Roasted Brussel Sprouts {Thanksgiving Recap}

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I’ve never had a problem eating my vegetables.

When I was growing up as a young girl, I never really understood what the big deal was with kids my age never wanting to eat their veggies. As I’ve mentioned before, my grandparents have grown their own produce garden for as long as I can remember. Come summer/autumn time, we always had an abundance of collards, cabbage and turnip greens, green beans, tomatoes, lima beans, peppers, and sometimes squash. And I ate all of them with a smile on my face. If you guys were able to try my grandma’s cooking, you’d know why. There are very few vegetables that I don’t like. The only one I can think of now are peas. The pasty, mushy texture? Yeah, not a fan at all. Now any other vegetable you put in front of me: corn, carrots, spinach, squash, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower- I can eat those all day.

Also brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts definitely fall into that category too.

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I really don’t know why brussel sprouts get such a bad rap. I’ve heard from their haters that it’s the slightly bitter after taste that they have, but I actually like that earthy bitterness. I’ve had them in just about every preparation you can think of and whether they’re roasted, sauteed, or even just steamed, the verdict for me is always the same: they’re delicious.

Anyone who claims they don’t like vegetables has clearly never had them when they’re roasted. Roasting practically any kind of vegetable brings out a subtle, but unmistakable sweetness to them that is seriously addictive. Brussel sprouts are no exception to this, and the blending of the natural bitterness of the vegetable and the sweetness from the roasting makes them even more tasty. Any parents out there who’s kids don’t like vegetables? Here’s a  humble word of advice from your cook-lete Jess: roast them. Trust me, they’ll come around soon enough. Any parents out there whose kids don’t eat brussel sprouts? Make them these. Again trust me: they’ll come around soon enough.

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This is my go-to recipe for when I want brussel sprouts. To be perfectly honest, I usually don’t even measure out the seasonings, it’s more of a throw-it-all-together in a pan kind of things. However, when I was making them for Thanksgiving dinner, I made some measurement estimations for you guys- because I love you. They were a delicious (not to mention healthy) welcome addition to our Thanksgiving dinner, and are still a welcome and healthy addition to my dinner, at any time of year.

Remember: don’t forget to eat your veggies! (i.e., these ones)

FEED(ME) BACK: What’s your favorite vegetable?

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Ingredients

*2 bags of fresh brussel sprouts (about 2 pounds), washed, trimmed and cut in half

*2 tablespoons olive oil

*1/2 tablespoon onion powder

*1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

*1/2 teaspoon salt

*1/2 teaspoon black pepper

*1 teaspoon brown sugar

*1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a 9×12 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Stir all of the spices together in a small bowl.

3. Place the brussel sprouts in the baking dish, then pour the olive oil on top. Stir.

4.  Sprinkle the combined spice on over the sprouts, and toss together, making sure they are even coated.

5. Place in oven and roast for about 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway. The brussel sprouts are done when softened, dark green and slightly charred on top. Serve.

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Baked Corn Casserole

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Let’s talk side dishes, shall we?

They’re mainly meant to be the wind beneath the wings of the main course. They usually don’t take very much effort to put together. They’re usually some kind of vegetable or starch. They’re also meant to be the back-up just in case the main dish doesn’t quite fill you up all the way.

Side dishes in my family are kind of a big deal. Whether it’s for a holiday or special occasion, or just an ordinary dinner, we always take them pretty seriously, even to the point where they can be just as popular and in high demand as the main dish.  Plain, store-bought steamed veggies that have just been heated up in a microwave? Uh, no. That’s not gonna fly ’round these parts. I’m gonna need for you to step up your game.

Baked Corn1My grandparents have their own vegetable garden and for as long as I can remember, we’ve been eating their produce for side dishes. My grandma’s greens are unsurpassed in the entire history of cooking. Period. I could seriously eat a bowl of her cabbage greens and cornbread every.single.day.of.my.life. No joke. Ditto with her green beans. Because of her, I had no problem eating my vegetables growing up. Smothered cabbage with bacon is another family favorite of ours- mine taste good, but I’m also willing to admit that Ashley’s taste slightly better (I said SLIGHTLY Ash, don’t get a big head).  No one else really digs them, but I’m crazy about oven roasted brussel sprouts too. I also make a mean pot of barbecue baked beans for our cookouts. Don’t worry. Come Memorial Day, you guys will be getting that recipe.

Then there’s baked corn. We’ve been eating this as a staple side dish in my family for a pretty long time now. One of my mom’s co-workers introduced it to her and from the first, we were huge fans. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this dish yourselves- and if you’re not, then you’re certainly gonna be. Because it’s not only really good, it’s also incredibly easy and quick to make. Most of the ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, and you can put them together in a real ‘Jiffy’.

*Rimshot*

I know. That was a really lame joke. Just try to bear with me here.

Baked Corn4So for those of you that have never had it before, Baked Corn is like a cross between a very moist cornbread, and a tender corn souffle. If you’ve ever had spoon bread, this is very close to that, only a little more spongy in texture. As I said before, it’s really very good. In addition, unlike when when cooking a souffle, you don’t have to worry about things like ice baths, or the casserole rising or falling once out of the oven. It’s almost embarrassing how simple this recipe really is. So have no fear beginner cook-letes. You’d be really hard pressed to mess it up.

I’m giving a very basic, straight-forward version of this recipe, but after you try it for the first time and decide you love it (and you will), I’d recommend any number of ways to take it to the next level, even elevating it beyond a mere ”side-dish’. For instance, I could definitely see adding crumbled, pre-cooked sausage, ham or bacon along with a slew of diced onions and peppers to make this a ‘main casserole dish’. The original recipe also includes cheese- we’re not huge cheese fans in my family, so I never include it, but if you are then feel free to throw it on top of yours in the last 15 or so minutes of baking.

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This is a really great dish not only for side dishes at dinner, but for a dish to pass at potlucks or picnics. It also tastes just as good cold as it does hot. I’ve never done it before, but I could easily see the casserole divided into muffin tins for individual portions as well- just be sure to lessen the baking time by about 15-20 minutes depending upon your oven.

Finally, for those looking to slightly ‘lighten’ this recipe up, that’s quite simple to do as well. The sour cream can be replaced with a plain Greek yogurt (I say Greek yogurt because it has a thicker consistency than regular that more closely mimics the sour cream.  Butter could be substituted for melted coconut oil, or even melted Earth Balance spread. I’m not going to promise you that it will taste the same as the original though. (because let’s face it, nothing competes with Butter. It’s a rule of nature, and who am I to argue with that?)

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Baked Corn Casserole

Recipe Adapted from Paula Deen

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Ingredients

  • 1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
  • 1 (8-ounce) package corn muffin mix (recommended: Jiffy)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, melted butter,  onion powder,  garlic powder and paprika.

3. Pour into a greased 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

4.  Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.

Baked Spaghetti

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Here’s an interesting fact about me guys: I’m an identical twin.

For some reason, whenever people find this  out about me, they act like it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread. Their eyes get all big and they immediately subject me to a game of 21 questions where me and my twin sister Jasmine (I call her Jas) are supposed to answer every rumor, superstition and stereotype of twins that exists. And I’ve literally heard it all.

“What’s it like being a twin?” (After 24 years, I still don’t know to answer this to anyone’s satisfaction. I have an older sister and younger brother, the truth is that having a twin feels no different from having any other siblings.)

“Can you read each other’s minds?” (I really am tempted to just stare at people that ask me this until they actually begin to feel as stupid as what they just asked sounded.)

“Do you ever switch places to try and fool people?” (Uh, no. Just…no.)

“If I pinch you will she feel it?”  (No, I’m not making it up. I hear this ALL.THE.TIME. And yes, Some people have actually tried to pinch me).

“SISTA SISTAAA!” (In case you didn’t know, that’s taken from the Tia and Tamera Mowry television show from the 90s, “Sister Sister”. Jas and I have had it sung to us more times than we’d care to remember. It’s very annoying.)

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All of the cliche stuff about twins aside, I will be honest and say that Jas really is one of my closest friends. She knows me better than just about anybody in the world, and vice versa. The telepathic/empathic connection between twins isn’t real, but Jas and I are close enough  and friends to the point where we can look at each other and make an instinctual guess as to what the other is thinking depending on the circumstances. But really that’s just because she’s been around me more than anyone else and we’ve had a lot of shared experiences and have a lot of inside jokes. There’s no ‘magic’ to it or anything. I’m sure some of you have friends or regular siblings that you’re like that with too.

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Anyway. One of the things that Jas and I do NOT have in common is a love of cooking. Not that she can’t cook at all, it’s that she just doesn’t like to do it all that much. Now, I already shared before that my older sister Ashley loves the meat pies that I make for her. I also said that Jas likes baked spaghetti. Actually, no. I said that she could eat the stuff every day. That was not an exaggeration.

Jas LOVES baked spaghetti. Really, really, REALLY loves it.  I’d say it was right up there at the top of the list of her favorite foods, along with salmon, Teddy Grahams and chocolate milk. This baked spaghetti that I make for her is on a regular rotation in our house. I can make a lot of it at a time, and it pretty much doesn’t get any easier than this so far as easy meals go.

There are however 3 things that anyone cooking Jas baked spaghetti MUST remember: she wants lots of meat, she wants lots of sauce, and she doesn’t want a lot of cheese. So just keep that in mind when you make this recipe for yourself-my twin sister is a meat and sauce lover, and a cheese hater. However, since this recipe is so easy, you can always adjust the ratio of ingredients to suit you and your family’s taste.

FEED(ME) BACK: What’s a question you’ve always wanted to ask a twin? (Yes. I’ll answer anything you ask me…within reason.)

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Baked Spaghetti

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
  • 9.6 oz fully cooked sausage crumbles
  • 8-8.5 oz of angel hair pasta
  • 6 oz (1 can) tomato paste
  • 13 oz tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teasp pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 heaping teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teasp garlic salt
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, diced
  • 1 and 1/2 cup of Italian style cheese, shredded
  • 2 oz pepperoni (About 40 slices)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9 x 12 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Heat a  pot over medium heat. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, garlic salt and green pepper and stir to combine.

3. When tomato paste has completely dissolved into sauce, add the sausage crumbles and ground beef. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

4.  Cook and drain pasta according to package directions.

5. Layer pasta, sauce and cheese in baking dish, making sure you start and end with sauce.

6. Bake in preheated oven for thirty minutes. Remove from oven and place pepperoni over the top of casserole, then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for about 5-7 minutes more, until cheese in melted. Remove from oven, let stand for about 10 minutes. Serve.

Vanilla Almond Butter Bars

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One of the best things about loving to cook is the desire I have to try new types of food. This wasn’t always the case for me, in fact when I was young, I was a pretty finicky eater. I had a specific list of foods that I knew that I liked, and it was pretty much all I was interested in eating.

Now that I cook for fun, I’m usually always up for trying new foods and new ingredients. The upside to this obvious, but the ‘negative’ part to it gets a little bit more complicated. See, when I find a new food that I like, I usually get somewhat addicted to it to the point where I feel like I HAVE to have it in a regular rotation for a while-especially when it’s something that isn’t too complicated to make.

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This year alone I’ve had a HUGE variety of ‘food phases.’ Heck, I’m still in some of them: buffalo wing hummus (which I could make by throwing the ingredients in the food processor),  oven roasted veggies, chicken schwarma wraps, Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal smothered in vanilla yogurt, bananas and peanut butter on toast, Shiritaki Noodle & Zucchini Lo Mein. I’m telling you guys, my cravings have no shame.

One of the cravings that has always stuck with me is the craving to have something sweet right after I’ve finished dinner. It doesn’t have to be something ‘too’ sweet or decadent like cake or candy or ice cream (not that those things aren’t ALL wonderful). I just want something that’s sweet enough to balance out the savory flavors from dinner, but still light enough to not be too heavy or put me in a food coma ( because I usually try to save those for the Holidays).

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I’d always been a fan of raw almonds, but before I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as almond butter. But since there seemed to be a lot of people that were fans of it, I decided to take the plunge and buy some for myself.

And I was hooked. That first jar of Maranatha started an obsession with almond butter that I have yet to get over (and honestly hope that I never do). Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always love my peanut butter (after all, it is EXTREMELY cheaper), but I find that almond butter’s flavor isn’t as assertive as peanut butter’s is, and sometimes when it comes to flavors, less is more.

I’ve heard of and seen lots of recipes for no-bake bars that feature peanut butter in them (I’ve tried some, and they’re great), but not so much for almond butter. This recipe’s my little contribution/homage to almond butter. It satisfies the sweet tooth craving I get after dinner without making me feel too full. I’m sure that I’ll be stuck in a phase where I have to eat one at least every day for the next month or two. Another plus side to it is that the ingredients are actually pretty healthy so far as sweets go. Make sure you don’t leave out the vanilla extract guys, it adds something really special to the flavor of the almond butter- plus I love vanilla flavored ANYTHING, so I’ll look for excuse to throw it in a recipe if I think it’ll work…and it did. Rather nicely, I think.  I used Honey Bunches of Oats cereal with the Quick Oats to give the bars some varying textures, but if there’s another cereal that you prefer, feel free to use it. The bars are pretty versatile and ridiculously easy to make. Seriously, I think they take less than 10 minutes to put together, and a few hours to harden. So that means you literally have NO excuse not to make them. Right? Of course right.

FEED(ME) BACK: What’s your favorite thing to eat when you have a sweet tooth?

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Vanilla Almond Butter Bars

Yield: 16 Bars

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup creamy or chunky almond butter
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 2 cups of whole grain oats (either quick or rolled will work fine)
  • 1 cup Honey Bunches of Oats with Vanilla Clusters cereal, or Honey Bunches of Oats with Cinnamon Bunches cereal, slightly crushed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. Combine almond butter and honey in a 2 qt saucepan and place over medium heat. Allow to simmer until almond butter has completely liquefied and blended together with the honey. Remove from heat.

2. Stir in vanilla extract.

3. Fold the oats and cereal into the almond butter and honey mixture until evenly combined.

4. Use a rubber spatula to press the mixture into an 8” square cake pan or baking dish, making sure to spread mixture into an even layer.

5. Cover pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight, or at least for one hour.

6. Cut into squares.

Low Carb Lo Mein

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I’m gonna start this off by saying I am very, very, VERY proud of this recipe. I’m blowing/blasting my own horn here, and I don’t mind admitting it. This dish is one of the reasons why I love to experiment so much in the kitchen, why I love buying kitchen gadgets (or borrowing them from my mom) and why I firmly believe that cooking IS a sport that the more you practice at, the better you’ll get. When I first started learning how to cook, making something like this wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. I probably would’ve been afraid of using the ingredients (more on that later), or at the very least, messing the whole thing up. But that’s the beauty of practice and progress, because here we are, and now I get to share this awesome recipe with you guys (and it IS awesome).

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I know of very few people who don’t like Asian takeout style lo mein. For those who have never tried it, or don’t know what it even is (?!!!), lo mein is basically just noodles and vegetables that have been stir fried in a zesty, Asian style sauce. If that sounds delicious to you, it’s really just because well, it is.  What’s not to like about it? It’s typically served as a side dish at most major chain Asian restaurants, but I actually like eating it as a main course with egg rolls on the side. I even use it as a kind of litmus test of whether or not I’m going to like the rest of the menu at the place- if they make a good plate of lo mein, then I’ve found 9 times out of 10 that the rest of their food is pretty good too.

Pic 4So what’s the catch? It’s probably pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever had it before. Lo Mein, (along with the majority of the other dishes at Asian restaurants) tends to leave that heavy, bloated, ‘food-baby’ feeling in your stomach that none of us like too much. It’s pasta based, so it’s carb-heavy, but there’s also the likely chance that it’s marinated in high sodium soy sauce then pan fried in peanut oil. And then (because I just have to say it), there are probably some other ‘questionable’ ingredients in the noodles that may have familiar names of normal animal proteins but don’t taste very….normal. You know what I mean.

So what’s the solution to the negatives of lo mein? No, you don’t just have to ‘suffer’ from the food-baby stomach when you eat it. (Although if you do end up getting Chinese take-out, taking 2 activated charcoal pills will ease the discomfort it brings. Don’t ask how I know that.) Don’t worry, you’re not going to give it up completely either.  That would be all kinds of stupid and just wouldn’t make any sense.

What you ARE going to do, though, is make this recipe. Why? Because it’s easy, quick, delicious, and best of all….NO belly bloat. That’s right. You won’t look like you’re 9 months pregnant  or feel like you just ate a stone after eating this. This right here is low-carb lo mein, meaning there’s no actual pasta in it. Now I can just hear some of your thoughts right about now:

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“Sorry Jess. I call bs on that one. I can see noodles in that dish. They’re right there, so how CAN there be no pasta in it?” 

Relax, guys. It’s not a joke. There really is NO pasta in this dish. It really IS low carb. The ‘pasta’ in this lo mein dish comes from two ingredients: zucchini squash, and Shiritaki noodles. How did I do it? I’m glad you asked.

The zucchini, I shredded into what are called ‘ribbons’ with the help of a standard hand-held vegetable peeler that you can probably get at any major department store or multi-purpose grocery store where they sell kitchen gadgets. It’s pretty inexpensive and gets the job done just fine.

Now for the Shiritaki noodles. I’m gonna be honest with you guys upfront about these, but I don’t want you to panic or get freaked out. Deal? Okay. Shiritaki noodles are actually mainly made of… tofu. You ca buy them at major grocery stores or health food stores like Whole Foods in the gluten-free sections. They come in a variety of different shapes and varieties; the type that I usually use is Spaghetti, but they also make Angel Hair, Fettuccini, or even Macaroni. I’ve included a picture below so you can see what they look like:

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Now guys, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: please, PLEASE do not let the tofu scare you away from this recipe. I know that when most of us hear the word ‘tofu’ we instantly think of ultra-bland, ultra-nasty food that only health-nuts and fitness fanatics eat. (Or maybe you think of that Doug episode on Nickelodeon, I don’t know). But coming from a girl who has a genuine appreciation for her carbohydrates (that includes bread, pasta, etc), I promise you: these do taste JUST like the real thing when cooked properly. I’m serious. Don’t worry, the recipe will have all the details you need to prepare them the right way. It’s not complicated at all, and the result is just SO worth it. Think about it; you’re not really eating anything but vegetables, tofu, and meat (which I’ve even gone without sometimes). You make this for your family without telling them the ingredients, and they’re not going to know the difference between this lo mein, and the original. That’s how good this is.

The only real difference they may notice, is that they don’t have a bloated food-baby after eating it…and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

FEED(ME) BACK: Name one ingredient that you’re slightly (or even very) nervous to cook with for the first time.

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Low Carb Lo Mein

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE RECIPE

YIELD: 1 Serving

Ingredients

  • 1 package Shiritaki Tofu noodles
  • 1 medium size zucchini squash (either green or yellow work fine)
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped into small chunks
  • 1/3 cup shredded carrot matchsticks
  • 1/3 cup protein of your choice (ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork, shrimp)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons green onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan sauce (like San-J)

Directions

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the Hoisin, soy sauce, lemon juice and Szechuan sauce and set aside.

2. Prepare the Shiritaki noodles. Place a colander in the sink. Open the package and drain noodles in colander. (Don’t get freaked out by the smell of the noodles. It’s the liquid they’re soaked in to stay fresh- we’re gonna get rid of it). Run cold water over the noodles, drain again, then place them in a microwaveable safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 75 seconds. The smell should be gone from the noodles now. If it’s not, microwave for another 60 seconds. Drain one more time. Use a knife to roughly chop noodles, just a little bit. Set aside.

3. Cut the stem off the zucchini squash and discard. Use your vegetable peeler to shred the entire zucchini into long ribbony strands. (Yes, the whole thing).

4. Heat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add the zucchini ribbons to the skillet, and sprinkle with the ground ginger. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes. They should be somewhat limp, but still maintain their shape.

5. Add the Shiritaki noodles, meat, tomato and carrots to the skillet. Pour the sauce evenly over all of the ingredients and toss thoroughly.

6. Raise the heat to high, letting the sauce begin to bubble and continuing to stir until the sauce is completely absorbed, and the bottom of the pan is no longer slippery. Remove from heat and into a bowl. Sprinkle green onions on top of noodles and vegetables, and serve.