Sunday, June 15, 2014

Opa to Summer with Greek Kale Pasta Salad

I started this blog back in the day to encourage myself to cook more and to start really testing and tracking my own recipes so I could document my favorite meals and come back to them again and again. Sharing with the world was really secondary, but it's been so great to hear from friends in real life that they read and try what I cook here, and to see some of my more popular tweaks on dishes get shared on Pinterest hundreds of times by complete strangers. And what's even better is it keeps me honest. So I've heard plenty of "what happened to your blog?" and "when are you going to post again?" and here I am, back. So where have I been?

I'm happy to announce that after 10 years and two cats together, my husband and I will be welcoming our first child at the end of September. First trimester and the beginning of the second came with intense nausea that made it impossible to cook - I couldn't even look at a vegetable without gagging and the smell of certain foods cooking would turn my stomach in knots. That on top of my sudden need to sleep 10-12 hours a night put my cooking on a serious hiatus.

Then around weeks 12-14 I started to turn a corner and could eat real foods again. Salads! Seafood! Small plates! Oh my! And while I have been feeling fantastic since pulling through a rough first trimester, the hardest curveball of all was still coming our way. At the 20 week ultrasound, where we found out we are having a boy, we unfortunately also got the news that our son will be born with a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot. He'll face multiple surgeries in his first months of life, but we're told that after a full repair of his heart we'll have a healthy, rambunctious baby. We're working with a great team of medical professionals and are so thankful to be surrounded by a fantastic and supportive network of family and friends to help us through this bump in the road. 

Now that we've made it through the initial diagnosis, we're trying to get back to a sense of normalcy and continue preparing for the birth of our first child like normal parents - buying onesies, looking a paint samples, and fawning over baby toys. And I'm happily back to cooking and entertaining friends in our new apartment. With that, I'm here bringing you a perfect summer pasta salad with a Greek twist and some added kale full of healthy fats and folic acid and everything that's good for expecting moms and non-pregnant humans alike.

You'll need:
  • 3 cups dry whole wheat penne (aka 10 oz dry pasta)
  • 8 cups fresh kale, stems removed
  • Juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup light feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup peperoncini peppers, whole or diced, your call

For the Greek Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbs prepared brown mustard
  • 1/2 tsp agave nectar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tbs fresh oregano
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta as you normally would. Steam the kale - I add about 1/4 cup of water in a large microwave safe bowl and microwave for 2 minutes, then strain out excess water. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the kale, massage gently for a few seconds, and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, make the vinaigrette. See ingredient list above, whisk together and set aside.

Let the pasta cool then mix together with kale, cherry tomatoes, olives, peperoncini, and feta cheese. Gradually pour the vinaigrette over the pasta mixture and toss until evenly coated. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least a half an hour before serving.

This is a perfect quick summer dish - no heating up the oven and heating up a hot house. It's also great to make a big batch of salad on Sunday for cool, crisp, healthy lunches all week.

The recipe above makes at least 4 larger servings at just 550 calories each. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Skinny Spinach and Pesto Lasagna Rolls with Chicken Sausage

I love lasagna as much as any other fat, orange house cat, but there's something about making the dish that is an ordeal. So many layers, such a long baking time, and with all those noodles, even if you try to make a healthier lasagna, you're still going to get hit with a calorie bomb. That is why I love the lasagna "roll ups" that have been blowing up on Pinterest. So much quicker to assemble and, with less pasta per serving, you get a lower calorie dish with much more emphasis on the delicious, cheesy filling part (also known as the good part) compared to it's cousin, lasagna. 

On my take here, I add some lean protein by way of chicken sausage and sneak in some leafy greens with steamed spinach. 

You'll need:
  • 8 sheets of lasagna 
  • 15 oz part skim ricotta 
  • 2 tbs pesto 
  • 3 links italian chicken sausage, crumbled 
  • 8 cups spinach steamed - fresh or frozen is fine
  • 1/2 cup part skim shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup parmesan 
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara
Calories: 250 calories per roll

Set the oven to 350 degrees. Boil and cook the noodles as you normally would over high heat. Meanwhile, get some mise en place going. Break apart the chicken sausage with your hands. Steam the spinach. Stir pesto into ricotta until they are evenly mixed. I just toss the pesto into the ricotta container to save from cleaning an extra dish. Dish cleaning reduction is one of my primary goals in any recipe.

Set yourself up so you have an assembly line of ricotta and pesto, crumbled chicken sausage, and steamed spinach. Spray a pyrex pan with olive oil and begin assembling your rolls. Lay out the rolls one at a time in the pan and first spread on about 2 heaping spoonfuls of the ricotta pesto mix. Then, sprinkle on the chicken sausage on top of that. Add some spinach on the very top and roll the stuffed lasagna noodle from one end to the other into a spiral roll. Repeat until you've got them all laid out in the pan.

Top the rolls with marinara sauce, spooning the sauce over one roll at a time so it's evenly distributed. Repeat with shredded mozzarella cheese and finish off the dish with a sprinkling of parmesan. 

Pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes.

You'll know it's done when the cheese is getting browned and the sauce is nice and bubbly. Serve with a side salad and a big ol' glass of vino because, damn it, you earned it!

At 250 calories a roll, with plenty of lean protein, low fat dairy, and hidden veggies, feel free to shovel  these into your face without much guilt. Continue to hate Mondays. That's what the wine is for.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Chicken Verde Soup with Kale and Avocado for 250 calories

Yes, it's  been awhile. Yes, I self admittedly spent the last few months of 2013 not cooking much at all, and eating a bit too much of things that aren't great for me, and not thinking of each meal at home as a potential blog post, and generally letting myself focus on friends and family and work and relaxing. And it was FAN-FRIGGING-TASTIC. But it's a new year, a clean slate, and I'm refreshed, recharged, and happy to be back in the kitchen.

After the holidays, I think we all find ourselves craving all things fresh and green (or at least know we ought to start slowly reintroducing those food groups to our diet), so this soup is a great way to shovel a bunch of super foods into your mouth while only getting one pot dirty. This is also paleo and keto friendly if you're following one of those religiously after your New Year's resolution kicked in.

You'll need:
  • 1 tbs olive oil 
  • 3 cloves garlic 
  • 1/2 medium onion (yellow preferred) 
  • 1 tbs chopped jalapenos
  • 4 cups chicken broth 
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (500 cals)
  • 12 oz salsa verde 
  • juice of one lime 
  • 4 cups of kale 
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika and/or cayenne pepper
  • PLUS 1/2 an avocado for slicing, per bowl/serving

Makes about 6 large bowls
125 calories each without avocado, 250 calories with 1/2 an avocado added

In a large pot for which you have a cover, heat up the olive oil over medium high heat until the pan feels hot when you hover your palm over it. Add in the minced onion and garlic and cook until they begin to soften. Then, add in jalapenos (I used jarred, fresh is OK, too!) and stir for about 10-20 seconds, until fragrant.

Pour in the chicken broth and bring the mix to a boil. When it's at a boil, drop in your chicken breasts, whole and uncooked, and lower the heat down to medium to keep it bubbling but not at a full roiling boil. Cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes, or until breast is cooked through.

Pull out the breast, and set the chicken aside to cool for a couple of minutes so you can shred it. In the meantime, pour in the salsa verde and lime juice and keep the pot on simmer. Add salt, pepper and seasonings to taste (see suggested amounts in ingredients list, but feel free to tweak to make it as spicy and smokey as you'd like) and let that simmer as we return to the chicken.

Shred the chicken once it is cool enough to do so, and add it in the pot along with the kale. Turn the heat up a bit to medium, and cook for another 10-15 minutes. You should at least get it back to a boil at some point during the final cooking period. The broth should have an even consistency and the kale should be softened.

Serve with a half of a sliced avocado for a serious power food punch. The soup is only 125 calories a serving without the avocado, but the avocado adds some much needed additional texture as well as a boat load of nutrients and good fats to keep you full, all for still around 250 calories, depending on the size of your avocado.

This is a great recipe to make on a Sunday and then bring in for lunch at work all week. It's almost like a salad but, you know, warm and not bleak in the middle of winter. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

15 Minute Lower Calorie Pesto

My husband is the green thumb in the house. I have literally murdered cactus plants in my lifetime, but my male counterpart has used our tiny urban patio to grow cherry tomatoes and a wide array of herbs this spring and into summer. Between that an a co-worker with a much larger garden of her own out in the 'burbs, I found myself with a ton of basil just sitting in my fridge. There was only one thing to do: Make pesto.

This recipe is blatantly stolen from Cooking Light and was originally brought to my attention by my mom who still snail mails me recipes written on index cards, which is just yet another reason I deeply, deeply love her. This pesto recipe comes in under 60 calories a tablespoon and produces a dense pesto with a lot of flavor, so a little goes a long way.

I timed myself the other day and I promise you, this took me less than 15 minutes to throw together, including pulling basil leaves from stems which is always THE WORST. For how fresh this pesto tastes compares to store bought versions, it's totally worth the extra effort every once and a while. You can freeze leftovers in ice cube trays, too, and have your own fresh pesto ready to go all year long.

You'll need: 
- 4 cups of fresh basil
- 2 tbs pine nuts
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tbs olive oil
- cracked sea salt to taste

Calories: 58 calories per tablespoon
Compare to normal pesto that is 80-100 calories per tablespoon

Let's start with the prep work. In a small non-stick pan over medium-low heat, toast the pine nuts until they are lightly brown. Strip the basil leaves off of the stems.

When the pine nuts are nice and toasty, add them along with the garlic, basil leaves and parmesan cheese in your food processor. Process for about a minute until everything is well chopped.

Then pour in your olive oil and process for about another minute. Stop, scrape the sides of the processor to get all the good bits down to the bottom and process again for 30 seconds or so. Repeat the process until all is well mixed. BOOM, pesto! You made pesto! You did it! Go you!

Things I do with this pesto:
  • Mix it with olive oil mayo for an easily spreadable pesto mayonnaise. Add to all sandwiches ever because DUH. I had an egg sandwich with provolone and pesto mayo this morning. Yum x infinity.
  • Pesto pizza is everything to me. Use my pizza crust recipe, top with pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes. I usually add shrimp, too. Maybe some mushrooms.
  • Ditto for pesto pasta. Toss a tablespoon or two with cooked spaghetti, add a little extra parmesan. That's it. You're done. Amazing dinner.
  • Make a fresh caprese tossed salad with fresh mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and the pesto.
  • Add it to your cheese plate. This pesto? On a really great cracker? With maybe some great goat cheese? Or burrata? Done.
  • Stir some into your tomato or vegetable soup to take it to the next level.
  • Pesto shrimp skewers. Mix raw shrimp. With pesto. Grill. Ditto with chicken.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sour Cream Half Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate Chip Muffins for 230 Calories

I don't love most muffins. Blueberry, okay. Lemon poppyseed, whatever. Bran, who even invited you? But I DO deeply love chocolate chip muffins. Really chocolate chip anything can get it in my book. I adapted this recipe from Bakerella and I really love the not-too-sweet-but-instead-tangy element the sour cream brings to the table. As I have mentioned numerous times before, baking is not my forte. So you know if I'm bringing you a baked good recipe, it's pretty damn easy and reliable.

I try to reduce the amount of white flour I consume, and from what I've read you really can't bake with 100% whole wheat without everything going awry. So instead I use a 50/50 mix of white and whole wheat to at least get part of the way to a healthy option. I also swapped in some lower calorie, lower fat dairy options and switched the chocolate to dark to reduce the baked goods guilt even further.

You'll need:
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 3/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 melted butter
  • 6 oz dark chocolate chips
Recipe makes a dozen muffins, at 230 calories a muffin

Set the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together both flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the sour cream, almond milk, eggs, vanilla and butter until everything is evenly mixed. Add the flour mixture and fold in until there are no dry patches. Add the chocolate chips. Evenly divide the batter into a lined muffin baking tray. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

I recently made these for a friend's baby shower I hosted and everyone else was obsessed with them as I am. And honestly, for 230 calories with half whole grains and dark chocolate, you're not going to ruin your whole day with this warm, fluffy treat.

I recommend serving with mimosas because that's just what I always do. Life is better with mimosas. I dare anyone to suggest otherwise.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

200 Calorie Asian Turkey Meatballs

I love doing meatballs in the oven. It's such a quick, easy dinner. You only really have to clean one bowl and everything is done in under a half an hour.

You'll need:

  • 1/2 pound ground lean turkey
  • 1 egg 
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat panko crumbs
  • 1 tbs ginger paste or freshly grated ginger
  • 1-2 tsp Sriracha sauce, depending on how spicy you want it
  • 2 tbs diced green onions 
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
200 calories a serving

This makes about 10 meatballs and is enough for two as a meal. Double or triple accordingly.

A couple of notes - I think we all know Sriracha makes everything better, so feel free to add or cut back on the magic rooster sauce depending on how spicy you want your meatballs. In a pinch, you can substitute regular onions for green onions and garlic powder for cloves. Do you, work with your pantry, etc.

Lastly, as previously I have sung the praises of Gourmet Garden's tube o' basil, I'm also obsessed with their ginger paste. Let's be real, fresh ginger is kind of a pain to grate and work with, but this ginger paste is crazy flavorful, keeps forever, and you only need to squeeze. It's usually in the produce section of the grocery store by the fresh herbs.

I am in no way sponsored by the Gourmet Garden corporation. BUT I WOULD LOVE TO BE.

Set the oven to 350. In a large bowl, take all the ingredients and hand mix (like really, get your hands in there) them together until you've got an even mixture. On a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or tin foil, roll ping pong ball sized meatballs of the turkey mixture and spread them out so they're not touching. Bake for 22-25 minutes.

I like to serve these with edamame for a quick weeknight dinner. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

DIY Iced Coffee

I put in some time as a barista during my senior year of high school, and I have pretty much been a coffee fiend ever since. I'm usually content to brew my own at home or the office in a good ol' fashioned Mr. Coffee. Once summer hits, though, nothing but sweet, sweet iced coffee will do, so for years I've been forking my cash over to local coffee houses and the ever present Starbucks conglomerate to scratch my caffeine itch. 

Thanks as always to Pinterest, I've tested a few different methods of cold brewing my own iced coffee concentrate, and I present to you my perfected recipe.

You'll need:
- a large pitcher, a large mixing bowl and a strainer
- 3/4 cup of ground coffee beans of your choosing
- 4 1/2 cups cold, filtered water

This is going to make about enough iced coffee concentrate to make yourself a morning iced coffee all week long.

In a large pitcher, dump in the ground coffee beans. Pour in 4 1/2 cups of cold, filtered water. Filtered is key here. If you've got a Britta or your fridge has a filtered water dispenser, you're good. Stir with a large mixing spoon until the coffee and water are well mixed. Over time, some of the ground coffee will float to the top - that's totally fine. I have yet to find a way to fight gravity, and it does not seem to have any affect on the final product.

Place the coffee and water mix in the fridge for at least 8 hours. I usually mix this Sunday night so it's ready for me Monday morning. 

Before filtering                                         After filtering

Once the mixture has set for at least 8 hours, it's ready for filtering. Pour the pitcher's contents through a strainer into a large mixing bowl, separating the grounds from the liquid coffee concentrate. Rinse the pitcher thoroughly so there are no grounds left. Filter the liquid coffee concentrate back into the clean pitcher. This is your coffee concentrate mix. 

The first strain.                                The second strain.

Note that you have now made iced coffee concentrate. It is concentrated, so you really don't want to drink it straight unless you like really, really strong coffee. What you do with the iced coffee concentrate from this point on is up to your personal taste. If you like strong, pure coffee, just pouring the concentrate over ice may be all you want. 

Here's my daily iced coffee recipe:

1) Take your personal travel tumbler or favorite tall glass. Add three large ice cubes.
2) Pour in 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk.
3) Add iced coffee concentrate to the top of the glass.
4) Stir in 1 tsp of agave nectar. Stir.
5) Drink during your walk to work. Come to the office ready to take on the world, all for 35 calories.