atkins

Healthy & Light(er) Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

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love Autumn. There’s not much Fall to be had in Austin, but each and every year I try to will this season to occur. The leaves don’t chain color, unless you count the grass dying, the weather barely cools, but I still make my house smell like synthetic pumpkin, I wear layers in earth tones, and I make squash. Lots and lots of squash.

In an attempt to make squash more than a side dish, I decided to make a Spaghetti Squash Alfredo. Creamy without being heavy, filling without being packed with carbs. To lighten the sauce, I skipped the usual heavy cream, cut back on the butter, and made a roux instead.

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

1 Spaghetti Squash

3 TBSP butter

4 TBSP all purpose flour

1/4 cup chicken stock (or dry white wine)

1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but any will do)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Juice of 1 half lemon

1/2 TBSP dried parsley flakes or 1 TBSP freshly chopped parsley

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. In a 4 sided cookie pan or large pyrex fill with enough water to fill about 1/4-1/2 inch up the sides. Place the squash (which at this point will look nothing like spaghetti) face down into the water. Roast the spaghetti squash for 35-45 minutes or until tender. I like my pasta al dente, so I took the squash out at 35 minutes.

The sauce comes together quickly, so make this no more than 10 minutes before the squash needs to come out.  Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour until you make a paste of even consistency.  Add the milk and chicken stock or wine, whisking to incorporate. Add the garlic and let simmer for about 3 minutes, whisking periodically. Sprinkle in the parm and the garlic powder, whisking to combine. If the alfredo sauce seems to thick, add chicken stock or white wine a TBSP at a time. As it sits and simmers it will thicken, so be sure to whisk periodically. It is best, however, to make the sauce a little thick because the squash does contain a lot of liquid naturally and that will moisten the sauce once tossed together. Just before serving, whisk in the lemon juice for brightness. You can also sprinkle the lemon juice directly over the squash prior to topping with sauce if preferred.

Getting back to the squash, once done roasting, remove from cookie sheet or pyrex and let cool about 5 minutes. Wrapping the back of the squash in a tea towel (the side with the skin on it) lightly separate the innards of the squash with a fork. I stuck the tines of the fork into the squash meat and gentle twisted, revealing the meat to be spaghetti-like.

Once the squash meat is cleaned out of the skin, place your “spaghetti” into a paper towel lined colander in the sink. The one draw back to this dish is that the squash contains a lot of moisture and you want to try to remove some of that prior to serving, just so the meal doesn’t get watery. Once the sauce is done or the squash has drained a bit in the colander for 5 or so minutes, which ever comes first, place the spaghetti squash into a large bowl and toss with the sauce, reserving about 1/4 of alfredo for topping if desired. Plate topping each serving with a little extra sauce and a small sprinkling of parsley. I also topped mine with a shredded slice of prosciutto, but sautéed chicken or shrimp would also be perfect as well to add a healthy and light punch of protein. I  really couldn’t detect much of a difference in flavor between the squash and regular spaghetti at all. It was a wonderfully flavorful Autumn dinner, without weighing us down, whether or not Fall was actually happening outside.

Pig & Fig 2: Spicy Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Chops

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I’ve started mixing sweet with savory just for the thrill. It’s taught me a lot about food, made me a bit more adventurous, and aids me in cooking. With a recent bounty of figs I knew I had to come up with a few new creations before the figs went to the great fig tree in the sky, i.e. went bad. Working on something sweet, I originally made a fig sauce for dipping chicken into or pouring over fish, but the moment I tasted it I knew: This sauce was born for charring pork. My buddy tasted it and said “It’s good,” and then proceed to dunk a grilled chicken tenderloin into it. “Mmmm!…Yeah, okay,” he said while still chewing. “It would be best with pork.” Yes, padawan. I know.

Fig Sauce/Glaze:

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped figs

1 1/2 cup water

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 TBSP soy sauce

1 TBSP Ponzu

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup orange juice

Throw everything into a sauce pot and cook down over medium high heat until it’s reduced by at least a third to half. It’s going to be pretty thick. Set it aside to cool.

While the sauce was marrying post simmer, I took two gorgeous, thick-cut bone in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each, rinsed them, and patted them dry. Once the sauce cooled a bit (you can make this sauce a few days in advance if need be and keep it in the fridge in tupperware for 3-5 days) I blended it with an immersion hand blender, you can also use a potato masher. It’s fine if the sauce is still pretty chunky.

I then slathered the chops with the fully cooled sauce and let them sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. These were thick and needed to come to room temperature before I through them on the grill.

I operate on one speed: Fast. The also means that I generally cook on one temp: High. I preheated my grill, cleaned the grates, and slathered the pork just a bit more and cracked fresh black pepper over them before putting it on the grill. Now these chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick, so they had to cook a while, and though I wanted a char, I didn’t need dry pork. No one needs that. After 4 minutes on one side my friend gave the chops a quarter turn and left them for another 4 minutes.  We dripped a bit more sauce on the top and topped with black pepper again prior to flipping them and lowered the burners to medium-high. After about 4 minutes, there was a quarter turn and they were done two minutes later. You want your pork to register at 145 degrees – YES, this is safe – and remember that as it rests, it will continue cooking a bit.

This was a lot of pork for 2 people, so I served it with simply an arugula and summer greens salad dressed with olive oil, quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which really intensifies the natural flavor and sweetness of the ripe figs. It was a perfect, protein packed, low fat dinner for a summer evening. This is great for everyone, but it’s also paleo friendly and excellent for South Beach or Atkins

The sauce and char makes ’em!

Quinoa & Tomato Summer Salad

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Quinoa (I call it Qwi – No- Ah. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be pronounced Keen-Wah. I don’t care.) is an excellent course of protein, fiber, and iron with a very low glycemic index and no fat. Best of all, it can be used in a number of ways, has great texture and is a great addition to a low-carb lifestyle. It’s gaining in popularity due to its naturally healthy nature and has become relatively easy to find in the pasta or rice aisles of most grocery stores.

One of my favorite summer meals is thinly sliced, grilled rare London Broil with tomato salad. To get rid of the carbs in a serving of fresh white bread or a side of mashed potatoes, I decided to combine my love of tomato salad with quinoa. This in no way needs to be a mere side. The flavors are fresh, bright, and summery. It’s perfect to swap out the heaviness of your average pasta or potato salad with this dish, or just for a filling vegetarian lunch.

Quinoa & Tomato Summer Salad

2 cups water

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 cups uncooked Quinoa

3 – 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 TBSP salt

1/2 TBSP black pepper

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

3 TBSP freshly chopped basil. A chiffonade is easy, looks awesome, and spreads the flavor.

3 cups various tomatoes. I used 1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes, 1 cup multi-colored cherry/slightly larger heirlooms, and 1 cup of a beef eater tomato cut into inch chunks

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

a sprinkle of lemon juice (optional)

Bring the water and stock to a bowl in a medium sauce pot and add the quinoa. Prepare as instructed on the box, usual over low for 15 minutes, and then covered over no heat for 5 minutes. Let any extra liquid evaporate after 5 minutes and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, garlic, basil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Gentle toss ingredients and let sit until quinoa is cooled to room temperature. Add cooled quinoa to the tomatoes. Drizzle the olive oil over everything and toss. Taste and add more salt or pepper to taste if need be. A fresh sprinkling of lemon juice over it all right before serving adds extra deliciousness. You can also break up a wedge or Parmesan cheese and throw that into the mix, for added texture and richness. It’s a great side with any grilled meat or on it’s own as a filling meal with a slice of focaccia!