Butternut Squash Lasagna Recipe

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In my quest to maintain a low carb diet, the main thing I miss is Italian food. I love Italian food but it is, of course, carb-heavy, because pasta. "Noodles" made from zucchini and squash (etc.) are OK, but they're just not the same.

I was peeling something one day with my Y-peeler, and got a case of the I-wonders. Depending on how it's cooked, butternut squash can be super-soft, like baked sweet potato, or firm-ish, like al dente pasta. So I says to myself, I says, I wonder if you could make lasagna with butternut squash "sheets" as the pasta. The internet provided no answers. The closest I could find was a recipe that uses disks of it as noodles. So it was time for some experimentation. I am pleased to report, it's doable. And fortunately it makes a lot of food, so the amount of time is worth it, unlike some of the other fancier dishes I make.

Makes 12 servings
Active time: 20-30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Equipment Needed

  • Large casserole dish
  • Y-peeler
  • Spatula (baking style)

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 3 cups shredded cheese
    Mozzarella for the top, plus more/parmesan/Italian blend for the filling
  • 2 cups alfredo sauce (or homemade)
  • 1 15oz container part skim ricotta cheese
    Regular ricotta is fine, too, but part skim has less fat
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1.5 cups finely diced onion
  • 1 lb ground chicken
    Any ground meat will work, I think chicken or sausage tastes best with the squash
  • 14oz crushed tomatoes
    1/2 of a standard can
  • 1/4 cup finely diced mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
    Or, 1/4 cup chiffonaded fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
 "Noodles!"

"Noodles!"

Instructions

  1. Cut the round ends off the squash
  2. Peel it down to the orange flesh
    Make sure to peel until there are no "veins" either
  3. Continue using the peeler to peel off sheets of squash; these are your noodles
    Save all of these, even the ragged or short ones, they'll be useful for covering gaps later
  4. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high
  5. Brown the meat, stirring continuously and breaking apart chunks
  6. Once browned, strain off the grease by dumping the meat into a colander; return to skillet
  7. Add garlic, onion, and mushrooms and cook until the onions are soft
    Stir regularly so nothing sticks; about 10 minutes
  8. Add tomatoes
  9. Reduce to a simmer and cover; cook for 10 minutes
  10. Preheat oven to 375°
  11. In a medium bowl, combine egg, ricotta, 1.5 cups shredded cheese, and remaining herbs/seasonings
  12. Mix well
    This is quickest if you first use your hands to get it roughly mixed
  13. Coat the casserole dish with cooking spray or oil
  14. Cover the bottom with a thin layer of sauce
  15. Put down a double layer of "noodles"
    They're too thin for a single layer, and as they bake they'll meld together; make sure to cover any gaps
  16. Spread a layer, about 1/4", of the ricotta mixture with a spatula
  17. Put down another layer of noodles
  18. Spread a layer of the meat mixture
  19. Repeat—sauce, noodle, ricotta, noodle, meat, noodle—until the dish is mostly full or you're out of building materials
    The top layer should be noodle; do not go all the way up to the edge, or you'll have a mess on your hands when it puffs up while baking
  20. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes
  21. Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes
  22. Cover the top with the remaining shredded cheese and bake for another 10 minutes
  23. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving

Maybe Diets Don't Have to be the Worst?

Like many people, I started a diet with the advent of the new year. There's no practical reason for waiting until then (apart from the gluttony that accompanies the holidays), but something about the calendar roll-over makes it easier to commit to attempting to make a change.

If this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone? but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering ‘It will be happier’
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Foresters," Act I, Scene III

Despite being a scrawny kid, I've been large-ish since my early teen years; after puberty my metabolism basically gave up, and that coincided with me participating less and less in physical activities. For the last 3-4 years I've maintained my weight, but that weight is Too Much™. The last successful diet I had was when I was 18; I went down from a 38 waist size to a 32—I don't remember how much actual weight I lost—by doing the Atkins diet. In the last 3 years I've tried juicing, meal replacement plans, and Weight Watchers, none of which I've been able to stick with long-term. Juicing doesn't work for me because there's a psychological aspect of not feeling sated even when I've had enough calories, because you're not eating anything. The meal replacement plan didn't work because it just wasn't enough food intake, period, which made it nearly impossible (and it was very expensive). With Weight Watchers, I just wasn't really motivated, and there's a financial aspect outside of the actual food.

So the low carb diet is the only one I've really been able to stick with, and this time around I have a (not) secret weapon, which is that know a lot more about food now and am a pretty decent chef. The main problem with diets, I find, is that diet food generally sucks. There's nothing exciting about a salad; and if a particular salad is exciting, it's not actually healthy. Meal replacement bars and shakes are uniformly gross. Juicing is unsatisfying. So the trick is to make meals that are healthy, filling, and appetizing.

I can do that now. I'm not going to blog about everything I eat while doing this, but I will be posting some of the better/uniquer (is uniquer a word? not really, but it's fun to say, so go with it) recipes I make, especially if it's something I come up with on my own. So here's some of what I've had so far, all of which was good:

 Photo from Geniuskitchen.com

Photo from Geniuskitchen.com

Zucchini Pesto w/ Shrimp
I love pasta. This is a problem, because pasta is like 110% carbs. However, you can noodleize several vegetables*  and it's very close texturally and either mostly flavor neutral (zucchini and yellow squash), especially with sauce, or tasty enough in its own way you can work with it in the dish. Pesto sauce is extremely low carb—basically the only thing in it that has any to speak of is the nuts—and while it's fairly high calorie in bulk because of the olive oil, you don't use much per serving so it keeps the meal total low. I don't love traditional pesto sauce—I think the basil is often overpowering—so I gussied it up and am very pleased with the results.

*Basically anything that's long: most types of squash, sweet potatoes, carrots...

JMac's Pesto Recipe

 Photo from Delish.com

Photo from Delish.com

Tomato Chips
When you're doing low carb crunchy is probably the most severely limited texture option. Chips of all varieties, nuts, fried stuff...all full of carbs. Sure you could eat raw vegetables, but who needs that in their life. These are extremely easy to make, if time consuming, and are very close to eating proper potato chips.

Recipe from Delish

slumgullion

Butternut Slumgullion
This one I take 95% of the credit for (I did google how long to roast the squash and boil the sausage). It's basically the result of picking up some Italian sausage at the grocery store, then wandering around trying to think of what would go together that wasn't rote. I left with the sausage, a butternut squash, a granny smith apple, a honeycrisp apple, a sweet onion, and about $.50 worth of raw pumpkin seeds. And it worked out pretty well, I think. (Fun fact: "slumgullion" was coined by Mark Twain; in some parts of the US it's what they call American-style goulash.) This is on the edge of being not low carb, but for my purposes—staying below 60 grams/day—it's fine as long as I behave myself.

Butternut Slumgullion Recipe

JMac's Pesto Recipe

I'm not normally a pesto fan; I think in most recipes the basil taste is overpowering for the dish as a whole, distracting from the other ingredients. Additionally, it's kind of expensive to make, due to the fresh basil and pine nuts. Especially the pine nuts. However, it's about as low in carbs as a pasta sauce can be (though somewhat high calorie, due to the olive oil base)—the nuts are the only ingredient with a significant number.

So in an attempt to make the sauce palatable to myself, I added a little onion, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper; and used both dried and fresh basil. Additionally, I used far more affordable walnuts instead of pine nuts. It turned out really well, I think. I've used it on zucchini noodles and a cauliflower-crust pizza so far, both of which were tasty.

Special Equipment
Food processor

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp dried basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shelled walnuts
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients
  2. Pulse until smooth
  3. Serve immediately

Notes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Can store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months

pesto.jpg

Nutrition

Serving size: 2 tbsp
Calories: 167
Fat: 17g
Cholesterol: 6mg
Sodium: 143mg
Potassium: 37mg
Carbohydrates: 2g
Protein: 4g
Vitamin A: 6%
Vitamin C: 1%
Calcium: 12%
Iron: 4%

Butternut Slumgullion Recipe

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Equipment Needed

  • Peeler
  • Chef knife
  • Medium pot
  • 3-5 qt covered saute pan
  • Baking tray

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled & diced (3-4 cups)
  • 1 lb sweet italian sausage (3-4 sausages)
  • 1 cup diced sweet onion
  • 1 each granny smith & honeycrisp apples, peeled & diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup raw, shelled pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste
  • Butter or ghee, for sauteing

Instructions on prepping a butternut squash

Instructions

Squash & Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. In a large bowl, toss the squash with olive oil, salt, & black pepper
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  4. Lay the squash out in a single layer
  5. Place pumpkin seeds on a sheet of aluminum foil & fold it into an envelope
  6. Place this onto the baking sheet
  7. Cook for 25 minutes, or starting to get tender

Sausage

  1. Boil the sausage until mostly cooked through (about 15 minutes)
  2. Let cool, then slice thin

Slumgullion

  1. In a saute pan, melt butter or ghee
  2. Saute onion until translucent, about 5 minutes
  3. Add sausage & cook until almost no pink remains, 5-10 minutes
  4. Add garlic, squash, apple, & red pepper
  5. Stir to combine
  6. Cover & cook, stirring occasionally, until apple softens, about 5 minutes
  7. Add pumpkin seeds & stir
  8. Serve immediately

Notes

  • Makes 6 servings
  • It also tastes good with a little cheese on top
  • If you have a sous vide circulator, cook the sausages at 140° for 30 minutes
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Nutrition

(All approximate)
Calories: 315
Fat: 33g
Sodium: 9mg
Potassium: 515mg
Carbs: 39g
Dietary Fiber: 5g
Sugar: 13g
Protein: 8.5g
Vitamin A: 225%
Vitamin C: 48%
Calcium: 8%
Iron: 7.5%

Betsy Winkler’s Meal

 

She eats out of dumpsters so she can afford long-term care for her husband

The story of Betsy and David Winkler makes me sad and angry. I have a tender spot for stories of dementia: my grandfather suffered from it, and it’s probably the thing I fear most, because of how it steals your identity and control of your own body and mind away from you. Beyond that, though, is the fact that this family did everything right, and is still in this situation because of our garbage economic and political system. Mr. Winkler served in the Air Force for 20 years; and another 20 as a teacher at a juvenile detention facility. By any definition he was an upstanding citizen. Mrs. Winkler was a small business owner, and her business was a success. Had it not been for the onset of Alzheimer’s, they would be living comfortably in their retirement on a more than reasonable $50k/year. They did everything right.

It’s bad enough that we have allowed, ever increasingly so, healthcare to become a for-profit business (there are multiple culprits behind this, but insurance companies, our university system, hospital administrators/boards, professional medical associations, and the government have all had a hand in the pot, starting around the time of WW2). It’s bad enough that we, as a society, have increasingly bought into the lie of aspirational voting—that is, voting for the interests of fat cats instead of the average citizen in the hopes the fat cats will bring us into their fold. But the blatant disregard we have in this country for those in financial and/or physical need, as demonstrated by the politicians we elect, the policies they enact, and our collective unwillingness to challenge the status quo, is disgusting.

This woman is eating from a dumpster so her husband who is, in the most literal sense, slowly losing his mind can be cared for properly. And meanwhile we have a Congress and a President who want to cut funding to vital services that help people in these situations—Medicaid, Meals on Wheels, food stamps, etc.—so they can give tax cuts to corporations that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and pay their executives obscene yearly bonuses, and the wealthiest citizens.

Some facts:

We should all be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this.

Behavioral Changes Common in Sufferers of Dementia

Behavioral Changes Common in Sufferers of Dementia

This is a paper I wrote as part of my Writing for Psychology class last summer. My interest in the topic was inspired by my grandfather's worsening condition, and my suspicion he had some kind of dementia. (After doing the research, I was fairly certain he had frontotemporal dementia, though, as far as I know, he was never officially diagnosed.) It's not light reading, but maybe it'll be helpful to someone.

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President Army-Man

President Army-Man

I saw a post on Facebook the other day proposing that there be a requirement for the Presidency of prior military service. And my first thought was, 'Well, that's dumb.' There is absolutely nothing wrong with military service. It's an honorable desire to serve one's country, and to be willing to die for it and its citizens. Military service can be valuable experience for someone in a leadership, both in terms of learning leadership and learning how to serve others.

But a requirement?

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