Category Archives: cooking

Je-diet Mind Tricks

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cakelette

Hi, friends. It’s the weekend. Woo hoo! Finally some time to catch my breath. It’s been a busy week. Let me catch you up in a hurry. Oh, and the photo at the top is a teaser. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I’ve just finished 10 days of level of one Jillian’s notorious 30 day shred workouts. So far so good. I’m trying to shock my body a bit with some new tricks in my weekly routine, so I’m replacing 20 minutes of my usual cardio with 20 minutes of shredding. I’m still working out with my trainer, and I’m not shredding on those days. I haven’t worked out without resting days in between in a long time, and I’m only planning to do it for a few weeks. I’m not out to create any overuse injuries, but I am trying to shake things up a bit. So far, I feel stronger and I have more energy. The workouts are tough, but I like a challenge. Have you shredded?? What did you think?
  • I just finished the second week of participation in a stair climbing contest at work. One of my favorite co-workers organized us into teams of five, and, each week, we compete to be the team to log the most flights (only ascending flights count). Prizes are awarded weekly. Last week, my team won the contest with nearly 700 flights!! This week, I wasn’t a very useful team member since I was out for training on Thursday and Friday, but I’m sure my team rocked it again this week anyway! They are awesome. Getting a little exercise throughout the day has given me a real boost. It has also made me realize how easy it is to park in front of the computer for hours at a time without moving. Honestly, I’ve also realized that it’s pretty easy to get up and move around too. I hope I can keep it up when the contest is over. 
  • Last Sunday, I went to the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show here in D.C. I attended Tyler’s Ultimate Food and Wine pairing, and had some very tasty nibbles.

The Stage is Set

TylerOk. So, Tyler wasn’t a nibble, but he is rather tasty. Yes? We were also treated to a visit by another Food Network favorite…

SamplingTyler has started making wine, and he was giving Paula a little sample of his wares. 😉 I had a great time at the show, and I sampled a ton of stuff at the expo too. I’m definitely going to try to go again next year!

Now that I’ve given you the quick catch up, I want to talk a bit about the title of this post “Je-diet Mind Tricks.” Over the past few years, I’ve looked for ways to make my food more enjoyable without piling on lots of extra calories. I’ve learned a number of tricks. For example, I’d always heard that serving your food on a smaller plate or in a smaller bowl would make you think you were having more. I’m sure I’d read that in magazines in the past and dismissed it with an “Oh please!! I’m way too smart for that” kind of attitude. The thing is, it does work. I have lots of small bowls, and I use them often. I like eating smaller meals off of smaller plates, and I tend to eat ice cream out of tiny little heart shaped bowls I picked up at Crate & Barrel.

My Heart is Empty?One fourth of  a cup of ice cream really does look like a lot more when it fills up my small bowl than it would if it were sitting in a little blob in the middle of one of my big oat bran bowls. These bowls are also great for little nibbles of granola, trail mix, almonds and that sort of thing. I’m a fan!

Another trick I’ve learned comes into play in my Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cakelettes. I could just call them muffins, but they are much sweeter and more like cake. Truth in advertising, right? 🙂 Have you ever made a lightened up recipe involving chocolate chips? Often, these just seem to involve using a smaller portion of the chips you might use in a regular recipe. That’s not a bad strategy, but it can lead to a treasure hunt type scenario for the three little chips that might have made their way into your muffin. There is an easy solution to this, and I think it makes a huge difference with regard to the satisfaction factor– mini-chips!

Mini YummiesLook inside this muffin. See all those brown specks?

Chocolate Bonanza!Those are the mini-chocolate chips. There are several bits of chocolate in each bite, and a great deal of satisfaction. Employing another je-diet mind trick, I also used turbinado sugar in the topping because the crystals are bigger and add a nice crunch. I’ve made this with granulated sugar in the topping, and it doesn’t maintain its character nearly as well. It certainly seems like a bigger treat when I see the sweet little crystals and feel them crunch in my teeth. Tricky? You bet!!

I started with a recipe I’ve used for a long time, and I gave it some pretty significant tweaks. I love remaking an old favorite. The cinnamon and chocolate combo gives it a slightly Viennese twist, and the pumpkin just tastes like fall. Here’s the recipe:

YUM!!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cakelettes

Ingredients:

Dry Team:

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup teff flour (or 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour) 

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

Wet Team:

1/2 cup egg beaters (or two eggs, beaten)

8 ounces (1 3/4 cups) of canned pumpkin

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp. canola oil

Team Chocolate:

1/2 cup semi-sweet mini-morsels

Topping:

1 Tbsp. turbinado sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a 12 unit muffin tin with cooking spray. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients in the “dry team.” Make a well in the center.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the ingredients in the “wet team.” Pour the wet mixture into the well in the center of the dry mixture, and mix until the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the mixture evenly among the 12 muffin cups. 

Mix the turbinado sugar and cinnamon together to form the topping, and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the muffins.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the muffins spring back when pressed lightly in the center. Remove the muffins from the pan and allow them to cool on a wire rack.

Based on my calculations, these come out just below 150 calories a piece. Not bad for a sweet treat in my opinion!

You could bake the batter in a 9×9 inch baking pan for 20-25 minutes if you would prefer to serve it like a cake. I kind of like the built in portion control I get by using a muffin pan, but I’ve made this as a cake many times. I’m also positive that cream cheese icing would be great on top if you were feeling more decadent or serving these to a festive crowd. 

Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Do you love pumpkin as much as I do? 🙂

Now, it’s time for me to take my first run at doing level two of Jillian’s shred. Wish me luck! I may need it!! Ciao for now, y’all!

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Filed under Baking, Cake, Chocolate, cooking, D.C., Fitness, Food, Pumpkin, Recipes, Squash, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story

The Peaches Made Me Do It

When you see what this post is about, you might be convinced that all I’ve eaten this week is dessert. I assure you that is not the case. Although, several food photos on my camera won’t help with that misperception. 🙂 First of all…

Beautiful BowlThe applesaucy pie from my last post was SO good mixed in with my morning oat bran and topped with walnuts. I’ve had this bowl every morning since I made my Great G-ma’s recipe, and today I ate the last of it. What would happen tomorrow? Would there be an oat bran crisis? Luckily, the peaches were super ripe and they were screaming for attention. This should make tomorrow morning’s oat bran bowl super sweet:

Peachy Keen!I love the original recipe, but it could certainly be a bit healthier. I’m taking on the challenge of experimenting with the recipe to see what I can do to retain the flavor and texture, but improve the specs. I’m moving slowly on this one, but I’ll certainly be updating you. I don’t want to make drastic changes all at once, so I’m experimenting a bit with each batch. The changes this time were minor, and I couldn’t tell any difference! I figure every little bit helps. 🙂

  • I used 3 1/2 Tbsp. of butter instead of 4 (I plan to try 3 Tbsp. next time. I couldn’t tell the difference, so I’ll bet I could definitely use less.)
  • I traded out 1 Tbsp. of my regular flour for a Tbsp. of whole wheat flour. I’ll probably swap out even more next time.
  • I added a splash of vanilla extract to the batter.
  • I (obviously) used peaches instead of apples, and I’m sure that I used more than a cup of peaches. I put two whole peaches on top. Mo’ fruit is always mo’ better. 🙂

PeachyliciousI’m sure that, with all of the awesome cooks in blogland, I am certainly not the first person to lighten up an old family recipe. What was your most successful experience with lightening up an old favorite? Sometimes it is as easy as replacing regular cheese or sour cream with lighter cheese or Greek yogurt. Since this recipe is a little bit weird, I’m hesitant to make a big change all at once so I’m easing into it. I often like the lighter versions better, so we will see what happens with this one! I will say that I would never ditch the butter. It’s a key to the flavor, and it’s a real treat to my taste buds. However, if I can use less and still get the dish I love, I certainly will.

So, in keeping with sweet eats, I should mention that I went to a beautiful wedding in D.C. on Saturday night. I had some of this gorgeous cake:

Congratulations!!That cake was followed by an amazing red velvet cupcake that I took home from the wedding in a cute pink box (what an awesome favor!!), and enjoyed on Sunday. I savored every bite. Yum! Each cupcake had a fondant medallion with the couple’s last initial perched on the top. I thought that was a great idea for a favor!

I also enjoyed the centerpieces, although I didn’t enjoy them with my tastebuds. 😉 I love hydrangeas, and I had to snap a photo:

Pretty!The wedding was beautiful, and I hope my friends will have many happy years together! 🙂

Otherwise, this week has been kind of boring in the food department. I made a big batch food on the weekend, but it wasn’t really the type of thing that merits sharing a recipe. It was an attempt to rescue some produce from the brink. I cooked up a pound of 96/4 ground beef and sauteed in some squashes, slightly overripe heirloom tomatoes and a ton of herbs (oregano, thyme and basil) from my little balcony patch.

Mish MashI mixed it with a batch of Barilla plus elbows, and I’ve been having it for lunch each day topped with a bit of TJ’s light provolone.

Big Batch Munchy MunchI like Barilla plus pastas a lot, and they provide enough protein and fiber that they rank as more “valuable” than regular pasta in the nutrition department. This makes for a hearty and satisfying lunch. I cooked enough pasta so that I would have about half a serving of the pasta in each serving of the dish. It’s amazing how far the pasta goes when it is mixed with lots of tasty veggies and topped with cheese. Sometimes cleaning out the produce drawer turns out even better than expected. 🙂

Here’s something else I’ve been enjoying this week:

Dippity DooHoneycrisp apples and PB2 mixed with Almond Breeze! Honeycrisps are my very favorite apples. ILOVE them so much. I look forward to them every year. PB2 is, however, not my favorite peanut butter product. 😦 I bought some awhile ago, and it has been languishing in the pantry. It’s fine, but it doesn’t rock my socks off. I’d rather have a dab of real peanut butter (or almond butter… or cashew butter…) than a whole glob of PB2. Yes, in my world a glob is bigger than a dab. Do you agree? Anyway, I may have finally found a use for PB2 that I can get excited about. I mixed two Tbsp. of PB2 with enough almond breeze to make a rather thin dip. It went a long way, which was a good thing since this apple was ginormous! This will likely be the preferred method for consuming what’s left of my PB2 stash. Yum!

That basically covers my eats this week. Now, let’s play a game. Which of these pairs is not like the others?

New Shoes!I got an e-mail from Pacers yesterday reminding me about a 10K that will be happening on Saturday on the road in front of my apartment. Hmm… I haven’t really been running a lot as part of my cardio line-up lately, but it still seemed like a pretty good idea for me to sign up. I did that race a couple of years ago, and it was pretty fun. When I went to pick up my race packet this afternoon, I decided it was time to pick up some new shoes too. I’m an Asics girl, and I love my old 2130s. Today, I learned that the 2140s have arrived, and I’m happy to have a new pair of shoes that look different than the past three pairs I’ve had. They even have a cute little design on the tongues. Yay!!

I took my new shoesies for a test run this evening, and they felt great. I’m planning to just take my time on Saturday, and to walk part of the way if I feel like it. Since I haven’t really been training to run a 10K, I’m not out to set any new personal records, but I thought it would be a fun way to get in a Saturday workout. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I’m fit enough to sign up for a 10K and actually plan to run most of it. I remember the days when I would have had a hard time walking that distance. At 340 pounds, I started out by walking for a few minutes at a time, and then built on that a little each day. The fact that I can bike and kickbox and run and lift weights and just do what I do is still sort of weird to me. Sometimes, I’m so amazed at how far I’ve come, even when the scale is being stubborn, and that is always followed by a huge feeling of gratitude. Anything is possible, blog friends. Never forget that!

So that’s what I’ve been up to this week– all in one mondo post. I’ve also been getting caught up on a lot of blog reading/commenting, and I’ve checked out some new blogs (and new to me blogs) that I’m excited about. Although, I still get pretty excited about some of the oldies! Speaking of which… check out this happy anniversary giveaway at Green Dog Wine! Congrats, Green Doggie! 

Ok, Sweeties. I have to go and empty the dishwasher. I need to get my act together for FRIDAY!! YAY! 🙂 Here’s wishing you a great Friday, and an awesome weekend too! Ciao for now. 🙂

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Filed under Applesauce Pie, Baking, Cheap Eats, cooking, diet, Fitness, Food, PB2, Peaches, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story

Using Both Sides of the Card

Memaw's Recipe Box

What you see above, Sweeties, is my Memaw’s recipe box. It has a special spot in my kitchen, and it holds the secrets to many of the foods I loved as a child. It isn’t a simple feat to find things in here– Most cards have one recipe on the front and another recipe on the back. It makes organizing it an impossible task, but it also highlights my Memaw’s tendency to make the most of what she had. Using both sides of the card is a sign of thrift, and the recipe I want to share with you today is one of the thriftiest dessert recipes I know. 

Oddly enough, I couldn’t find this recipe in the recipe box, but my mother came to the rescue. Thanks, Mom! I’m sure the recipe is in the box… somewhere. I’m glad my mother is so organized! 🙂 This is a sweet treat that you can whip up with things you have on hand, and the ingredients are among the most basic and inexpensive things in the pantry. That seems to be especially relevant these days as people are definitely trying to find ways to use “both sides of the card.”

This recipe actually started with my Great Grandmother, and it has been prepared and enjoyed by each subsequent generation. She and my Great Grandfather (and later my Memaw and Papaw) were cotton sharecroppers who farmed in Arkansas and Tennessee. They never had a lot, but they used what they had wisely. This dessert is definitely a wise and delicious use of a few humble things! It’s also a good use of time. You can easily have it ready to go in the time it takes the oven to heat up. After my long and busy week, I wanted something quick and satisfying tonight, and this was the perfect thing. Another benefit is the fact that I only dirtied up a bowl, a pan, a fork, a measuring cup and a rubber spatula. Not bad for tasty dessert!

P-I-E Pie

Great Grandma Clement’s Easy Apple Pie

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon 

1/2 cup milk

1 cup sweetened applesauce or 1 cup peeled and thinly sliced apple

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, place the butter into a 9×9 baking dish, put it in the oven, and allow the butter to melt. While the oven is heating and the butter is melting, mix the dry ingredients together using a fork. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add the milk, and stir until the batter is smooth.

Once the butter is completely melted, pour the batter over the top of the butter. Pour the applesauce (or place the fruit) into the middle. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the crust begins to brown. If using fresh apples, the apples should begin to brown as well. I left mine in a little bit longer because I like for the edges to be super chewy and crispy. Mmm….

Just to illustrate:

Melted butter…

Like ButtahTopped with batter…

Battery ButterTopped with applesauce…

Applesauce PoolTurns into this…

Ta da!Close-up of the chewy and crispy edges (my favorite part!)…

Corner piece, please!

Makes 6-8 servings

As you can see, this “pie” kind of stretches the definition of what counts as a pie. Whatever you call it, I think it’s awesome! I added a little bit of nutmeg, and I used unsweetened Almond Breeze almond milk in place of regular milk. Otherwise, I didn’t tinker too much with the recipe. I wanted what I wanted. Ya know?

I’ve never tried it, but I feel certain that this would work well with lots of other fruits. I’m thinking…. peaches, pears or frozen berries, in particular. It is simple, humble, cozy and delicious. I have a strong suspicion that some of this pie may find its way into a bowl of oat bran in the morning. 😉

Since I’m counting calories while trying my best to respect my hunger signals these days, I took the time to figure out the calories for this recipe. Using almond milk instead of regular milk, one sixth of this pan was about 210 calories. That’s not as bad as I might have guessed! I was very pleasantly surprised. 🙂 As an added bonus, my apartment smells fabulous!

Now, I’m going to relax and watch a movie. Last night’s work out with my trainer was tougher than usual, and I’m VERY sore today. Some moves were new, and others were just altered to make them a souped up version of the usual (holding heavier weights while doing core, increasing the weight on weight machines, adding holds to lunges, that sort of thing). I’m happy about making progress, but I can tell that today needs to be a good, solid, rest day. Luckily, I have a cheesy French movie waiting for me, courtesy of Netflix, and some comfy frumpwear. I love my frumpwear!! 🙂

I hope you have an amazing weekend, and I hope you’ll try my Great Grandma’s recipe sometime when you need a bit of cheap cozy comfort and the smell of fall in your kitchen. Ciao for now, sweeties! 🙂 

Do you have a favorite dessert from your childhood?

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Filed under Applesauce Pie, Baking, Cheap Eats, cooking, Food, Money Saving Recipe, Recipes, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story

New Tricks

Scones!

Hi, Sweeties! This week has been so busy. I’m so glad the weekend is almost here! I’ve had basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch day after day, but I’m not complaining! Luckily, I’ve had a new breakfast up my sleeve (or… actually… in the freezer), and it has been getting me off to a good start in the mornings. What is your ideal breakfast for a busy day?

I’ve always loved the overly sugary and often frosted scones for sale at local coffee shops, but I’ve learned that they make a better dessert than meal. The hit of sugar gives me energy for a little while, but they aren’t very good when it comes to staying power. If I have one for breakfast, I’ll be hungry again in no time. I saw a scone recipe in a Prevention newsletter a few weeks ago that looked as if it might be a bit different. Whole wheat flour, a wealth of nuts, no sweetener aside from what is found in the protein rich vanilla yogurt, and a smattering of dried fruit makes for a delicious, but not too sweet, breakfast treat!!

Eight Meals in a Pan

The link to the original recipe can be found here.

I changed it a bit by using:

  • Regular whole wheat flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour for a nuttier and chewier texture
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. of canola oil instead of 2 Tbsp.
  • Lemon zest in place of orange zest 
  • Dried cherries instead of dried cranberries (b/c that was what I had in the pantry)

I like to have one of these scones with a big pile of fruit and my morning coffee.

BrekkieThe scones are yummy, and, thanks to the healthy fats and protein, they keep me full until lunch time!! I will be making these again, and, undoubtedly, experimenting with variations. I had a few fresh ones, but I froze most of the batch. I had my first scone from the freezer this morning. I zapped it for about 20 seconds, and that was long enough to thaw it out and warm it up just a bit. Tasty– and quicker than my bowl of oats!

I’m so sad that the summer peaches are almost gone. If the farmer I spoke with at the farmer’s market last week was right, I may not have any more of these little gems until next season:

Peachy KeenI’ve been stocking up each Saturday, and then using the paper bag trick to ripen a few at a time. I was spoiled by the peaches from Swihart Orchard, near my hometown, as a kid, and I never find peaches at the grocery store that are worthy of my spoiled taste buds. The peaches from the farmer’s market have been amazing, and I’m going to miss them so much!  🙂

Speaking of the farmer’s market, I happened to catch this fuzzy little guy frolicking among the blooms on Saturday:

BuzzzzzzzzzzI love blogging because I always seem to have my camera when I need it! 🙂

In other news, I tried a “new to me” product this week, and I’m a big fan! I’m sure many of you already keep these in your freezer, but, for those of you just starting to explore the realm of frozen veggie burgers, I thought I’d tell you about these:

Spicy!I always keep a variety of soy and veggie burgers in my freezer. While I like most of them just fine, there are only a few that I really get very excited about. These spicy black bean burgers are on that list! I had them crumbled on top of my lunchtime salads this week with lettuce, tomatoes, fresh corn, reduced fat Mexican cheese blend, fat free Greek yogurt and salsa.

EnsaladaYUM! Seriously, I even love the way these burgers smell while they are cooking. The only problem is the fact that I’ve eaten them all. I need to buy more!!

The other fun thing I’ve had this week is the result of a little griddler experiment. I was cooking a pork tenderloin on the griddler, and I wondered what would happen if I tossed some thinly sliced potato on with the pork.

Griddler Me ThisI’ve never tried to grill potatoes, and I wasn’t sure what would happen. I love making fries in the oven, but sometimes I just hate the time it takes to heat the oven to temperature. I would also hate to heat the whole oven to cook one little potato. If this worked… oh my! I’d have a whole new quick method for making something fry like! My fingers were crossed!!!

I sprayed the thin potato slices on both sides with cooking spray, and then sprinkled them with a little bit of salt. The end result:

YES!! Griddler Fries!Yes!!! We have griddler fries!! They were crispy on the outside, and nicely cooked in the center. A few of the thinner pieces got super crispy and tasted like potato chips. I’m so happy I tried this, and I’ll be making more… and more… and more… of them in the future! They went well with my sauteed swiss chard and pork tenderloin. Don’t be fooled by the photo, however. I did decide to have some ketchup with my fries. What could be better?

What’s your favorite way to eat a potato?

P.S. Mara is having an insanely awesome and cheesy giveaway. You should definitely check it out!!

Christina is also having a celebratory giveaway (Congrats, Christina!!) and you should check it out too!!

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Filed under Baking, cooking, diet, Farmer's Market, Food, Greek Yogurt, Nuts, Recipes, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story

Soup Weather

Lying MugThe mug. It lies. If I had a “Curried Carrot and Squash Soup” mug in the cabinet, I would have used it, but this seemed like a good alternative. 🙂

It seems like Labor Day flipped the switch on fall weather in D.C., and I’m not complaining! The weather this week has been decidedly fall like, and I’m loving every minute of it. In fact, it inspired me to make a warm, cozy and spicy soup with things I had on hand, and I wanted to share it with you.

I had a pile of yellow summer squash, a partially eaten bag of baby carrots and the usual staples of broth, onions, nut butter (of course!) and Greek yogurt (as always!!). Add to that, the variety of spices in my spice drawer, and a creamy soup was imminent. I used lots of spice, because I love a little burn, but if you aren’t a fan of spice, you could certainly use a bit less curry powder, give it a taste, and add more if you decide you want to kick it up a bit. What’s better than roasted veggies? They are always just the way I like them– nice and sweet!

Carrot Roast

Squash Roast

Pot of Coziness

Sweetie’s Curried Carrot and Squash Soup

Ingredients:

Cooking spray

3/4 pound baby carrots

1 1/2 pounds yellow squash, quartered and cut into 1/2 inch slices

salt

1/2 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground red pepper

1 Tbsp. almond or peanut butter

1/3 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Layer the baby carrots on one baking sheet. Spray the carrots with cooking spray and then sprinkle them with a bit of salt. Layer the squash chunks on the other baking sheet. Spray the squash with cooking spray and sprinkle it with a bit of salt.

Place both sheets in the oven. Roast the carrots for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they become soft and start to brown. Roast the squash for about 25 minutes, stirring the mixture at the halfway point. 

Heat 1/2 tsp olive oil in a 3 1/2 quart saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Reduce the heat and cook the onions for seven minutes, or until they become soft. Add the squash, carrots and broth to the saucepan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Add the curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, red pepper and nut butter to the veggie mixture. Using a blender, carefully puree the veggie mixture in batches. I usually remove the stopper from the top of the blender container and hold a dish towel loosely over the opening to allow some steam to escape while the veggies are pureeing. They are hot and they will spatter so be careful!

Add all of the pureed vegetables back to the saucepan. Stir in the Greek yogurt, and heat the mixture through on medium heat. Add salt to taste.

This makes 5 or 6 servings

The roasted veggies make it slightly sweet. The spices make it cozy, and the nut butter and Greek yogurt add creaminess as well as protein. This soup is low calorie with a high satisfaction factor. That’s a match made in heaven!

I’ve been having this for lunch over the past few days, and I’ve been looking forward to it each time. While packing my lunches this week, I realized it has been awhile since I have made a big batch type food for my lunchtime munching. I love having a hearty and filling soup ready to go in the morning, and then being able to match it up with whatever suits my whim– peanut butter on an Arnold’s sandwich thin, hummus and pita, cheese and crackers, whatever! I know that the soup will guarantee that I will have a full tummy, and that’s a good thing! Soup is also one of my favorite ways to eat my veggies. 🙂

Since the weather is cooling off, I thought I’d give you a little flashback with links to some of the soup type things I’ve made and blogged about in the past:

“Big Batch” Bulgur Chili

Cleaning Up the Apartment Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup

Creamy Cauliflower and Cannellini Soup

Just Sweet Enough Pinto Bean Soup with Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

“Not Going to the Store” Garlic Scape, Eggplant and Red Lentil Stew

“Project: Clean Out the Freezer” Spinach and Sausage Soup

Super Quick Lentil, Carrot and Tomato Soup

My little trip down memory lane reminded me of several things I need to make in the cooler months to come. I see bulgur chili in my near future for sure.

Bulgur ChiliMmmmm…..

Most of the soups I make are created using what I have on hand. How about you? Do you have a favorite soup, stew or type of chili? Is there one ingredient that always inspires you to whip up a pot of comfort?


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Filed under cooking, diet, Food, Greek Yogurt, Lowfat, Recipes, Soup, Squash, Uncategorized, Vegetarian Recipes, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Success Story

Taste Testing: Emeril’s Essentials

TomatoliciousHi, Sweeties! I just couldn’t resist sharing this luscious tomato picture. I’ve been getting awesome tomatoes at the farmer’s market all summer long, and I will miss them when they’re gone. What an easy side dish! Slice and serve. That’s perfect for a busy summer!

I love things that make cooking easier in the summer. Summer is the time that I’m most likely to find myself cooking at a campsite or beach rental–  places where pre-made spice blends come in handy, and it is the season when I’d rather be outside than in a hot kitchen following an ingredient list a mile long. Do you take shortcuts during the summer? Let’s be honest too. If you have awesome produce, it takes very little effort to make a delicious meal.

I received a few new summer shortcut type items a month or two ago through my participation in the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. I love trying new things, and it’s even more awesome when I can try them for free. I received a box full of products created by Emeril Lagasse. The box contained a container of Emeril’s Original Essence, Emeril’s All Natural Steak Rub, Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard, and Emeril’s Chicken Stock. Sad to say, the chicken stock package did not survive shipping, and the broth was seeping out through the top of the tetrapack. With safety in mind, I tossed the chicken stock. I have enjoyed using the other items, and I thought I’d give you a little run down on what I did with them, along with some basic info.

Emeril’s Original Essence

Bam-tasticEmeril’s original essence is a pretty traditional seasoning blend– salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, spices and onion powder are the listed ingredients. Salt is first, and that’s something to keep in mind when sprinkling this on. I treated it in the way I would treat salt, just to be sure that I didn’t overdo it. I didn’t find it to be spicy at all, but it did add a nice bit of savory flavor. 

I used it to spice up some zucchini that was headed for the griddler. You’ll see the finished zucchini later in the post. 

ZucchiniI also sprinkled a bunch of Essence on top of a couple of chicken breasts that I put into the slow cooker with a can of Ro-tel. 

Chicky SchnickyThe garlic and onion in the essence went well with the spicy Ro-tel, and I ended up with a bunch of nicely seasoned shredded chicken taco meat at the end of the day.

Essential ChickenI had some of it on a bed of brown rice along with some black beans, feta cheese, Greek yogurt, tomatoes and avocado. Yum!

Lovely MessIs the Essence an essential pantry ingredient? While I liked this product, I can’t say that it really rocked my socks off. It was fine, but nothing unusual. I don’t really mind mixing individual spices from my pantry when seasoning my food. In making my own, I would go heavier on the spices and lighter on the salt. I’m sure I could have used more essence to add more flavor, but, due to amount of salt, my food would have been way oversalted.

Having said that, if you don’t have room in your kitchen for a lot of different little spice bottles, or if you are trying to pack lightly for a camping trip or a beach vacay, this blend would be a great thing to have on hand for a bit of extra flavor. It’s also quicker than making your own blend, so it will get you out of the kitchen a tiny bit quicker too, if that’s a concern.

Now, onto the rub…

Emeril’s All Natural Steak Rub

This steak rub has a lot going for it. Just look at the blend:

SpicyThe list of ingredients includes: salt, black pepper, minced garlic, minced onion, crushed red pepper, spices, chopped red bell pepper, granulated onion, granulated garlic. According to info on the side of the container, one of the spices is coriander. The rest are a bit of a mystery. 🙂 Like the essence, the first ingredient is salt, so it’s important to keep that in mind when deciding how much to use. I don’t tend to like my foods super salty so I always proceed with caution where salt is concerned. 

I really liked the flavor of this blend, and it was certainly convenient. The chopped red bell pepper really stood out. How did I use it? 

I mixed some into a pound of 96/4 ground beef and made steaky burgers. I like that you can see the seasonings.

Steaky Burgers

Remember the zucchini that I sprinkled with Essence?

BurgerliciousI thought these burgers were easy and good. The rub really gave them a steak house flavor, and it required little effort to mix some rub in. I think I added 2 1/2 tsp to my pound of ground beef, and it was just about right.

I also used the rub on some awesome petite filets that I splurged on at the farmer’s market:

Happy Beef

Ready for the RubI didn’t use a lot of olive oil, but I did use just enough to moisten the rub and allow it to stick to the steaks. I rubbed it on, and let the beef sit for a bit. Then, my friend, Mr. T, and I cooked the steaks in a skillet on the stove. I sometimes overcook meat using the griddler, and I didn’t want to risk it with these little lovelies. Medium rare for me, please!

VoilaAlongside the steak, we had a bit of sauteed arugula with lemon zest and pine nuts as well as a lovely pile of polenta with gorgonzola and fresh thyme from the balcony. I must have polenta with gorgonzola again sometime. It was seriously good! The steak turned out just the way I like it, and I really thought the flavor of the rub enhanced the great taste of the beef. 

Would Sweetie Pie buy this at the store? The quick answer is “yes.” While I have some rub recipes that I mix up myself from time to time, I really liked the flavor of this product and would substitute it for one of my homemade rubs without any consternation. I especially loved it in the burgers, and I think I might keep it around as a burger seasoning if nothing else. I thought the big flakes of red bell pepper made it unique, and I loved the seedy coriander and the healthy amount of black pepper. I like the rub. Emeril, I give you a “bam” on this one!!

Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard

The final product I’ve been trying is Emeril’s Kicked Up Horseradish Mustard:

Kick it up a notch, please!I will admit that I haven’t gotten very creative with this mustard, but I have used enough of it to have an opinion. The steaky burger pictured above is topped with a mix of this mustard, mayo and blue cheese. I’ve had it on numerous turkey sandwiches and on a few chicken sausages too, but I have no photos to share. My verdict? Sorry, Emeril. I don’t think this is kicked up at all, and I barely taste the horseradish. That was a disappointment. I like horseradish, and I was hoping this mustard would have a healthy dose of horseradishy heat. Instead, it is quite mild and just tastes kind of like dijon. It’s perfectly fine, as far as dijon goes, but it’s nothing to get excited about if you are a horseradish lover. The bottom line: this is fine, but it’s nothing special. 

So there you have it. I tried to give you my honest opinion on these products, and I hope I didn’t hurt Emeril’s feelings when it comes to his mustard. 🙂 I’m sure he reads my blog. Ha ha!! Just kidding, of course.

Maybe I was expecting more spice and flavor from the mustard and the essence as well. This could be due to the fact that I’ve seen countless audiences yelling “BAM” as Emeril has chopped a garlic clove or lifted his pepper mill. I’m glad that doesn’t happen in my kitchen, by the way. I would not enjoy having people yell while I was cooking. Anyway, I think I equate Emeril with these strong and spicy flavors, and I don’t think the essence or the mustard really lived up to the expectation I had in my mind.

I’m curious to know if any of you have tried these products, and whether you agree/disagree with my take on them. Do you have a favorite pre-mixed spice blend?

Now, I’m off to the gym. Ciao for now, sweeties and have a great day!!

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Filed under cooking, Farmer's Market, Food, Slow Cooker, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Success Story, Zucchini

Lightened Squash Casserole a la Sweetie Pie

Squash Casserole

I try to eat a healthy diet. Really, I do. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up eating lots of vegetables. They were just typically smothered in cheese or pork fat. I’m so happy that I now enjoy my vegetables naked or with simpler preparations. That’s not to say that… sometimes… I miss some of the old recipes.

Yellow squash might be one of my favorite vegetables. What’s your favorite veggie?

SquashAs a kid, we would sometimes have it boiled down and mashed with butter. Other times, it might find its way into a stir fry with other things from the garden. My faaaaavorite way to eat it, however, was in a cheesy squash casserole. 

I was recently reorganizing my pantry as part of my pantry clean out effort, and I came across a forgotten can.

Mysterious and DeliciousI bought these when making a green bean casserole for a holiday get together sometime back. Yes, the can has the word “New!” on it, but these are anything but. Anyway, I feel like this is a true confession of some sort. Yes. My name is Sweetie Pie, and I had a can of fried onions, that strange ingredient that shows up frequently in casseroles and at southern potluck parties, hanging out in my pantry. I decided to ignore the list of somewhat mysterious “ingredients” and whip up a lightened version of an old favorite. I can’t tell you for certain what these are really made of, but, um… I can tell you that I kind of dig them in a casserole. 

Din Din

Sweetie’s “Lighten Up” Squash Casserole

Ingredients:

1 pound summer squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 cup chopped onions

cooking spray

3/4 cup egg beaters

2 Tbsp. skim milk

4 ounces grated light sharp cheddar (I used Cabot 75% reduced fat cheddar but any cheese (reduced fat or not) would work)

1/2 cup French fried onions

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. dried mustard

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Steam the squash until it is tender. It took about 8 minutes for my slices to steam in a metal steamer basket set into a pot of boiling water. 

While the squash is steaming, saute the onion in a skillet coated with cooking spray or a bit of olive oil.

Spray a 2 qt. casserole dish with cooking spray and set it aside.

When the onions are tender, probably after about seven minutes of cooking, add the steamed squash to the onions and continue to cook for about three minutes. During this time, use the edge of your spatula to break up the squash and incorporate it with the onions. This will also help to dry the squash out a bit which should help to prevent a soggy casserole. Remove from the heat.

Squash chopperyWhile the squash cools a bit, set aside half of the cheese and half of the onions to use as a topping. Combine the remaining half of the cheddar cheese and fried onions in a medium sized bowl along with the eggbeaters, milk, salt, pepper and spices.

Gradually add the squash and onion mixture to the egg beater mixture, stirring while you add the warm ingredients to keep the egg from scrambling.

Pour the mixture into your casserole dish, and then top it with the remaining fried onions followed by the remaining cheddar. Pop it into the oven and bake it for 35 minutes or until the egg is set and the cheese starts to brown on the top.

Oven Ready

I divided mine into six servings. 🙂 

I’ve got to get to bed, but before I go I want to say a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my Aunt Nancy. I ate some of my homemade ice cream this evening and had a little celebration of my own in her honor. 🙂 It was always so nice having my aunt and uncle close by, and I always looked forward to spending time with them in the Ozarks each summer. My brother and I would get to go swimming in nearby creeks and rock quarries, visit Branson and Silver Dollar City, pick blackberries in the woods, feed the flying squirrels and just generally have a great time at their house each summer. As the song goes…. “Thanks for the memories…” and a very happy birthday to you!

Now, I’m off to bed. Tomorrow is Friday. Woo hoo!!! Ciao for now, y’all and have a great weekend!

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Filed under Casserole, cooking, diet, Food, Lowfat, Recipes, Squash, Uncategorized, Vegetarian Recipes, Weight Loss