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LiveBest: Stuffed full of flavor

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With the holidays in full swing, parties, celebrations, and special events, fill the calendar. They can also put the Scrooge in the best healthful eating intentions.

Mushroom and spinach stuffed spaghetti squash is one way to keep you on track. Like most vegetables, spaghetti squash brings fiber and healthful benefits to the table. When you shop for squash, look for firm skin and one that feels heavy for it’s size. If it feels light, it’s dried out. Spaghetti squash should be bright yellow. If it’s green it’s under ripe.

The squash’s name comes from the spaghetti-like strings that you shred out with a fork after it’s cooked. Some use this as a substitute for pasta. I’m not that person. I prefer noodles. But this stuffed veggie had me savoring each bite. My taste tester husband agreed. When I told him what I was making, his reaction was lukewarm. After his first bite, he asked, “What’s in this? This is good. You need to tell the people.”

So people, I’m telling you. This is good. Vegetables help your mind and body and may boost your mood. The mushrooms add an earthy flavor, the dried chile flakes give a hint of heat, the yogurt cream cheese makes it creamy, and potassium-rich spinach; well, if it’s good enough for Popeye, I think it’s a good addition. We ate to the last little strand and scraped the squash halves clean.

Greek yogurt and cream cheese blend is a new kid on the block. With twice the protein and half the fat of cream cheese, I used it to provide creaminess and some tangy flavors. I served this as a main dish so each person had a squash half. As a side dish, 1 squash could serve four. Use it all by toasting the squash seeds. Clean and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 300°F for 15 minutes until lightly browned. Sprinkle these or walnuts over the baked squash.

Mushroom and Spinach Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 teaspoon canola or olive oil

pinch dried thyme

pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

5-8 ounces fresh spinach

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

4 ounces Greek yogurt cream cheese blend or Neufchatel

¼ cup toasted squash seeds or chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375°F.

Rinse squash under running water. Though you can cut the squash it half, to make it easier to cut and reduce the cooking time, microwave it. With a sharp knife, stab the squash all over, about 6 times. Place on a paper towel, microwave on high for 5 minutes. The knife cuts allow steam to vent so it doesn’t explode as it cooks. Using pot holders, remove from microwave. Cut in half from stem to stalk. Scoop out seeds.

To toast squash seeds, place the seeds in a bowl and fill with water. The seeds float so you can scoop then out and pull off squash bits. Pat the seeds with a paper towel to dry. Lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, spread into an even layer and bake 15 minutes or until browned.

Or spread walnuts on baking sheet in a single layer. Bake 8-10 minutes until browned.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Place squash cut side down. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. When squash has cooled enough to handle, use a fork or spoon to scrape out spaghetti squash strands. The squash preparation can be done a day or two ahead of time but should be refrigerated after cooking.

While squash is cooking, toss the mushrooms with oil, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Spread on a single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 375°F. for 25 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan. Stir spinach, mushrooms, cheese, squash strands, and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Spoon mixture into squash shells; bake 10-12 minutes until heated through. Sprinkle toasted seeds or walnuts over.

Note: Greek yogurt-cream cheese blend and Neufchatel are generally sold in 8-ounce blocks. Leftover cheese may be wrapped tightly and used within a couple of weeks. It can be frozen but the texture will be crumbly when it thaws.

(Recipe by Judy Barbe)

Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.” Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.

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