Friday, October 31, 2008

Mushroom Spinach Quesadillas

Mushroom and Spinach Quesadillas

I might get to move to a smaller apartment and save some money in the process. While I love having so much space, a possible $100 a month savings is too much to pass up. When I first got this new job with a bigger paycheck I promised myself I wouldn't let money get as tight as it was when I had my last job. I couldn't really help it then but I can help it now. Sort of.

My current situation I can't really help.

But it's exciting news anyhow. Maybe my luck is starting to change now that October is over.

I did find the perfect recipe to use up the odds and ends in my fridge. The people at Everday Food must have been able to see inside my fridge. I had both mushrooms and spinach to use up. But I decided to change the recipe, quite a bit.

I thought it might be a bit bland so I added about 1/2 tsp each of cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and about a 1/4 tsp oregano. I also cut the amount of cheese in half, cut the oil to 4 tsp (you can use less to saute and spray the tortillas with cooking spray) and used only one tortilla per serving. If you can find taco sized it'd probably be OK to use two, but the brand I have is 3 points per tortilla, so I only used one and folded it in half.

On the side roasted green beans. I put green beans in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes after tossing them with a little oil, salt, and garlic herb season. Even though it was all pretty much on the fly, it was a great dinner.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup

I don't know about where you live, but here in Ohio it's a drizzly cold mess. At least it has been the past couple of days. I hate that it's almost winter. I think I'm meant to live in a more temperate climate.

When it's so yucky I crave soup and lots of it.

Pre-WeightWatchers I would definitely say my favorite soup was Panera's baked potato soup in a bread bowl. But that meal (sometimes washed down with a bag of their potato chips) clocks in at 820 calories, 13 grams of fat and 6 grams of fiber. The fat and fiber isn't awful considering, but 820 calories? Yikes. That's a little over half an entire day for me. And I could probably eat that entire thing.

So, over the years I've looked for a suitable swap in the baked potato soup department. And I think I've found the winner. This baked potato soup recipe is one of the top-rated soups at Cooking Light and I can definitely see why. It's so creamy and delicious, you won't believe it's only 329 calories per serving.

It says you get 8 servings out of the recipe, but I halved it and didn't nearly get 1-1/2 cup servings out of that. It was closer to a cup I suppose. So it's fairly pointy for just a cup, but it's so satisfying and rich tasting.

If halving it, you would use 3 cups of milk. I only had a pint of 2%, so I used 2 cups of 2% and a cup of skim. You might even be able to get away with 1 1/2 cups of skim and 2% if you're looking to cut calories. I also used center cut bacon instead of regular. And I would used more salt than it called for. For me, salt=taste.

This one's definitely going in the make again file.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed French Toast

I found a new "butter" at Trader Joe's: Cranberry Apple Butter. This might not be new to some, but it's new in my store and it's wonderful. I might even like it more than the pumpkin butter. Unlike the pumpkin butter, I could eat this stuff by the spoonful. But I won't.

If you like cranberry sauce you'll love it as much I do. This week I'm stirring it into my cream of wheat, but I also made Stuffed French Toast with it. This french toast from Vegetarian Times, is low enough in calories and fat that it's not breaking the bank to have two servings drizzeled in plenty of warm maple syrup with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

I've tried the recipe twice now, once with cinnamon bread and pumpkin butter and the second time with cinnamon raisin bread and cranberry apple butter. I like both of the fillings, but I think I prefer the cinnamon bread over the cinnamon raisin. Or maybe it's because the raisins and the cranberry together are just a little too much for my tastebuds.

And if you don't have vanilla soy milk you could use regular milk. I might add just a smidge of vanilla, though, if you use cow's milk. What's french toast without a hint of vanilla in the background?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pineapple-Teriyaki Chicken

Pineapple-Teriyaki Chicken

This past weekend was for the most part, gorgeous. I saw it as one of my last chances to grill out before it's supposed to snow. Can you believe they're calling for flurries already? I guess it's nearly November, but still.

So I made Pineapple-Teriyaki Chicken from Eating Well. I'm pretty sure I meant to make this a month or so ago. I had pineapple rings in the pantry and I vaguely remember wanting to try this recipe. I love chicken thighs, I love pineapple, oh and teriyaki, too. And like yesterday's post, if you don't have chicken thighs, you can substitute bonless/skinless chicken breasts. But if you haven't tried chicken thighs.. do so.

The only problem I had with the recipe was that I walked away from the sauce when it was coming to a boil and by the time I made it back to check on it, it was boiled to the point it was almost gone. I think making extra marinade would be a good idea, anyhow. The sauce over the top of the chicken is what really makes it special. Otherwise it's just grilled chicken.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stuffing-Topped Chicken with Creamy Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Stuffing-Topped Chicken Thighs

A cold front is coming in today, I think. And I've been craving comfort food. Eating Well's Stuffing-Topped Chicken Thighs combines Turkey Day favorites like stuffing and gravy in a skillet casserole. On the side, I made Creamy Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

I loved the chicken and stuffing. It came together quickly and tasted a lot more fattening that it really was. And it would be easy to modify based on what you have on hand. Don't have chicken thighs? Use boneless/skinless chicken or even turkey cutlet or tenderloin cut up. Don't have shallots? Use some onion instead. I made one swap. Instead of country white bread I had whole wheat so I used that instead. I'm always looking for ways to use whole grains.

It's definitely something I'll make more often.

The mashed sweet potatoes, on the other hand.. I'm torn. The weren't at all what I was expecting, but they weren't bad. They were more like a sweet potato puree rather than mashed. I ended up using a little too much chicken broth. What I liked about them was that they weren't sweet.

I always thought I hated sweet potatoes because the only ones I'd ever had were the canned yams with marshmallows at my grandma's house. Blech. Now, I crave sweet potatoes.

Overall, a pretty tasty meal.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta

Butternut Squash Risotto

I have the worst crick in my neck. I think I pulled a muscle in my neck/shoulder before I fell asleep. I remember turning funny, feeling something pop with a rush of pain, then thinking "Crap, I'm not going to be able to turn my head."

It's not as bad as the last time I did this a year or so ago. Then, when someone asked me to look left, I'd have to turn my whole body to the left. I couldn't even sit at my desk and type. Even though it's not that bad this time, it did keep me from working out last night and it meant I was on the couch nursing my neck with a heating pad.

Thankfully, it feels better today.

But whenever I don't work out I end up making poor eating choices. I actually snacked continuously while cooking, downed a couple of glasses of white wine, and then ate dinner. My stomach definitely does not like me this morning. Note to self: don't gorge on tortilla chips and salsa, random bites of cheese, and a ton of wine unless you are wishing for gastrointestinal distress.

I woke up feeling so ick today I downed a good 36 ounces of water before I even left for work. It helped, but I'm still not feeling less than stellar.

So about dinner... it took forever to make. Seriously. This butternut squash tutorial makes it look so easy. But a four-pound squash is not that easy to peel. Or cube. Or cook for that matter.

What was good about this butternut squash risotto is that it goes go in the oven — no stirring makes me happy inside. The bad part? I had to have the squash done in time for the oven to cool off to 325 degrees. So the whole meal took F-O-R-E-V-E-R. It was good, but I'm not sure I'll make this again for the same reason I don't make most squash dishes. I'm just not sure it's worth the hassle.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

I’ve got good and bad news. The bad news: I really wanted a Coke Zero but the machine was sold out. The good news: the machine converted my hodge-podge collection of dimes and nickels into two quarters and two dimes.

Let me take a minute, though, and profess my workday love for Coke Zero. I hate artificial sweeteners. The make me want to gag most of the time. (See Coffee). But I heart Coke Zero for some reason. I blame my dad.

At lunch a month or so ago he was sharing his nutrition “wisdom” at lunch (i.e. what he heard on the TV news) on how supposedly the fake sugar in diet sodas (whatever that big long p-word is on the can) might kill you. And I said I thought Coke Zero had Splenda in it. So, to prove to him that I’m all-knowing I bought a can.

I was wrong. It totally had the p-word on the can. Oops. But now I was stuck with the diet soda that I didn’t really plan on drinking. Not one to waste my hard-earned 70 cents(!) I drank it. And it wasn’t bad. It actually kind of tasted like Coke. Plus, it only kind of had an aftertaste. I might die from it someday, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.

So now when I’m an afternoon slump and need just a little caffeine boost I reach for the Coke Zero. Well, not yesterday anyway. Because, you know, it was sold out.

I didn't even work out like I had planned. I was just draaaaaging. Instead, I spent time with my family and ate a veggie omelet from Bob Evans with steamed veggies on the side. And a slice of pumpkin bread. Overall, I made fairly good choices, though, I probably should have skipped the pumpkin bread.

When I got home, I made this Black Bean Pumpkin Soup I saw on Smitten Kitchen. I love the photography on this blog. Everything looks delicious, and I was particularly excited to make this because for the second week in a row the grocery store only had the gigantor cans of pumpkin. Good thing I love pumpkin.

I made half the recipe and froze a couple of servings for later because I never know when I’m not going to be in the mood to cook. Each cup and a half (or so) serving figures out to 6 points if you cut out half of the butter the recipe calls for. For those counting calories, it's about 347 calories as run through

It's for lunch today, but I took a bite last night just to taste it. The soup was satisfying, spicy, creamy — everything I was looking on a chilly evening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From the Archives: Gnocchi with Pancetta, Tomatoes, and Wilted Spinach

Gnocchi with pancetta, tomatoes and wilted spinach

I rarely make a dish more than once and if I do, I usually don't blog about it.

I normally have a backlog of recipes to share, but these past couple of weeks have really thrown me off my usual routine. I can't really discuss much about the now ex-boyfriend and I's demise mostly because I don't think I fully understand what went wrong for him.. and he's probably reading this anyhow.

Sometimes I miss the way things were. It wasn't my idea to breakup and I had no idea it was coming. But honestly, I'm not as sad as I thought I would be. I'm viewing this as a new beginning of sorts.

Not only is it a chance for me to focus on creating a healthy, active lifestyle for myself, I even can put more focus on my career. I hesitated going for a master's degree while he was still working on his bachelor's, but now I have all the time in the world.

Anyhow.. on to dinner. I really did make this gnocchi again last night sans the whole wheat bread in the photo. And I'm using it to illustrate a point I made over on the WeightWatchers' boards.

One member was having difficulty fitting in vegetables. I admit, I'm a reformed veggie hater. And it's recipes like this one that have helped me love veggies. An easy trick is to find a recipe that has a lot of vegetables in it and double them. Voila. Lots of veg mixed in with other things. I can handle that. I can't always handle a big pile of plain vegetables.

Here, the tomatoes soften to create a sauce and the garlic scents the whole dish. Even if you think you're not a fan of cooked spinach, try it in this recipe. It originally calls for watercress, but here in Columbus, watercress is not easy to find. Spinach is close enough. You could probably also use arugula with similar success.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

Sweet Potato Enchiladas

I was in a good mood yesterday. I'm down at least another pound this week. That's only four pounds total since I've really recommitted a little more than a month ago, but I just felt thinner. I’m not too worried about what the scale says, though. For all the ups and downs I’ve had in the past few years, I have a healthy relationship with the scale. It’s just a marker of my progress and it’s these thin-feeling days that I think count more.

Plus, I know my health numbers are perfect. That’s a big help. I should take my measurements, too.

Now on to dinner. My friend, Valerie, tried these enchiladas from Karina's Kitchen and loved them. Because they came from a gluten-free blog, I ended up making some substitutions like using cornstarch instead of arrowroot. And I used regular white corn tortillas. I also think that because of the writer’s location, chiles are more available. Ours are about $3.99 a pound here, which is just outrageous in my opinion. My food budget is approximately $60 a week for just me — not hard to stick to — but I still have to make smart choices with my money. So I used canned roasted green chiles instead.

These would have to be trying to be horrible in order for me not to like them. They got a good review from a friend who has good taste in food and, duh, they’re enchiladas. I haven’t met an enchilada I haven’t liked. And obviously, they were delicious. I inhaled them.

On the side I made of my go-to salads for Mexican-type foods. Mixed greens with mandarin oranges, red onion, and honey vinaigrette. Yum.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Slow Cooker BBQ Pork Chops

BBQ pork chops

I'm back with all new recipes and all new photos. For the time being I'm borrowing my parents' digital camera while I decide how much money I have/want to spend on my own camera.

My dad insists a simple point and shoot with a macro function is all I need. I'm unconvinced, but promised I would give his a try with the aid of a tripod.

I made the asparagus next to the pork chop, but the pork is my dad's handiwork. If you can call it that. It's a slow cooker recipe my mom found at for BBQ Pork Chops that doesn't really require much cooking. Not that he can't cook, because he's not all that bad. He just didn't do much of here.

Can't say it was the best thing I've ever eaten, but it wasn't the worst either. I think it would be good as shredded pork for pulled pork sandwiches. And I believe instead of the 1 cup ketchup it was 1/2 cup ketchup and 1/2 cup barbecue sauce.

I think it would definitely be a budget-friendly busy day meal.

Do you have a favorite slow cooker recipe?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

From the Archives: Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

I'm cheating. This isn't even that old of a recipe. I made it roughly two months ago. But it's delicious, and it's what's for dinner tonight.

My mom is pre-diabetic, as I think I've mentioned before. So, her meal planning centers around carb counts. I've offered to make dinner, but I'm grilled about the amount of carbs in a recipe. As a long-time member of WeightWatchers, I have to admit I don't give a darn. I can tell her how many points. And sometimes even calories, fat, and fiber. But carbs?

Sure, I can run it through NutritionData and find out. But that's just so time consuming. So I started looking through Cooking Light recipes and others I have full nutrition information for without having to calculate it myself. Do you know how hard it is to find an ENTIRE meal under 45 carbs? I didn't realize my day was such carb-fest.

And then there's my parents' dislikes. Which includes most vegetables — except, of course, for the ones with carbs, like lima beans and corn. She won't eat sauteed spinach in olive oil and garlic but lima beans are delicious? I don't get it.

Then I remembered the Chicken Parmesan I made in August. It was easy, tasty, and only 31 carbs, leaving just enough for a side veggie. I'm hoping for few complaints tonight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From the Archives: Hummus Sesame Noodles

Hummus Sesame Noodles

This week I'm snacking on hummus. I love hummus. In fact, I might be inclined to buy a giant tub from Costco although it's only me eating it.

Sometimes I make my own.

But if it's only just me, then what do I do with the leftovers? That's an easy one. I make Hummus Sesame Noodles. I made my version with whole wheat noodles. And this recipe fits well into my new "economical" meal kick.

Store-bought hummus can be pricey, but homemade is super cheap (especially if you used dried garbanzos to start with). You can buy only the amount of peanuts you need by hitting up the bulk bins and if your store is like mine, I can can choose how many snow peas you buy.

Looking back on the original post, I wasn't a fan of the raw ones. But you can also buy them frozen, for not a lot of money, too. I should make this again soon.

Maybe I'll be buying the vat o' hummus afterall because I'm now craving this and feeling bit lazy.

Original post: Hummus Sesame Noodles

Monday, October 13, 2008

From the Archives: Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi

Ricotta Gnocchi

My friend Laurel calls me to ask about this recipe frequently. It's a favorite of theirs and much simpler than making potato gnocchi from scratch.

This is one of my all-time favorite WeightWatcher's recipes. It's really simple to make and quick to cook. I think you can even freeze them prior to cooking them.

Here, I paired it with my favorite marinara sauce, from Cook's Illustrated.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mediterranean Chicken Stew

Mediterranean Chicken Stew

Sorry for the absence. This really has been the worst month. The boyfriend (of more than two years) broke up with me last week with no warning. It took a few days to get my bearings.

Unfortunately, the camera was his, so I'm still looking for a photo solution. If I have to do a few reruns, I will. I'm sure not everyone has seen every recipe I've ever shared.

Pantry-based meals are going to be even more important these next few months. I went to the store today and bought stuff for lasagna and beef stew and the fixins for pumpkin pie oatmeal and some hummus and carrots/crackers for snack and still spent $47. It did a double-take in the checkout lane. I couldn't believe it.

Earlier last week I made Mediterranean Chicken Stew. It wasn't anything fantastic, but it wasn't bad, either. Just OK. I made it because it's super cheap and relies on pantry stables like garbanzo beans and kalamata olives and corn meal. But the flavor was just average. It might have been better if I had fresh parsley, but I was out.

I miss having money for groceries.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hot Cereal with Pumpkin Butter and Walnuts

Hot Cereal with Pumpkin Butter and Walnuts

I am in love with Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter. I was unsure it first. I thought it would taste more pumpkin pie-like. But it definitely grew on me. And I bought it only because I couldn't find an affordable, smallish jar of apple butter.

I have a couple of recipes that called for apple butter I wanted to try and when I went to my usual grocery store all I could find where these behemoth jars that cost no less than $5. And generally speaking, we don't go through a lot of jam or jelly at our house. And if losing power for more than 24 hours last month taught me anything it's buy only what you can honestly use.

I thought for sure Trader Joe's would have a small jar of apple butter, but they didn't. They only had the pumpkin butter. It was "butter" afterall, and I'd heard good things about it so I decided to give it a try.

I stirred a bit into my whole grain Cream of Wheat and added chopped toasted walnuts for 6 points per serving. Wonderful. I'm already planning a trip to pick up another jar.

Hot Cereal with Pumpkin Butter and Walnuts
Adapted from Everday Food
1 cup skim milk
3 tbsp cream of wheat (not instant) (I used the new whole grain variety)
2 tbsp pumpkin butter
1 tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted

Bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cream of wheat, reduce heat and and follow the package's directions for cooking time. Mine was about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in pumpkin butter and top with walnuts.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Annie's Shells and Aged Cheddar with Tangy Mustard Coleslaw

Annie's Shells and Cheese with Mustard Coleslaw

The boyfriend and I have really had to watch our pennies this month. Budgets are no fun. Especially when you don't plan well and you end up one meal short and no money left in the budget.

The result was Annie's Shells with Aged Cheddar with Tangy Mustard Coleslaw on the side. I looked in the pantry and found the box on macaroni and cheese. Then I found half a head of cabbage and a partial red onion. And I always have vinegar, mayo and spicy mustard on hand.

It was a weird pairing, but it might be something you'd eat on the same plate at a cookout. Or at least that's how I pitched it to the boyfriend when he gave me a strange look. It's not a typical meal.. but sometimes you've got to make things work.

Annie's Shells and Cheese is only 6 points per cup and has natural ingredients, which I like. It has similar nutritionals to Kraft Mac and Cheese. The coleslaw is only 1 point. Not bad for a last minute dinner.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chicken-Apple Chili

Chicken-Apple Chili

I think I might enter this Chicken-Apple Chili in my department's chili cookoff next week. I really liked how unique it is. Just like me. :) Kidding.

It's creamy and the apple are sweet but not over-powering. The only problem I had with it (besides the fact it called for WAY more oil and cheese than it really needed), was that it lacked the "kick" that many chili has behind it. It was plenty smokey with the cumin. But it needed heat.

So before I enter it, I'm tweaking it just a bit. I'm going to add some ground red pepper and instead of monterey jack I may take the leap and use pepper jack. Here, I also used cilantro on top, which was a nice addition. I did so mainly because I ran out of green onions. But I liked the swap.

My "lighter" tweaks were using 4 tsp of oil rather than the 4 tablespoons it called for. I have a non-stick stock pot I sometimes use, so there's not need to use that much oil. Also, I cut back on the cheese. I used 1/2 cup of cheese. I should also note I cut the entire recipe in two to make four servings. I left the 2 tbsp butter and flour so it would thicken up properly but used skim milk rather than 2 percent or whole. Worked wonderfully.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Southwestern Turkey Burger with Chili Oven Fries

Southwestern Turkey Burger with Chili Fries

Do you have extra points to spend? I don’t this week. I gobbled up my flex points and then some at the beginning of the week. Stress eating got the better of me. I’ll spare you the drama but I got into a minor fender bender with an uninsured driver (they’re at fault) and the boyfriend may lose his job.

There has been more, but I think even those two instances might drive a normal person toward a snacking binge. I probably won’t show a loss on the scale this week, but I’m fine with that. I’m proud of myself for salvaging the week as best I could.

Last week, though, I had plenty of time to work out and for some reason I ended up with a bunch of flex points toward the end of the week. Wasn’t I lucky?

So I used them to make a burger I had on my list for a while – the southwestern turkey burger. And because I had so many points, I could make chili fries that are baked in a little more oil than I typically use. And — this was possibly the best part — I could wash it down with my most favorite beer. Octoberfest.

The boyfriend complained about the burgers falling apart a little on the grill. Maybe because they didn’t have much of a binder? But they were delicious anyhow. And those chili fries never disappoint. I can’t believe I haven’t shared this recipe yet.

The burger, with a “typical” generic wheat hamburger bun was 11 points and the fries are 3 points per serving. More than many oven fries, but totally worth the extra point in my opinion. My mouth is watering just thinking about how good they were.

Chili Oven Fries
Adapted from Everyday Food

1 ½ pounds russet potatoes
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut potatoes into wedges.

In a large bowl, mix together the olive oil, chili powder, salt and pepper. Add the potatoes and toss to coat.

Put the potato wedges cut sides down on a baking sheet coated in cooking spray. Bake, turning potatoes halfway through, until they are tender and golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Today's a grey, yucky day. And it's these kinds of morning where I really crave a hot breakfast. I often will settle for a bowl of cold cereal and milk on most days, but sometimes there's nothing more comforting than a big bowl of oats.

I could buy the flavored instant oatmeal from the grocery store. They sell all kinds including reduced sugar, but I really to make my own. It's about 100 times more satisfying. Here, I made Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal I adapted from Clean Eating magazine, but I have made a bunch of different combinations. This one has been one of my favorites. At first, I was weary of the protein powder, but it turned out much tastier than I expected. Points will vary depending on how much sweetener and what kind you use, but my recipe comes out to 5 points per bowl. It's a small bowl...but has more staying power than I expected.

If you make a bowl of oats in the morning, what's your typical recipe?

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
1/4 cup light vanilla soymilk (you could use regular milk if you prefer)
6 tbsp water
1/4 cup quick oats (old-fashioned is fine)
A pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
sweetener to taste
2 tbsp canned pumpkin
1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder dissolved in 2 tbsp water
2 tbsp chopped nuts

Bring the water and milk to a boil over medium heat. Add the oats, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until oatmeal has thickened, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the sweetener (I use 1/2 tbsp agave syrup), pumpkin, and dissolved protein powder. Add chopped nuts such as walnuts, almonds or pecans and serve.