Butternut Squash Recipes

Butternut squash. YUM. What a fantastic fall food. Not only is it good for cooking, but it is also excellent for decorating your front porch!

I love Fall. In the area where I live, there is plenty of fall foliage. The magnificent burgundy, burnt orange, yellows and greens make for a glorious landscape. My boyfriend informed me on a fun fact of just how this color changing process occurs. As the Sun begins to be less prevalent, the chlorophyll in the leaves decrease, causing the leaves to change color. Cool, huh!?

Alright, cooking. Butternut squash is probably most known for, well according to my Mother, to be made as a side dish. It is cooked and caramelized with butter and maple syrup – similar to a candied yam.

I have used this squash as the main dish, as part of a casserole and even as a sauce, replacing other less nutritious products with the squash.

Last night for dinner, I made butternut squash burgers. I know, I know I just wrote a post about burgers! But they are so good, and when I find a fun new substitute that is nutritious, I just have to share it! The butternut squash was flavored with spices that gave it an extra kick and some spices that blended well with its earth tones. Pair that with a whole wheat bun and you have a health packed dinner! On Monday, I made butternut squash apple curry. Typically this recipe utilizes chicken, but since I was out of chicken, I substituted butternut squash. I also tried two weeks ago, a butternut squash taco recipe (replaced the hamburger meat and seasoned it with taco seasoning).

Let’s look at the nutrition for a second. One cup of cubed, cooked butternut squash packs in 6.6 grams of fiber, 1.8 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, sodium and cholesterol, a low glycemic index and only 82 calories. It also provides well over 100% vitamin A, roughly 50% vitamin C and plenty of potassium. Check out http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/butternut-squash-packed-with-vitamin-a-and-delicious for more information on the nutrition of butternut squash.

Below is my recipe for the butternut squash burgers. Enjoy!


Spicy Squash Burgers

  • 1 medium sized butternut squash
  • 1/4 cup italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 egg or egg substitute (1 Tbsp flax seed + 3 Tbsp water)
  • 3/4 Tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp turmeric
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • lettuce and onion for garnish
  • barbecue sauce for on top of burger
  • pack of 4 whole wheat buns
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cut the neck of the squash apart from the body. Reserve the body of the squash for another dish (I used mine for squash apple curry). Cut the neck horizontally in half so that it has one flat side and one rounded side.
  3. Place flat side of squash on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cook in 350F oven for 1 hour or until squash is soft.
  4. Once squash is cool, scrape out the insides of the squash into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add bread crumbs, egg, spices. Mix well.
  5. Heat skillet with 1 Tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Form patties with the squash mixture, roughly 1/4 cup sized patties. You should be able to form roughly 4 patties.
  6. Once oil is hot (can test by sprinkling water into the oil, it should sizzle), place 1 squash patty into pan. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until patty is slightly browned/caramelized.
  7. Remove patty from skillet and place onto bun. Repeat the process for the next 3 patties. Note that when you remove the patty, the patty will still be soft. This is expected. The squash patty will never become hard and crunchy.
  8. Top squash burger with lettuce, onion and barbecue sauce. Enjoy!

**These burgers may also be saved for another day. Place cooked burgers into an airtight container. When ready to use, take out of container and heat in microwave for 30 seconds. Assemble into a sandwich. May be stored for 3-4 days in refrigerator.

How to…get in shape

Getting in shape is hard. It takes determination, a LOT of it. I have been fortunate because my parents instilled an active lifestyle in me since I was young. That meant that as long as I continued to stay active and do sports, I would technically never become “out of shape”.

This all changed a few years ago, when I first graduated from college. I was fortunate to run cross country and track in college, but after 4 years of high intensity competitive running I was sick of it. I chose to take off that winter – who wants to run in the cold, ice and snow? Not me! I volunteered with my local track team that Spring as a coach, which is what re-ignited my running passion. Getting back in shape was very difficult, and I swore I would never allow myself to take such a long hiatus again.

Unfortunately I have since dealt with two foot injuries that required surgery. My total injury/recovery process for both was about a year and a half. Coming back to my chosen sport, running, after this long hiatus was way more difficult than my elective hiatus during those winter months. For the first time in my life that I can vividly remember, I was absolutely “out of shape”. Running up hills HURT. I had to walk, a lot. My breathing was so heavy I swore people a mile down the road could hear me. I prayed for red lights to actually be red when I got to them. To be honest, I never had one thought of not wanting to pursue this running passion I had. It was absolutely torture, but I had an end goal of getting back into the shape I remembered I used to be in, going for my favorite type of run – a long run – without dying every step of the way.

I have experienced this terrible out of shape feeling a few times. I can truly relate to why people don’t desire to ever get in shape, because it is truly hard. The thing that drove me was that I had a goal in mind. I desired to be able to go for a run and not struggle. I desired to run fast. I desired to run long distance races. All of these things kept driving me to get out there each day and face that out of shape struggle.

It took me a good year to get back into the shape I used to be in pre-injury. As one continues to exercise, your muscles build these muscle memories. These memories help you to get back in shape faster than average. This second foot injury I came back from, I can already see the progress I made to get back in shape is faster than with the first foot injury.

My advice to you for sticking to your goal and getting in shape is to write down your goals. Put those goals on your refrigerator so that you are reminded each day why you are getting out the door to exercise. It takes time, and patience is a hard virtue to have, but be patient. It WILL come. I reminded myself each day I felt like I was on the struggle bus (ahem every day), and told myself why I was out there, and what I wanted to achieve.

I challenge you to chose an exercise activity (fitness video, walk, swim, run, hike, etc) and for the next month get out there 3 times a week for 30 minutes. 

What goals do you have or are you trying to achieve?2015-12-13-16-32-15


Garden Scraps Turned Into a Sauce

I know what you are thinking, garden scraps can’t possibly make a delicious sauce. But I will prove you wrong! They sure can! And it is a sauce that is well known – pesto! Pesto displays a vibrant green color and packs a powerful punch of flavor with the toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. But let’s not forget where the green color comes from.

Pesto is generally thought of as a “basil pesto”, because the brunt of the sauce utilizes basil. While basil certainly delivers a great flavor to the sauce, and most times grows abundantly in a garden, it is not always readily available for everyone. Unfortunately, I do not have a yard at my current residence, and therefore cannot sustain a garden. Sure, I could get an indoor herb garden and grow basil, but most likely my cat would enjoy the herbs before I get my hand on them. Therefore, I stick to purchasing my food ingredients from the store.

Basil is fairly cheap to buy, but on my budget (mounds of student loans since I JUST graduated from graduate school), means that I need to be extra savvy at shopping. I love purchasing fresh vegetables, and although these are more expensive then frozen vegetables, I am willing to allocate these extra funds to this purchase.

Now, let’s get to the point of this article. How exactly do I use scraps to make pesto? Easy! I purchase fresh red beets or fresh carrots and get a 2-for-1 deal. The green part of the red beets and carrots can be used in place of the basil to make pesto. Not only that, pesto is one of those sauces that can easily be made and frozen for later use. After I make pesto, I freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, allowing for individual portions. I take these out of the ice cube tray and put them in a freezer safe ziploc bag for later use. And of course the fresh vegetables that I purchased are used as my vegetable for a meal!

Let’s quick talk about nutrition before you check out the recipe. There are a number of different sauces out there – tomato, alfredo, vodka, all sorts of salad dressings, barbecue sauce, ketchup, etc. When I think of pesto, I classify it with the spaghetti sauces – tomato, alfredo, vodka sauce. That’s just where my brain feels it belongs. The latter two sauces, alfredo and vodka are based off of a heavy cream base. Heavy cream is far from healthy, due to the amount of saturated fat in it. Tomato sauce certainly packs a punch of nutrients with the amount of tomatoes. A lot of tomato sauces have an addition of sugar, which most don’t realize. Next time you are in the grocery store, look at the label of a can of spaghetti sauce. You may be surprised! Regardless, tomato sauce is still a nutritious sauce.

Pesto is high in calorie – mainly due to the parmesan cheese and olive oil. However, it still provides nutrients from the greens that it is made of, and is a better alternative than alfredo sauce. The important thing to note is PORTION control. Since this recipe already portions out the pesto in ice cube trays, you are set to go! Beet greens are an excellent source of vitamin K which helps with blood clotting. Those of you who are on blood thinners, most likely have been told to avoid greens for this very reason! They are also abundant in beta-carotene which is an important anti-oxidant that helps to fight what are called free radicals in the body. Free radicals are thought to contribute to cancer and heart disease. They also provide vitamin C, copper, manganese, fiber, calcium, vitamin E and magnesium, plus they are low in fat and cholesterol. Need I say more? 20160927_190752

Garden Scrap Pesto

2.5 cups of greens (from either red beets or carrots)

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

  1. In a food processor, finely chop the greens.
  2. While these are chopping place pine nuts in a single layer on a sheet tray and place in an oven at 350F. Toast for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  3. Add toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic to chopped greens. Blend in food processor.
  4. Slowly add olive oil until it is all incorporated. Sauce will be slightly thick.
  5. Portion out sauce into ice cube trays. Then freeze for 1 hour.
  6. Once frozen, remove pesto “cubes” from tray and put in freezer bag. Pesto “cubes” should remove with ease due to the olive oil in the sauce.
  7. Enjoy on chicken, fish, pasta, or as a sandwich spread!

Burger Make-Over

Burgers are such an excellent Summer food. It always reminds me of cookouts, family and friends. I don’t typically think of making burgers during the winter months. I more so seem to choose to eat a burger during the winter months if I go out to eat.

So, the real question is, how bad are burgers? They seem to get such a bad rep. Especially when you think of a fast food burger, like McDonald’s or Burger King. Nutritionally speaking, utilizing ground beef to make a burger versus other ingredients like turkey or beans for a vegetable burger, the beef doesn’t stack up. Let’s look at the stats:
Beef (80/20 beef/fat blend): 290 Calories, 23g fat (9g saturated), 19g protein, 0g fiber
Turkey (Perdue): 160 Calories, 8g fat (2g saturated), 21g protein, 0g fiber
Bean (Boca Spicy Black Bean): 110 Calories, 4g fat (0.5 saturated), 10g protein, 4g fiber

Statistically speaking, the bean burger wins hands down. It provides the least amount of Calories, fat and saturated fat, and provides a source of fiber. However, most people may argue the same debate as me, if you are going to eat a burger, you want the real thing. That doesn’t help the nutritional situation, though, at hand.

Both the bean and the turkey burgers provide excellent substitutes for a burger. Nowadays, they make products that you can purchase in the store for convenience that pack a lot of flavor into those “healthier” burgers. Before tossing a turkey or bean burger idea to the side, try one! I think you’ll be happily surprised.

Now let’s get back to the issue at hand. How can you make a beef burger still provide you with the delicious beef flavor to satisfy your craving, and yet provide perhaps better nutritional value? SUBSTITUTIONS! In this recipe, I substitute some of the beef for apple and spinach. The apple provides moisture, because the majority of an apple’s composition is water. You won’t get the same dry texture like you do from turkey burgers. Turkey burgers become dry due to the lower content of fat. The apple and spinach further provide fiber, an added bonus to the burger. By removing a content of ground beef, you reduce both the calorie content and the fat.

Lean Mean Burger
1/2 lb ground beef 80/20
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup apple, peeled and ground into fine pulp
1/2 cup spinach, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp olive oil

In a medium size bowl, mix together all ingredients until well combined. Form into 8, 1/2 inch thick patties. Heat oil in a large skillet, and cook burgers until golden brown and cooked through. This should take about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Serve the lean mean burger on a bun with light mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.

**TIP: Patties can be made 1 day ahead. Cover in saran wrap and chill in refrigerator. Bring patties to room temperature before cooking.


Health and Well-being

It is with great honor that I recently completed training and became a certified physician assistant. For those of you who are not familiar with what a physician assistant is, please check out this fantastic article: https://www.aapa.org/What-is-a-PA/

I will be working in a field which ties my passions together, more than I ever could have imagined: nutrition, exercise and medicine. I will be working in oncology (cancer). Due to this new job, I have become inspired to “pay it forward” and provide a variety of healthy recipes, recipe makeovers, nutritional facts and the science behind different recipes. I also hope to bring my exercise passion to this blog to inspire all of you to get moving! Exercise has been found to have a huge POSITIVE impact on health in all aspects of medicine, including oncology!

Please read, comment and follow me to stay up to date on all foods delicious, better for you and exercise related :)!

Back to the oval, the track!

I have had some very difficult injuries the past few years with running. It’s been frustrating to say the least, but it has also been sort of a “refreshing” break.

Members in my community certainly know me as a runner. I would never choose to receive an injury in running which requires surgery, much less two! But without these injuries, I would have missed out on a lot.

Things I have learned from bilateral foot injuries:

  1. getting into shape is HARD, running is no joke
  2. the heart grows fonder of something when it is away from that specific something – this is 100% TRUE
  3. small milestones are often times the best – running for the first time in over 7 months of inability to hardly walk was AMAZING
  4. always expect the unexpected – I was running slower pre-surgery than I am post-surgery due to decreased pain, and I thought I would lose the shape I was in! (although I have lost a great deal)
  5. Enjoy life’s simple pleasures every day, for you never know what the next day will bring
  6. crutches are hard work
  7. never judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes
  8. social support means the world for anything
  9. every limb in your body has a function; truly appreciate everything your body does for you
  10. And one final thing to keep in mind: “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg.
    It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstances.”

I’m happy to say that after attempting to get back into running two weeks ago post foot surgery, developing a tendonitis in my foot, taking two more weeks off, I am back to running! I’m equally amazed as I was from my first foot surgery, to just have the ability to walk again without pain. I couldn’t be more grateful.

What is the worst injury that you had in the past?

An “Egg-cellent” Pumpkin Pie

It’s really all about the eggs in a pumpkin pie. Well that is if you want your pumpkin pie to have the texture of a typical pumpkin pie. This type of pie is different from other pies. It’s almost a blend between a custard and a mousse. Light, but dense enough to hold it’s form. The texture of the pie contributes just as much pizzazz as the aroma from the spices and flaky, buttery crust. All are equal contributors into making the perfect pumpkin pie.

So how exactly does a pumpkin pie mixture transform from cinnamon and nutmeg pumpkin “soup” into this delicate pie? The trick is all in the eggs. As pumpkin pie cooks, eggs coagulate, or change to a solid state. The proteins in the eggs shrink as they continue to cook. Therefore, it is important to remove the pie when it is done cooking, or the pie will crack, and will not be as tender and moist.

This pie is a bit tricky to determine when it is done. The pie should still jiggle a small amount in the center. One way to ensure it doesn’t overcook is to immediately place the bottom of the pie pan in a cool tub of water for roughly 30 seconds. This process will stop the egg proteins from continuing to cook.

So there you have it. The eggs in a pumpkin pie recipe really are the stars of the show. Without them, we all might just end up with pumpkin soup!

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What is your favorite pie?