Monday, January 31, 2011

We Survived!!

My husband and I gave ourselves a challenge to not eat out at all in January. We did this more as a financial challenge rather than a nutritional challenge but I think we benefited in both aspects. Not only did I truly have to rely on my meal plan but I wasn't tempted to eat larger restaurant portions or fattening foods.

We only went out to eat once - and it was for my little brother's birthday and my parents paid, so it didn't count :) Plus, I made healthy choices there getting a quinoa salad with grilled chicken on top!

I'm not going to lie, we're not continuing this no-eating-out challenge, in fact we've already planned a few places we're going in February. But, we have decreased our eating out budget for each month of 2011.

What are some ways you can challenge yourself in your eating habits?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday - Super Cinnamon

Have you ever heard of superfoods? Superfoods is a term coined to describe foods that have significant nutritional benefits beyond their macronutrients. They might pack an extra punch of vitamins and minerals or have an abundance of phytonutrients (or essentially chemicals within foods which promote health). For the next several weeks I plan to provide you with examples of superfoods each Thoughtful Thursday and give you ideas of ways to incorporate this superfood in your diet.


Cinnamon has been labeled as "the humble superfood". I think they mean that its not some fancy, exotic fruit or some crazy berry that you have to buy in health food stores. But rather, cinnamon is a simple spice that you can get in the aisles of any grocery store. You can add it to a number of foods quite easily. AND It has tons of health benefits.

The USDA found that simply incorporating a 1/2 tsp of cinnamon into your diet each day can help control type II diabetes as well as lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol.

The smell of cinnamon itself has shown to provide a "brain boost" through increased blood flow to the brain. So it might be good in situations where you need to study or have improved memory.

The best part about cinnamon as a superfood is that it is super easy to incorporate it in your diet.

Add it to breads, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal. Try cinnamon instead of salt in some richer sauce dishes or with dark leafy greens.

One tip - don't try to increase your cinnamon by doing a cinnamon challenge... RIDICULOUS :)

How can YOU incorporate CINNAMON into your daily diet?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken and Black Bean Tacos on Flatbread

I love my husband with all my heart. But I truly believe that couples are brought together to complement each others' strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully, I enjoy cooking us dinner as my husband's culinary skills

I like to stick to my mealplan as much as possible. Last week I thought that my husband was going to be late in the evening so I didn't plan anything for dinner. Much to my surprise, I found out late the night before that he would indeed be home for dinner. So I told him that I would figure out something for dinner and let him know via email so he could throw something in the crock pot before he left at 2:00pm. This might sound like the perfect plan but I was trying to keep it as simple as possible. So I sent him with the following recipe:
Chicken and Black Beans Taco filling

4 small chicken breasts, frozen
1 16 oz jar your favorite salsa
1 Tbsp taco seasoning
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine chicken breasts, salsa and taco seasoning in crock pot. Cook on high for 3 hours.

Shred chicken with two forks. Add drained black beans to crock pot. Continue to cook on low for 1 hour.

Use as filling for tacos, quesadillas, on top of a salad, etc.

Makes about 8 servings. Each serving provides:
128.4 calories
1.1 g fat
12.4 g carbohydrate
3.8 g fiber
17.3 g protein

With this chicken concoction, I decided to try a variation of a recipe that I saw on Real Mom Kitchen. Instead of tortillas, she made "flatbread" out of refrigerator biscuits. I used the same method and came up with my own variation of flatbread tacos.
Flatbread tacos - BETTER

1 package reduced fat refrigerator biscuits (I used Grand's)
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 cup 2% shredded Cheddar cheese

Roll each biscuit into a 6-inch circle. In a dry skillet over medium heat, cook each biscuit for 30-60 seconds on each side until browned. Keep warm in a tortilla warmer.

Spread each flatbread with a Tbsp of sour cream. Pile chicken/blackbean filling on top. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp shredded cheese.


As prepared, each flatbread taco provides:
343 calories
9.9 g fat
39.4 g carbohydrate
4.8 g fiber
21.2 g protein.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Poppy Seed Chicken

I have a love for anything with a good crust, any good casserole and anything that can be made ahead or frozen. I feel like I'm always bringing a meal to someone who just had a baby and I find it easiest just to make a big batch of what we're having for dinner and split it up so I have some for the new momma as well.

One of my coworkers had a baby a few weeks ago and I wanted to make some good old comfort food (i.e. an awesome casserole). I've made poppy seed chicken before and assumed I could make it ahead of time and freeze it before baking. So over the weekend, I made up a batch of the awesome casserole - put half of it in an 8x8 for Paul and myself and put the other half in a foil 8x8 for my coworker. The day before I brought it over to her, I cooked up a big batch of brown rice to split between the two of us and picked up an extra bag of broccoli Steamers. Voila -instant comfort meal.

Poppy seed chicken is one of those recipes that you see all over the blogosphere. I decided to go with The Girl Who Ate Everything's rendition. I like that she provides a bunch of different ways to kick it up a notch. I added Worcestershire sauce and celery seed. I've made it with cheddar cheese before too (although that definitely doesn't help the healthful factor).

I guessed that each 9x13 pan would provide about 8 servings of the casserole. Each serving of the original recipe would provide:
511 calories
29.1 g fat
17.1 g carbohydrate
0.1 g fiber
44.9 g protein

I made a few substitutions that you could easily do at home. First, I used fat free sour cream instead of full fat sour cream. I don't really care for fat free sour cream as a topping, but in recipes its usually a pretty good substitute. Next, I used reduced fat Ritz crackers. Lastly, I only used 2 Tbsp of melted butter, instead of 1/2 a cup. I sprayed the top with nonstick spray to ensure that it browned nicely. Overall - pretty AWESOME.

Poppy Seed Chicken - BETTER

5 cups chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 cup fat free sour cream
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cups crushed reduced fat Ritz crackers (about 1 1/2 rolls)
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
nonstick spray

Additional ingredients to make it fancier (and not included in the nutrition facts):
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp pepper

Boil raw chicken breasts with salt and pepper until done. I usually do this in a crockpot with frozen chicken breasts and a 1/4 cup of water on high for a few hours. Let chicken cool and cut into one inch cubes. Place cubed chicken in a 9x13 casserole dish. (If splitting, use two 8x8 pans).

Stir together condensed soup and sour cream. IF you wish to add the additional flavorings, add them in now. Stir well and pour over the chicken.

In a separate bowl, stir together the crushed crackers, poppy seeds and melted butter. Sprinkle over the chicken and sauce. Evenly spray with nonstick spray.

Cover with foil and place in freezer if keeping for later. When ready to bake, thaw completely in the fridge. Uncover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the top of the casserole is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve plain or over brown rice.

Makes 8 servings. Per serving:
393 calories
12.4 g fat
21.6 g carbohydrate
0.1 g fiber
45.4 g protein

On another note.... I'm hosting 15 people over at my house on Sunday and want to make something in the crockpot that will be ready after church... any suggestions?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick and Easy Breadsticks

I was searching for a homemade breadstick recipe to go along with my meat sauce and whole wheat pasta. I have upped my exercise considerably the last few weeks and have noticed that I'm really needing more food to hold me over and satisfy me. Plus, I'm nursing which I have found if I try to cut back on my calories too much, it really affects my supply (possibly TMI but hey, its the truth). So why not add some breadsticks with my pasta?

So I'm pretty sure that My Sisters Cafe is my go-to place for homemade bread recipes. They are always so good! I found this recipe for homemade breadsticks and is was exceptionally appealing since they take about an hour to make.

The recipe didn't say how many breadsticks it makes but I assumed about 12 from the picture. With 12 as the serving size, the original recipe provides:
181 calories
4.6 g fat
30.1 g carbohydrate
1.0 g fiber
4.4 g protein

Now I made about 12 out of my batch but came up with GIGANTIC breadsticks (as evidenced by the picture on top!) I would suggest making at least 16 out of this recipe, or even more. The more breadstick you yield, the less calories, fat, etc in your recipe. I also did not melt butter into the pan. I sprayed the pan with nonstick cooking spray. I used 1 Tbsp of butter, melted to brush on the tops of the breadsticks. This decreased the fat slightly per breadstick.

Quick and Easy Breadsticks - BETTER

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp parmesan
1 tsp garlic powder

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar and let it sit and bubble for a few minutes. Add the salt and flour. Knead for 3 minutes. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. (All of this can be done in your kitchen stand mixer). Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to roughly the shape of your cookie sheet. Cut into 16 (or more!) sticks. Twist or lay flat on cookie sheet. Brush with 1 Tbsp butter and sprinkle with Parmesan and garlic powder.

Let rise 10 -20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

Makes 16 breadsticks. Per breadstick:
116 calories
1.3 g fat
22.6 g carbohydrate
0.8 g fiber
3.3 g protein

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quinoa Black Bean Salad

At work we had an open house that highlighted all the health benefits available to employees. Since I work in employee wellness, I had a booth at the open house promoting a weight management program we'll be offering this year. So for two days, I sat at my booth socializing with all the other booths during slow times. One of the booths at the open house was our chef from the employee cafeteria. He was doing cooking demonstrations and made a quinoa salad. Needless to say, I ate MANY samples of this awesome quinoa salad that he created and thought I would share it with you.

Quinoa is a whole grain that I hear of a lot lately, especially in healthy lifestyle blogs. I think its kind of the "in" thing right now. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a whole grain that is high in fiber and protein and naturally gluten free. It comes in a variety of colors like red, black and white. You can buy it at natural food stores, Costco or even the baking aisle of many grocery stores. You cook it up just like you do pasta or rice. In fact it only takes 15-20 minutes to cook in boiling water, vs. brown rice which can take 45+ minutes!

Here is the recipe that was featured at the open house:

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

1 cup raw Quinoa
1 1/2 cupswater
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups black beans
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 large green onions, diced
1 red pepper diced

2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste

Rinse quinoa several times. Place quinoa, 1/2 tsp salt and water in a sauce pan and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and cool completely.

Add veggies to cooked quinoa. Mix together all dressing ingredients in a separate bowl and toss with quinoa and veggies.

Serve chilled and garnish with cilantro.

Makes 6 servings, each serving provides:
276 calories
9.3 g fat
40.1 g carbohydrate
8.5 g fiber
10.1 g protein

***Top with a grilled chicken breast or salmon fillet for a complete meal.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday - Dear Diary...

Each Thursday I will be doing a "Thoughtful Thursday" post. This post will not necessarily include a recipe that I've tried, but rather a few nutrition thoughts that may help you make healthy food decisions for you and your family.

I had a diary when I was in elementary school. I wasn't very consistent in my usuage of my diary, maybe writing in it once a month. I wasn't a boy crazy kid who gushed to her diary about all the boys I had crushes on. Instead, I would occasionally write about what I did that day. I didn't really see the point.
Food diaries, on the other hand, have a valuable role in making wise food decisions. A 2008 research study praised the benefits of keeping a regular food diary, especially when trying to lose weight or follow a special diet. People who kept regular food diaries lost TWICE as much weight as people who did NOT keep a food diary following the same diet. People who were following specific nutrition recommendations, such as those for diabetes or heart disease, were significantly more compliant if they kept a food diary than if they did not.

I encourage my clients to keep a food diary when they are starting off on a nutrition goal to help increase their awareness of what they are taking in, and how it adds up in the day. I suggest trying a food diary for a week or two until you are able to establish a pattern of intake that meets your needs and goals. After that, I would encourage you to keep a food diary a couple days a week, but don't feel stressed to do it EVERYDAY.

When keeping a food diary it is important to think about every. single. thing. that goes into your mouth. So that includes drinks, condiments, little pieces of candy you grab off the receptionist's desk, etc. It is also important to pay attention to how a food is prepared (baked, fried, grilled, etc) and a specific portion size. You may even wish to measure your food for a few days to get a good visual picture of what your portions look like.
Here are a couple of websites which have good food diary programs:

Have you ever kept a food diary? How'd it work for you?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Product Review - Good Earth Herb Crusted Chicken with Wild Mushroom Risotto

I don't normally buy packaged meals. I usually feel that they are pretty salty and full of preservatives. Plus, after making them, I usually feel like I could have made it homemade, just as easily.

I am a coupon fanatic. I clip coupons, I organize them in my coupon binder, I match up my deals of the week with coupons and stock up my pantry. A few weeks ago there was a good bargain on General Mill's new Good Earth packaged dinner kits. I think they are usually $4 a box and were on sale for 2/$4 and I had $1 off coupon. I think I got it for around a dollar. Even though this isn't my usual thing, I thought I'd give it a try.

I planned on making this on one of the nights that I get home from work late and try to whip up a dinner in 30 minutes or less. I had the chicken thawed and ready to go.

The risotto was easy to put together. I didn't tell Paul that the brown bits were mushrooms and he didn't comment on them either. So that's a plus!

The chicken was to be breaded and sauteed. I don't remember how much oil the recipe called for but I only used about 2 Tbsp olive oil, just enough to coat the pan.

Overall, paired with some steamed broccoli - the Good Earth Herb Crusted Chicken and Wild Mushroom Risotto was a pretty good meal. It took about 30 minutes to prepare and all I had to do was add a vegetable to round out the meal.

The box did say it would prepare about 5 servings. I'm pretty sure 4 would be more accurate. It was also a little saltier than I prefer my food. Overall, if it was on sale and I had a coupon again - I'd buy it. Would I pay full price for it? No. But then again, I wouldn't pay full price for many things :)

As I prepared it, each serving (4 servings) provides:
334 calories
9.4 g fat
30 g carbohydrate
0 g fiber
29.9 g protein

This review was completed on my own and without input or compensation from General Mills.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Zucchini Bake

Some people follow recipes to the tee. They carefully measure and level each ingredient. They make separate trips to the grocery store just to get some crazy ingredient that they probably won't use in any other recipe. Others kind of wing it. Oops... out of one ingredient? Guess we'll try it with another ingredient. They might follow the method of a recipe, but don't follow the ingredients to the letter of the law.

My mom is the latter type of cook and I think I learned it from her. This is where my original knowledge of tweaking recipes came from - long before my Experimental Food class in college.

My mom is also really good at making food for a crowd. When I was growing up, we often would joke around that we should open up a catering business when I got older since we were always putting on luncheons and other functions for our church. Our high school graduation open houses were a like a fun challenge for us.

About 6 months ago, my mom hosted a baby shower for me before my daughter's birth. She had quite the spread of 8-10 different items, all displayed beautifully on trays. Included in that spread were little squares she called Zucchini Bake. The original recipe was from the Bisquick website. But, of course, she tweaked it!

In the original recipe, each square provides:
80 calories
6 g fat
4 g carbohydrate
0 g fiber
2 g protein

My mom cut the recipe's oil in half. I suppose you could also use 1 cup egg substitute instead of full eggs as well but I did not do that. My mom also doesn't put all of the same seasonings in it. Overall - this is a really tasty appetizer. I have also packed leftover squares in my lunch to go with a salad. They can be eaten hot or cold or even just warm like a quiche. I have a weird thing about my food being extra hot, so obviously I eat mine HOT. Give them a try!

Zucchini Bake - BETTER

4 eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups thinly sliced zucchini (use a mandolin if you have one)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup oil
1 onion, finely chopped
salt/pepper to taste
1 cup Heart Smart Bisquick

Beat the eggs and add remainder of ingredients. Spread in a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean. Cut into 24 squares (4x6).

Per square:
62 calories
4 g fat
4 g carbohydrate
0 g fiber
2 g protein

Monday, January 17, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

After having a bunch of athletes over for a potato and chili bar, I was left with a bunch of leftover baked potatoes. I decided to find a recipe that used already baked potatoes and came up with a couple of options. Many hashbrown recipes called for chilled baked potatoes, but Paul isn't that big of a fan of hashbrowns... and I am. So that's a bad combination. I found some recipes for baked potato soup - WINNER. As expected, it's freezing here in Michigan so soup is always a good winter choice. I had most of the ingredients on hand (no scallions - ugh!) so into the menu plan it went.

I decided to branch off from my usual list of food blogs and find a recipe using google. I came across the site Crash Test Mommy who posts all kinds of topics, not just recipes. But her recipe for Baked Potato Soup looked DELICIOUS! So that was the winner.

As posted in the original recipe, each serving provides:
768 calories
52 g fat
52.4 g carbohydrate
2.6 g fiber
24.3 g protein

I made a bunch of changes to the original recipe. I'm sure my changes decreased the richness of the recipe but it still tasted great, in my opinion. First, I decreased the roux by only using 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp flour. I also used skim milk, 2% cheese and reduced fat sour cream. It still thickened up nicely. Finally, I only used 6 strips of bacon instead of 12. It still gave it the salty smoked flavor, just not quite as much fat. I imagine you could also substitute turkey bacon.

Additionally, the recipe states it makes 6 servings. I would imagine that you could get more like 8-10 servings out of this recipe which would also decrease the nutrition stats. I kept it at 6, however, just to be consistent.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup - BETTER

4 pound of Russet potatoes (5 or 6 big ones)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
6 cups skim milk
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 green onions
6 slices bacon (or try turkey bacon)
1 1/2 cups shredded 2% cheddar cheese
8 ounces reduced fat sour cream

Bake potatoes and let cool. Once cooled, cut each lengthwise and scoop out pulp. Cook bacon (I like to use the microwave and paper towels to get out a lot of the grease) until crispy, crumble into pieces. Set potato pulp and bacon aside. Chop green onions.

In a large stockpot, melt butter over low heat. Slowly add flour, stirring constantly until smooth.

Increase heat to medium and gradually add milk. Continue stirring until thick and bubbly. Stir in potato pulp, salt and pepper. Add 2 Tbsp of the green onions, 1/2 cup of the bacon and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Set aside the remainder for garnish.

Stir in sour cream and cook until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently. Serve in bowls and garnish with remaining bacon, onion and cheese.

Makes 6 (OR MORE) servings. Per serving:
393 calories
14.1 g fat
44.9 g carbohydrate
2.3 g fiber
21.4 g protein

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pumpkin Blondies

A few nights ago I hosted my husband's track team at our house for dinner. I made a baked potato, chili and salad bar for the 30+ athletes that could make it out to the middle of no where to our house one snowy night. Even though those athletes brought with them a big appetite, I still had a TON of food leftover (some of it not even prepared). But with all these chopped veggies for salad toppings, I knew they wouldn't stay fresh forever and I needed a way to use them up quickly. So I sent an email out to a bunch of our friends and invited about 10 more people over for lunch after church on Sunday. Everyone was up for a tasty free meal!

Well Sunday morning rolled around and I had a mini-panic when I realized I did not have any dessert to serve with my leftover chili/potato/salad bar. So I did a little brainstorming and decided that a bar cookie would be the fastest to prepare since I wouldn't have to form each cookie. I could whip up the ingredients and put it in the oven while I finished getting ready for church. I found this recipe for Pumpkin Blondies on The Girl Who Ate Everything and I had all the ingredients (except white chocolate chips, so I substituted semi-sweet...). It was perfect!

As originally posted, each bar provides:
229 calories
12.3 g fat
32.6 g carbohydrate
1.1 g fiber
2.5 g protein

It turned out awesome, I got lots of complements on how tasty they were. I made a couple changes. I swapped out half of the flour for whole wheat flour. I also substituted half of the butter with unsweetened applesauce. In a traditional cookie I wouldn't normally do this as the butter provides structure to the cookie. But since it was a bar, I figure it didn't need to hold its shape as much in the oven. I also like that this recipe calls for 24 servings which is a decent size bar once they are all cut. If you wished to slash your calories or fat even more, cut them into smaller pieces.

Pumpkin Blondies - BETTER

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup white chocolate chips (or semi-sweet in my case)
1 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (optional and not included in the nutrition facts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13-inch baking dish with foil. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Stir together and set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, applesauce and sugar on medium-high speed of a hand mixer or stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined. Mix in the pumpkin puree. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips (and pecans, if using) with a rubber spatula.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely before cutting.

To serve, lift the cake from the pan using the foil and transfer to a cutting board. Peel off the foil and using a sharp knife, cut into 24 squares.

Makes 24 pieces. Each pieces:
195 calories
8.5 g fat
32.8 g carbohydrate
1.6 g fiber
2.6 g protein

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wheat Rolls

When making minestrone, I decided I needed a good roll to go with it. One that was hearty enough to stand up to the soup but still soft and delicious to make my insides melt. I went to the Sister's Cafe to see what good bread recipes they had. Listed under their "Grandma's Recipes" was Grandma's Dinner Rolls. I don't know about you, but something about good old fashioned yeast breads made by a grandma sound way better than any bread made by some young hipster. So I figured it had to be a good recipe.

As originally listed, this recipe provides:
114 calories
0.8 g fat
23.1 g carbohydrate
0.7 g fiber
3.3 g protein

I made a few changes. I made sure to use skim milk and substituted about half of the flour with whole wheat. I'd love to tell you made made a whole bunch of difference... but it didn't. It only saved me 7 calories, 0.2 g fat and gained 1.1 g fiber. Not a big deal. But tasty, nonetheless. Oh yeah, I also made them into clover shaped rolls instead of butterhorns... but I just did this because I'm lazy.


2 rounded Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup warm skim milk
1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbsp shortening
2 tsp salt
4 eggs
3.5 cups whole wheat flour
3.5 - 4.5 cups white flour

Beat together yeast, water, milk, sugar, shortening, salt and eggs until smooth. In an electric mixer with a dough hook, add flour one cup at a time until dough forms a ball, cleaning off the edge of the bowl. Knead 5 minutes (or 10 minutes by hand). Let rise until double.

Punch down dough and let rise until double again.

Punch down again and divide into three parts. Decide how you are going to shape your rolls. For some ideas, check out these shapes from Real Mom Kitchen. No matter how you choose, make sure you are creating 36 rolls. I used the clover shape in my muffin tins.

Let shaped rolls rise a third and final time. Watch carefully as they will rise very quickly. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Do not overbake!

These rolls will freeze well if you allow them to cool completely and then freeze promptly.

Makes 36 rolls. Per roll:
107.7 calories
0.6 g fat
22.4 g carbohydrate
1.8 g fiber
3.6 g protein

Monday, January 10, 2011


I forgot to take a picture of my minestrone. So I found a picture online of one that closely resembles my soup. Thanks!

I love soup in the winter time. I live in Michigan and it is pretty much cold and snowy from November to April so there are lots of opportunities for soup night. Soup is versatile because many soups can be made ahead of time and frozen or cooked low and slow in the slow cooker if you have a busy afternoon.

I have had this recipe for Minestrone from Allrecipes since November of 2004 (according to the date that I printed the original recipe). This was the first thing that I ever made for my now husband. He is not a huge vegetable eater but LOVES this minestrone. I have since passed on this recipe to my mom, who always gets requests for it from her friends. I have also put it in my work cookbook, etc. So needless to say - this is pretty much the best minestrone ever.

Last week, one of my friends had a baby and I wanted to bring her some meals. I knew we'd be eating minestrone later in the week so I made an extra large batch on Sunday afternoon. I froze a gallon ziplock for her and froze a big plastic container for my family so it would be ready to eat later in the week.

I did not make many nutrition changes to the recipe. I do not add Parmesan or extra olive oil on top of the soup (does anyone else find drizzling olive oil on top of soup weird?). This is the first time I have ever put the red wine in the recipe, and thats just because I happened to have an open bottle of wine. If you were watching your sodium intake, you may consider choosing reduced sodium chicken broth and tomato sauce.


3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 cups chopped celery
5 carrots, sliced
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
4 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
1 cup canned kidney beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can green beans
2 cups baby spinach, rinsed
3 zucchinis, quartered and sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry seashell pasta

In a large stock pot, over medium-low heat, heat olive oil and saute garlic for 2 - 3 minutes. Add onion and saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add celery and carrots, saute for 1 to 2 minutes. (You can also do this in your crockpot. Turn it to high with the oil in. Add the garlic. Let that cook while you are cutting your onion. Add the onion. Let that cook while you are chopping your celery and carrots. Add to crockpot and give a good stir. Allow to cook in crockpot for 10-15 minutes or until the veggies appear to cook a bit.)

Add chicken broth, water and tomato sauce, bring to a boil, stirring frequently (Or cook in crock pot on high for an hour). If desired, add red wine at this point. Reduce heat to low and add kidney beans, green beans, spinach, zucchini, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, the longer the better. (Turn crock pot to low, cook for at least 2 to 3 hours).

***If you are preparing this for the freezer. Transfer to freezer containers at this point and freeze***

When ready to eat. Cook seashell pasta according to package directions. Put 2 Tbsp pasta shells in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle soup over the pasta. Top with Parmesan if desired.

Makes 8 LARGE servings. Each serving provides:
195 calories
5.9 g fat
30.3 g carbohydrate
7.4 g fiber
6.2 g protein

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tale of Two Pizzas

My poor husband puts up with a lot from me. I am constantly trying to revamp recipes (obviously, hence the purpose of this blog). I like to think that his health is benefited by his marriage to me. But sometimes you have to put your foot down. That foot was put down by my husband when it comes to pizza crust.

I like to make homemade pizza. It tastes so good and is relatively quite simple. I've made thin crust pizza. I've made whole wheat crust pizza. You name it - I've probably tried to make it. But when it comes down to it, my husband prefers the true to form recipe of white flour dough. So I've decided to stick with this wish and not sneak whole wheat flour into our pizza.

I've decided that I can manage to indulge in some good old fashion pizza crust. I like to top mine with veggies and keep pepperoni on Paul's side. (can you tell by the picture above?)

What toppings would you put on your perfect pizza?

So here it is. Here is the recipe that I use for pizza crust. Not necessarily healthy but you can healthify it by adding your healthy toppings, using part-skim mozzarella or even halving the recipe and making a thin crust.

Pizza Crust

1/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
4 Tbsp soft margarine
1 heaping Tbsp yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour

Combine water, milk and margarine. Heat until warm, 120-130 degrees. Dissolve yeast into liquid. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Combine sugar, salt and 1 cup of flour in electric mixer. Add liquid mixture and stir with dough hook to combine. Add additional flour 1/2 a cup at a time until dough forms a ball and is slightly sticky. Knead with dough hook for additional 5 minutes.

Cover bowl with dish cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. In the mean time, cover a pizza pan with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with corn meal to prevent the dough from sticking. When the dough is done rising, place onto prepared pan and press out to edges of pan, allowing for a slightly thicker crust around the edges.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Top crust with tomato sauce and desired toppings such as cheese and vegetables! Bake for 20-25 minutes or until desired doneness is acheived. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Each slice of crust (1/8th of pie) provides:
226 calories
6.1 g fat
37.4 g carbohydrate
1.1 g fiber
5.0 g protein

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cheesy Potatoes

I'm pretty sure everyone has some version of this recipe. I've seen it with a variety of toppings, like corn flakes, potato chips or French fried onions. Most recipes are baked casseroles. I remember the first time I had a recipe like this. I was in middle school and we went to a family from church's house for New Years brunch. Mrs. Potts served this as a casserole with crushed corn flakes on top.

Do you have a special way to make cheesy potatoes?

Since that time, my mom found a similar recipe and used it for many years. She passed it on to me when she created a family cookbook for me around the time I graduated college. Since then, I have made a few changes to the recipe, which hopefully you enjoy.

I'm not going to post my mom's recipe on here but lets just say it calls for a full stick of butter, full fat cheese and full fat sour cream. I figured out the nutrition facts for it and each 1/2 cup serving provided:
215 calories
13.9 g fat
17.6 g carbohydrate
2.1 g fiber
5.5 g protein

Over the years, I have made a few changes to the recipe. In fact, now I was requested to bring this to my parents for Christmas. First big change is that I like to make it in the crock pot. I figure a lot of times this dish is used for special occasions when there is likely to be a lot of other pans going in and out of the oven. If I can decrease the oven traffic by one dish, then why not?

I also like to use the O'Brien potatoes which have diced onions and peppers in them for a little extra flavor. I also omit MOST of the butter, only using about a teaspoon. Lastly I use reduced fat (not fat free) versions of cheddar cheese and sour cream to further decrease the fat content.

Cheesy Potatoes - BETTER

1 tsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup reduced fat sour cream
2 cups reduced fat cheddar cheese
2 bags O'Brien hash brown potatoes

Microwave butter and onion in microwave safe dish until onions are translucent.

Combine microwaved onions, cream of chicken soup, sour cream and cheddar cheese in a large bowl. Stir until well combined. Add in both bags of hash browns and stir until well combined.

Pour mixture into large crock pot. Cook on high for 1 hour. Turn to low and cook for addition 2-3 hours, stirring mixture occasionally to prevent browning around the edges.

Makes 18 servings. Each 1/2 cup serving provides:
134 calories
4.7 g fat
17.8 g carbohydrate
2.1 g fiber
5.3 g protein

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Turkey Noodle Soup

I'm not a big fan of ham. Holidays like Christmas often have ham served as the main meat. I try to convince my mom that this isn't that big of a deal to me because I'm really just happy eating side dishes. But each year she wracks her brain trying to come up with an alternative to ham. Last year we had a beef roast, this year we had turkey. And by turkey, I mean my mom had made a TON of turkey. So needless to say, I was sent home with a large container of prepared turkey.

I wasn't quite sure what to make out of the turkey. In fact, it sat in my freezer for a week before I decided it's fate. Turkey Noodle Soup.

What would you have made out of leftover cooked turkey?

I looked for a recipe that had homemade noodles and found this delicious looking recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup on For the Love of Cooking. I figured I could easily just swap out the chicken for turkey. As prepared in the original recipe, each serving provides:

278 calories
3.8 g fat
39.2 g carbohydrate
2.5 g fiber
21.2 g protein

Other than swapping out the chicken for turkey, I made a few other changes. I increased the amounts of onion, celery and carrots, as well as added an extra cup of frozen stir fry veggies. I also made the full recipe for the noodles (with half the flour being whole wheat) but only put half in the recipe. After allowing the other half of the noodles to dry out for an hour or two on the counter, I put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer for soup for another day. It ended up being delicious! It was perfect for a cold, snowy Michigan weekend and even better reheated for lunch the next day.
Turkey Noodle Soup - BETTER

8 cups chicken stock
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 cups diced carrots
4 stalks of celery diced
2 tsp good chicken bouillon
1 bay leaf
sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
1/ tsp dried thyme or basil
1 1/2 cup cooked turkey, diced
1 cup frozen stir fry veggies
Fresh parsley, chopped

Saute onions in olive oil until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic & cook for 30 seconds. Add broth and the remainder of the ingredients. Cook over medium low heat for 1-2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare noodles.

1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 to 1/3 cup skim milk

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, egg and milk. Mix until you produce a slightly sticky ball of dough. Flour the counter and roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. They plump when cooked so make sure you roll them out thin. Cut noodles using a pizza cutter. Cut them smaller than you imagine because they will grow in the broth! Let the noodles dry out on the counter for at least 1 hour before adding them to the soup. After 1 hour, take half of the noodles and put in a ziplock bag in the freezer for another time.

About 30 minutes before serving soup, drop noodles in and cook. Add some fresh chopped parsley right before serving.

Makes 6 servings. Each serving provides:
192 calories
3.7 g fat
24.5 g carbohydrate
3.4 g fiber
16.2 g protein

Monday, January 3, 2011

Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites

I already discussed my love for pretzels here. But, I don't just love hard pretzels but soft pretzels as well. A few years ago Paul and I went on an East Coast baseball tour including baseball games in Baltimore, Washington DC, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. When in Philadelphia I was so excited to have a famous Philadelphia soft pretzel. I was born in the Philly area and had memories of hot, steamy soft pretzels from street vendors. When we got to the baseball game, I was disappointed to see that the pretzels at the ball park were "Super-Pretzels" . I can get those anywhere :(

Following the game, we saw a street vendor selling soft pretzels by the subway station. We quickly whipped out the cash for my guilty pleasure. As we were walking onto the subway I opened up my foil package to take the first tasty bite. Much to my disappointed surprise, my pretzel was ice cold. Needless to say, this was a low point of that vacation.

For New Years Eve each year, a group of our friends get together at someones house to ring in the new year. We each bring an appetizer-y dish to share and pig out. Appetizers are notoriusly unhealthy options - nachos, cheese dips, cocktail wienies, etc. I thought it would be a good idea to bring a healthier option, without being OVERLY "health food". I decided to make these pretzel bites found on Two Peas and Their Pod, without any alterations, to provide a lower fat, moderate calorie snack.

Homemade Pretzel Bites

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 pkg active dry yeast
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups all purpose flour
vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp cold water
coarse sea salt

Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combine. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and beings to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 Tbsp at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead to a ball with your hands.

Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towl or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bring the water to a boil in a small roasting pan over high heat and add the baking soda.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches. Cut the dough into one inch pieces to make the pretzel bites (I used a pizza cutter). Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches, 15 bites at a time. Boil for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon. Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Make sure they are not touching. Brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the coarse salt. (Good two-person job, I boiled the bites as Paul brushed and sprinkled them). Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. I wrapped them into a big pouch of foil and reheated once we got to the party in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Makes 15 servings, 10 bites each. Each serving provides:
182 calories
5.0 g fat
30.3 g carbohydrate
1.1 g fiber
4.0 g protein

Orange Pecan French Toast

I was talking with my mom on the phone a few weeks ago, discussing what I should bring for Christmas. I offered to bring baked French toast but she was thinking more along the lines of a breakfast casserole. So I agreed and made a breakfast casserole instead. Well my husband overheard this conversation and I watched his eyes light up with sheer joy at the thought of Baked French Toast. I then watched his face turn to utter disappointment at the thought of a breakfast casserole instead. I decided to treat him to French Toast Casserole when we were doing our little family of three breakfast and presents on Christmas Eve.

The recipe that I use for Baked French Toast is ridiculously rich and sinful. I think it might call for at least 2 sticks of butter and 2 cups of brown sugar - really not worthy of being on my healthy food blog. So the night before I our breakfast, I went to make our Baked French Toast and realized that I had used up all of the brown sugar earlier in the afternoon making Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Whoops! I didn't want to leave Paul disappointed, so I searched the internet for a baked French toast recipe which did not require brown sugar.

I came across this recipe for Pecan French Toast on It actually looked pretty healthy (or at least WAY healthier than my original recipe). As posted, each serving provides:
533 calories
32.3 g fat
48.5 g carbohydrate
2.8 g fiber
13.6 g protein

I didn't make too many changes as I still wanted this to be a treat for Paul. The only substitution that I made was I left out the butter and simply sprayed the top with non-stick butter flavored spray instead. You could also substitute whole grain bread, egg substitute or low-calorie OJ if you were looking for additional ways to healthify this recipe.

Overall, it was a hit! Definitely a different baked French toast, but tasty nonetheless!

Orange Pecan French Toast - BETTER

4 eggs
2/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 pound Italian bread, cubed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 Tbsp grated orange zest

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, orange juice, milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. Place bread slices in a tightly spaced single layer in the bottom of a flat dish or baking pan. Pour milk mixture over bread, cover and refrigerate overnight, turning once.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Spray casserole dish or jelly roll with butter-flavored nonstick spray. Arrange soaked bread slices in a single layer on pan. Sprinkle evenly with orange peel and pecans.

Bake in preheated oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Check during last 10 minutes of baking time to avoid burning.

Makes 4 servings. Each serving provides:
398 calories
17.1 g fat
48.5 g carbohydrate
2.8 g fiber
13.5 g protein

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

I love pretzels. My whole family loves pretzels (especially my little brother and I). My mom loves pretzels in spite of the fact that they give her hiccups (seriously). If given the choice between pretzels, chips, tortilla chips, or cheetos. I'd go with pretzels every time. In fact, I'm not a HUGE potato chip eater. Maybe an occasional BBQ, but not that much. My husband, however, LOVES potato chips. When I was pregnant I had a pretty easy pregnancy, no morning sickness, not a whole lot of aches and pains. But the one thing that made me completely nauseous was the sight and sound of my husband eating potato chips. I would make him stay in the kitchen if he was going to eat them.

ANYWAY... the whole point of all of this is to tell you I love pretzels. And when I saw this post on Real Mom Kitchen for Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels, I thought - What a perfect snack to bring to my pretzel lovin family's Christmas.

I'll be honest, the only small change that I made was to reduce the amount of oil to 1/2 cup. BUT here are some other ideas for healthifying these pretzels:

Preportion them in little snack size bags.
Use a baking sugar substitute like Splenda-for-baking instead of sugar.
Use whole wheat pretzels to increase the fiber

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels- Slightly BETTER

16 oz bag pretzel twists
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place pretzels in a roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine oil, sugar and cinnamon. Pour over pretzels and stir to coat.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and stir. Return to oven and bake for 1o more minutes. Remove from oven and stir again. Return to oven one last time and bake for 10 more minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Makes 16 servings. Per serving:
193.2 calories
7.8 g fat
28.9 g carbohydrate
1.1 g fiber
2.6 g protein