On the Move!

I seriously apologize for the lack of posting – I know, some blog I have going.

It has been a whirlwind of activity! With last week being the 4th of July and us not going anywhere, we decided to have a little get together – which meant 1 solid evening of preparing food and the other putting the finishing touches on everything!

Then we had to run home on the 4th of July, do laundry and pack because on Thursday, we flew to Pittsburgh to stay with one of my best friends from college for a day. We had so much fun seeing her and her fiance, who are getting married in October – and enjoyed exploring the city for a day! The husband experienced his first Primanti’s sandwich (which is piled with your choice of meat, then cheese, coleslaw and french fries!) – and we got to take the incline to the top of Mt. Washington to get an amazing view of downtown Pittsburgh. And, of course, we went to a Pirates game that evening!

On Saturday, we drove to Ohio for another college friend’s wedding – which was absolutely beautiful! Probably a bit hotter than she had bargained for – but it was such a great time, as it always is when I get to hang out with my girls.

So, as y’all may have noticed – it’s been brutally hot lately! A few weeks ago, the husband and I decided to brave the elements and go to a drive-in movie. I had planned on chicken tenders – but he said he wanted something cold before we went. Like a pasta salad.

I was totally okay with that, because I had just the thing to whip up – a tortellini and veggie pasta salad! It is so delicious and I’m sure it would be easy to adapt for tailgating, picnics, etc. by throwing some olives or salami/pepperoni. Consider this delicious recipe my apology for falling off the face of the earth the past few weeks…

Tortellini and Vegetable Pasta Salad (serves 4)

Dressing:

2 Tbsp. minced shallot

1/2 tsp. minced garlic

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. olive oil

Salad:

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

9 oz. cheese tortellini

1/3 c. red onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 c. fat-free feta, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Add dressing ingredients together in a small food processor and pulse a few times until blended well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add tortellini and cook according to directions. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.

Refill the pot with water and bring to boil. Add asparagus and cook 2-3 minutes. Have a bowl of cold water or ice nearby. Transfer asparagus to cold temperature – this will keep it from cooking any longer and allow it to keep the pretty green color!

Add chopped veggies to the tortellini and stir to combine.

Pour dressing over top and sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir until combined.

Add crumbled feta and stir again until combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Then, it’s time to dig in! I definitely want to double this next time to make some yummy lunches for the week…

Feta Mac and Cheese

So my husband is a huge fan of macaroni and cheese. I enjoy it – but I just don’t think it was ever a big deal in our household, most likely because my sister doesn’t like cheese.

She’s a total freak of nature…I know. But I love her, so it works out. Even though I used to try and sneak pieces of cheese in with snacks to see if she could really tell.

Anyways, I made some mac n’ cheese when the husband was just the boyfriend and it was incredible. Most likely because it had lots of butter, heavy cream and like, 4 or 5 different types of cheese in it. So it was good but not so good for us!

So I finally tested out a “grown up” mac and cheese recipe that is good for you! We had it as a side dish, but I’m sure doubled up it would make a great main course! This way though, it’s only 4.5 WW points per serving…and that pretty much rocks.

Feta Macaroni and Cheese (serves 2)

2 oz. enriched or whole wheat elbow noodles (I used Barilla Plus)

1/2 Tbsp. reduced-calorie margarine

1/4 tsp. minced garlic

2 Tbsp. fat-free milk

2 oz. fat-free cream cheese

1/8 tsp. table salt

2 oz. fat-free feta cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

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

In a small saucepan, melt margarine and add garlic. Saute for about 1 minute.

Add milk, cream cheese and salt and cook over medium-low heat, whisking until cream cheese begins to melt.

Once cream cheese begins to melt, add half of your feta cheese. Whisk frequently, careful not to bring the mixture to a boil.

When the cheese sauce is smooth, drain your pasta well and add back to the pot you boiled it in. Pour sauce over drained pasta and toss to coat.

Add pasta mixture to a small baking dish and top with remaining feta cheese.

Place in the oven for 5-7 minutes until heated through and topping has melted slightly.

Serve and of course, devour…

Oh and for the record, my sister could always tell when I tried to sneak her cheese – this totally wouldn’t fly…

BLT Pasta Salad

I hope everybody had a fabulous Mother’s Day weekend and that all of the mommies out there got a little spoiled for a day!

Now I’ll give you a little something to spoil yourself without feeling too guilty…

I think my favorite sandwich to eat is a BLT – love the soft bread, cool tomato, crisp lettuce and crunchy bacon! And okay, I hate mayo on sandwiches – but just a little glaze of it just does the trick.

Now I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to make myself a healthy lunch during the week – but if I forget to pack a lunch or that frozen thing just isn’t sounding good to me, it’s hard to find something healthy that’s also not breaking the bank (I’m sorry, $7 for a sandwich just does not work for me!)

So seriously, do yourself a favor. This is so easy to throw together and you can totally make enough to enjoy a few days a week! Best part…you don’t have to worry about bread getting soggy!

BLT Pasta Salad (Serves 2-3)

4 oz. Barilla plus elbow noodles

1 medium tomato

2 Tbsp. fat-free mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. dried mustard

1 cup fresh spinach leaves

1 slice turkey bacon

salt and pepper to taste

Fill medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside until cooled.

While pasta is boiling, cook your bacon in the microwave. Crumble and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise and dry mustard.

Chop tomato and add diced pieces, along with juice, to mayonnaise. Mix well until blended. Add a few dashes of salt and pepper. (You can always add more later!)

Once your pasta is cooled, add to the mayonnaise/tomato mixture until coated well.

Tear spinach slightly and measure 1 cup. Add to pasta and chill.

Add bacon just before serving.

I took the bacon in a plastic bag to work and added it just before I ate. Yes, that means I sat at my desk with a piece of bacon in my drawer for a few hours…

That’s just how I roll.

Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin

The word of the day is exhaustion!

It’s NBA playoff time and my Memphis Grizzlies are in the middle of a series with the L.A. Clippers. The game Monday night ended up starting at about 7:40 L.A. time…which means it was 9:40 here. Oh, and it went into overtime. Which means yours truly finally went to bed (feeling very depressed after a loss) around 1 a.m.

Coffee was a necessity Tuesday morning. Even more so than usual.

So I’m fading right now (as I write this Tuesday evening) and the sun isn’t even down yet – but have no fear, I have a delicious and diet-friendly recipe to share with you!

Have you ever used spaghetti squash? It’s kind of awesome. You cook it – and it smells awesome. But then you just scrape at it with a fork and it shreds into strands that look like spaghetti.

Soooo I mixed mine with onions, sour cream and cheese and called it a main dish. It was “Meatless Monday” in our house – and man, was it delicious!

Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin (Serves 2-4)

1 medium spaghetti squash

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 Tbsp. margarine

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. minced garlic

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

2/3 cup fat-free shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 375.

Using a very sharp knife, cut spaghetti squash in half. I start on one side, gradually working my way down and around the squash until it comes apart. Scoop out seeds.

                                  

Sprinkle black pepper and garlic salt inside the flesh and place in a deep baking pan, flesh side down. Bake 20-25 minutes. Then flip and bake another 20 minutes until tender. Let cool.

While squash is baking, saute onions in margarine with garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook until tender. Set aside.

Now take your cooled squash and begin scraping the flesh with a fork – it will shred really easily. I got about 3 cups of shredded “spaghetti”. Add to a bowl lined with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

Remove paper towels – leaving squash. Add sour cream, onion mixture, 1/3 cup cheese and salt. Mix well.

Pour into a medium to large, lightly greased baking dish.

Top with remaining 1/3 cup cheddar cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese has melted.

This would make a great side dish – but like I said, this was our dinner for “Meatless Monday” – so we dug in!

Since we were making a meal of it, I went ahead and added half a petite baguette and a glass of red wine.

Seriously, try it. You won’t be sorry!

Squash Boats

I love fresh produce. There is something about walking into a grocery store and surveying all of the yummy, crisp and bright fruits and vegetables. Often times I’ll have a list of things I know I need, but I leave the “produce” section of my list with a few T.B.D.spaces.

Obviously I like to go the store with a purpose…otherwise, I have a lot of fresh fruits vegetables that are not so appealing a week later. So I’ve kind of trained myself to only buy veggies for a week or so at a time. Meal planning has not been my forte in the past, but I have certainly gotten much better about it! I just think it’s fun to go in and see what looks fresh and imagine some delicious side dishes I can make or veggies I can throw into a main course to add some flavor and some color. Too much planning can be disappointing – sometimes the selection isn’t great or it’s completely out (I’ve had kale on my list multiple times and had to find a “plan B”).

Well, one of our absolute favorite side dishes (which is also incredibly WW friendly) involves a lot of vegetables! And cheese. And bacon. And butter. Okay, so I use the light versions of those three ingredients – but still, it’s amazing. These are also really easy to prepare ahead of time – and your guests (or spouse) will be thoroughly impressed with this fancy looking side dish!

Squash Boats (serves 4)

Pretend there is a red bell pepper here...and bacon. =)

2 medium to large yellow squash

1/2 cup chopped tomato

1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup red onion, chopped

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. white pepper

2 Tbsp. fat-free shredded Cheddar

2 slices turkey bacon

Butter spray

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add squash. Cook 10-12 minutes.

Cut up your tomato, bell peppers and onion. Add cheese, salt and pepper. Mix and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cook bacon until crisp. Crumble and set aside.

Heat your oven to 350.

Slice squash in half. You may need to let it cool so that you don’t burn your hands! Scoop out the “flesh” (aka seeds and string).

Set hollowed squash halves in a lightly greased baking dish.

Add crumbled bacon to vegetable mixture. (I just ended up using some Bacon Bits). Spoon mixture into squash halves and spray with some butter spray.

Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and boats are heated through.

You can easily adapt these – I leave cheese off one or two when my sister is dining with me. I’m sure you can add some other veggies and make them your own! I made some cold ones a while back with avocado, cucumber, tomato, onion and a lime vinaigrette!

These are SO good for you that you can even make this into just 2 servings…nothing wrong with eating your veggies!

Thanks for reading!

What the Heck is a Pierog?

Back in May, one of my dear friends and I were in desperate need of a girls night. She had just gotten married and learned she was putting her house on the market (sad face) to move to Atlanta and asked if I would mind come over to her place for dinner and drinks because a workman was coming out to check on a few things. No problem. If there’s food and wine, you know I’m there.

So I get there, we have a glass of wine and she said “Um, I was just planning on throwing together kielbasa and pierogi if that’s okay? I know it’s not fancy, but we really love it.”

I was a little ashamed to admit it – but I think I’d only had pierogi once in my life. It was shortly after attending a Pittsburgh Pirates game with one of my college friends (aka “Punk”) when I so eloquently asked her “What the huh?” and pointed to the odd crescent-shaped costumes racing around the bases as some sort of entertainment – the “Pierogi Race.” She was shocked I asked such a question! “It’s food. It’s amazing food. It’s a Polish dish.”

Well now I felt really silly – and yet, I was 18 years old and grew up in Memphis, TN. Not my fault I’d never seen “Pierogi” listed as a side dish to go with your slab of ribs!

I learned that pierogi are basically pasta pockets that are filled with a mashed potato type filling that can also include cheese and/or onion. Oh, and they are delicious.

So back to my friends dinner – kielbasa and pierogi. Of course it sounded delicious.  A – I knew all of those ingredients and liked all of them. B – I was intrigued to see how this would play out. mainly because I forgot pierogi existed in the aisles of my neighborhood grocery store.

The verdict? Oh my goodness it was so good. Easy and absolutely delicious. I am fairly certain I went to the store a day later and bought everything to make it and very excitedly told the husband we were having pierogi. He looked very confused…”Gesundheit?”

Now he requests it, which I’m totally fine with because it’s super simple! I even figured out how to “lighten it up” for the good ol’ diet! It’s really handy for the nights when we have a function or meeting to attend and get home a little later – because it’s so easy to throw together!

Well, I (of course) decided to make it difficult. I mean, more difficult than boiling water and adding the frozen pierogi.

Yes, I decided to make homemade Pierogi! This definitely not something that you can throw together with an hour or two before company arrives – but it was a lot of fun and totally worth it when I dove into that first bite. I plan on experimenting with the filling quite a bit in the future!

Asparagus, Cheese and Herb Pierogi (serves 2-4)

For the Dough

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. fat-free sour cream

1 egg

1/4 cup warm water

Add all ingredients to a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until dough forms into a ball, scraping up any stray bits of flour to incorporate into the mixture. Cover and let rest 30 minutes. (P.S. I finally got to break out my beautiful red Kitchen Aid mixer!! The little things in life I tell ya…)

For the Filling

4 oz. trimmed asparagus

Olive oil spray

1 medium potato

1/3 cup Philadelphia Italian Cheese & Herb Cooking Cream (Reduced Fat)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

First, you need to roast your asparagus. Heat oven to 400, spray trimmed asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Roast for 15-18 minutes and remove to cool. Chop roughly and set aside.

In the meantime, you’ll need to boil your potato. Peel and cube the potato and add to boiling water. Cook for about 10-12 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.

Add chopped asparagus, potato and cooking creme to a food processor. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Pulse food processor until ingredients are well blended and relatively smooth.

Remove dough and roll out to about 1/8 inch thick. I used a glass that was about 3” diameter to cut my pierogi…you can do the same!

Spoon about 1/2 or 1 Tbsp. of the filling in to the center of each circle. Bring edges together to form a crescent shape and pinch together, ensuring you have a good seal.

Repeat until all pierogi are formed.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Add pierogi to the boiling water about 5-6 at a time. Boil 4-5 minutes, or until they float to the top, and remove with a slotted spoon. Repeat until all are done.

Plate your pierogi and garnish with whatever you want! We usually do a little salt, pepper, butter spray and some shredded cheese (mozzarella here).

Oh, I am proud to inform you that while writing this post I learned something new – as I used to refer to the dish as “Pierogies”. “Pierogi” is actually the plural and “Pierog” is the singular form. Like you could just have one of these?

Hope everybody had a great weekend!

Ranch Flavored Oven-Baked Fries

I cannot believe it is already March. Not just because it means that Spring is right around the corner – which is even more shocking considering we didn’t even have a true Winter here in Memphis. It’s amazing because today marks 5 months of marriage!

t’s still hard to fathom that at this time last year, I had just found a dress, was still hunting for bridesmaids dresses, working out details of my bachelorette party, picking menus for the rehearsal dinner and reception – well, just stressing out to the max!

This week has been so much fun because I’ve been on the other side of it! Two of my best friends are getting married this year – and their bachelorette parties are coming up. Not a huge deal for most – but a majority of my friends are out-of-town, so these gatherings are not just something to look forward to – they are EPIC weekends. Needless to say, I’ve been a little distracted!

Distracted enough to forget about you? Absolutely not! I realized I have been posted a lot of main course items and it was probably about time to throw in a delicious side dish. Because let’s face it – that chicken/turkey/shrimp/beef isn’t going to fill you up!

Potatoes are probably my favorite side dish. I love a good baked potato – and that’s even good enough for my dinner sometimes! But remember when I started weight watchers, I said I didn’t want to deprive myself of anything I was craving? Well, I crave french fries. Enter – oven baked french fries. Except I take them up a notch with a little Ranch seasoning. Tantalizing to your tastebuds…which is good. Right?

Ranch Flavored Oven-Baked Fries (serves 2)

1 medium russet potato

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 Tbsp. dry Ranch mix

Olive oil spray (I use a Misto – you can use the pre-packaged varieties too – or just drizzle)

Preheat oven to 400.

Begin by scrubbing your potato. Then cut it in half. Then stand up each half and make two downward cuts, diving your potato into 3 pieces. Cut each piece into about 1/4 inch rectangles, giving you that “fry” shape. Repeat with other half.

Soak the raw fries in water. This releases some of the starch so the potatoes don’t steam (aka “sing”) when they are baking. This results in a much more french fry like texture – versus all of the moisture escaping and the fries being dry – or them just cooking very unevenly.

After at least 30 minutes of soaking, pat dry with paper towels and return to bowl. Drizzle a very light amount (maybe 1/4 tsp.) or spray with olive oil and toss to coat.

Now, pour about 1 Tbsp. of your ranch mixture onto the fries, tossing again to distribute the seasoning evenly.

Pour fries out onto a nonstick or lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes on lower rack, and flip. Dust remaining 1/2 Tbsp. ranch mix on any fries that may need it (some of it slides off with the oil and bakes onto the pan). Return to oven for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove when fries are cooked through and deliciously crispy.

I served mine with come chicken strips (a recipe which I WILL hand over to you soon, don’t you worry) and a cheesy spinach I threw together.

See? No need to go to your local fast food establishment to load up on greasy fries – you have some delicious healthy ones right here!

On a side note – if you try any of the recipes I’ve been posting, please leave a comment and let me know how they turn out! I’d love to hear some feedback – including anything you might like to see me try to “lighten up”!

Orange Chicken with Fried Rice

So do you have a type of food that you are rarely in the mood for, but when you are, watch out? No? Just me?

There are some foods I think I could eat for every meal – like sushi. But for some reason, Chinese food rarely sounds good to me. Then, I met the husband, who could actually do those Chinese buffets that just eek me out. He loves Chinese food…and Mexican, another one of my “rare craving” cuisines. (Pizza is always good for both of us though…of course.)

Well – when I started Weight Watchers – it was a lot of chicken and seafood and ground turkey. Nothing wrong with those, but afterd a while it was time to branch out and get really “freaky” – I decided to make Chinese food. And guess what I discovered – when I know what’s in a dish and I make it myself, I friggin love Chinese food!

So now it’s a staple and once you have all of the ingredients, it’s super simple and super delicious!

Orange Chicken for 2:

8 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 Tbsp. pickled ginger, minced

1 Tbsp. chili-garlic sauce

1 tsp. Sriracha (or more if you like an extra kick!)

1 Tbsp. orange zest (about 1 medium orange)

2 1/2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice (about 1/2 a medium orange)

2-3 ounces snow peas

1 Tbsp. peanut oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, chili garlic, Sriracha, orange zest and orange juice. Chop the chicken into 1/2 inch pieces and add to liquid. Marinate about 1 hour.

Once chicken has marinated, heat 1 Tbsp. peanut oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, reserving as much of the liquid as possible. Cook 3-4 minutes before flipping. Add remaining liquid and snow peas. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-12 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the liquid has thickened into a sauce.

Now for the fried rice…

Vegetable Fried Rice for 2:

1/4 cup egg beaters

1/4 Tbsp. reduced calorie margarine

1/2 medium carrot, diced

2 Tbsp. yellow onion, diced

3 Tbsp. soy sauce (you can always use reduced sodium or reduce to 2 Tbsp. if desired)

1 tsp. black pepper

2 Tbsp. frozen green peas, thawed

1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil

1 1/2 cup cooked white rice

Coat a wok (or large skillet) with non-stick spray and heat to medium. Add egg beaters, swirling around to get a very thin layer of cooked egg. Once it is no longer runny – use a rubber spatula to scrape and break into small pieces. Set aside in a small bowl.

Now add margarine, carrots, onions and garlic and cook until tender – about 5 – 7 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add rice, sesame oil, black pepper, and green peas. Cook 2-3 minutes before adding in soy sauce. Stir well until all of the rice has the “brownish” color to it. Add in egg and stir until it is incorporated.

Serve rice with orange chicken and enjoy!

Bring on the fortune cookies!

Parmesan Green Bean Casserole

Let’s face it folks…sometimes you just don’t have fresh, crisp veggies to pair with your meals. You may think you have veggies in your “crisper” drawer…only you find that they aren’t magic vegetables that have survived 3 weeks in said drawer.

I know, sad face.

Personally, I really enjoy canned french cut green beans. I like them with just a little spray butter, salt and pepper. I like them with crispy onion straws on top.

But my favorite? Sorry (again) to my sister…is with cheese. Duh.

What’s great about this recipe is that it is so easy to throw together and serve it up immediately or you can stick it in the oven if the whole meal timing thing isn’t your forte. It’s also delicious, but I hope you know I’m not going to share a recipe with you that I find repulsive.

So here’s the starting line-up:

Parmesan Green Bean Casserole (for 2)

8 oz. can french cut green beans (it’s the adorable can)

2 oz. fat-free cream cheese

3 Tbsp. skim milk

2 Tbsp. grated reduced fat parmesan cheese

1/8 tsp. garlic salt

1/8 tsp. salt

Add green beans to a small bowl and cook for about 1 minute in the microwave. Drain liquid and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat milk and cream cheese over medium-low heat. When cream cheese has softened, add Parmesan cheese, salt and garlic salt. Whisk until smooth.

I love my tiny little whisk!

Add the green beans to the cheese mixture and stir until everything is incorporated. Serve immediately or add to casserole dish and transfer to oven.

I had this alongside my Chicken Parmesan paired with some whole wheat spaghetti…and a glass of wine, of course.