Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

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People do many different things to support a cause, some run marathons, I eat.  At various charity events, I have auctioned myself out to have lunches and dinners with generous donors who support those causes that I advocate.  I really enjoy meeting the interesting people from all walks of life over a delicious meal at a beautiful restaurant.  Is there a better excuse to pig out — for a cause that you believe in?  Today, our donors Charles and Lilian Huang contributed over $ 10,000 for a 1990 Institute project called Youth Voice on China Video Contest, in which students from US middle schools, high schools and colleges made short films expressing their views and feelings about China.  It is my hope that this project will help promote understanding and friendship between the peoples of America and China.

The lunch was very enjoyable — sumptuous food, beautiful ambiance and lively conversation — all for a worthy cause.

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I prepared a simple vegetarian meal today, and we ate it while watching the Oscars.

Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

Ingredients for Roast Butternut Squash:

1 butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

A few generous dashes of paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Roast Onion:

1 red onion, chopped

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Other ingredients:

8 oz. uncooked 100 wholewheat penne pasta

2 tbsp or more shaved parmesan cheese

Chopped basil and sliced green onion for garnish (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 400F.  Spray a baking pan with olive oil.  Coat butternut squash with oil and spread it evenly in the baking pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and spices.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Spray a separate baking pan with oil.  Coat the chopped onion with lemon juice.  sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes or until soft.

When the butternut squash and onion are baking, cook the pasta according to package direction until al dente. 

Drain and mix the pasta with the roast butternut squash and onion.  Separate pasta into four plates and top with parmesan and sprinkle with basil and green onion.  Salt and pepper or a dash of cayenne to taste.

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Creamy Conchiglie Pasta – Healthified!

I think we’ve established that pasta is boss. So it’s no surprise that today we made even more pasta.

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Every time we go grocery shopping, we always pass the pasta aisle and Audrey begs for the big pasta shells that are on display. They do look very enticing.  We never end up getting them because they’re made out of white flour and Audrey gets more than her fair share of refined carbs from all the candy she eats. Today we decided to buy some whole wheat conchiglie to satisfy her craving.

It was pretty hard to find conchiglie that’s whole wheat; we had to search through some pretty hippie-ish Gen Y grocery stores, which thankfully are abundant in San Francisco. If you don’t have one of those stores near you, you can substitute with another type of 100% whole wheat pasta or just use regular conchiglie. Anything in moderation, right?

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Ingredients

1 pound conchiglie or other pasta, preferably 100% whole wheat*
1 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (14-16 oz.) bag frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 pinch smoked paprika
2 cups basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
8 ounces feta cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

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Preparation

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the garlic and 1 tablespoon of basil until aromatic, add 2/3 cup of peas and give it a few stirs. Pour the cooked peas and the yogurt in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium heat in a small skillet and fry the pepper flakes, paprika and pine nuts until aromatic or the nuts slightly brown. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to direction on package. As soon as the pasta is al dente, add the remaining peas to the same pot, then immediately transfer peas and pasta to colander. Drain and shake the colander to release excess water.

Mix pasta, peas and the yogurt-pea sauce. Sprinkle with pine nuts, basil leaves and feta cheese. Serve warm.

The recipe makes six servings.

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Adapted from “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi
The Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday Eating and Drinking

*Pedantic foodie rant: A lot of the pasta at grocery stores that calls itself “whole wheat” is actually made with 51% whole wheat flour and 49% refined flour (cough cough Barilla cough), if that. Food packaging is, as the kids say, hella deceptive. Take Cheerios, for example. The packaging says “Made with 100% whole grain oats,” which is true. However, Cheerios themselves aren’t technically 100% whole grain because they contain small amounts of corn starch and wheat starch.

So if you’re trying to cut refined carbs out of your diet, make sure not to be fooled by deceptive packaging! My mother always buys “made with whole grain” products that are mostly just white flour. Yes, unbleached enriched flour is regular refined white flour. Moral of the story: if you’re trying to improve your diet, check the ingredient list before you buy anything! Sure, a little white flour here and there won’t kill you, but consuming unhealthy food should be a conscious decision. Unwholesome ingredients shouldn’t be snuck into your stomach by food labels that are obviously intended to fool you. Just my two cents.

Lotus Root: the Sexiest Tuber

An anonymous internet philosopher once said, “Just like the lotus, we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of darkness, and radiate into the world.”

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Ever heard of eating your feelings? Well, today we ate the part of the lotus that never makes it out of the filth. We ate the lotus root, the part responsible for the growth and existence of the pretty flower that never gets to see the light of day until it’s cruelly uprooted and devoured. It does almost all the work and never gets much credit or appreciation. Eat a lotus root. Everyone’s got a little lotus root in them.

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Potatoes and lotus roots face off. East meets West. MMA.

And they stand their ground against sweet potatoes too!

And they stand their ground against sweet potatoes too!

According to the wise and all-knowing Google, lotus roots are better than taters. Think of ’em as the plain old potato’s sexier exotic friend with more potassium and vitamin C and fiber by mass. Lotus roots are popular in many Asian cuisines. We watched a documentary last year in AP Chinese about how lotus roots are grown; apparently they’re quite difficult to harvest since farmers have to dig out the entire root, which is several feet long. If the root breaks, it gets filled with filth and it can’t be sold. These A+ tubers are definitely worth the trouble though.

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Apologies for inundating you with lotus root pics.

So that’s Lotus Root 101.

Anyway… lotus roots can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. You can stuff them with soaked glutinous sweet rice and cook them up with dates, “dragon eyes” and xylitol (or sugar, if you’re into that) and they’re sort of dessert-y, almost like Japanese mochi in texture.

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A very Shanghainese dish

You can also sauté them and they’ll be nice and crunchy. We made ’em with noodles… I didn’t choose the carb life; the carb life chose me. Dr. Atkins can run in terror from pasta, but I’ll embrace it with a smile.

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Ingredients for Asian Peanut Noodles with Lotus Root:

For the Peanut Sauce:

14.5 oz fat free chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian)

5 tbsp peanut butter (I used reconstituted PB2 for lower fat)

1 tbsp sriracha

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp soy sauce (use Tamari for gluten free)

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

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For the Vegetables and Noodles:

1 section of a lotus root, sliced

salt and pepper (to taste)

1 tbsp sriracha (more or less to taste)

5 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

1 tbsp soy sauce (use Tamari for gluten free)

1/2 tbsp sesame oil

8 oz rice noodles, preferably 100% whole grain

3/4 cup green onion, chopped

1 cup shredded snow peas

1 red bell pepper, sliced

2 tbsp chopped peanuts

Preparation:

For the peanut sauce: Combine 1 cup broth, peanut butter, sriracha, honey, 2 tbsp soy sauce, ginger, and 3 cloves crushed garlic in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until sauce becomes smooth and well blended, about 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

Boil water for the noodles and cook pasta according to package instructions.

Heat a large skillet or wok until hot. Add 2 cloves crushed garlic, scallions, snow peas, bell pepper, lotus root and salt, sauté until tender crisp, about 1-2 minutes.

Drain noodles and toss with peanut sauce. Separate the noodles in 6 plates and top with the sautéd vegetables and chopped peanuts. Or mix the sautéd vegetables with the noodles and top with chopped the peanuts.

The recipe makes about 6 servings.

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Sautéed Kale with Whole Wheat Penne + Pastel Mint Boutique Review!

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You’ve already rolled your eyes as I waxed poetic about the beauty and grace incarnate that is pasta. Pasta is love, pasta is life, and I hope to one day marry pasta in a small courthouse ceremony with a ring of rigatoni around my finger. Disclaimer: this post was written while coming off a pasta high, in case you couldn’t notice. Forgive my incoherency.

Today we made some 100% whole wheat penne with kale. My mother called it a little naughty and a little nice. She was wrong. Pasta is nice too. A little pasta never hurt nobody. No food in itself can cause diabetes or obesity. But if you’re a little carbophobic you can alter the ratio of pasta to kale or substitute some or all of the pasta with spiralized vegetables, spaghetti squash or shirataki. Personally I find the latter absolutely disgusting and reminiscent of vulcanized worms. Shirataki is made out of an indigestible Japanese root called konjac, so it has zero grams of net carbohydrates and is essentially non-nutritive, although it is a relatively good source of fiber. Do what you want to do. Eat your rubber noodles and be sad.

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Or join the Cult of Carbs and live your life in joy. Your call.

Anyway, this recipe is vegetarian and full of delicious veggies so it’s perfect for Meatless Mondays. It can also be gluten free if you use the subs listed above or use gluten free pasta.

Ingredients:

2 bunches lacinato kale, stemmed
4 oz. (about 1 cup) uncooked 100% whole wheat penne
1/4 cup red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 of a 15 oz. can of white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon shaved parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pesto sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 1/2 large lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Cook the pasta according to package instructions and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan or wok on medium high. Add the garlic and stir until aromatic. Add the kale and bell pepper and sauté until soft, adding a little water or broth if necessary. Add the beans and give it a few good stir until heated through.

Turn off the stove and add 1/4 cup parmesan, 2 tablespoons pesto sauce, the juice from half a lemon, salt and pepper to taste, mix well.

Dish out and sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon parmesan. Serve immediately.

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I hope you enjoy this recipe! Don’t pigeonhole it into the internet’s list of nasty kale recipes. Honestly I think a lot of people hate kale but pretend to like it since it’s so trendy and has a superfood rep (although the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease journal rated vegetables by nutrient density and kale was only #15, probably because it’s more than twice as energy-dense as spinach by mass). A lot of the kale available at supermarkets is really tough and disgusting and inedible especially if you try to make your own raw kale salad. We chose to use kale for this recipe since kale doesn’t cook down as much as spinach so it’s a better foil to the penne. If you hate kale then you can sub some other vegetable, perhaps collard greens, but we recommend trying fresh kale to see how you like it. Some farmers market kale is god-awful but if it’s really fresh then it’s 10/10.

It was shaped like a barn but it was actually quite nice inside.

It was shaped like a barn but it was actually quite nice inside.

Since returning to San Francisco from New England I’ve gotten to appreciate the city more. The autumn isn’t as pleasantly pilgrim-y and I no longer live in a quaint little cottage but at least it isn’t freezing or overrun by squirrels. Also, it’s very hipsterish which a lot of people hate but now I don’t have to turn to Netflix to watch Portlandia. A large hipster population makes for bigger and better artisanal-feeling grocery stores that are even more hardcore than Whole Foods. I’m talking Rainbow Grocery level hipster. For me, there’s nothing more fun than wandering the aisles of a grocery store, even if I don’t end up buying anything. In the dead of winter I used to trek three miles through the ice and snow to ogle at everything in Whole Foods and Stop and Shop, often returning to my dorm empty-handed. I’m starting to realize that that’s kind of weird, but whatever.

I really like cauliflower, ok?

Totally content with my weirdness. I really like cauliflower, ok?

I once dedicated an hour of my life to choosing the best aubergines from the grocery store. Yes, aubergines.

I once dedicated an hour of my life to choosing the best aubergines from the grocery store. Yes, aubergines.

In addition to the cool grocery stores, there are a lot of hipster boutiques and it’s 100% socially acceptable to dress like a hipster in any situation. I don’t really dress like a hipster when I’m not trick-or-treating but many of my friends and family members do pull off the Harry Potter glasses and flannel shirts quite well. It’s great that they have so many options when it comes to buying nice clothes. Pastel Mint Boutique, an online clothing store based in San Francisco, recently sent us a few items to try out and they were great! We received a utility jacket, an infinity scarf, a sundress, and a beanie. My sister and my schoolmates very much enjoyed trying these clothes on. We highly recommend this boutique! If anyone asks, we heard of ‘em first.

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Pastel Mint utility jacket and dress

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GLee rocking the infinity scarf, beanie, and utility jacket

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Glower sold separately

Glower sold separately

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Garlic Crisps

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Between errands today, I managed to make myself a simple but satisfying lunch.  I whipped up the meal with whatever I had in the fridge.  But isn’t that how most people eat?  I did a little surfing and answered my emails as I ate my lunch.  Nowadays, we never truly eat alone anymore.  We are always connected.  Is this good or bad?  

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Garlic Oil Pasta with Smoked Salmon Ingredients:

4 oz. whole wheat Spaghetti

2 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 oz. honey smoked salmon

1 bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

Juice from 1/2 lemon

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Cook spaghetti according to package instruction.  Set aside.

In a frying pan, heat olive oil and fry the garlic to crispy.  Scoop out the garlic and add oregano and sage, stir until aromatic.  Add onion and bell pepper and stir until soft.  Pour cooked spaghetti into the pan and stir for 1 minute.  Add Worcestershire sauce and stir for another minute.  Turn off fire and mix in smoked salmon, lemon juice and garlic crisps.

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Guiltless Caesar Salad Ingredients:

1/3 cup low-fat or nonfat Greek-style yogurt

1 garlic clove, minced

2 anchovies (omitted because I don’t like anchovy)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

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Happy to be Jet Lagged

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I woke up at the crack of dawn because of jet lag, while everyone else in the family slumbered on.  Quietly and methodically, I cleaned up.  Mindless physical labor was a good therapy after two weeks of intensive movie watching and movie debating. 

The Golden Horse Award, for which I served as the jury president, stirred up all sorts of scandal and controversy because a well loved film star from China did not win the Best Actress award.  I was involved in this imbroglio because the media insinuated that I sabotaged her because of professional jealousy. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gong-li-cries-foul-judging-752683 I usually don’t respond to the media but the backlash went viral and I had to make a statement on Weibo that I actually voted for her and the deliberation and voting process was fair and transparent.  I am so glad the whole thing is now over and I’m home scrubbing the kitchen sink and toilet bowls. I’m not being sarcastic.  Making things clean can be a cathartic exercise.

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I cooked a simple Asian flavored pasta for lunch before heading out to buy outfits for the press junket and the premiere of Marco Polo in New York.  Audrey insisted on going with me to make sure I didn’t buy anything that was “either too young or too revealing” as I always tended to do when I needed to be in front of the camera.  As I picked out clothes to try, Audrey would say I disapprove or I approve or strongly approve.  Audrey has good taste and I followed her directive with conviction.  She was a good little helper zipping and unzipping me as I went through dozens of dresses.  You will probably see some of them next week when I appear in front of the press.

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Before I left for Taiwan, I planted some scallion ends in a flower pot and today I was finally able to use some in the pasta.

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Ingredients:

2 cups Whole grain Kamut Spirals (or any other pasta of your choice)

1/2 onion 

2/3 yellow bell pepper

4 cloves garlic (minced)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon Ponzu sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chopped scallion

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

Cook the pasta according to instruction and drain. Sauté minced garlic, onion, bell pepper on high until slightly caramelized.  Turn the fire to low and pour in Ponzu, soy sauce and sugar.  Give it a few good stir and mix in the pasta.  Sprinkle scallion and red pepper flakes before serving.

Happy Sunday!

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Maira Kalman’s painting of a pair of American slippers from the 1830s is a love letter to walking, something Kalman sees as an existential activity and a creative device.

The first thing that I do every Sunday morning when I open my eyes is to find the weekly email from brainpickings.org, which is one of my favorite literary sites.  It is the brain child of Maria Popova, with whom I share the love for letters, diaries and  Illustrated books.  It was from her website that I discovered works by Maira Kalman who wrote about the power of walking as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity: “Walking is the antidote to a lot of misery and boredom. Whatever you do, you should always try to walk somewhere before you do it.”

So, after I read the brainpickings posting, I left the house for a walk before I did anything else.  I walked around Crissy Field before ending up at Safeway, where I bought some grocery for today.

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When I first came to the US and learned in my history class the Declaration of Independence, I was surprised, perplexed and impressed that the pursuit of happiness is emphasized as one of the unalienable rights.  When and where I grew up, happiness was not mentioned much at all.  The only thing that we openly pursued was the realization of Communism.  Privately, we pursued food — exchanging cloth coupons for meat coupons, or bartering things from the house for eggs with the farmers who occasionally appeared in our neighborhood.  One good thing that came out of my upbringing is that I don’t feel so alarmed or ashamed when I’m not happy. 

What is happiness?  How exactly do we pursue it?  These are hard questions I don’t have the answers to, but when I was walking along the bay and when I came home with the grocery and began making breakfast, I felt happy. 

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Roast Kabocha squash pancakes:

1 cup of roast kabocha

1/2 oat bran

1/2 almond flour

3/4 cup milk

1/4 guar gum

1/4 salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 egg white

I never made a Kabocha pancake before, but I needed to use up the last cup of the roast Kabocha squash in the refrigerator.  If I make it again I will not use almond flour.  I will use half oat bran and half oat flour or whole wheat flour.  But we enjoyed them as they were.

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I decided to make some caramelized onion and bell pepper to go with everything on today’s menu. With the caramelized onion and pepper I made our lunch and dinner in a matter of minutes, and they were delicious.

Caramelized onion and pepper:

1 1/2 onion

1 1/2 red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

Sauté for 10 to 15 minutes before putting in the salt, vinegar and sugar.

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I used Sabra Mediterranean Eggplant in the hot dogs.

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The vegetarian dogs were perfect for lunch. And we had whole grain pasta and the steamed broccolini for dinner.  Peter protested because there was no meat and we ordered a take-out beef with tomato from Green Island for him.

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Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Our mother needed a break today, as all mothers occasionally do. Audrey is cooking dinner, which terrifies me, and I am writing today’s blog post.

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Tonight’s dinner is vegetarian spaghetti squash lasagna. This healthy lasagna is low-carb, reduced-calorie, paleo (depending on what marinara sauce and cheeses you use), “clean” (depending on your very subjective definition of “clean”), high-protein and veggie-packed! Hey, I think I hit all the buzzwords! Seriously, though, this lasagna is delicious but far far better for you than your usual starch- and fat-laden junk from Olive Garden or whatever.

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The idea of spaghetti squash lasagna is not a new one, but given our great love for all things spaghetti squash and all things lasagna, we thought it would be appropriate to make our own recipe and share it with everyone.

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Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Serves 3-4 hungry people

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups cooked spaghetti squash (we microwaved the halved squash for about 8 minutes)
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (we used Francesco Rinaldi no-salt-added tomato sauce)
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese (we used Trader Joe’s Fat-Free Ricotta)
  • 1 oz or 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, shredded
  • 6 oz or 1.5 cups mozzarella shreds (we used Lucerne Fat-Free Mozzarella, which has 9 grams of protein per ounce, about 50% more than regular mozzarella!)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Layer the spaghetti squash, marinara sauce, ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella in an oven-safe casserole dish, making sure that the topmost layer is a cheesy layer!
  3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the foil and broil until the cheese bubbles.
  5. Eat!

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make salad with the leftovers!

make salad with the leftovers!

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna, 中文 Translation

今天我们的妈妈很累,所以妹妹做了晚饭,我得写今天的博客。对不起,我的中文不好。

我们今天的晚餐是健康的烤宽面条,其实一点面也没有。最近美国人不喜欢吃面粉,因为他们都觉得麸质是有毒的。当然麸质没有什么不好的,我常常吃面筋,可是面粉其实没有什么营养,而且吃面粉会让你的血糖提高,所以吃这种没有太多碳水化合物的食品会让你健康,对你的小蛮腰好。

我不知道你懂不懂我的中文。我的父母不知道我的中文这么差,因为我考AP中文考了一个五(最高分)。其实,谁都考了一个五,化学考试也是的。请别告诉他们,我中文是很马虎的。哈哈哈,我是老虎,妹妹是马,我们最的事当然都是很马马虎虎的。

成分:

  • 差不多710 mL意大利面条壁球 (谢谢,Google 翻译)
  • 237mL 防切将
  • 425 g 乳清干酪 (谢谢,Google 翻译)
  • 28 g 干酪 (谢谢,Google 翻译。不知道你对不对。)
  • 170 g 无肥马苏里拉奶酪

用这些成分做lasagna,有没有那么难!快吃!很好很强大!

我们在养这个草泥马,真可爱!