Hamburger and Zucchini Quinoa Cheesy Bake

Zucchini is something I would love to be a big fan of.  I always pick some up when I am at Aldi.  However, it seems that every time I buy it there is a lovely place at the bottom of my crisping drawer that it sinks down to never to return again...until it becomes inedible.  Aldi sells it's zucchini in a three pack at ridiculously low prices.  At first I thought the three pack was extremely convenient so that vegetable didn't roll around and get lost in refrigerator nothingness, but I soon discovered that keeping it in the sealed container from the store seemed to make the produce get slimy sooner.  And there is nothing worse than slimy vegetables. 

You may ask why didn't I use my zucchini?  The answer is quite simple:  I didn't know how to cook it.  Every time I took a gander at making cooked zucchini edible, it turned into a gross, slithering mess.  One time I tried to pass it off as fries, but my clever 2 1/2 year old daughter did not fall for it.  I stopped buying it for awhile, but when I made a trip to Aldi recently it seemed like it was taunting me.  Buy me.  You know you can't make a tasty meal out of me.  I'd like to see you try.  I caved.  I would not let the zucchini win. 

During my first trimester of pregnancy I did not want to cook at all.  It is pretty embarrassing how much we ate out in the past 16 weeks(and are eating out, cough, cough).  Now that I am in my second trimester of pregnancy I have been wanting to cook more, but I hate going to the grocery store and meal planning.  One day when I actually felt like cooking, but not like going to the grocery I started Googling recipes that had zucchini in it along with other ingredients I had in my fridge.  I was determined not to let this batch of zucchini go to waste.  I found several recipes, but to be quite honest, they didn't look too appetizing.  So I put on my chef brainstorming hat and came up with my very original "Hamburger and Zucchini Cheesy Bake."  It's a casserole.  It's a chip dip.  You could also use it in Tacos.  And in my personal opinion (and in the opinion of one of my friends who just had a baby-who you can't argue with because she is breastfeeding and starving half of the time), it is pretty darn tasty.  And interstitial cystitis (IC) friendly.  A victory for all.

You know you want some.
**Note**This meal can easily be made vegetarian by subbing water or vegetable stock for chicken or beef stock and omitting the hamburger.  You can also go vegan by omitting the cheese.  

**This is a great prepare ahead meal to have in the refrigerator to pop in the oven for a great meal any night of the week.  I usually do my dinner prep in the morning or during lunch so that I can nap when my toddler does.  This way all I have to do is put this in the oven right before we are ready to eat and I am able to spend some time with my sweet girl, who tends to be a bit clingy when she gets up.

  • 1 TBSP (Tablespoon) of minced garlic (about 4 garlic cloves)
  • 1 Lb. of hamburger (we always use 90/10 or higher)
  • 1 TBSP of garlic powder
  • 1 TBSP of onion powder
  • 1 TBSP of sweet paprika
  • 1 TBSP of cumin
  • 1-2 TSPs (Teaspoon) of salt (depending on your salt preference)
  • 1 Cup of chicken (usually lower calorie/salt content) or beef stock. 
  • 1 Diced bell pepper (I use an assortment of colors.  Some ICers cannot tolerate certain colors, so please ask them.)
  • 1 Cup of frozen corn
  • 1 Diced green zucchini (about 1 cup)
  • 1 Cup of chicken stock (I use Kroger's Simply Organic Stock.  I can also tolerate Aldi's Fit and Active brand) or beef stock (I can tolerate Aldi's beef stock).
  • 1 Cup of uncooked Quinoa
  • 2 Cups of water
  • 1/3 Block of Mexican melting cheese
  • 3 Oz. of a block of Monterrey Jack cheese (if you can tolerate it, Pepper Jack might be a great spicy alternative.  However, I cannot).
  • Optional:  I keep on meaning to add a can of black beans, but my pregnancy brain keeps on forgetting.  They would probably be really good.

1.  Set your large skillet to a medium heat.  Add hamburger, diced bell peppers and garlic.  Using a spatula (I prefer my wooden one), crumble hamburger by chopping it until it becomes very loose.

*Tip* I buy very large packages of hamburger from Sam's and sometimes I will leave out the bell peppers and just cook a couple of pounds of hamburger at once.  If you are making hamburger meat for tacos, you could also add the seasonings and bell peppers if you prefer and just pull out half of it to freeze or eat later in the week.

2.  While your hamburger is browning rinse your 1 cup of Quinoa (we use a flour sifter that was gifted to me by my generous sister) and cook in 2 cups of water in a medium sized sauce pan according to the directions on the package.

3.  Once your hamburger is browned mix in paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and salt.  If you are using a broth with a higher salt content you may not need to add any salt.  Stir seasonings into hamburger and let cook for 1-2 minutes.

4.  Add 1/2 cup of chicken or beef stock and mix into hamburger.  Allow chicken stock to simmer down.  Then add additional 1/2 Cup.  Allow to evaporate just a little bit (the juice will be a bit more liquidy than sauce).  

Sun Soaked Cheese
5.  While your flavors are melding use this time to slice your cheese.  I use Mexican Melting cheese from Wal-mart that I purchase in a 32 oz. block.  I cut 1/3 of the block, which will give me a nice long rectangular shaped block of cheese.  I then cut it in thin , small squares (see photo above to get an estimate of thickness).  The 8 oz. Monterrey Jack cheese is already in a long rectangle, so I just slice about 1/4 to 1/3 of the block into small rectangles.  You could probably also use shredded cheese, but I feel like this way I use less cheese than I normally would with shredded cheese.

6.  Mix in zucchini.  Cook for 3-5 minutes on a medium heat (you do not want to over cook these).  The zucchini will still be a bit hard, but that is alright.  Over cooked zucchini is disgusting.  It is better to under cook it in my book any day.

7.  Stir in cooked quinoa.  Allow to cook for several minutes.  You still want there to be liquid in the meat when you are done because the quinoa will absorb a lot of the moisture.  You do not want the dish to dry out while baking it in the oven.

8.  Pour the contents of the skillet into a 9" x 13" sprayed pan.  Smooth out with a spoon or spatula.

9.  Lay cheese on top of the casserole, alternating Mexican Melting cheese and Monterrey Jack cheese.  There will be spaces between the cheese (see below).

Abstract Cheese Art
10.  Bake in oven, covered with foil, at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  

**This dish tastes best very hot.  It is also delicious with plain FAGE Greek yogurt (as a sour cream substitute) and an IC friendly guacamole (made simple out of avocados, salt, sweet paprika and garlic powder).**


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