Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Breakfast for dinner

Breakfast for dinner

I don’t know what was with me last week. I was seriously dragging.

I came home Thursday fully intending to change into my workout clothes and do a round of the Firm’s Cardio Sculpt. One thing I failed to remember was that they were painting our porch and its entire contents were hanging out my living room. That includes two andridonak chairs with a side table, two mountain bikes, a grill, a large empty flower pot (because I killed the plant that was in it) and a fake hanging basket of flowers (It looks real.. it even fooled our 90-year-old neighbor who was surprisingly still “with it.”)

To fit all of that junk, the boyfriend moved the chair and ottman usually in the living room closer to the center, making it hard for me to move the coffee table out of the way. And because I was already crabby and not really wanting to do anything but veg, I gave up.

And then we had breakfast for dinner. Pancakes from a box, oh yeah. I usually make pancakes from scratch. But I just couldn’t muster the energy and we were out of sugar.

We did have a box of the Hodgsons Mill whole wheat buttermilk pancake mix in the pantry so that’s what we had with scrambled eggs and a couple slices of center cut bacon.

I’m going to choose a mix, this is one I like. It has no weird ingredients and has a good amount of fiber per serving. Make them even tastier by adding a dash of cinnamon to batter. It just bumps the flavor up a notch, and by adding that unexpected flavor they taste homemade even though they aren’t. I bet your friends and family wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference.

What’s your favorite lazy-night meal?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Broccoli Chowder

Broccoli Chowder

I love soup. And I love bread with my soup. Those bread bowls at Panera? Best. Thing. Ever. Too bad the bowl (minus the freaking soup) is 590 calories.

Every time I make a batch of soup I have the best intentions to make a batch of homemade rolls. I have a bread maker that would do most of the work for me, but I’m still not able to get my act together.

So when I found these Alexia whole grain rolls at my local health food store, I nearly peed myself in the aisle. They’re whole wheat, made with ingredients I can pronounce, are individually frozen and heat up in only 8 minutes in the oven. Best yet, they’re 90 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 2 grams of fiber – that’s 1 point if you’re counting. They’re so awesome I nearly grabbed a second one, but luckily was able to reign myself in a bit.

That left me plenty of points to make this Broccoli Chowder and still use the whole milk it called for. Skim milk just doesn’t cut it in soups. Creamy soups need to be creamy… not watery and separated looking. Plus whole milk just tastes really, really good. In this recipe it’s only ¼ cup per serving – not so bad points-wise. Only swap I made was center-cut bacon instead of regular.

And this soup was fantastic. I’m not usually a fan of broccoli in my soup. I’ve gagged on cream of broccoli or broccoli cheddar soups more times than I can count. No matter how hard I fight it, I still have a lingering dislike for the vegetable.

The boyfriend loves broccoli. So this was a nice compromise. There was plenty of potatoes and corn (yay carbs!) to keep me interested and enough broccoli to keep him happy. Oh, and it reheated well, too, which is essential because it made one gigantic pot of soup, and it's only 6 points for four large bowls! Lastly, to make it less chunky I processed it a bit with my immersion blender to give it a thicker consistency. Yum!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Apple-Spinach Chicken

Apple-Spinach Chicken

I love fall. The changing of the leaves, pumpkins, apples, and plenty of warm soups and stews are something I look forward to every year.

Pre-WeightWatchers, fall meant apple turnovers and loaf after loaf of pumpkin bread. While those occasionally appear in my menus, I’m trying to find more healthful ways to incorporate these foods beyond, you know, eating a whole apple as a snack.

I’ve seen those recipes that call for spice cake and can of pumpkin and there are tons of people who swear by pumpkin fluff or baked apples with cinnamon and Splenda. But how do I deal with incorporating these foods in a low calorie/low fat, whole food way? I won’t eat anything with high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils (even if it says it’s trans-fat free) and if it has ingredients I can’t pronounce I try to stay away from it.

Baking is difficult to do in a low-point way, if you expect it to still taste anywhere close to the real deal, so I’ve opted for using typical fall ingredients in savory dishes.

In my most recent attempt I made Apple-Spinach Chicken from Health magazine. What’s good about the dish is that if you use 4 oz. chicken breasts, it’s only 4 points per serving. Low enough that you can add some whole wheat couscous or brown rice, or even a quick pilaf.

The meal overall wasn’t that exciting, though. The sauce was good, but the apples and spinach side dish really didn’t do anything for me. And the chicken was just chicken.

But, that’s not to say I haven’t made a good savory dish with apples or pumpkin. Here’s some of my greatest hits:

What are your favorite pumpkin and apple recipes? I’m always looking for new ones, so send them along!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Herbed Rotini with Grilled Vegetables

Herbed Rotini with Grilled Vegetables

Last night my kitchen was covered with pots, pans, dirty dishes and things were burning while I frantically decided what my next step would be. I'm hardly ever this disorganized. I plan ahead.

But I'm also scattered. I planned to make penne with roasted vegetables and goat cheese, but when I looked at the recipe I noticed I forgot to buy the ingredients for more than half the recipe. So I had to do some quick thinking.

I considered making the grilled vegetable pitas with goat cheese I had planned for later in the week, but then I realized I didn't have time to make the coleslaw, and oh yeah, I was going to buy some corn to grill with that. Oops. Luckily, I flipped the page in the magazine and saw that Cooking Light used those same vegetables in a separate dish. Herbed Penne with Simple Grilled Vegetables. So I made that — sans the basil, which I had also conveniently forgot to purchase.

But dinner was already disorganized at this point and my rhythm was off. I added garlic to the pan to increase the flavor, and then burnt it while I not-so-patiently waited for the boyfriend to bring the vegetables in from the grill. Then I cut pinkie while chopping parsley. What my pinkie was doing in the way of the blade I'm not sure.

These things tend to happen when I haven't prepped dinner before I start cooking. But in the end, dinner somehow came together. And it was a happy accident. And it's even a make again. The vegetables were perfect grilled, they wouldn't have worked any other way.

Best yet, it was only 8 points for a 2 cup serving, so it was filling and didn't break the points bank.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Glazed Pork Chops

Glazed Pork Chops with Smashed Potatoes and Stewed Green Beans

It's been pork central in my household lately, I suppose. First it was ham and now pork chops.

Eh, I guess it doesn't matter much. Pork is delicious. This recipe came with not one, but two side dishes. I love it when magazines and cookbooks suggest sides to pair with the main course. I'm such a doofus when it comes to planning a full menu. And boring, too.

It helps me get out of my Midwestern upbringing rut. Meat with a starchy side and a veggie. I don't really think out of the box. Usually it's rice or potato.. maybe pasta or couscous.

OK. You've got me this time, though. This is a starchy side and veggie combo. BUT these green beans aren't just any green beans. They're stewed. With celery, onion, and tomatoes. Much fancier than my usual steamed green beans with Smart Balance spread.

The potatoes were just smashed potatoes, but the garlic really made them something a little more special for some reason. They were my favorite part of the meal. The green beans were better the next day, surprisingly, and the pork I could take or leave. The glaze just didn't do much for me.

In this recipe I cut the butter in half and used skim milk instead of whole. The result, 10 points per serving with the chops, green beans and potatoes.

What's your favorite way to do pork chops?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Green Bean, Ham and Fontina Frittata

Green Bean, Ham and Fontina Frittata

This weekend the boyfriend and I stopped to get a late lunch while we were out running are usual Saturday errands: the library, grocery store, etc. But because we ate a large lunch at 1:30 p.m., it was just past 8 p.m. when we even got a little hungry.

Not wanting a big dinner, I decided on this Green Bean, Ham and Cheese Frittata. Frittatas are my favorite go-to light meal. They're filling without being heavy. And most, like this one, just call for a few vegetables cooked in a pan, top with beaten eggs and shredded cheese mixture let it set up a bit, and throw it in the oven to finish cooking. Mostly hands-off.

I actually only made one swap in this recipe. I was cooking with what I had on-hand and I was out of scallions. So, I swapped it for regular onion. One note I might make: the ham I bought was super salty, so if your ham is salty do yourself the favor and leave out some of the salt. Mine came out tasting overly salty.

Otherwise, the boyfriend thought it was one of the better frittatas I've ever made. At the very least, it didn't come out as flat as a pancake like usual. Maybe it's because I used the eight whole eggs like the recipe called for. Without any modifications, the recipe is 9 points per serving. You can make it lower points by using a combination of whole eggs and egg whites, or you can use less cheese or use a lower fat cheese.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ravioli with Roasted Zucchini

Ravioli with Roasted Zucchini

Because we got our power back before a lot of the area did, open grocery stores weren't the easiest to find. And the ones that were open probably were without power and some point and I think even with generators they lost some food in the blackout.

So the pickings were slim. I usually keep a hunk of parmesan ready to grate, but we were out. And apparently, so were the stores. All I could find was a tub of shaved parmesan. And as you can see, it melted in the oven in one big clump.

Otherwise, the Ravioli with Roasted Zucchini was great. As soon as the zucchini hit the oven the house filled with the smell of garlic. And cheese ravioli? My favorite. A one-cup serving is 7 points, which really isn't that bad in my opinion.

We ended up having it with grilled corn on the cob drizzled with olive oil on the side because we didn't have anything else to make. It was a slightly odd pairing, but delicious all the same.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ratatouille with Egg

Ratatouille with Egg

This has been a strange week. Sunday, we lost power for more than 24 hours. Hurricane-force winds from Ike actually made it to Ohio and knocked over tons of trees and power lines. Apparently more than a million people were without power.

I was lucky to have power back by 8 p.m. on Monday. Many are still without power. I still lost the entire contents of my fridge and freezer, which is so aggravating because I had *just* gone to the store. Fortunately, I have a backlog of meals to share, so there hasn't been any blogging downtime.

I didn't think anyone would be interested in our steady diet of takeout and grilled hot dogs while our power was out (sometimes it sucks to have an all electric apartment!). But it got me to thinking, maybe readers want to know the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly. Would you be interested in seeing a day-in-the-life entry once and a while? Something like Kath Eats Real Food, Eat Like Me, or The Kim Challenge — where I chronicle a day's worth of meals?

I couldn't do it often because that kind of blogging takes more time than I have to spend.. but it might be a good occasional feature. Send me some feedback.

Anyhow, on to the ratatouille. I can't say I was particularly impressed. This wasn't anything spectacular, but it is a good use of summer's produce and fairly simple to put together. And, I got to make an over easy egg. I'm so pleased I found some simple instructions. I always managed to ruin it before. Now, why didn't I think of using a lid?

And even though I made only half the recipe, it still made a ton. I ended up freezer some.. which I then promptly lost due to the power outage. Such is life, I guess. But the best part is this meal is extremely point friendly. It's great for those days where you lack points to spend and veggie servings. I cut the oil down to 4 tsp, so a serving without the egg is only 2 points. I added the egg, though, and a hunk of whole grain bread to make it even more filling.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mushroom and Zucchini Tacos

Mushroom and Zucchini Tacos

Meat is expensive. Especially pork and beef, which can be $3 a pound or more. And when you're trying to stay on budget, a couple of pounds of meat at $3 a pound can eat up a big chunk of your grocery bill.

So, each week I do plan a couple of meatless meals. There's just one small problem — the boyfriend won't eat beans of any kind. Try finding a meatless meal that doesn't have beans. It's actually kind of difficult.

I ran across these tacos that have zucchini and mushroom and red onion for the filling and was immediately excited. Meatless with no beans and zucchini are about 99 cents per pound. Less if I buy it at Aldi's in a 3-count package.

And they were simple. Just roast the veggies, warm the tortillas, and top with cheese and salsa, and ta-da, dinner is served.

The boyfriend had just one complaint: "Mushrooms in my tacos are weird." I, however, disagree.

On the side, I served it with my new favorite salad: Romaine Salad with Corn and Pepitas. Pepitas are green pumpkin seeds. Here, they're suggesting you buy the raw ones and toast them yourself. It's healthier that way. But I bought the roasted on accident, so I skip the baking step.

The tacos are a steal at 5 points for a three taco serving if you use only 4 tsp of oil (you may also need some cooking spray) and only a 1/2 cup cheese if using full-fat monterey jack as I did. The salad is 2 points per serving as written.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pepper Crusted Steak with Summer Bread Salad

Pepper Crusted Steak with Summer Bread Salad

It seems like every time I plan to use my grill, it rains. And not just sort of rains. We're talking torrential downpours. So when I woke up to see dark skies and lots of rain last week. I figured we'd have to find some other way to make the top sirloin steak I put out the night before.

But happily, I was wrong. It cleared up just in time for dinner. I think the sun even came out.

The boyfriend wanted to do the grilling and I was skeptical. Once, he fed me a still cold in the center hot dog. And last time, he burned the chicken to a crisp (although I think it was more the skin factor rather than the boyfriend can't grill factor). I was busy making the Summer Bread Salad, so I reluctantly agreed.

And this time, he actually came through. I also armed him with an instant read thermometer so I didn't end up with well done meat or meat that was still mooing. I prefer a nice medium rare.

To add extra flavor we crusted it with salt and pepper. Delicious. The bread salad was a nice complement, although I was lazy and skipped through half the steps by just throwing the whole thing together. I didn't even toast the bread, but I needed to. It was a bit on the soggy side. Otherwise, it tasted great.

The salad says it makes 6 to 8 servings. I halved the recipe and made it four servings for 4 points a serving. I also used a whole grain baguette instead of ciabatta. I estimated the steak comes out to 5 points a serving for four servings out of a 1 1/2 pound top sirloin steak, well trimmed. But what you buy might vary. Always use the info on the package.

I'm so proud of the boyfriend's grilling. Next, I'll have to teach him how to put grill marks on the meat.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chicken Couscous Salad

Chicken and Couscous Salad

I received great news yesterday. I'm the picture of health. My HDL cholesterol levels are much higher than average and my triglycerides are so low the machine doesn't even read them. My blood pressure and fasting glucose are also perfect.

Just goes to show that although I'm currently about 20 pounds above the highest weight for my height range, I'm still healthier than most. Weight isn't always a determining factor. Still, I'm going to continue watching my portions and exercising and strive for a health weight so I can stay this healthy.

The nurse sharing my results shared that triglycerides can be high if your diet is rich with white pasta, white bread, and white potatoes, and alcohol. Basically any food that's converted to sugars in your body.

So maybe that's why mine is so low -- because I enjoy meals like this Chicken Couscous Salad, which I made healthier by using 100% whole wheat couscous. Instead of buying frozen cubed chicken, I kept it all natural by using leftover chicken from a chicken I roasted earlier.

I served it with toasted whole wheat pitas and it was a huge hit. With the chicken, it makes a main dish, but it can also make a side for a cookout or picnic.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My new toy

new toy

I have a new toy. A digital scale. Surprisingly, in my zillion years on WeightWatchers, I've never had a digital scale. I had a really awful scale that wasn't digital, but that broke.

So, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Now, I don't weigh everything. I don't think it's necessary. I'm fine with averages. I can eyeball what a medium apple looks like, I'm not weighing my cereal every morning.

But sometimes it's just fun to know. For example, I'm underestimating my occasional bowl of ice cream. I actually was giving myself a smaller portion. Who knew!

I also like to measure meat and potatoes and other vegetables that have points values and are measured by ounces in recipes.

It's actually kind of fun thing to have.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pineapple-Glazed Chicken

Pineapple-Glazed Chicken

The lighting on this photo is off. I really need to come up with a better lighting solution. But the lighting wasn't the only thing that fell short.

The recipe wasn't as great as I hoped it would be. I thought something called Pineapple-Glazed Chicken would be more pineapple-y. It was just OK, but nothing to write home about. Just slight hint of pineapple.

The one thing that drew me to this recipe was that you pulled the chicken off, but it still had the bone. Score. Fewer fat and calories and I could still buy the super cheap chicken thighs (the boneless/skinless are super costly). But look at that crust. YUM.

So overall it gets a "meh." Better luck next time.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Herb-Crusted Salmon with Spinach Salad

Herb-Crusted Salmon with Spinach Salad

My mom follows a diabetic diet and my sister lost a bunch of her extra college weight through South Beach. They both swear by the low carb approach. I personally don't think cutting any food group is a good idea. So I don't believe in the first two weeks of the South Beach diet.

And on Weight Watchers, there's no real need to cut out a food group. But maybe cutting back on carbs, just every once and a while, isn't such a bad idea. Might even save a few points here and there.

For most meals, I plan dish with protein, vegetables, and a whole grain. But last night, we at Herb-Crusted Salmon with Spinach Salad.. a dinner without a grain side dish.. and I wasn't starving afterwards.

And it was delicious, too.

What do you think about a low-carb approach?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Late Summer Vegetable Soup

Late Summer Vegetable Soup

I'm not feeling the best lately. I'm not sure if it's allergies (there's an air-quality alert today) or if it's an on-coming cold (people have been dropping like flies lately with a summer cold). Either way, I'm craving hot tea and soup.

So last night, we had Late Summer Vegetable Soup from the latest issue of Everyday Food. I used homemade chicken stock and added some dried herbs to the mix because I was afraid with just vegetables it would come out bland. And I was out of orzo, so it was some leftover whole wheat elbows.

It made a TON of soup. I'll be eating this all this week, most likely. But it doesn't matter. It was filling and satisfying. Perfect for days like these when I'm feeling a bit under the weather.