I’ve signed up for a few daily health challenges for the Month of May. And while I’m not going to commit to blogging every day as well, I want to start posting at least twice a week again.
Those two sentences go together because I hope/plan to blog more about the challenges and getting “healthy” in general. In the past, I have found I am most committed to “healthy” lifestyle changes when I incorporate them into my writing. Previously, I’ve kept personal journals of my “healthy” transformations. I think writing publicly will keep me more objective rather than just whining at the hard parts.
And this will be the last time I put “healthy” in quotes. You know why I’m doing that, right? Healthy looks very different to different people. Healthy has changed to me at least four times in my life and is probably not done. We learn new facts about foods and our bodies. We learn new sports. We get older and require different nutrients. We acquire new injuries.
Like 99.67% of the world, I want to go back to the 22-year-old me who could maintain a reasonable body-type living on pancakes and spaghetti and shake her pretty hard. BE HAPPY NOW AND APPRECIATE YOUR THYROID.
(Not that 99.67% of the world wants to shake 22-year-old Jessica; they want to shake their 22-year-old selves. We all know Jessica-shakers are in much higher numbers).
I’m not looking for debate regarding what is healthy, although I do welcome ideas and discussion, sympathy and encouragement.
Currently, plain old weight loss is very necessary for me to reach a healthy lifestyle. I’m going back to some tried and true methods, trying some new ones (see 2 May daily challenges), and hopefully find a primary care physician who will listen and help with issues I can’t manage by myself. (I AM ONCE AGAIN LOOKING AT YOU THYROID.)
All that said, I have been meaning to share a recipe here for forever. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but I have never had a recipe be so much “mine” as this one. It is a casserole-type deal that you cut into squares to serve. It combines quinoa, cottage cheese, eggs, and a heap of vegetables with spices that take me straight back to my father’s Thanksgiving stuffing.
I sought out the original recipe and made all my changes in order to get more vegetables in our breakfasts, but this could easily be a side dish or casserole-and-salad lunch meal.
Quinoa Veggie Casserole
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
7 stalks of celery (1/2 a…head? Of celery? Is that a thing?), chopped
8 oz package of mushrooms, chopped
1 ½ cups thinly sliced carrots (for me, this was about 18 baby carrots)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
4-8 cups fresh spinach leaves (This is because I usually use whatever spinach we have on hand)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 cups cottage cheese (I use full-fat cottage cheese because they do not add fillers/thickeners)
1 heaping teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried parsley (up to ¼ cup fresh chopped leaves if available)
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
Optional: Breadcrumbs for the bottom of the casserole pan.
Please note: this can be done in many different stages. It’s not that much work but it does require lots of chopping plus multiple pots and I’m a lazy dishwasher. I’ve taken as many as three days to complete this dish. (Cooked quinoa day 1, cooked veggies day 2, finished day 3)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Step 1: Cook one cup quinoa according to package directions. Set aside.
Step 2: Put a LARGE skillet on low/medium low heat and add two tablespoons olive oil. You are going to sauté all the vegetables very slowly. The onions and celery should sweat instead of caramelize.
Step 3: Chop all the vegetables. This is the most tedious part of the recipe but I find once I get the onions and celery cooking, I am highly motivated by the smell. The smaller you can slice/chop, usually the better. Except I like to just halve the cherry tomatoes and have them be bursts of flavor in the casserole.
Step 4: Sauté all the vegetables. You want to put the vegetables in the skillet in a sensible order for how long they need to cook. I usually add them as such:
-Onion, then celery.
-Let those start to smell yummy (5-10 minutes?) then add mushrooms and carrots.
-Let that cook until the mushrooms are done. Add the garlic and cherry tomatoes.
-Let those sauté for just a minute or two, then put the spinach (and parsley if using fresh) on top and put a large lid over the whole thing so the spinach wilts. I usually have to stir up the vegetables after a minute or so and then put the lid back on and reassess. As long as the other vegetables have cooked long enough, the spinach does not need to be perfect. It will almost disappear in the finished casserole.
Step 5: Combine the quinoa, vegetables, and all the spices in a big bowl.
Step 6: Add cottage cheese and eggs.
Here’s where you are going to have to use your own judgment a little. Both of these ingredients add protein and bind the casserole together. Depending on how fresh and watery your vegetables are, you may need less or more.
My suggestion, based on taste, would be to use a full 2 cups of cottage cheese and then add one egg at a time until the contents of the bowl are a little wetter than a good meatloaf and sticks together very well. I would never use less than 1 cup cottage cheese with 2 eggs and I would err on the side of too wet than too dry.
Isn’t this the most helpful and easy recipe you’ve ever read?
Step 7: Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 10 x 14 glass pan. Optional – sprinkle bread crumbs on the bottom. This is the best way to ensure you can cut “slices” of the casserole and maintain their shape. But as bread crumbs do not add any nutritional or taste value, I have started to omit them.
Step 8: Spread the contents of your bowl evenly in the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If the top is not golden brown by then, keeping checking in 5 minute increments.
I make this at night and we microwave slices for breakfast over the next week. I cut the pan into 8 slices and I estimate a serving is around 300-350 calories, with 1-1/2 servings of vegetables per slice. All while tasting like you are having Thanksgiving stuffing for breakfast.