings in! Plus, it makes a great Thanksgiving side dish!

A story about the soup: 

If you want to hear a little bit about my life, scroll down. If you’re just here for soup, stay here. I found this recipe in a copy of Food Network Magazine and knew almost instantly I had to make it. For one, who doesn’t love creamy squash soup? Two, look at those garnishes! The roasted broccoli, the crunchy croutons, the salty pumpkin seeds? Not only are they beautiful, they add the perfect textural contrast to the velvety texture of the base. Soup has this incredible ability to warm you up, both figuratively and literally. It has this almost therapeutic power to it. Even on my worst days, a bowl of soup has the ability to take me back to a world and a life that wasn’t as scary, complicated or lonely. This soup is no different. I made it during a time of true uncertainty and I remember feeling a little better every time the spoon hit my lips. It may sound silly, and it probably is, but this soup helped me out of a pretty serious funk.

And a little bit about me:

It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is two weeks away. I mean, in all honesty, it’s hard to believe the end of the year is just a month and a half away. While the rest of my friends are all “CHRISTMAS! SNOW! COOKIES!” I’m just trying desperately to keep my head afloat as I look for a job, wait for an offer to get accepted on a house and sort through where the next year of my life is going to take me.

I do know one thing, it’s going to involve a heck of a lot less traveling. Travel is my life and it fuels every single part of who I am. And as exciting as it was to pack up and leave for a new country and a new city every other week, it made a few other parts of my life nearly impossible to manage. From the outside, my life looked perfect. I was always somewhere different, experiencing an exotic place so many people only dream of going to. But peel back that wrapper and you’d see that my life was so far beyond perfection. It was a crumbling mess.

Without divulging too many personal details in a post about soup, I will say the decision to stay put in Chicago for the foreseeable future wasn’t an easy one. Even though I felt the world falling to pieces around me, I still loved travel. Partly because it was an escape. If my life at home was a mess, I knew in a day or two I’d be in Australia, China, Spain or Norway and wouldn’t have to face those issues for a few weeks. In a way, I was running away. I also truly love to travel. There’s nothing I love more than stepping off a plane and immersing myself almost immediately in a world so different than my own.

As life does, though, it all caught up and I found even the escape to be nearly overwhelming. I was focusing on everything I left at home when I was abroad, making it impossible to even enjoy the times I had wandering around a new country with new people. That’s why I’ve decided to tuck away my passport and plant my feet firmly on the ground. At least for the next few weeks. What next year will bring nobody knows, but I know one thing – Chicago has my heart and I’m enjoying every second exploring this incredibly vibrant and beautiful city of mine.

Creamy Squash & Carrot Soup

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSON OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves 4 – 6. Recipe adapted from Food Network.
Prep time: 15 minutes.
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 butternut squash, chopped
  • 1/2 acorn squash, chopped
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper**
  • 5 carrots, shredded and chopped
  • 15 ounce can chick peas, drained
  • 1 can (14 ounce) low-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (or other nuts)
  • French bread, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces

**optional. I added it for heat, but you can omit.

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with foil. Place the squash and broccoli on the sheet (evenly distributed). Toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.  Roast for about 20 – 25 minutes, stopping to toss the vegetables after 10 minutes. You want the vegetables to be fork tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and scallions and cook for about a minute. Mix in the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper, heat for about another minute. Add in the carrots and cook until just softened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add in the chick peas, coconut milk, vegetable broth and water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes.
  3. Mix in the 3/4 of the squash, saving about a one cup for the garnish. Cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, or until warm. Remove from heat. With either a tabletop blender or immersion blender, blend the soup until creamy. Serve with a handful of broccoli florets, remaining squash, pumpkin seeds and crispy bread.

Nutritional information per serving: 

Calories: 485
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 48.45 grams
Fiber: 13.4 grams
Protein: 10.5 grams

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