Greek Pasta Salad

I have a confession to make.

I am completely obsessed with Pharrell’s song “Happy” – and I know I’m not alone. I swear, it just makes me want to stop whatever I’m doing and break out into a dance. Which I have actually done. In the comfort of my home. While folding laundry. And getting the side-eye from my husband. Sorry for letting the music guide my soul babe.

Anyways, the other day my co-worker and I were talking about just the little things that get us through long and/or tough days. A big one was our girl friends and just getting to spend time with them – which we were both lamenting over the fact that we just don’t get to do enough. But then later that day she sent me a message about how the musical score to Harry Potter was making a tedious project almost enjoyable. Which was funny, because I was listening to my Harry Potter (Film Score) station on Pandora and it really is just amazing how music can help shape my mood.

I think the “Happy” song really just brings out my inner happiness, no matter how much it seems to be hiding that day. You know what else brings out happiness for me? Cooking.

Seriously, I know some people hate it. Dread it. View it as a necessary evil in order to provide nourishment. But hello, I have a blog about cooking on the BRIGHT side because I think preparing food for yourself or for others can bring so much joy.

So, in light of all of this talk of happiness and brightness, I’m sharing a delicious and beautiful dish with you – Greek Pasta Salad. This is totally an “eat with your eyes” recipe – and it tastes at least as good as it looks…

Close Up_GreekPastaSalad

Greek Pasta Salad (6 servings / 7 WW points per serving)

Ingredients_GreekPastaSalad

6 oz. whole wheat or enriched Rotini pasta (I used Barilla Plus)

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 medium cucumber, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped (I didn’t quite use a whole onion)

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

8 Tbsp. sliced black olives

4 oz. fat-free Feta crumbles

Dressing:

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. minced garlic

2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to directions.

While the pasta is boiling, chop your veggies and make your dressing by whisking together the vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. I personally like the level of “tang” in this, but if red wine vinegar has too potent of a taste for you – maybe start with 1/8 cup and work your way up. I like the pizzazz.

Veggies-Dressing_GreekPastaSalad

When the pasta is done cooking, drain and add to a medium bowl. Let cool for about 5 minutes.  Pour your dressing over the pasta. Then add your chopped vegetables, sliced olives and crumbled feta. Using a rubber spatula, mix until all ingredients are combined.

AssembleSalad_GreekPastaSalad

Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. I made a batch of this one Sunday afternoon and enjoyed a beautiful, vibrant and healthy lunch every day that week. Honestly, how can looking at this awesome pop of colors not make you happy?!

Greek Pasta Salad

Have a great weekend y’all!

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A Birthday Shout Out

Today is a very special day…it’s my Biffer’s birthday!

BiffersandGrizz

For those of you that don’t know, that’s my sister. We call each other Biffer. We’re incredibly mature adults like that.

Last year, I posted a lightened up recipe of one of her favorite dishes (fried dill pickles – yummmm) to commemorate the day.

This year I don’t really have a recipe ready that meets her food needs. Because my recent kitchen adventures have had cheese as an ingredient. Which she doesn’t like. (Right…how are we related?!)

So in light of that fun little factoid, I figured I’d share some favorite tidbits about my Biffer so y’all get to know this person I refer to frequently. (You can always start by following her awesome blog over at OurMorningGlories.com)

Fun Facts:

  • My Biffer loves her some 80’s. So anytime I’m on a road trip and a good ole blast from the past comes on, I send her a picture or give her a call so she can sing along with me…and things like this happen:

Insta80s

  • Favorite actors: Tom Cruise and Hugh Grant. So if you ever read some of the epic Oscar carols I make for her, you’ll likely find a reference or two to Tom and/or Hugh.
  • My Biffer likes sports as much as I do – particularly college football, NBA, golf – and the Olympics when we the chance! A few weeks before I got married, we had a “Biffer night” to just have some time for the two of us. What did we do? Ordered pizza, made our favorite “game day” dip and watched college football. Together. Just the two of us.
  • She is incredibly creative and crafty! We used to have “crafting” weekends when I’d visit her in college/grad school – but now I get to see her work in action when she plans birthday parties for her four boys! Her hubby always does a great job with his acting parts too – so props to him!
  • Dislikes: Cheese (except on Pizza – what?). Wendy’s (again, what?). The word “Dainty”. Wal-Mart.
  • Likes: Pizza. Chocolate. Starbucks. Movies. Ice cream. 80’s music. Pronto Pups – we have a standing date at the FedEx St. Jude Classic every year.ProntoPupBiffs

Phrases:

  • “Woo Woo” followed by “Ding Ding”: a phrase which originated on a relative’s farm in Virginia years ago in order to locate each other when separated. One would yell “Woo Woo” and the other would respond “Ding Ding”. We may still use this today…I told you – mature adults.
  • “Eeeeeeeekkkkkk…” followed by high-pitched sounds only dogs can hear: this means it’s snowing in her immediate vicinity.
  • “The Best Movie Ever”: often proclaimed after seeing a great movie. Not sure she could pick just one though…but I can’t point fingers, neither could I!
  • “Freak”/”Freak of Nature”: a term of affection between Biffers. So when this song comes on, I think of my darling Biffer. (My hubby actually called the other day playing that song, saying he was thinking of my sister – it’s contagious!)

So there’s just a little glimpse into the awesomeness that is my Biffer. I am so lucky to have such an incredibly person in my life. She always brightens up my day and I love the time we get to spend together – whether it’s just us or the whole family! She gave me the greatest job title ever (Aunt Mary) and I love thinking back to when we were kids and seeing her with her kiddos now. It’s really pretty cool even if it makes me feel old.

Happy Happy Birthday to my Biffer – a rock star of a mom, an amazing wife, an inspiring role model, a woman of strong faith, a crafty lady, my best girl friend, a beautiful person inside and out, and of course, a total freak of nature.

Cheers Biffer – I love you!

BirthdayBiffers

 

Stuffed Pork Chops

Let me just put it out there: #sorrynotsorry.

Inside View_Stuffed Pork Chops

(Yes, I just hash tagged my blog. Even in my early 30’s, I’m still hip.)

Let’s face it – pork chops can be boring. And dry. And bland. Not you’d find any of that on this fabulous blog. I don’t tolerate any of those things.

Particularly the boring. 

I mean, who stuffs meat with…meat? Clearly I’m not complaining. And you know why it’s okay? (Other than because it’s March Madness and I feel the need to get a little crazy because I LOVE this time of year!)

This recipe is on my diet. Not a trend diet either. I still eat carbs. And sweets. And dairy. This is totally okay. I mean, if you want to make it not okay, that’s easy. But I use lean cuts of pork. And turkey sausage…which is delicious even when it’s not seasoned, mixed with vegetables and stuffed inside of a pork chop.

But I digress.

I found this beauty in Southern Living (always my “happy mail day!”) – and while I set out to stick to the Cajun roots of the dish with some andouille flavored chicken or turkey sausage, I had some Italian turkey sausage I needed to use and it did the trick!

So this weekend while you binge on basketball, give this recipe a try – it’s the perfect game day food that’s not going to leave you feeling like you lost to a #14 seed in the first round of the tournament… 

Ohhhh. Burn.

Stuffed Pork Chops (Serves 2 / 8 WW points each)

Ingredients

Adapted from original recipe, found here.

2 5 oz. lean pork chops, trimmed of fat

2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. Cajun seasoning

2 tsp. olive oil

Stuffing:

2/3 link sausage, casing removed (I used Honeysuckle White’s “Hot” Italian)

8 fat-free croutons

2 Tbsp. yellow onion, minced

1 Tbsp. celery, minced

1 Tbsp. green bell pepper minced

1/2 tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. Cajun seasoning

2 Tbsp. fat-free chicken broth

Heat your oven to 350.

In a medium skillet, cook your sausage over medium for about 5 minutes, breaking apart into crumbles. Cook through and add sausage to a medium bowl, reserving drippings in the skillet. Sauté onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic for 5-7 minute until tender.

Add vegetable mixture to sausage and stir with Cajun seasoning, croutons, and chicken broth. 

Stuffing Mixture_Stuffed Pork Chops

Season your pork chops with paprika, pepper and Cajun seasoning. Once the chops have been seasoned, cut a pocket in each one – be careful not to cut through to the other side. Spoon sausage mixture into each pocket. You can over stuff at this point, a little will likely fall out while cooking – so don’t fret!

Season and Stuff_Stuffed Pork Chops

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet. Add stuffed chops to the skillet and cook 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Saute_Stuffed Pork Chops

Enjoy the madness, I know we did…

Stuffed Pork Chops

Have a great weekend y’all!

Skinny Eggplant Parm

Today, T.G.I.F. doesn’t seem to be dramatic enough.

I mean, thank freaking ever-loving goodness it is FINALLY Friday.

Whew, much better!

I feel like I am not alone in saying I miss having spring break. For real – there are no words on how much a week off would do my mind/body/soul some good. I guess I’ll just have to settle for planning what to do when I do take my week off! The small victories, right?

This week I’ve needed things to be simple. Easy. I mean, not at all complicated. For instance – I find my “Chicken Gyros” recipe to be fairly simple and oh so delicious. Which it is. Unless you purchase and use VANILLA Greek yogurt instead of plain.

I will say it did give it a very disturbing unique flavor.

So it was time to break out an old friend I haven’t shared with y’all yet! A super light, surprisingly filling, comfort food that’s perfect for Meatless Mondays or just anytime you’re in the mood for it.

SkinnyEggplantParmesan

My super delicious Skinny Eggplant Parm. I love ordering this dish in restaurants – but hate knowing how much unnecessary “bad for you” stuff is in it. So obviously, I had to rectify that situation. Give this one a try – it really does fill you up for such a small amount of points. I served this with some green beans and a toasted roll (okay okay, it was a hamburger bun sprayed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt – I told you I needed simple!) and dinner was only 9 points. Boom.

Skinny Eggplant Parm (Serves 3 – 5 1/3 WW points per serving)

1 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp. reduced-fat Parmesan cheese

1/2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 cup egg beaters

1 1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 cup reduced-fat mozzarella, shredded

Heat your oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up – or just spray with nonstick spray.

Set up your assembly station – pour your egg in a shallow dish. In another shallow dish, mix your bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.

Eggplant Parmesan_StepbyStep

Dip eggplant slices in the egg and then dredge in the crumb mixture and add to your parchment paper. Repeat until all slices have been coated.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through.

While the eggplant is baking, it’s time to “doctor up” your tomato sauce. I prefer doing this because 1 – it’s lower in WW points and 2 – I sometimes find the store-bought sauces to be too sweet. I just mix in oregano, basil, salt and pepper with a few dashes of garlic powder. Season to your own taste – that’s just a good starting point for me!

When the eggplant has finished baking, grease a small casserole dish and pour about 1/3 cup of your tomato sauce to spread in the bottom. Add half of your baked eggplant slices and top with a little bit of shredded mozzarella. Pour remaining sauce over top and stack the remaining eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and bake about 15 minutes until sauce is bubbling.

Skinny Eggplant Parm - CookingontheBrightSide

Serve and enjoy! Each “slice” is just over 1 point. I had estimated we’d each eat half, for about 8 points – but we ended up being pretty content with just 4 slices for dinner, so I took the remaining 4 for lunch the next day. It was a super delicious and satisfying 5 point lunch!

Hope y’all have a great weekend!

Almond Crusted Tilapia

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but I always seem to find myself feeling a bit restless. And goofy. (No, seriously – you should have seen the fun I had with my Biffer’s love for the Oscars.)

I feel like it’s a seasonal thing, because it’s totally that transitional time of year. I love the winter…and was thrilled that we finally had a snow day here in Memphis on Monday. But now that we’re getting previews of spring-like weather, it makes me look forward to being outdoors!

The thing I’m most look forward to? Getting to sit outside on our patio for breakfast in the mornings or a cocktail in the afternoons to unwind. I have become a total homebody in recent years, and our patio is definitely my favorite place to be.

The thing I’m least looking forward to? Bathing suits. I’m just not quite there. Still trekking along with my weight loss goal – but certainly not the size (or shade – hellooooo Casper!) I’d ideally like to be for “public viewing”.

If you’re in the same boat and are trying to shed a few pounds, I have a great recipe for you. It might seem a little complicated, but I assure you, it comes together very quickly and is probably something you could find at a nice restaurant along the coast. Now you can make it at home. While wearing stretchy pants…if you want to wear pants at all – I don’t judge here. The point is – restaurant quality food cheaper and without the whole hassle of going out. Told you – total homebody.

I think this would be okay with any of the milder white fishes – grouper, flounder, etc. but I tested this one out with Tilapia and am a huge fan.

Almond Crusted Tilapia (Serves 2 – 7 WW points per serving)

Ingredients- Almond Tilapia

2 (5 oz.) Tilapia fillets

1 Tbsp. sliced almonds

1/4 cup regular almonds (to grind)

1/2 Tbsp. white whole-wheat flour

1/2 lemon (zest, then slice)

1/2 egg yolk, beaten

1 Tbsp. butter (yes, good ole regular butter – adds so much flavor)

1/2 Tbsp. parsley

Salt and pepper

So the toughest part of this recipe, in my humble opinion, was dealing with the almonds. Honestly, not that difficult. You need about 2 1/2 Tbsp. of ground almond. I just threw about 1/4 cup in a food processor until it was coarse. However, we didn’t have sliced almonds, so I attempted to slice my own, which almost got a bonus slice of thumb. I don’t recommend that – so just chop some into big chunks if you don’t have the pre-sliced ones. The things I do for y’all.

Anyways – take your sliced or chopped almonds (thumb free) and toast them for 5 minutes at 350 in your oven. Remove and set aside.

Take your ground almonds, add the lemon zest, a few dashes of salt and pepper, and the flour in a shallow dish/plate.

Set your fish out next to the almond mixture and your egg yolk. Pat fish dry and brush the tops with egg yolk. Press yolk-side down into the almond mixture to coat. Yes – you only want one half of the fish coated.

Assembly for Almond Tilapia

Melt half of your butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add fish fillets, coating side down and cook 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. Season the bare sides with some more salt and pepper. Just before flipping, add the remaining butter and saute the non-coated side for another 3-4 minutes (depending on thickness of the fish).

Remove fish, spoon remaining butter over the top and sprinkle with toasted almonds and parsley.

Almond Crusted Tilapia - Cookingonthebrightside

And voila. This went great with some seasoned sliced potatoes and artichoke hearts heated up with some butter and lemon juice.

Hope y’all have a great weekend!