Friday, August 29, 2008

Salt and Pepper Chicken

salt and pepper chicken

Chicken skin and grill = burnt chicken. Last weekend the boyfriend and I bought our first grill, and then burned the first thing we tried to grill on it.

The recipe for Salt and Pepper Chicken told you to put it skin side down, close the lid and let grill for 8 minutes. The result? Blackened chicken. In a bad way.

Luckily, the chicken was just fine underneath the skin. On the side was Corn with Bacon and Scallions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the archive

Mushroom Barley Soup

It's a coldish, rainy, dreary day here in Ohio, and I'm craving soup. So here's one from the archives to warm you up.

I made the Mushroom Barley Soup last November. I love soup with barley. In fact, I had a chicken barley soup from the cafeteria earlier this week. It was fairly decent, but I prefer the cafeteria's beef and barley soup better.

The recipe here calls for just mushrooms and barley — no meat involved. I added some rotisserie chicken, though, to bulk it up. Some cubes of beef would also be a great addition here. Or, you could leave it meatless if you prefer.

It also calls for turkey stock, but I made it with my homemade stock instead. You could also swap out beef broth if you're adding beef or make it completely vegetarian by using vegetable stock. But I would definitely punch it up with some extra herbs if you decide to do that.

That's what I love about soup — even if you are using a recipe, it's easy to change up to fit your likes and dislikes.

Stay warm and dry today, I know I'll be avoiding the outdoors.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beef and Bean Chili Verde

beef and bean chili verde

I'm still on the search for the perfect chili to call my own. So far, I think this one is in the lead, but it doesn't stop me from trying new recipes.

I liked the twist on this one. Salsa verde (green salsa) is added. I thought it would give it a bit of a kick and a slightly different, but delicious, flavor. Unfortunately, the Beef and Bean Chili Verde from Eating Well was a bit of a let down. In reality, it was kind of bland.

As the weather is starting to turn cold, there's nothing better than a good bowl of chili. And who cares if the boyfriend hates it and won't eat beans? They say it can take up to 10 times to get used to a new food. I've only made two kinds of chili for the boyfriend, so that means I've got 8 more tries before he's allowed to officially say he hates it.

Which chili should I try next? Any favorite recipes out there? E-mail them to me or leave them in the comments section.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summer Vegetable Curry

Summer Vegetable Curry

Someone's post on the Weight Watchers message boards the other day got me to thinking — will diet and exercise get any easier?

My answer: yes and no.

This is probably my fourth time trying to lose and I've started this time at my highest weight ever. So I have to really think back to when I first started WW way back in January 2002.

I was in college at the time. I would say up until college I didn't have the perfect diet, but it wasn't awful, either. My mom tried her best to serve us healthy foods. Our snack basket was filled with fruit snacks, granola bars, and the like. Although junk food in a sense, we didn't have cheese its, oreos, potato chips, etc.

But when I got to college, my friends influenced the way I ate. And suddenly, all of those junk foods became regulars for me. And every Thursday while watching “Must See TV” (remember that?) a must-have was a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. An. Entire. Pint.

I refused to eat broccoli, tomatoes, raw veggies of any sort, and forget about drinking milk. And olive oil? What was that?

So in the sense of what I eat, it has gotten much better. Most fruits, veggies, and dairy are automatic for me. I don’t often have to think about whether I’m getting in the 8 Good Health Guidelines. I get them automatically on most days.

Take this vegetable curry for example. A one cup serving is two servings of veggies, make it 1.5 cups, and you've got three servings just at dinner.

The one thing that always has been hard for me and always will be hard for me is exercise. Except for the rec sports I played growing up or my short stint on the high school swim team, I have not been a sports-minded person.

I've always wanted to be one of those seemingly carefree people jogging down the street. They make it look so effortless. I, however, plod along at a pace most people walk at — struggling the entire way. I am not a born athlete and most exercise it torture. But for me, it’s the key to keeping the weight off. I gain weight whenever I’m not exercising regularly.

So in my view, the eating part gets a little easier — at least in everyday situations. It’s always hard to pass up some foods, but I find making good choices isn't has hard as it was in college. But exercise never gets any easier for me.

But I’m not too bothered by this. I have a hunch that most skinny people have to watch what they eat just like the rest of us. They just let on like they’re not working at it.

Monday, August 25, 2008



I embrace change. I enjoy variety. Most of the time, anyway.

But I found out the hard way, though, that if something isn’t broke, you shouldn’t try to fix it. I made a mistake. I ordered a nonfat, sugar free latte.

I should explain. I prefer my daily coffee strong and black. A good friend from college once referred to my coffee as battery acid, but I don’t think it’s that bad — honest. In the afternoon, usually looking for a bit of a jolt with some extra nutrition, I head down to the coffee shop downstairs and order a skim latte. If I’m feeling wild and crazy, I add a dash of cinnamon and maybe a pinch or two of nutmeg.

I never ever deviate from this order — until last Friday.

I found myself trolling through the break room around 3 p.m., hoping a stray baked good would be leftover from a catered lunch. No such luck. Plenty of leftover lunchmeat, but no desserts. It’s probably for the best. I caved earlier this week and ordered a taco salad for lunch (complete with the fried shell and a glob of sour cream).

I still wanted something sweet and I was planning to order my usual latte as a pick-me-up, so I decided to have flavored syrup added to my usual. I debated between ordering a regular vanilla latte or a sugar-free one. My desire to at least make “healthier” choices won out, and I ordered the skim, sugar free vanilla latte.

I was happy in my decision until I took a sip. Suddenly my favorite latte had the aftertaste of cheap cough syrup and it was icky sweet.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes and Green Beans

Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes and Green Beans

When someone has good news and bad news to share, which do you prefer to hear first? I always choose good news first. So first, the good news.. I'm well on my way to my goal of three workouts a week.

The bad news, this isn't the healthiest meal on the block. Good news again -- it's a tasty one. Although the pesto doesn't make it a low calorie or even a low fat meal, it's mostly healthy fats. So it's not that bad for you. Or at least it's not the worst thing you can eat. It's not a deep-fried twinkie. See? I can justify any splurge.

Plus, I couldn't let good pesto go to waste. A true dieter would say -- better to go to waste than my waist. Bah. When it's just two of you, you have to repurpose ingredients otherwise you're just hemorraging money.

So I made the Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes and Green Beans. And served it with an arugala salad with red onion and a simple balsamic vinaigrette -- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, salt, pepper, and a 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard. Just enough vinagrette to dress four salads.

And given that this meal was pre-resolutions.. we had a nice big glass of white wine.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Garden Tomato and Basil Pesto Pizza

Pesto Pizza

Right now, I’m finding very difficult to stay on track. One night this week, I found myself digging in to leftover and munching on them cold while I was in the process of making dinner. And this was after I had raw veggies dipped in white bean dip and a whole-grain granola bar.

What the heck is my problem?

I’m up to my highest weight ever and for some reason getting back on track seems overwhelming. It’s as though I can only get my act together when something is going wrong in my life. Last time I was at my goal weight it was because I spent 5 days a week in the gym post break-up with a guy I dated for more than a year.

Now I’m in a stable, loving relationship, generally like my job, occasionally see my friends, and I even love my apartment.

I like to blame it on my eating schedule: Breakfast around 8:30, lunch at noon, and dinner around 7-ish. Six hours is a really long time to go without food, and even though I try to eat a snack in between, I get over hungry and find myself continually munching from the time I get home at 5:30 until when the boyfriend finally gets home at 6:45.

I’m in need of a snacking intervention. So, I’m making a mid-year’s resolution — to tackle the small stuff first. In a way I already have. I’ve stopped snacking on fake sugary yogurts and swapped for nonfat plain yogurt, and I’m now regularly taking vitamins (children’s chewables.. they are not as tasty as I remember them). And I must be doing something right for my body. The boyfriend has brought home several viruses (one persistent cough and the flu) from the kiddies at the daycare he works at and I haven’t yet gotten sick (knock on wood).

But in order to get back to my healthy weight I need to do more. So here’s the plan:
  • Get some sort of activity for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. I’m starting small. Don’t judge.

  • Cut back on the booze. I’m not a boozer and I can’t remember the last time I was actually drunk. A beer a night may not be unhealthy (supposedly women can have a drink a day without harming our health), it’s certainly not helping me lose any weight.

  • Continue the healthy snacks and vitamins.
Anyways, in honor of my favorite nightly beverage, I’m offering up beer’s best buddy — pizza. I posted about this pizza before, but this time I made it with homemade pesto and a homemade whole wheat crust. I’m not including the dough recipe because it’s not worth making again. Need to go back to the drawing board on this one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eggplant Bolognese

Rigatoni with Eggplant Bolognese

Food can be expensive, there's not doubt about that. It used to be that the whole chickens would go on sale at the grocery store for 69 cents a pound. And for a few dollars, you could get a large chicken that would make two entire meals. Not so much anymore.

With the boyfriend still finishing up school, I've been paying the lion's share of the bills — including the food bill. I shop grocery store sales, clip coupons, and buy what I can at the local discount grocery store.

A week or so ago there was a great sale on eggplants (77 cents a pound) plus, they were local. Score. Browsing the meat case, I found extra lean ground beef was discounted because the sell by date was the next day. At nearly $4 for a pound.. ground beef is really an occaisonal food. Any more though, all meat and fish are becoming more occaisonal foods. I'm finding more and more meatless meals showing up in my menu plans to keep costs down.

Anyhow, I had ground beef and eggplants, which means it was the perfect time to make eggplant bolognese. I liked this recipe but didn't love it. I assume it's because it's a dish where fat adds all the flavor. I bet it would have completely different if I had used ground chuck instead of extra lean beef. And, if I had used all the oil the recipe called for.

I just goes to show sometimes you can lighten up a recipe without ill effects, and sometimes you can't.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Orzo with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese

Zucchini and Tomato Orzo

My weekend eating is very unstructured. I wake up whenever my body naturally wakes up and I either make a big brunch or I eat a gigantic bowl of cereal with sliced fruit. That usually fills me up until after 2 p.m., when the boyfriend and I might grab a bite out while running errands.

I might have a snack a few hours later, but then am not hungry until 8 p.m. At that point, I don't want something heavy that's going to weigh me down and make it tough to sleep. So, this past Saturday I made us Orzo with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese (Note: I added the cheese after the photo). I bought a gigundous log of goat cheese at Costco, and this recipe hardly made a dent in it. Anyone have some good uses for a giant log of goat cheese?

For being as simple as the recipe was, I expected less flavor — especially since I didn't have canned tomatoes.. just fresh ones. But it was pretty good, and it was the light dinner we needed. We opened up the windows in the apartment and sat at the table and enjoyed a glass of wine. It was a nice cap to a mild summer day.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Grocery staples


A year ago or so I wrote about my typical grocery lists. And because I've seen this topic come up on the Weight Watchers message boards over and over again, and because I have nothing else planned to write about today — I thought I'd revisit it.

Having a well-stocked pantry is very important, whether you're trying to lose weight or not. I like to know that on a bad day where I don't feel like making something too involved, I have some staples on hand to pull a meal together effortlessly. An Rachael Ray provides a good example of what you should have in a typical pantry.

My typical grocery list includes:
PRODUCE: Mostly what's in season. Right now it's a lot of corn, tomatoes, peaches, and berries. I also always have apples and oranges in the refridgerator for quick snacks. Mixed greens, green beans, zucchini and summer squash, and green and red bell peppers are also in heavy rotation this time of year. In the winter it's mostly potatoes, other root veggies, winter squash, spinach, broccoli and dark leafy greens.
DAIRY: Low fat plain/vanilla yogurt, skim milk, sharp cheddar, part-skim mozarella, monterey jack, feta, goat's cheese, bleu cheese, eggs
AISLES: brown rice, arborio rice, whole wheat pasta, regular white pasta when whole wheat isn't available, whole wheat couscous, dried spices, condiments, olive oil, a variety of canned and dried beans, the occaisonal bag of popcorn, cold cereals (usually whole grain with 3 grams of fiber or more), oatmeal (quick and old-fashioned, honey, maple syrup, dried fruits, Kashi granola bars
BULK: Nuts, frozen chicken (boneless skinless breasts and thighs), coffee beans, decaf tea bags
MEATS/FISH: Flank steak, round steak, scallops, shrimp, lean pork chops, pork tenderloin, whole chickens, lean ground turkey/turkey sausage, extra lean ground beef, salmon, tilapia
BAKERY: whole wheat bread, whole wheat tortillas, corn tortillas, whole wheat pitas, whole wheat bagette, whole wheat English muffins.

Not everything makes my list every week, of course, but this gives a good idea of the types of items I buy most often. My breakfast on the weekdays usually is cold or hot cereal with fresh or dried fruit, milk, and coffee. Snacks are yogurt with fruit and homemade granola, veggies in homemade bean dip, whole wheat crackers (ak-mak when I'm being virtuous, TLC crackers when I just want something tasty) with cheese or peanut butter, or sometimes just a handful of nuts (usually almonds, but I have a soft spot for TJ's Chili-Lime Pistachios). Dinner and lunches vary, of course.

What are some grocery staples you can't live without?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce


I love enchiladas, but finding a healthy alternative can be difficult. They are loaded with cheese at the very least, and sometimes the tortillas are gently fried in oil before you fill them.

Cooks Illustrated's Red Chile Enchiladas looked like it could be easily modified — if only it didn't call for more than a brick of monterey jack. I liked a lot of the recipe. Pickled jalapenos were a fun twist I don't normally see and fresh cilantro in the filling sounded fantastic. As did making my own red chile sauce (I like to move away from the canned varieties when possible.)

This time, I reduced the cheese by quite a lot. I reduced the cheese in the filling by half and used only 1/2 cup on top. But it wasn't quite cheesy enough for my liking.

So here's what I plan to next time.. combine two of enchilada recipes to come up with something a little cheesier, but still fits in my menu plan. It looks like there's a lot of ingredients, but it comes together fairly quickly, and while the sauce is simmering, you can easily start mixing the filling.

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chile Sauce
Sauce and filling:
4 teaspoons canola or safflower oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 cans tomato sauce (8 ounces each)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/3 cup (3 oz.) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 can pickled jalapenos, drained and chopped
Tortillas and toppings:
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup monterey jack cheese, shredded
Sour cream, avocado, lime wedges for garnishing (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300°.

FOR THE SAUCE AND FILLING: Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat add onion and cook until soft and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, salt, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce and 1/4 cup water. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Combine with cilantro, jalapenos, and cream cheese, chicken, and 1/2 cup sauce in medium bowl and set aside.

Lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet and spray each side with cooking spray. Warm in the oven for 4 minutes, or until soft and pliable.

TO ASSEMBLE: Preheat oven to 475°. Spray 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray. Spoon about 1/4 cup chicken mixture down center of tortilla; roll up. Place tortilla, seam-side down. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas and filling. Pour remaining chile sauce over the enchiladas and top with 1/4 cup monterey jack. Bake for about 18 minutes or thoroughly heated and cheese is melted. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Nutritional Info (without optional toppings): 370 calories, 12 grams fat, 6 grams fiber

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Southwestern Hash

Southwestern Hash

Every night the boyfriend and I sit down to dinner together. And while we're not married or have children yet, a nightly family dinner is something we want to continue. It's not often easy to coordinate dinner plans. I'm done with work at 4:30 p.m. and he's done at 6 p.m. I'm starving when I hit the door around 5-ish, and I've still got an hour and a half before dinner — sometimes more if he ends up working late.

But dinner together is always a priority. Sometimes dinner lasts for hours — we'll open a bottle of wine and get lost in our conversation. And a lot of our conversations revolve around family traditions we remember from childhood. Most recently we found ourselves discussing our favorite dinners from our childhood. I remember loving my grandma's steamed buttered carrots (I was an odd child) and picking the broccoli out of meals my mom made (she refused to be a short order cook.. if we didn't like something we had eat around it). Although I'm not so sure any one meal stands out.

The boyfriend remembers breakfast for dinner. The full spread — pancakes, eggs, bacon — the works. I don't often make breakfast for dinner. Which is suprising because I heart breakfast foods. When I do make breakfast for dinner it's something like this Southwestern Hash. It's usually something spicier because spice is usually not something my stomach likes first thing in the a.m. But at dinner time, I'm all for it.

Taking a cue from my mother, I didn't leave out the black beans (although the boyfriend won't eat beans of any kind). He can eat around them. Plus, I'm not-so-secretly hoping that if he tries enough meals with beans they'll grow on him.

After all, the tactic worked for my broccoli aversion. I still can't say I crave broccoli, but at least I can eat it without gagging.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

I'm not a huge fan of most fried foods. They've always been an occaisonal type of food for me, even at my heaviest. I've always been more likely to indulge in a pint of my favorite ice cream rather than a plate of fried chicken.

And most of the time, if I'm going to make comfort food, like macaroni and cheese, I'll just save the points and make the real deal rather than trying to make a low fat version. But because I'm not a big fan of fried foods in the first place, I actually like lighter versions of chicken parmesan.

When you order it at a restaurant the chicken is usually fried, topped in sauce and tons of cheese. But, this version is much less fattening and even incorporates whole grains. First, you make your own bread crumbs from whole wheat bread. Instead of using the recipe's instructions, though, I toasted the bread in the toaster and then ran it through the food processor. And instead of buying marinara, I used my favorite homemade marinara. I always keep it on hand in the freezer for quick meals.

Hands down, this is the best low fat chicken parmesan recipe I've tried. The crust stays crispy and there's plenty of gooey cheese on top. Perfect.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vanilla Granola

Vanilla Granola 2

Almost every day I eat a cup of plain fat-free yogurt with some blueberries. Sometimes I add a bit of honey for sweetness, but lately I've been adding a little bit of fiber one for crunch. I'm honestly, not a fan of Fiber One, though. Reminds me of All-Bran twigs my grandma ate when I was a little girl.

It makes perfect sense to add granola. (Duh, Jen.) And why not make my own? Looks easy enough.

It was harder than I thought to find a recipe that would have some flavor without having tons of seeds, nuts, or dried fruits. The Vanilla-Scented Granola from Bon Appetit seemed perfect. While not a "light" recipe, if I'm only using a tbsp or two in my yogurt, it can't be too bad.

It was easy and pretty good, too. It's not as vanilla-y as I would have thought. And I think it didn't need to go the full 30 minutes in my oven. Other than that, it's definitely better than the bran sticks I was eating.

Nutritional Info (for 2 tbsp): 53 calories, 3 grams of fat, 1 gram fiber

Friday, August 1, 2008

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

shrimp fra diavolo

Despite my need to plan every detail, I usually miss something. When it comes to making dinner — it’s common for me to forget to pick up an ingredient or two.

Sometimes this missing ingredient is a dealbreaker, other times I can work around it. Take a couple of recent meals, Fettuccine with Shrimp and Portobellos and Szechuan Braised Meatballs.

Last night, when I attempted to make the meatballs, I noticed it called for napa cabbage, which I had conveniently forgot to add to my list. It was just a little veg as an accent. I didn’t think it would ultimately ruin the dish to leave it out.

The meal was awful — almost toss it out and order pizza awful — I doubt the cabbage would have helped. The first clue should have been that the only binder (or moisture) in those super lean meatballs were water chestnuts. Ugh.

Last week, I forgot to buy an ingredient, but instead obstinately making the dish anyway, I scrapped it and started over.I started to make the fettuccine with shrimp and portobellos when I realized I didn’t have the white wine. The recipe had so few ingredients, that if I had swapped chicken broth for the wine, I was afraid it would be bland and tasteless.

But because I generally have a well-stocked pantry, I turned into Shrimp Fra Diavolo instead. I didn’t have the ingredients for their basic marinara, but I did have a pint of homemade marinara in the freezer. It was a lifesaver.

And this time, dinner worked out just fine. And it’s possible that the end result was better than the fettuccine dish I planned to make in the first place — even if I did have the wine.