Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tortellini Soup

Tortellini Soup

Right now I'm eating a bowl of Campbell's Select Harvest Healthy Request Italian Wedding Soup. But I wish I was eating Tortellini Soup, instead. This canned soup is not all it's cracked up to be. It's just missing *something*. Possibly salt. Or just flavor in general. I might as well be eating plain broth with pasta in it.

I bought it to have quick lunch in the event there are no leftovers to eat and because at 110 calories per cup, it's a points bargain. But for $2.50 a can it's not a price or taste bargain. The canned soups the serve in the cafeteria at my office are tastier (which isn't saying much) and cost about the about the same.

I had my doubts about this tortellini soup, but I was wrong. My mom saw this recipe and asked me to make it, but I needed to go work out and it turns out.. they didn't want to wait until 8 p.m. to eat. So my parents put together the meal while I was gone and when I got back it was ready. While I love having my own place, staying at their house hasn't been so bad. A gal could get used to being cooked for more.

We used sweet Italian turkey sausage instead of regular sausage and used less than a pound, cut the amount of green pepper by half and used jarred marinara because I didn't buy enough plain tomato sauce. I think the marinara sauce was an excellent swap, it could have been too bland using plain tomato sauce.

I'm not sure that this makes 11 servings, maybe more like 8 servings? I can't imagine that given less sausage and healthier sausage.. that the nutritional info is much different from the recipe so that's what I went by.

I'm not obsessing over points or calories this week so I wasn't too concerned. My goal on all holiday weeks isn't to lose but maintain, and I'm sure I'll do just that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I made this spaghetti and meatballs recipe for the first time shortly after the ex and I first decided to make the leap from "just dating" to "relationship." I made it with a salad (which he hated but pretended to like) and then made these apple turnovers for dessert.

Then the date ended early because we ended up eating two apple turnovers in addition to splitting an entire bottle of red wine. Drunk + stuffed = felt like I was going to puke.

That was his first and most certainly not last introduction to “beached whale” syndrome, which is short for lying belly up on the sofa groaning in discomfort.

So when my mom requested spaghetti and meatballs for dinner last weekend, I figured this one would go over fairly well.

Making your own spaghetti sauce can be fussy and time consuming, especially this recipe. Having it simmer for 45 minutes and then adding the meatballs for another 15 minutes of simmer? Ugh. For an hour-long process, this sauce needs to be tastier, in my opinion. Don’t they know I have a short attention span?

This isn’t quite as good as my favorite marinara, but my mom liked it because it was lighter and fresher tasting than many jarred sauces. You could certainly use jarred sauce. You’ll need at least a jar if not more, basically enough to cover the meatballs for simmering.

The meatballs, though, are the shining star of this recipe. A mix of sweet Italian sausage and ground sirloin, these little babies are a snap to make and are full of flavor. The only change I made was using dried basil and whole wheat pasta. Otherwise, I made everything as written.

Next time, though, I’ll make different sauce. The meatballs are a keeper.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the Archives: Teriyaki Chicken Thighs with Asian Noodle Salad

Chicken Teriyaki

I came home Tuesday evening to find my chicken thighs were still frozen solid. I could thaw them the rest of the way in the microwave, sure, but why would I do that when my parents were offering to buy me Panera?

I never turn down black bean soup and 1/2 a mediterranian vegetable sandwich (which is my absolute favorite).

So, I let the chicken finish thawing for another day and made my entire family these Teriyaki Chicken Thighs with an asian noodle salad. It wasn't exactly a cold-weather meal, but I really like these chicken thighs. And the noodle salad complements it well. Just a tip on timing so it doesn't take an hour to make this meal. Put the water to boil first, then marinade the chicken, then put the noodles in and chop the veggies for the salad while the noodles cook. Then cool the noodles and cook the chicken.

I ended up not marinating the chicken, but broiled and basted instead. I didn't create a plan of attack first and didn't realize the chicken had to marinade. Oops.

Other than that, it was as great as always and the entire meal comes out to 8 points.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Diner Meat Loaf "Muffins" and Skillet Roasted Potatoes

meat loaf

Today was the first full snow. Blech. I hate snow. If it's a day off and I don't have to go anywhere, I like the snow, otherwise, I could totally do without it.

I'm not really even good at winter sports like skiing. Once, a former boyfriend took me on a ski trip with his friends to the West Virginia/Maryland state line. I've heard that these ski resorts in good skiing areas claim they have a bunny slope, but really they don't. And this one was no exception. I got off the lift and immediately it's a downward sloping righthand turn. If you don't make the turn, there's a trees and lots of them.

No one bothered to take the time to teach me to ski or offer to let me take lessons, instead, I had to figure it all out for myself. And did I mention I'm afraid of heights? The ski lift was traumatizing enough -- but on the second "bunny" slope, it was so steep I ended up screaming about a 1/4 of the way down the hill, until I nearly lost control and sat down. I then slid down the hill on my butt the rest of the way.

I will not ski again. And I hate snow.

Tonight's meal was a great for this kind of weather. Diner Meat Loaf "Muffins" with skillet roasted potatoes. I can't believe I've never written about these muffins. They're a fantastic way to make meat loaf on a weeknight as they cook in less than 30 minutes, and even though you end up using extra lean ground beef -- they're super moist and flavorful. Hands down my favorite way to make meat loaf and they even come with built in portion control.

On the side I made skillet roasted potatoes. They aren't the lightest recipe in the world, but they are crispier than traditional oven roasted potatoes.

Skillet Roasted Potatoes
1-1/2 pounds small red skinned potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the potatoes in half if they're small (if they're less than 2 inches diameter) or in quarters (if they're 2 to 3 inches), making 3/4 inch to 1 inch chunks. Rinse the potatoes in cold water, and spread on a kitchen towel and pat to dry.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until oil shimmers, but isn't smoking. Add the potatoes cut side down and let cook 5-7 minutes until browned.

Turn potatoes skin side up if halved or turn to the other cut side if quartered and cook for another 5-6 minutes.

Stir potatoes and rearrange into a single layer; cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook covered for another 6-9 minutes, or until a paring knife slices through the potato easily. Season potatoes to taste and serve. Makes 4 servings.

The potatoes are 4 points per serving and the meat loaf is 6 points per serving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Herbed Chicken and Dumplings

chicken and dumplings

This weekend, it actually snowed a bit. Just the occasional flurry, but it was still darn cold. I think the high temp was 38-ish, which isn't that cold considering it usually gets down to the teens by February, but when it was 70 degrees just a couple of weeks ago it feels a little more shocking. One of the bonuses of being at my parents is definitely the fireplace.

So tonight I made Herbed Chicken and Dumplings. It was perfect, even if my dumplings were a bit malformed.

It was a bit fussy -- it took 9 minutes to cook the chicken and veggies, 30 minutes to simmer and then 10 minutes more after the dumplings were added. But that's OK. That's why I made it on a Sunday.

Alongside, I warmed up my favorite frozen whole grain rolls for about 376 calories for the entire meal, or 7 points if you're counting. Definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Garden Risotto

Garden Risotto

I am so ready for this week to be over. The week has gone by fast enough, but I'm seriously just ready for the weekend.

And because I'm in a comfort food kick, I made Garden Risotto tonight for dinner. I'll eat any vegetable if it's mixed in with creamy rice. I love risotto. It's one of my favorite foods. And this one is only 5 points per 1 cup serving, according to the Recipe Tracker (although the NI says it would be 4 points). If you opt for making the recipe four servings, it's still only 7 points, which is still a good deal, if you ask me.

This one wasn't any particularly special. I think it could have used a bit of butter stirred in at the end. But the asparagus, peas, and spinach made it nurtient rich, that's for sure! It's probably something I'll make again.

The rice doesn't really hide the vegetables, but I think the make them more palatable.

How do you like to "hide" your veggies?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rotini with Sausage and Spinach

Rotini with Sausage and Spinach

My pants are falling down and I need a belt desperately. To get a pair of pants fit in the behind, they’re often too big in the waist.

At least that’s the case with the pants I’m currently wearing. On the other hand, I have a pair of jeans that fit in the waist and look big everywhere else. Go figure. Shopping for pants is ridiculously difficult no matter what size or shape you are.

Tonight’s dinner: a pasta dish with spinach and sausage, kind of similar to the one I tried several months ago.

This one was adapted from Cooks Illustrated. It needed a few tweaks to make it more healthful. I reduced the amount of hot Italian turkey sausage, less cheese, and I used sun dried tomatoes NOT packed in oil, and well, that was about it. It also originally called for penne, but eh, when do I ever actually use the type of pasta the recipe calls for? Usually not often.

So it’s whole wheat rotini tonight. I was actually short on rotini, but I found a partial box in my mom’s cupboards (thanks Mom!). Otherwise it would been a mix of rotini and macaroni.

This was so good. Simple and delicious, just the way I like it.

Rotini with Sausage and Spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 hot Italian turkey sausage links
3 cloves minced garlic
2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/4 cups water
8 ounce rotini (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (soak them in water until they plump first.. then measure them)
salt and pepper
A 6-ounce bag baby spinach
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage,breaking it up as it cooks, until no longer pink. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in broth, water, rotini, tomatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring often, until rotini is tender and liquid has thickened, 15 to 18 minutes.

Stir in spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and nuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

White Bean Chili

White Bean Chili

I read a lot of food blogs. A LOT. I can hardly keep track of them all. Sometimes the writing draws me in, sometimes it's the photos, and sometimes it's the recipes. Even a combination of the three.

I found this "white" chili on a blog, although mine doesn't nearly look as white as hers. But it was really, really good. Even with my tweaks it was 9 points, which is probably more points than most are looking to spend.

I cut the olive oil down to 1 tbsp, because my soup pot is nonstick. And, I only used two turkey sausages. I also used pinto instead of white beans, because it's what I had in the fridge. To cut points, maybe it would be better to cut it down to one sausage per 4 large servings (about 2 cups) or you could leave it out -- although I think it adds a ton of flavor. You could also just eat a smaller serving. If you make it six servings instead of four, which makes it just over a cup per serving, it's 6 points. Either one works when cutting back on points.

I had it with not one, but two rolls leftover from my parents dinner. Probably not the healthiest, but I came home starving from working out and it really hit the spot.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

It was a slow, quiet day at work today. And cold. It's days like these that it's really, really hard to drink plain water. We have a water cooler in our break room, which unfortunately cools the water. Cold water is just not appealing. I haven't yet developed a taste for plain, hot water.

I know, for the sake of WeightWatchers' guidelines, only half of the six 8-ounce servings need to be plain water, but I tend to strive for more than that. I strongly believe I'm fighting my genetics here. According to my mom, I would often go through most of the day without drinking anything.

I'm not sure if that's because I just don't get thirsty, if I'm secretly a camel, or if that just goes to show I hated plain water even when I was an itty-bitty.

I managed to get one water bottle full of water down, (a Kleen Kanteen knock-off) which I'm guessing from holds roughly 32 ounces. I should double check that and I've been meaning to, but well, what can I say — I'm lazy.

Then I *had* to switch to hot fruity herbal teas for my sanity. I was already wearing two sweaters (my cardigan I wore to work today and my "Mr. Rogers" sweater coat) and I just couldn't take another drop of cold water.

Tonight's dinner was a happy accident in terms of planning. A warming comfort-food dish: Macaroni and Four Cheeses, Ellie Krieger's take on a lighter mac and cheese. I've seen this on a few blogs last month and I have her cookbook out from the library, so I thought I would give it a go.

The winter squash intrigued me, and I'm determined to like it in one form or another. I've spent years wishing a store near me would carry frozen winter squash, and now that they do.. I feel compelled to make use of it.

The end result? Eh, it was wasn't really all that cheesey and it was grainy. I've made better. It's not bad as long as you aren't expecting macaroni and cheese.

Here's my other attempts at making macaroni and cheese (with mixed results). Some are light versions and others aren't: Creamy Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese, Grown-Up Mac and Cheese, Macaroni and Cheese

Friday, November 7, 2008

Beef Polenta Pie

Beef Polenta Pie

Wow, I need new lighting.. pronto. This is awful. Seriously awful. I've been tossing around the idea of specialized lighting for a while, but I've been too scared to make any real purchases. Maybe I'll just start with a bulb and see where it goes. This doesn't look very appetizing, but maybe I'm just picky.

I assure you it wasn't as bad as it looks. The Beef and Polenta Pie wasn't a dinner that wows, but it was cheap and cheerful — meaning it filled my stomach, didn't take much time to make, and was cost-effective. By using 1 pound extra lean ground beef and 4 tsp of oil, it comes out to about 10 points per serving. And I felt the portions were fairly large.

I think my general dissatisfaction with dinner this week stems from the salt shaker. I cook with pinches of kosher salt here and there. Because it's a coarse salt, I can see how much is going in to the dish. I've been at my parents house and my mom does things the way she's always done things.. with a salt shaker.

It works for her, but not for me. I just can't seem to get the right level of seasoning and I'm constantly having to taste the dish, whereas a taste or two at home usually is enough to ensure the seasoning's right. And a dish like there, without much in the way of spices or herbs, really needs to have the right balance of salt and pepper. Otherwise it's just kind of tasteless.

Tonight's dinner, which I plan to share on Monday, should be amazing, though. Looking forward to it :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

The other day I was reading For the Love of Oats and I saw her use fresh cranberries in her oatmeal. I thought, "Wow, that's a great idea." So I bought a bag of cranberries to add to my oats in the morning.

Only, the were oddly crunchy and pretty bitter and in my mind didn't make the best addition to oatmeal.

So, I'm flipping through my November food magazines when I realized, duh, I could make those cranberries into a cranberry sauce, and that would be a great add to my morning oatmeal. Why didn't I think of this before?

So last night at 10 p.m., I was making cranberry sauce. It's simple, and takes only 10 minutes to cook. I used the basic recipe in the November 2006 Bon Appetit, but added a pinch of nutmeg and a healthy dash of cinnamon after it was done simmering. It was spiced just right and was great stirred in to my oats this morning.

And it comes out to only 2 points per 1/4 cup, which is plenty for a bowl of oatmeal. I'm sure you can get more exotic with it. I've seen people suggest adding things like nuts and blueberries to it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stuffed Squash

Stuffed Squash

I should just admit it to myself: I’m not a fan of squash. Butternut squash is just OK in my book, especially the work I have to do to get it into an edible form. And the frozen winter squash puree and I tried and (lucky for you) didn’t actually post wasn’t very tasty, either.

And now I’m pretty sure I can add acorn squash to my “take it or leave it” squash list. So that means pumpkin is the only one I like so far, and maybe spaghetti squash. It’s been a long time since I’ve made that one.

I can’t say I hate acorn squash in all its forms. I didn’t exactly hate it when it was mixed with the stuffing in this stuffed squash recipe. When mixed in with the couscous (whole wheat, of course), walnuts, extra lean ground beef, and dried cranberries, it was a sweet-like complement to the filling.

But the minute I ran out of stuffing to eat it with, oh man. I could hardly take another bite. Even adding extra salt, pepper, and a little butter didn’t help. It was just too squashy tasting — which I should’ve expected because, hello, it’s a SQUASH. But whatever. I learned from my mistakes, though, and while eating the leftovers for lunch took care to make sure eat bite had the perfect ratio stuffing to squash.

I think if you like acorn squash, this is a good fall recipe to try (I LOVE cranberries and walnuts). But if you’re undecided about squash make sure you get a bit of that squash with every bit of stuffing, otherwise you’ll just end up like me with too little stuffing and too much squash.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pomodoro Pasta with White Beans

Pomodoro Pasta with White Beans

First of all, for all my readers who've left comments and e-mailed me about my recent break-up, thanks so much for the kind comments. I appreciate the support.

I’ve been in a funk lately. October was a rough month for me. I know some day I'll look back and probably wonder what the big deal was, but for the time being, I’m just glad it’s over.

And last night I worked out for the first time in at least a month. According to my heart rate monitor I burned 350 calories.. then I promptly undid that with halloween candy and a glass of red wine. Oops.

Tonight I meant to restart the couch to 5k plan tonight since I’ve let it lapse. But the YMCA was a voting place, and it was a zoo. I'll definitely go tomorrow. I'll make a runner out of myself, yet.

For dinner last night, which I enjoyed after I ate a couple of tortilla chips with salsa, but before I dug into the m&m’s, I had the Pomodoro Pasta with White Beans from Eating Well magazine.

I made my version with twice the tomatoes and whole wheat rotini. I forgot the cheese, but I’m not sure it could have saved this. Maybe I'm being critical of these recipes, but I just didn't see anything special about this meal, either.

I really liked the olives in this, but the rest was just OK. I used cooking spray instead of the oil, which cut the recipes points from 11 to 9 per serving. Still too much in my opinion. I can think of a dozen pasta recipes for 9 points or less that I like much better.

I think I’m just not a huge fan of fresh tomato "sauces." Do you have one you like? Maybe if I try a tried and true recipe it'll go over much better.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bean Burritos

Bean Burritos

I decided these bean burritos because they included instructions to reheat from frozen, I thought these would be a great thing to have for those nights when I come home famished and just don't feel like cooking. Or when I run out of food money and still need to feed myself for the week. Rare, but it could happen.

They were just OK. I was reading through some of the reviews on the Everyday Food site and some said they were bland. And I agree.. even though I used pepper jack and chili powder. I even used an entire jalapeno and half still had the seed and ribs. I'll eat the ones I wrapped for the freezer, but I don't think they're worth making again, especially considering one burrito comes to 8 points. For that many points, the burrito should be tastier, I think.

Bean Burritos
1-1/2 cups rice, cooked (brown or white)
Cooking spray
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeno chile, chopped (ribs and seeds removed, for less heat)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bag frozen corn kernels, (5 ounces)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
6 whole wheat tortillas, 8 inches
3/4 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
Salsa and sour cream, optional

Cook rice according to package directions and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a pan coated in cooking spray over medium. Add onions, garlic, jalapeno, and cumin and chili powder; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add beans and 3/4 cup water; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add corn; cook to heat through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in scallions.

Heat tortillas according to package instructions; fill with 1/4 rice, 1/2 cup bean mixture, and 2 tbsp cheese. Fold, and hold in sides. Starting from filled end, holding sides in as you work, tightly roll into a bundle. Place on a baking sheet, seam side down, and prepare remaining burritos.
Serve immediately, with salsa and sour cream, if using, or wrap individually in plastic and freeze up to 3 months.

To reheat from frozen: Remove frozen burritos from plastic wrap. Place on a microwave-safe plate; microwave on high for 3 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet; bake at 450 degrees until crispy, about 10 minutes.