Lentil Veggie Macaroni and Cheese

Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? This version is fancied up with some lentils and veggies for a more complete version of a childhood favorite.

Who doesn't love mac and cheese? This version is fancied up with some lentils and veggies for a more complete version of a childhood favorite.

When it comes to macaroni and cheese, I usually gravitate towards the baked variety. Don’t get me wrong, a box of Kraft or Annie’s is pretty much always in our pantry for those desperate nights… but when I REALLY want mac and cheese, this is what I’m talking about. Ben and I can make our way through a pan of that stuff in just a few days… it’s crazy good. And now that #BabyVolde is eating more and more of my regular cooking, heaven help us. When I made that mac and cheese a few weeks ago, he gobbled it up.

Sunday dinner… baked mac & cheese with roasted broccoli. All of us loved it (especially #BabyVolde)! 🧀

A post shared by Sarah K. // The Pajama Chef (@thepajamachef) on

While that mac and cheese will always always always be my favorite, sometimes I want mac and cheese… but with a little less cheese and a little more nutrition. Yeahhh… especially since I have a pretty non-picky-baby eater right now and I want to keep it that way. So that’s when I bring in Lentil Veggie Macaroni and Cheese. You still have your cheese and pasta… but with a little extra protein (helllllllooooo lentils) and some extra veggie power. I won’t say the lentils and veggies aren’t noticeable, but they do make this dish a bit heartier and a little healthier. I can’t wait to make it again soon–it’s absolutely delicious!

Who doesn't love mac and cheese? This version is fancied up with some lentils and veggies for a more complete version of a childhood favorite.

One last thing before I go… I did make this recipe into a baked mac and cheese cause that’s my favorite. #crispynoodlesforlife But if that’s not your thing, or you’re in a time crunch, you can omit the panko topping and the baking step, no problemo! Enjoy!

one year ago: Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Bars
two years ago: Butternut Squash and Mushroom Tart
three years ago: Oatmeal Fudge Bars
four years ago: Neely’s Lemon Pasta Salad
five years ago: Pineapple-Apricot Teriyaki Chicken
six years ago: Sweet and Tangy Pork Chops with Pineapple over Coconut Toasted Rice

Lentil Veggie Macaroni and Cheese

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 45 minutes
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slightly adapted from The Lean Green Bean

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dry pasta
  • 3/4 cup lentils
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 cups mixed vegetables, diced – can be fresh or frozen, or a combination
  • 5 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted – or 3 handfuls fresh baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a large baking dish – 9×13 inches or similar and set aside.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Prepare lentils according to package directions.

While pasta and lentils are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds until fragrant, then stir in mixed vegetables and spinach. Saute for 5-10 minutes until softened – less for frozen vegetables and more for fresh. Sprinkle with flour, paprika, and cayenne, then stir to coat. Add milk and cheese, stirring until well combined.

Carefully fold in pasta and lentils, then transfer mixture into greased baking dish.

In a small bowl, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the microwave. Toss with panko, then sprinkle panko mixture over the macaroni mixture.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbly. Enjoy!

Note: If baked pasta isn’t your thing or you’re in a time crunch, just omit the panko and baking steps. It’ll be just fine without it. 🙂

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Parmesan Butternut Squash Au Gratin

An easy, cheesy butternut squash side dish… with an impressive presentation! The best new Thanksgiving side dish. 🙂

Parmesan Butternut Squash Au Gratin | thepajamachef.com #Thanksgiving

If you make ONE new Thanksgiving side dish this year, this totally should be the one! It is absolutely perfect, and a great way to introduce butternut squash to squash skeptics. I mean, isn’t it gorgeous… golden and beautiful?!? One of the fun things about butternut squash is it’s shape. It’s just so BIG for a vegetable! It’s always a shame to take the fun shape and puree it up into soup, mac and cheese, etc. Don’t get me wrong, those are delicious ways to enjoy this sweet ‘n nutty squash. But I always like to do something different! And this au gratin starring butternut squash is definitely different. Ben looked a picture and asked if it was potatoes. No, no, it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not amazing!

Parmesan Butternut Squash Au Gratin | thepajamachef.com #Thanksgiving

With this Parmesan Butternut Squash Au Gratin you’ve got SO many layers of flavor. Sweet squash, garlic butter, crisp bread crumbs, Parmesan, and fresh herbs. Ohhh yum. It’s just so good. I’m not sure how anyone could resist. I couldn’t keep my fork outta the serving dish!

Parmesan Butternut Squash Au Gratin | thepajamachef.com #Thanksgiving

It’s the kind of side that’s perfect on its own–hearty, cheesy, and delicious with the perfect balance of flavors. However, I’m sitting here on my couch dreaming of ways to, shall we say, enhance the amazingness for Thanksgiving day. Isn’t Thanksgiving about going all over the top? Adding some chopped bacon to the topping, layering butternut squash with sliced apples, or even drizzling the whole dish with some pesto just sounds wonderful to me! But even without those enhancements, this butternut squash dish is such a winner! Hope it brings joy to your table this year. So sorry, so cheesy. 🙂

Parmesan Butternut Squash Au Gratin | thepajamachef.com #Thanksgiving

one year ago: Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad
two years ago: Pork, Apple, and Ginger Stir Fry
three years ago: Thai Seared Shrimp with Tomato, Basil, and Coconut
four years ago: Stovetop Mac & Cheese with Broccoli

Parmesan-Butternut Squash Au Gratin

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 75 minutes
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from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash [about 2 1/2 pounds]
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped herbs – like oregano or parsley

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large baking dish [9×13 inch pan, or a 10 inch round baking dish] with cooking spray.

Poke butternut squash all over with a fork, then microwave for about 2 minutes. Remove and cool for a few minutes before peeling. This makes it much easier to peel and slice the squash. Peel butternut squash, then halve and deseed. Slice squash into 1/2 inch thick slices, then arrange in bottom of baking dish, overlapping as necessary.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Turn to low and add garlic. Stir constantly as butter cooks for 2-3 minutes. Don’t brown the butter, just cook until garlic softens.

In a small bowl, stir together panko, Parmesan, pepper, and 1 tablespoon garlic butter. Brush  remaining garlic butter over squash, then sprinkle with panko mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until squash is cooked through. Turn oven up to 425 degrees F and cook for another 5 minutes or so, or until topping turns golden brown. Top with herbs before serving.

Pumpkin Chicken Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash

These Pumpkin Chicken Meatballs are a fun topping to a garlicky, buttery base of spaghetti squash. Though this dish takes awhile to prepare, it’s totally worth it!

Pumpkin Chicken Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash | thepajamachef.com

I don’t know about you, but I’m on a quest to eat as much pumpkin in the next three months as possible. It’s my goal to make/blog about at least one pumpkin dish per week! We’ll see how I do. 🙂 So first…I have a confession to make. I made this dish last year. In fact, it was one of the first new recipes I made in our new Nashville kitchen after we moved here last year. And it just didn’t make it on the blog. Oooops! Moving to a new state and starting a new job kinda takes a lot of time. 🙂 But despite the length of time between eating this dish and sharing it here, I think it’s utterly fabulous! Most people think of pumpkin as a sweet ingredient [helllooo pumpkin pie, cookies, bread, muffins, yada yada yada] but I love it when used at dinnertime. Though pumpkin by itself is actually a little bland, it can add some color, moisture, and substance to sauces, meatballs, or soups when used in a savory sense.  This was my first time using pumpkin in meatballs and I must say I’m super impressed! These meatballs were sooo flavorful and indulgent… if meatballs can be indulgent, haha.

Pumpkin Chicken Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash | thepajamachef.com

And don’t forget about the spaghetti squash! It’s garlicky and buttery and just plain perfect. It was Ben’s first taste of spaghetti squash and he loved it… especially because of the bacon. Everything’s better with bacon, right? Even pumpkin! With this dish you’ll certainly have one of the more unique ways to enjoy pumpkin. And it’s awesome! Hope you enjoyyy!

one year ago: Autumnal Muffins
two years ago: Peach Raspberry Clafouti
three years ago: Peach Shortbread
four years ago: Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken

Pumpkin Chicken Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours, most of that not active so don't freak out
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from We are not Martha

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 pound ground chicken [ground turkey would also work too]
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Star Fine Foods Butter Olive Oil – or regular butter or olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Carefully poke holes all over the spaghetti squash with a sharp knife. Place in a baking dish and bake for 80 minutes, rotating halfway through.

While spaghetti squash is cooking, prepare meatballs. In a large bowl, mix together ground chicken, pumpkin, ginger, thyme, panko, parmesan, and egg. Scoop mixture into golfball-sized balls and place in a baking dish that has been greased with cooking spray. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until cooked through and crisp on the outside. [Hint: put the meatballs in the oven after the squash has cooked for about 65 or 70 minutes–that’ll be good timing so everything is finished about the same time.]

After 80 minutes, remove squash from oven and let cool.

When cool enough to touch, carefully cut in half. Scoop seeds out, then use a fork to remove the “spaghetti” and set aside.

In a large skillet set over medium heat, add olive oil and cook garlic for one minute. Add squash, sage, and crumbled bacon, then cook for about 3 minutes until tender.

Serve meatballs over spaghetti squash with parmesan on top.

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck, Foodie Friends Friday.

Earthy Frittata

This frittata combines earthy mushrooms, yellow squash, and oregano with sweet corn for a wonderful savory summer meal. The cheesy, crunchy topping will make you come back for seconds and thirds! 

Earthy Frittata | thepajamachef.com

I first fell in love with frittatas a few summers ago when we got a CSA through a vendor at our local farmer’s market. Man, I miss that farmer’s market so much. I just haven’t found one in Nashville that compares! :(But that’s alright, Nashville wins in plenty of other ways [read: BBQ. beautiful parks. our awesome church. our cats getting along. I could go on and on and on.]. Maybe someday I’ll find a farmer’s market I adore. But back to this frittata. It is gooooooood! And chock-ful of all your summer favorites, ready to eat hot or cold for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

Earthy Frittata | thepajamachef.com

Though I still make this kale frittata more often than a certain husband of mine might like, I do try to branch out in my frittata-making. Aside from this pizza frittata, I think this one is the most different, simply  because of the crunchy topping. I usually finish off my frittatas with a sprinkling of cheese on top but now I know the secret for impressing Ben with a frittata: add cheese AND panko! Seriously! It sounds weird to add bread crumbs to an egg dish, but it works! It almost makes this healthy meal into a hearty comfort food casserole, and almost keeps him occupied enough not to notice the mushrooms [which aren’t his favorite thing ever]. I used shiitake mushrooms because Ben likes those more than traditional white mushrooms, but either can work.

Earthy Frittata | thepajamachef.com

The best thing with frittatas is that they are totally customizable, so feel free to play around with the mix-ins. Use zucchini instead of squash, or tomatoes instead of corn. Use another herb or a different type of cheese. But don’t forget about the topping… it’s what really makes this frittata stand out! Enjoy!

two years ago: Oatmeal Buttermilk Bread
three years ago: Pillow Cookies
four years ago: Tomato Pie

Earthy Frittata

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes active + 30 minutes for squash to rest
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Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced [white mushrooms also would be fine]
  • kernels from one ear of corn
  • crushed red pepper
  • 8 eggs
  • 2-3 sprigs Greek oregano [or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano]
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan Herb Panko breadcrumbs [or add a little Italian seasoning and a dash of Parmesan to regular toasted breadcrumbs or Panko]

Directions:

Place sliced yellow squash in a large colander in the sink. Sprinkle with salt and let rest for 30 minutes to draw out excess moisture. Roll in a clean kitchen towel and gently press squash to dry and draw out moisture.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a 10 inch oven proof skillet, melt butter over medium heat. When hot, add squash and mushrooms and cook 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add corn and season with crushed red pepper and stir to combine. Cook another minute or so.

Whisk eggs, oregano, and water together, then pour into skillet, taking care to distribute vegetables evenly throughout egg mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes until eggs are starting to set.

Next, top frittata with cheese and breadcrumbs, then bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are fully set and cheese is melted. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sauce

These baked chicken nuggets and homemade honey mustard sauce are an easy way to satisfy fast food cravings at home!

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sauce | thepajamachef.com

Even though I love salads, vegetables, and all sorts of healthy goodness, as well as eating at local restaurants, sometimes fast food just sounds SO good. Do you know what I mean? I rarely indulge, except on road trips or nights that I really really have no desire to cook and we have no leftovers. [This is super rare.] To be completely honest, the health aspect is only part of the reason I don’t indulge that often. It’s the cost. It just seems ridiculous to me to spend $7+ on a “good” fast food meal… especially keeping in mind what fast food is really made of. So what to do, what to do. Make my own fast food, of course! Chicken nuggets and chicken tenders are my absolute fave. Always have been, always will be.

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sauce | thepajamachef.com

True, it takes longer. And it’s not exactly like what you’d get at a fast food place. But seriously… if it’s just the crunch of chicken and the endless vats of dipping sauce that you desire, this will be well worth it! I’m not going to lie; these chicken nuggets aren’t healthy. They’re baked, not fried, so there is some redeeming qualities to them, but healthy they are not. Their breading is held on by an unexpected blend of balsamic vinegar and honey, a combination that’s sweet and savory all at once!

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sauce | thepajamachef.com

Though you can dip these chicken nuggets in whatever sauce you like–ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard… might I suggest this homemade Chick-Fil-A sauce? Before seeing this recipe I didn’t realize that Chick-Fil-A had their own special sauce besides their honey mustard, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this recipe. I can speak for the taste though–it’s amazingly, utterly, wonderfully delicious! So next time you have a craving for fast food, why not make some at home? I bet you have most of these ingredients in your pantry and fridge right now! I know I do. 🙂 Enjoy!

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sauce | thepajamachef.com

one year ago: Double Chocolate Banana Muffins
two years ago: Pesto Potato Salad
three years ago: Salmon with Lemon, Tarragon, and Garlic Sauce
four years ago:  Summer Mexican Soup

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sauce

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Time: 45 minutes
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from Macaroni and Cheesecake

Ingredients:

for chicken nuggets

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, Panko if possible – if regular bread crumbs you may want to toast in a dry skillet for a few minutes until golden brown
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

for Chick-Fil-A sauce

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon BBQ sauce

Directions:

Line a large sheet pan with foil and lightly grease with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together honey and balsamic vinegar. Place bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Roll chicken in honey then dip in bread crumbs, being sure to coat each side. Place on prepared pan and repeat until all chicken is used. Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

After chicken is in the oven, whisk together all ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate while chicken cooks, about 30 minutes, to allow flavors to marry.

Serve chicken nuggets with sauce, ketchup, etc. Extra sauce will keep in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.