The frigid temperatures over the past week have kept me inside — cooking, of course — so I put together a few dishes to share that are heavy on nutrition yet easy to make.

While I was busy cooking and thinking of new ways to use some of the ingredients I had hanging out in the pantry and refrigerator, I realized one of the reasons I love to cook so much is that it makes me feel productive. At the end of cooking, you have something to show for your efforts (hopefully!) that you can share with your friends or family, who will most likely appreciate your efforts.

Since I work from home, it’s really easy, especially in the winter, for a few days to pass by without leaving the house. My oldest son, on the other hand, works in drilling and blasting and gets up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work. I think of him getting up and going out to work a long day in the cold, so having something hot on the stove for dinner is one way I support him. My younger son is up at 6:20 in the morning to head out to school and I like to have something quick he can grab for breakfast on his way out.

This was the inspiration for putting together blueberry oat muffins, made from oatmeal I ground into flour with my food processor. Oats are better for you than white, bleached all-purpose flour which offers very little nutrition. I also used a can of sweet potatoes I pureed and some mashed bananas; this combination replaced the oil and egg in older recipes I have. The muffins came out super moist and dense and inspired me to try other combinations in the future.

My favorite dish this week was a vegetable sauce made from simmered eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, carrots, celery, onions and capers with finely chopped tomatoes.

I was inspired to make this dish after dining at a restaurant recently. I was looking over the menu and saw they listed the calories of each dish; the salad I was planning to order had a whopping 1,050 calories in it, so I decided to give a vegetarian dish that only had 420 calories a try.

It was a take on a traditional pasta sauce and it was delicious so I made something similar at home. I skipped my usual first step of softening the vegetables in a little olive oil over medium high heat with some garlic. I didn’t miss the oil at all — or the extra calories that go along with it.

Tomato Vegetable Sauce

5 carrots, peeled and chopped

4 ribs celery, chopped

1 med. eggplant, chopped

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 1/2 c. baby bella mushrooms, chopped

1 summer squash, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1/4 c. capers

1 c. vegetable or chicken stock

26 oz. carton chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi

2 T. red wine vinegar

1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 T. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

2 T. fresh basil, chopped

2 T. fresh parsley, chopped

Fresh spiraled butternut squash for serving (or pasta if preferred)

Add the carrots, celery, eggplant onion, mushrooms, squash and zucchini to a large saucepan and set over medium high heat and add the vegetable stock. Stir well and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the vegetables are softened and cooked down, add the remaining ingredients except the butternut squash or pasta that you are using to serve. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 15 or 20 minutes, stirring frequently. If using butternut spirals, add about 1/4 cup of water to a skillet and set over medium high heat. Add the squash and simmer, stirring frequently, and cook for about 7 minutes or until softened. Serve with the vegetable sauce or spoon sauce over cooked pasta.

Blueberry Banana Oat Muffins

2 bananas, mashed

15 oz. can of sweet potatoes

1 c. quick cook oats

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. maple syrup

1 c. unbleached, all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 c. frozen blueberries

Add the sweet potatoes to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, then add to a large bowl. Add the bananas, sugar and maple syrup and combine well, then set aside. Add the oats to a food processor and pulse several times until they are a flour-like consistency. Transfer to a bowl and add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger and salt and combine. Add the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Fold in the blueberries and mix. Spoon the mixture into lightly sprayed non-stick muffin pans, filling each muffin cup about 3/4 of the way full. Set in an oven preheated to 375 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes or until muffins are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly before removing muffins from tin.

Black Beans with Chicken Sausage and Red Rice

12 oz. package Italian-style chicken sausage

16 oz. bag black beans

6 c. vegetable stock

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 c. fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 c. green onion, chopped

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. paprika

2 c. brown basmati rice, cooked

Soak and drain the beans according to package directions. Add the beans to a stockpot and add the vegetable stock, sausage, carrots, white onion and garlic over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil then lower heat to medium and cover. Simmer for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Add water if needed). Stir in the cilantro, green onion, cumin, coriander, salt, and paprika and lower heat to medium low. Continue cooking for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the beans have softened. Remove from heat and serve over rice.