Monday, March 31, 2008

Fresh Angel-Hair Pasta with Bacon and Peas

angel-hair pasta with bacon and peas

Weeknights call for superfast meals. Sometimes I get home from work and I just don't feel like dealing with making dinner. On those nights, fresh pasta helps get the food to the table faster. Even better, it's a little tastier.

Fresh Angel-Hair Pasta with Bacon and Peas
is on the table in 20 minutes. It wasn't a really flavorful dish. It didn't have any spice, but it was creamy and the bacon provided a great smoky accent. To keep points lower, I used centercut bacon.

Fresh pasta is a little pricer than dried -- so I don't buy it much, but on those nights where I want to spend as little time cooking as possible, I reach for it first.

Nutritional Info (with regular bacon): 361 calories/9.2 grams of fat/4.2 grams of fiber

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chicken with Wild Mushrooms and Balsamic Cream Sauce

Sometimes I like meals that feel indulgent, yet fit into my daily points. In my opinion, anything made with cream feels indulgent. It's an ingredient I used to cook a lot with, but don't so much anymore. And without a light recipe written for me, I'm lost trying to make a creamy dish lighter. Most of the time, you can't just use skim milk, and fat free half and half is not a substitute for half and half when you're actually cooking with it.

I saw Chicken and Wild Mushrooms with Balsamic Cream Sauce on a 30-minute meals, and thought, I must make that. Turns out, it's more point friendly than I thought. The only change I had to make was to cut the oil down to 2 tsp for cooking the chicken rather than 2 tbsp. And I used half and half instead of cream -- considering they gave you a choice.

I served it over mashed potatoes, although, the NI I'll include has the pasta as the recipe is written.

It was fantastic. I loved it. It tasted like it was a fattening, rich dish, but at the same time, it didn't cost me a whole lot of points. I will definitely make this again.

Nutritional Info: 472 calories/12 grams of fat/4 grams of fiber

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Broiled Flank Steak with Warm Tomato Topping

Flank Steak with tomatoes

Red meat is traditionally a protein that diets urge you to avoid. And it's sort of true that you can eat whatever you want as long as it's within your points while on Weight Watchers (I don't necessarily agree with that, though), but as the veterans know and the newbies soon find out -- points aren't created equal and you don't necessarily want to spend a gazillion and half points on a giant strip steak.

Flank steak is a good if want a more point-friendly option. For 3 oz. of cooked meat, it's 180/9/0 as opposed to a NY strip steak that can run 680 calories for one steak. The things to remember about flank steak -- if served rare, it's impossibly chewy, and if it's not cut on the diagonal or overcooked, it's impossibly tough.

But when done right, it's great. And Cooking Light's Broiled Flank Steak with Warm Tomato Topping is a good example. It's broiled, and the tomato topping is made on the stove top, so it comes together easily and tastes fresh. I served it with whole wheat couscous.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Occaisonally, I'll see a recipe and like the idea, but don't necessarily want to make it exactly as written. Most of the time it's because I don't have a particular ingredient and I don't want to spend the money to buy it.

Because let's face it, eating healthfully can be costly. Even more so that grocery prices are beginning to rise right along side gas prices. There was an article recently about how calorie for calorie, junk food is more affordable than produce and the prices of processed foods are rising slower than produce. Meat and seafood is also expensive. I'd love to buy organic, free range, grass-fed and all of that, but my budget doesn't really allow for that if I want to vary my protein choices like I do now.

This recipe started out as a shrimp stir fry. But I didn't have shrimp, and give that a pound of shrimp is pushing $8 and I had some cheap and easy frozen chicken in the freezer, I opted to make it with chicken instead. And it was pretty good.

An important lesson to learn when cooking on a budget is that in many recipes, although not all, an onion is an onion whether its red, white, or yellow; shrimp can be swapped for chicken, beef, or pork; and you may even get away with using vegetable or beef broth instead of chicken broth. And it probably won't taste a whole lot different. In fact, it might even taste better.

Nutritional Info (made with chicken, rice not included): 213 calories/6 grams of fat/3 grams of fiber

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two-Cheese Tortilla Pizza

Part of being successful on Weight Watchers is learning what foods are your trigger foods, or foods you have trouble controlling yourself around. Pizza is mine.

If I have one slice, I'll end up eating four. I love pizza. LOVE IT. I've tried find alternatives, but it hasn't been easy. I've made low fat pizzas with homemade dough. They're great, but I still end up eating 4 slices. Better than full-fat pizza, but still not good.

I've tried making them with English muffins. Those didn't even taste like a pizza. I also tried pitas, but they just weren't that great. Frozen light pizzas offer portion control your choices are limited. Most have cheese, pepperoni, or a combination pizza. What if I want mushrooms, green peppers and tomatoes? Plus, the toppings are skimpy.

So when I saw a recipe using a tortilla I hoped this would be the answer. I could customize it, it tastes almost like a pizza, and it's built in portion control. In theory it would work. But I was disappointed with the particular recipe. Not a fan of the canned tomatoes. I would definitely go with fresh tomatoes or regular old pizza sauce. But the tortilla idea -- I liked it. I'll have to do it again sometime.

Two-Cheese Tortilla Pizza with Arugula Salad
4 whole-wheat tortillas (8-inch)
3 tsp olive oil
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes drained
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1 oz. percorino romano, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved length wise
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 bunches arugala, torn
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set racks to upper third and lower third of the oven. Place tortillas on two baking sheets brushed with a teaspoon of oil. Top each of the tortillas with the tomatoes, cheeses, olives, and red pepper flakes. Bake until tortilla is brown and crisp, 13 to 15 minutes, rotating half way through cooking time.

While the pizzas are cooking, whisk together the vinegar, remaining 2 tsp oil, and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Once the pizzas are done baking, toss the arugala with the vinaigrette and top pizzas with torn basil.

Nutritional Info: 310 calories/13.9 grams of fat/3.3 grams of fiber

Monday, March 24, 2008

Crispy Tilapia Sandwiches

tilapia sandwich

I can't believe I'm admitting this, but my favorite McDonald's sandwich is the Filet o' Fish. No joke. I love those things. Greasy, cheese-covered goodness. I'm so ashamed.

I blame my mother. And not in that generic "my mother is the root of all my problems" kind of way. It really is her fault. She introduced me to them when I was in college. Darn her.

A close, better tasting cousin to the Filet o' Fish is the good old fish and chips, which I drown in ketchup. I've been told that's disgusting, but I swear it's good. Try it.

Clearly, the Filet o' Fish and fish and chips is not an everyday part of my Weight Watchers plan. I suppose, in the interest of finding something close to fried fish that's also fewer points, fish sticks might fit the bill. They might be healthier than what you get at restaurants because you can bake them, but why settle for childish fish sticks with you can make a more grown-up Crispy Tilapia Sandwich?

I think the most fun part is the fish is actually coated in fat-free saltines. I don't know if anyone else has this problem, but I alway seem to have a random box of saltines leftover from the last time I had the flu. I rarely eat the crackers plain because it reminds me of the last time I was sick, but heck, crunch them up and coat a piece of fish and I'll gladly gobble them up.

I made one change to the original recipe because I'm budget conscious. It called for Dijonnaise, which judging by the name is dijon mustard and mayo. Who needs to buy the product when you can mix it yourself? I certainly don't.

Tilapia is a fishier tasting fish, in my opinion, so I might use a milder fish. Other than that, it successfully nipped my Filet o' Fish craving in the bud.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Crispy Ginger-Lime Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are great. For one, dark meat is so moist that it's nearly impossible to overcook. Plus it's super cheap. The other day it was on special for less than $1 a pound. The entire package was hardly $2. I usually buy the thighs with skin and bones. For many recipes I just pull off the skin before I even cook it. This time, I pulled the skin off before eating because the spices in the Crispy Ginger-Lime Chicken Thighs from Everyday Food go under the skin.

This didn't disappoint. Plus, it was a use for the random jar of curry powder I had in my pantry.

Nutritional Info
Chicken: 382 calories, 23.5 grams of fat, 0.8 grams of fiber
Couscous: 200 calories, 3.7 grams of fat, 2.7 grams of fiber

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oatmeal Pancakes with Peach Compote

Here's another weekend breakfast that's not exactly points-friendly. Well, it is if you are like me and don't eat breakfast until noon and you typically have a few extra flex points left over.

I got these from Everyday with Rachael Ray, but they're adapted from the Flying Biscuit Cafe in Atlanta. I've heard good things about the restaurant and the boyfriend loves oatmeal. I've also been challenging myself to cook from my pantry and freezer and I had some frozen peaches leftover from a pork dish I'll get around to blogging about one of these days.

The Oatmeal Pancakes with Peach Compote were really dense and thick. Not exactly fluffy. I don't know if this was the recipe or human error.

"They a little like an oatmeal cookie," the boyfriend says.

Which is a good thing in his book. The compote was delicious and would go over waffles or any kind of pancakes really. I liked the dish overall, although I like a lighter pancake. If someone makes them please let me know if the denseness is just me.

Nutritional Info: 720 calories, 15 grams of fat, 8 grams of fiber

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ham and Potato Omelet

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I'm omelet impaired. So the idea behind this ham and potato omelet appealed to me. Saute some ingredients, kind of just stir in the rest and pop it in the oven. The silly thing is that it's not really an omelet, but more like a frittata. And being an editor at one point, it kind of matters to me how you describe something.

Nonetheless, it was pretty good. It was a little bland. Even with plenty of salt and pepper. But, if you add some sharp cheddar -- just a little -- and it's much better. I would make it again with a few tweaks.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chipotle-Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Pumpkin isn't just for pumpkin pie. In fact, I buy canned pumpkin nearly year round. It goes well in Pumpkin Risotto, Pumpkin Pancakes, and now, Chipotle-Pumpkin Black Bean Soup.

I liked the soup, but I feel like because I ended up eating this multiple days in a row that I didn't love the soup. If I hadn't eaten so much of it, I probably would have liked it beter. The flavor was great, it had lots of pantry staples for me, and it's meatless and cooks up quick. It has a good spicy flavor, too. If you don't like spicy foods, the soup really isn't for you, but if you're interested in finding savory ways to use fiber-rich pumpkin, this is the way to go.

Chipotle-Pumpkin Black Bean Soup
4 tsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 clove garlic cloves, minced
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped, 1 tbsp adobo sauce reserved
1 bottle of beer (such as Negro Modelo)
15 oz canned pumpkin
2 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium granny smith apple, chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup whole cranberry sauce

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Cook onion, garlic, and chipotle pepper for about 5 minutes. Add the beer and cook for 3 minutes or until reduced by half. Stir in the cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir in the chicken broth and black beans. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the apple, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and lime juice. In separate bowl, combine the sour cream with the cranberry sauce. Serve the soup wih the apple mixture and the sour cream mixture.
Per serving: 7 pts.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Risotto with Italian Sausage, Caramelized Onion, and Bitter Greens

Risotto with Italian Sausage, Caramelized Onion, and Bitter Greens

Leave it to Cooking Light to have yet another great lower calorie risotto. This one is full of onions, turkey sausage and spicy arugala. And appropriately, it's called Risotto with Italian Sausage, Caramelized Onions, and Bitter Greens.

Risotto is honestly one of my favorite foods. Just about as much as polenta. What can I say? I love my carbs.

For more of my favorite risottos, check out Pumpkin Risotto, Monterey Jack, Corn, and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto, and Beet Risotto.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Granola French Toast

I indulged myself a couple of weekends ago. I decided to try Rachael Ray's granola french toast. When I mean indulge, I mean 20 points per serving. YIKES.

I'm not sure it was worth the full 20 points. But, if I'm going to spend 2o points in one meal, Sunday brunch is a great time. I usually wake up late, eat a big breakfast and that holds me until 2 or 3 ish when I grab a snack that lasts until my usual dinner time.

The original recipe had this awesome looking raspberry sauce which I will eventually try. I chose to top it plain blueberries because the only raspberries in the store were moldy looking and the blueberries were much fresher. Maybe I'll use that raspberry sauce to top some oatmeal pancakes next weekend.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tofu Fried Rice

A few months ago some friends and I went to a mongolian BBQ place -- those make-your-own stir fry places. I generally don't trust them. Raw meat sitting out buffet style. Um, don't think so. Plus, I've known people who have had plenty of bad experiences with these places. So, when everyone wants to go there, I go with the safest choices. Vegetables. And if I'm feeling adventurous, tofu.

A friend of mine recently decided to go vegetarian. Because vegetarianism is so new to her, she hadn't yet tried tofu. It's a little scary, I admit. And the texture is off-putting to some. But, if you know how to marinate it and cook it. It's really good.

Some tofu recipes are better than others. I recently tried a fried rice recipe, which ended up being a one of the better tofu recipes I tried. The key to tofu is to dry it out really well and get a good crust on it. Like when you sear meat, if the pan isn't hot enough or the tofu is too wet, you aren't going to get good results. It doesn't look like much of a crust in the photo, but it actually browned up fairly well and was surprisingly tasty.

If you're just too scared of tofu, you could use shrimp or chicken or even pork. Any kind of protein you like in a fried rice.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Polenta with Tomato-Braised Beans

I'm having a love affair with polenta. And here's another meal where I can declare my undying love for all things cornmeal. Oh, and it's another lazy person's braise -- Polenta with Tomato-Braised Beans -- but it tasted better and it's meatless.

I could even consider this meal to be budget friendly. It's pretty much just canned beans and tomatoes. You can't get any cheaper than that. Quick-cooking polenta can be a little pricey, but plain old cornmeal works just fine.

Staying on budget is even more important now that I'm getting ready to move to a bigger apartment. It's tough to keep things cheap, though, because I don't clip too many coupons. Processed foods aren't really something I eat much of, honestly.

I don't think I could say enough good things about this. I love that it's super simple, cheap and filling. I wouldn't consider it fancy, but it's great for that night where you forgot to put something out, but you've still got to put something on the table.

Challenge update: This is the second week and I'm really not doing so hot. My main goal is to get workouts in and I haven't been. I'm so lazy. Blizzard warnings don't help matters either.