Happy Leap Day!

So today is a day that comes every 4 years – and only every 4 years! It’s February 29th, aka Leap Day!

Now apparently I’m a little behind the times. I usually start preparing dinner around 6:30 so I can catch my guilty pleasure, “Wheel of Fortune” (yes, I am actually a 70-year-old woman – I have just aged incredibly well). So after it came on, I think “30 Rock” was next – and from half tuning in while preparing dinner, I learned that on Leap Day, whatever you do doesn’t count! Who knew?

What would I do if I found out it didn’t count? I’ve kind of always wanted to bungee jump – but my mom said she would disown me. But she couldn’t if it didn’t count, right?

Honestly, I think all of the other things I’ve done and want to do should count! I’d love to sky dive, travel to Thailand, open a restaurant, go on an African safari…so many things on the bucket list. Why would I want any of them erased by Leap Day?

But okay, maybe Leap Day can be good. Because I made you these cupcakes…and they’re not diet friendly…but if you eat them today, they don’t count!

I know, I know. I’m like, such a good person.

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes (Makes 24 cupcakes)

1 box white cake mix + ingredients on box (egg whites, water, oil)

About 30-34 Oreo Cookies

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners.

Twist apart Oreo halves, trying to leave as much of the “cream” filling on one side as possible. (This is why you need extra – it might take a few tries!). Lay the cookie half, filling side up, in the bottom of each liner.

Take the remaining Oreo cookies and place in a plastic bag and take out your aggression on some cookies, breaking into very small pieces/crumbs.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients for the white cake. Fold in about 3/4 of the Oreo crumbs – about 3/4-1 cup.

Fill cupcake liners a little more than halfway full and bake for 15-18 minutes until cooked through. Remove and cool. Repeat with remaining batter.

While cupcakes are cooking and cooling, mix together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and confectioners sugar. Mine came out a little runny from over mixing, so make sure your cream cheese softened so you won’t have as many lumps to get out!

Spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with remaining Oreo crumbs. If you have enough (e.g. you go through an entire package trying to pull the cream onto one side even though you know it doesn’t matter) break the plain sides into halves or quarters and place on each cupcake.

So throw back a cupcake or 10 with a glass of milk or a bottle of wine. Whatever you want – because hey, it doesn’t count on Leap Day!

(Does that mean I can order my favorite pizza tonight?!)

Cheddar Ale Chowder

I love soup – like seriously love soup. So many varieties. Some people think that soup is only good when it’s cold out – but I disagree. I think it’s good any time of year. It’s good for the soul…

You know what else is good any time of year? Well, I’m sure a lot of things – like shoe shopping. Or chocolate. But I’m thinking beer. In the Fall for watching football. In the Winter for celebrating the holidays with friends and family. In the Spring and Summer with baseball and outdoor festivals. Mmmm I can almost smell the Pronto Pups.

So mixing the flavor of a delicious ale into a soup was something I had to do. And heck, why not throw some vegetables in there. Okay okay, some cheddar cheese too.

Yes kids, I’m talking about a Cheddar Ale Chowder…that won’t kill your waistline in case you’re prepping for some time on the beach around the corner!

Cheddar Ale Chowder (serves 2)

1 1/2 Tbsp. white whole wheat flour

1/4 small onion, chopped

1/2 Tbsp. reduced-calorie margarine

1 cup skim milk

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. dry mustard

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

6 fl. oz. beer

1/3 cup frozen corn kernels

3/4 cup diced potato, cooked

3/4 cup fat-free shredded cheddar cheese

1 slice turkey bacon, cooked

Spray a medium saucepan with non-stick spray and heat, melting margarine and add onions. Cook 3-5 minutes. Add milk and stir. Gradually add flour and whisk to blend. Continue to stir mixture until it begins to thicken.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add in Worcestershire, mustard, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Whisk and cook 5-7 minutes.

Now, pour in your beer. Oh no, you didn’t use it all? Whatever shall you do?! 😉

Stir in the beer. Now, add your corn and your (already cooked) potatoes. You don’t want to boil this enough to cook potatoes because of the milk – so cooked potatoes are a must.

Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Yes, your kitchen smells good right now.

Final step  – add the cheese. Stir it in until it’s melted, about 3-5 minutes.

Serve and add the bacon garnish…

…and maybe wash down with a cold beer, if you’re into that kind of thing!

“Fried” Shrimp with Spicy Sauce

I have always been a huge fan of shrimp. It’s so versatile! I mean, all you have to do it watch Forrest Gump to know some of the ways it can be prepared!

My grandparents lived on the coast of Mississippi so we ALWAYS had a lot of shrimp at our disposal. I even got to go on a shrimp boat once and do some of the dirty work. I think I prefer buying it already de-headed and de-veined though!

My absolutely favorite way was when my Mimi made her horseradish-mustard sauce to go with boiled shrimp – which I’d love to share with you – buuuut it’s a family secret.

Don’t worry – I have plenty of others to share with you…like this delicious gem!

“Fried” Shrimp with Spicy Sauce (serves 2)

“Fried” Shrimp

8 oz. pre-cooked shrimp, tails removed

1 Tbsp. white whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Mix together flour, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder and cayenne in a plastic bag.

Pat shrimp dry and place half in the bag. Shake until coated.

Add to skillet. Repeat with remaining shrimp and add to skillet. You may need to work in batches. Cook shrimp for about 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Remove and serve with spicy sauce…

Spicy Sauce

3 Tbsp. fat-free mayonnaise

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. Spicy mustard

1/2 Tbsp. ketchup

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. Cajun seasoning

2 tsp. prepared Horseradish

1 tsp. Tabasco

Mix ingredients together until smooth and refrigerate until ready to use. You can obviously modify the cayenne/Tabasco to appease your taste buds!

Pour sauce over shrimp. Or you can eat it on the side like me…because I don’t like mixing my food until I am good and ready! (We know I also had to disguise the mayonnaise from my self since I am a child – so I made this pretty spicy!) I think if I get over said tantrum, I might invest in some mini hoagies from the grocery store and make this concoction into a Po-Boy!

Tonight, I served this with some homemade cornbread and…wait for it, pimento cheese potato skins! Told you I was going to find another way to use my new-found creation for something delicious – I just added a little fat-free cream cheese to stretch it a bit! Now tell me this doesn’t look like a great low-fat meal…

So make this, kick back with a cold beer and imagine you are near the ocean…or just walk outside if you live anywhere near me and enjoy the 70 degree weather that is happening in FEBRUARY!

Pimento Cheese Stuffed Chicken

I will be honest – I am a bad Southerner.

I was born, raised and reside in the South and yet I do not like sweet tea. I like wearing jeans and a t-shirt to sporting events. I’m not a fan of bourbon/whiskey concoctions. And up until about a month ago, I had never tasted pimento cheese.

Now, for my friends up north, out west, and well, anywhere you don’t say “y’all” – pimento cheese is a big Southern thing. Pimento cheese sandwiches (white bread slathered with the stuff – crusts cut off of course, if you’re being proper) are a staple. They serve them every year in Augusta, GA at The Masters. Basically, it’s a mixture of cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos (aka the sweet red bits of pepper found inside of a green olive). And maybe some seasoning. Grocery stores sell tubs of it – but it always just looks like orange nastiness to me. Yes, that is a technical term thankyouverymuch.

I think I never got over the mayonnaise thing – always kind of grossed me out. Like, just cheese and mayonnaise? Ew. (I am like a 6-year-old – I have to disguise mayonnaise in recipes so I can’t tell it’s in there.) But perusing my cooking magazines, there was a special section on pimento cheese and different variations. With bacon or jalapeno or roasted garlic. Hm, maybe I could handle this – I mean, minus the mayonnaise, these were all things I liked! Then I recalled, the husband ate a pimento cheese burger at a bar we went to and loved it. So really, how bad could it be?

Ummm, not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, it’s amazing and I’m already coming up with other ways I can use it. But for starters…it’s delicious all wrapped up and baked inside of a chicken breast.

Oh, and the best part about this bad Southerners’ pimento cheese? It’s healthy!

Pimento Cheese Stuffed Chicken (serves 4)

Let's pretend you see a lemon in here too...

Lightened Up Pimento Cheese

3/4 cup shredded, fat-free cheddar cheese

2 Tbsp. onion, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp. pimento, minced

1 Tbsp. fat-free mayonnaise

2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. hot sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

1 slice turkey bacon

In a medium bowl, add cheese, minced onion, minced pimento, mayonnaise, lemon juice, hot sauce and salt. Cook your turkey bacon and crumble and add to the mixture.

Using a fork and some serious elbow grease, mash everything together. You want to break the cheese into small pieces – until it’s a “spreadable” consistency. I’ve been meaning to try this out in a food processor, but I hate cleaning it – so I’ll stick to the lazy approach!

Refrigerate until ready to use…oh look, you’re ready!

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

4 (4 – 5oz.) chicken breasts (I get the thin ones)

Seasonings – I use salt, pepper and smoked paprika (regular paprika is fine!)

About 20 toothpicks

Pimento cheese (recipe above)

Preheat your oven to 375.

Place chicken breasts between two pieces of wax paper with at least 2 inches between. Using a meat mallet, take out any aggression you may have on the chicken breasts and pound until about 1/4 inch thick (maybe less – I didn’t measure).

Season both sides of chicken with a little salt, pepper and paprika. Now scoop about 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. of your pimento cheese in the middle of each breast, leaving some space on the sides.

This is where I must apologize that it stops looking “pretty”…it is a skill I need to master, but right now, you’ll just have to trust me that it tastes better than it looks!

Fold the tips of the chicken to the center and secure with a toothpick. Now fold up the sides, creating a sealed pocket with the chicken. I use about 4 toothpicks per breast…sometimes 6 for the really stubborn ones. The cheese is going to heat up and melt, so you don’t want it spilling out everywhere!

(But it’s okay if some does – because burnt cheese is delicious in my humble opinion.)

Transfer chicken to a lightly greased baking dish, and bake for 20 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned. I know you want to dive right in – but remember to take the toothpicks out before you do.

Now wash it down with some sweet tea if you’re into that kind of thing. I chose wine.

Pimento Cheese Chicken, Baked Chili Fries and Green Bean Casserole - WW Points = 10!

I will keep you posted on what other delicacies I pimentocheesify – my first experiment was a stuffed turkey burger AND cheese fries…

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

(Dang, if only I liked sweet tea…)

This is Amore

Are you now channeling Dean Martin and singing about pizza pie? Can you guess the theme of the recipe I’m sharing today?

The husband and I love hot wings. And we love pizza. Again, things that are not so great for you when you’re trying to shed a couple of pounds.

When I started Weight Watchers 2 years ago, my major concern was depriving myself of things that I really enjoy eating. And being cranky about it. And snapping. Like “I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in 4 months and I look so great…but I am going to walk into that fast food restaurant ,drop some ‘bows on children, hop the counter, shove down 12 cheeseburgers and 5 orders of fries. And a diet coke, because duh, I’m on a diet!”

So I found a way to make the diet work for me – not me work for the diet. And it makes me more child friendly too.

I simply found ways to make the things I craved. One day, going through my recipe box of some family recipes, I stumbled upon a soup I remember LOVING as a kid that my mom made. Hm. I modified it a little, plugged it in to my recipe builder and told the husband – “I’m going to make us pizza soup.”

He drooled a little. He loves pizza – I mean, we all do – but he reallllly loves it. And now – he reallly loves pizza soup! (Still not as much as regular pizza…but it’s up there!)

I forgot how amazing this was – so now I’m sharing the amazingness with you. Make this. Make a bunch of it and have some leftovers at lunch. Your co-workers will be jealous. And then you can share it with them – if you’re feeling generous.

Pizza Soup (makes 4 bowls…aka serves 2, wink wink)

8 oz. ground extra lean turkey breast (or ground beef or ground chicken)

1 can Campbell’s Minestrone soup

14 oz. jar pizza sauce

14 oz. water

Turkey pepperoni (I use about 30 slices)

5-6 dashes Tabasco, more if you dare (we do)

4 Tbsp. shredded fat-free mozzarella

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat your saucepan to medium. Cook turkey, breaking into crumbles as you go. Drain if needed. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Add your pizza sauce. Then, refill the jar with water and add water to saucepan. Stir to combine.

Add the can of Minestrone soup, stir to combine. Add Tabasco sauce, salt (about 1/4 tsp.) and pepper (about 1/8 tsp.) and stir.

Slice your pepperoni into halves and quarters (I do about 15 each way) and add pepperoni to the saucepan. Mix well and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes until bubbling, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve soup and top each bowl with 1 Tbsp. shredded mozzarella.

Yes, that’s it. A meal that is warm, delicious, filling and ready in about 30 minutes.

Now THAT is Amore.

Georgia Baked Chicken

I promise chicken is not the only thing we eat. But to be honest – we do love chicken, because it’s so versatile! I mean check out what I’ve shown you so far – we’ve made it into a hot wing inspired soup, put together a delicious Italian dish, made a Chinese meal to die for, and even rolled it into a Stromboli.

And people say chicken is boring…psh, that’s just crazy talk!

This particular recipe is the most requested chicken dish in my household (read: the husband’s absolute favorite) and with good reason, it’s amazing! I’ve been making this one for quite a while, like since I used to make “family dinners” for my roommates in college. Which reminds me of when my friend tried mashed potatoes for the first time. I know, 21 years and no mashed potatoes? Craziness. Her verdict? “Tastes like the inside of a french fry.”

So scrounge up the like, 5 ingredients it takes to make this (do we really count salt and pepper?) and…make it!

Georgia Baked Chicken (serves 2)

8 oz. chicken breast

1/2 cup crushed corn flakes

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, reduced fat

1 tsp. garlic salt

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley

Butter spray

Preheat oven to 350.

In a shallow dish or bowl, mix together corn flake crumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic salt, salt and pepper.

I think I could just eat this with a spoon...

Spray both sides of the chicken with butter.

Now press the chicken into the crumb mixture, coating it evenly on all sides. Repeat with both pieces of chicken.

Place chicken in a lightly greased casserole dish (I top each breast with a little more crumb mixture if you have it), give it another spray or two of butter and cover with foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes. (I use the skinny cuts of chicken – so if you use the thick pieces, add more time).

I usually serve this with mashed potatoes and parmesan green beans, but the other night I threw it together with salt and vinegar kale chips and sautéed squash. Like I said earlier – versatile! (Oh, not to mention it’s only about 6 points!)

Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!

BBQ Chicken Stromboli

I live in a city known for some really good barbecue. There is an entire festival dedicated to barbecue. We have barbecue nachos and barbecue potato skins on several local menus. My office is between two barbecue restaurants. Do you know what it’s like to smell delicious, smokey sweet barbecue when are starving and you know you still have to drive home and well, cook whatever is for dinner? Torture I tell you…

So the husband and I have been making our own pizzas lately. Sometimes it’s just a big one that we share but more often than not, we make individual ones and dress them up a little differently (read: I love olives and he does not). One type of pizza I love is barbecue pizza – but for some reason I just end up opting for the regular pepperoni if we are ordering out.

Well last week, I threw together some dough before we went out for cocktails (it had been a long week and I desperately needed a good dirty martini) and I had to restrain the husband  from ordering a delicious looking burger from the bar. I knew what I had up my sleeve – and I just knew it was going to be good.

I. was. right. (Psh, duh…)

You need to try this. I promise the dough is not all that intimidating! It’s great to make when you have a few hours to occupy yourself and just let it rise – and the best part? Your own individual Stromboli is very filling…and a very reasonable dinner for the ole diet! (12 WW points people – for dinner, that’s awesome!).

BBQ Chicken Stromboli (serves 2)

Wheat Crust

3/4 white wheat flour

1/2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 Tbsp. honey

1/2 Tbsp. Italian herb seasoning

1/8 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. yeast

1/4 cup warm water

Mix together flour, salt and Italian seasoning. In a small bowl, add yeast to warm water and mix, then let sit 5-7 minutes. Add oil and honey to flour mixture and then add the yeast and water. Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and sit in a warm, dry area for at least 2 hours until dough has risen.

BBQ Chicken Filling

1/3 cup sliced red onion

4 oz. ground chicken breast, cooked

1 cup fat-free mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/3 cup fat-free cheddar cheese, shredded

2 Tbsp. egg beaters

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

Garlic salt

1/4 tsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. parsley

1 Tbsp. oregano

1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan, reduced fat

Saute the onions for 3-5 minutes in a little butter spray in a non-stick skillet. Cook the chicken, then mix with 1/3 cup of the barbecue sauce and 1 Tbsp. parsley. Mix mozzarella and cheddar together in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

When the dough has risen, divide into 2 equal parts.

On a well floured surface, roll one piece dough into a rectangle. Brush center with 1/8 tsp. olive oil (leaving about a 1 inch border on the outside) and sprinkle with garlic salt.

Lightly drizzle a little barbecue sauce and spread within the border. Sprinkle a layer of cheese, add half the chicken, half the onions, and then sprinkle with more cheese.

Using a pastry brush, spread the egg beaters on the “bare” border. Fold in the short sides of the dough.

Now, take one end of the “unfolded” side and begin to roll (lengthwise). Press seam down until sealed and place seam side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Brush the Stromboli with additional egg beater and sprinkle with oregano and Parmesan cheese. Cut 4-5 diagonal slits in each.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Serve with additional barbecue sauce for dipping if desired.

Now I can’t wait for warmer weather so I can enjoy cocktails on our patio while the dough rises…I mean, who wouldn’t want to enjoy a nice cold beer with one of these babies?