Smorgasbord

When we were growing up, my mom would pull everything out the fridge every 2-3 weeks, pile it up on the counter and hand us a plate. We called it “Smorgasbord” and as a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. As the cook, now I get why my mom did that. There’s nothing more annoying than whipping up yet another meal when there’s at least 2-3 days worth of leftovers taking up real estate in your fridge. After hosting both sets of our parents, one sibling and two out of town friends over the course of one weekend, we had some serious leftovers hanging out in our fridge. So Sunday afternoon, I pulled everything out, piled it up on the counter and handed out the plates.

Anything You Want, We Got It.

Anything You Want, We Got It.

 

This is one of the most delicious meals I think I’ve had in awhile! Toasted whole wheat bread and snow peas with hummus, and a salad with lunchmeat turkey, strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Sometimes the most simple meals taste the most delicious!

Not bad for leftovers

Not bad for leftovers

Pork with Peanut Sauce

Eating healthy usually means eating a lot of chicken – so to change it up, I try to include at least one pork recipe each week. Pork tenderloin is a super lean choice: 3 oz of lean pork tenderloin is 140 calories. Exactly the same as 3 oz of boneless, skinless chicken breast! The key to yummy pork is pairing it with some super savory flavors.

One of my favorite dishes are Thai-inspired dishes that feature peanut sauce. Yum, yum, yum. However, as you can imagine, a sauce that basically stars peanut butter can be prettttty caloric. You know of course, if I’m telling you about it, that I’ve messed with some recipe out there to tweak the calories. This recipe started out as the recipe from Everyday Food (a favorite of mine), before I started playing with it.

The fixins'

The fixins'

Gather the ingredients: creamy peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and chili powder.
Into the blender or food processor: 1/4 cup smooth pb, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 t brown sugar, 1/4 tsp chili powder, 1 clove of garlic and a few shakes of ginger.

Blended Peanut Sauce

Blended Peanut Sauce

This makes about 6 2-Tablespoon servings, which is plenty to drizzle on top of your meat. Each serving of the sauce is 80 calories – not bad for a peanut sauce, at all! You don’t have to heat it, and it’ll stay in the fridge if you’ve got leftovers.

Once that’s all blended, put the pork on a grill pan or in a fry pan with some cooking spray and get some stir-fry veggies sizzling in another pan with a little bit of olive oil or sesame oil. Once the hot stuff is ready to go, just load up on a plate and drizzle 2-T of the peanutty sauce on top and gobble it up! Yum!

Pork with Peanut Sauce

Pork with Peanut Sauce

SteamFresh, SodiumFull

The other night we tried Bird’s Eye “Steamfresh Meals for Two” Asian Style Vegetables for dinner. I’m a huuuuuuuge fan of Bird’s Eye bags of veggies that you steam, so I was pretty psyched to try their meals. 7 minutes in the microwave and it was done, and ready to go on our plates – unbelievable!

SteamFresh Asian Style Chicken Vegetable Medley

SteamFresh Asian Style Chicken Vegetable Medley

The taste was pretty good – the veggies and chicken were perfectly cooked and the sauce was pretty light. I also sautéed some extra veggies we had on hand to add to it, so when all was said and done it was really filling.

Sizzle, Sizzle, Sizzle

Sizzle, Sizzle, Sizzle

However, I committed a rookie error. Forgot to look at the nutrition label BEFORE I bought. I know, I know – I can’t believe it either. (I had a coupon!!!) Or maybe I just looked at the cals and threw it in the cart – I can’t recall. Either way: I should know better.

Ready for this? Calories: 290 per serving. Fantastic. Sodium? 1290 mg. ::::insert sound of me gagging, clutching my throat and falling to the floor:::: Ok, so the bag says that’s only 54% of your daily recommended amount (ONLY!), but the sneaky thing about that percentage is that’s based on 2400 mg … the tolerable amount. Really the amount of sodium you need in a day is a mere 1200-1400 mg. So that tasty little treat of Asian style veggies and noodles? Knocks out your daily needs right there.

Final Product: Lo Mein with a Side of Sodium

Final Product: Lo Mein with a Side of Sodium

And don’t even think of adding any soy sauce! Ack!

Since cooking the real deal stir-fry only takes maybe 5 minutes more, I’ll stick to that. Sorry, Bird’s Eye – I’ll be loyal to your veggie bags, but you can forget about me ever buying those steamer meals again. I love my perfectly normal blood pressure way too much for that!

No Stress Dinner: Stir-Fry

Most of the time I love cooking, but some nights I’m just tired or rushed and it seems like such an effort to dredge out all the ingredients and get something healthy going. But I usually still prefer to eat at home than eat out, so I have a secret weapon up my sleeve for a stay at home dinner that is always fast, very healthy and always yummy: STIR FRY. Stir-Fry is my go to meal – I think we probably have it at least once a week. But the best part about it is that you can make so many variations, it never feels as if it’s the same old, same old.

You can vary the meat: shrimp, chicken and pork are my favorite stir-fry meats. I’ve also skipped the meat and done tofu or edamame as my protein, but I usually have a meat to add for certain members of the house who may not be as enthralled with the idea of plant-based protein.

The veggies are the easiest part: I always keep at least one bag of frozen stir-fry veggies on hand in my freezer. I load up if there’s a sale, and there’s a couple of different mixes to keep it interesting: a broccoli-based mix, a snow-pea mix, etc. You can also use veggies that you have on hand already, such as onions, squash and zucchini, green peppers, mushrooms, corn – pretty much anything.

I use just a little bit of olive oil or sesame oil to cook the meat and veggies. Rice vinegar mixed with soy sauce is another really easy combination, and you can add garlic, chili pepper or onions to give it some extra kick. Or you can add a little bit of pineapple juice or orange juice if you want more of a sweet and sour taste – just add a little cornstarch to thicken as it cooks. All of these are pantry staples I keep on hand, so stir-fry is one of those meals I can pull together without even having to turn my brain on.

Stir Fry Staples

Stir Fry Staples

Depending on what else you have on hand, you can add little relishes to it that give it the illusion of being a well-thought out, put-together meal. My favorite: adding cilantro to the end result, or sprinkling on a little bit of crushed peanuts or cashews. (Note: a little bit.)

Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop

Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop

I also love Success Boil-in-a-bag Brown Rice (another pantry staple), and right before serving it, I pour the rice back into the stir-fry bowl (veggies and meat are removed), crack 2 egg whites in and stir it around. The appearance and tasted of fried rice without actually frying the rice. My other favorite “bed” for stir-fry is to just lay it all on top of a handful of shredded cabbage. The contrast between the cold, crispy cabbage and the hot, sauteed veggies is so yummy.

The Pantry Staples

The Pantry Staples

Finished Product.... Pretty Enough to Eat!

Finished Product.... Pretty Enough to Eat!

So there you have it – my secret to surviving the “I’m too busy to cook!!” nights.

Hawaiian Chicken Salad

For those of you in my group on Wednesday, I promised to post the link here of the Hawaiian Chicken Salad since we ran out of hard copies! I love this recipe – the juice from the pineapple means you use very minimal mayo for the whole dish! This is really yummy served on top of bibb lettuce, or on a toasted piece of whole wheat bread. It’s also a great dish to take to a party, since no one is really going to guess it’s low cal. See below & enjoy!

Hawaiian Chicken Salad

Yield: 4 cups Per ½ cup serving: 90 calories

1/8 tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ cup light mayonnaise
2 cups cooked and diced chicken

½ cup cooked celery
½ cup chopped green onions
¼ cup chopped green pepper
8 oz can crushed pineapple in juice, drained

Preparation:
1. Mix together first three ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine chicken, vegetables and pineapple. Toss to mix.
3. Stir in mayonnaise mixture until moistened. Chill 1 hour to blend flavors.

And A Little Bit of Chicken Fried

All credits on that title obviously go to the Zac Brown Band… one of my favorite songs of late. (Aptly named “Chicken Fried.” Creative.) I mentioned before that living in the South means lots and lots of fried food. It took me forever to realize that when someone mentioned “seasonings” in their green beans, they ain’t talking Mrs. Dash. So, one of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a weight loss coach is introducing people with “seasoned” palates to new and tasty alternatives and convincing them that healthy can be yummy.

When I got this month’s Everyday Food magazine, I knew right the first recipe I wanted to try was the Oven Fried Chicken. I’ve done other variations of this but it never turns out with that juicy flavor that I know those who love tried&true fried crave. This one started with a buttermilk marinade, so I had high hopes for it being a little more authentic.

The recipe is right here, so I won’t go ahead and type it all out. But I will tell you about my tweaks. The recipe says to toast the breadcrumbs for 8-12 minutes. I noticed at 7 minutes they were starting to burn so I pulled them out. They were just about to pass the point of no return, but I was able to rescue them in time. (Thought it was my new oven was too hot, but turns out someone else had the same experience!)

Breadcrumbs, Baking

Breadcrumbs, Baking

I only used my olive oil spritzer on the crumbs and tossed them before baking. I also used boneless, skinless chicken breast and powdered buttermilk (add water) – just because that’s what I happened to have on hand.

Pantry Staples.  (Um, Freezer Staples, too.) Good Stuff.

Pantry Staples. (Erm, Freezer Staples, too.) Good Stuff.

I liked the recipe because it was all things I had in my pantry already, and it was relatively quick. I paired it with a baked sweet potato and a salad. Using my fave calorie count, I calculated my version to be 190 per serving (4 servings with a pound of chicken breast.) With a large sweet tater (160 cals + 30 for 2 tsp brown sugar + 30 1 tsp butter = 220 cals), dinner clocks in at 410 cals. (You can go halves on the sweet tater for budgeting purposes, if you need to.) Pair it up with a big green salad and you’ll be one happy eater. You might not even miss the fried chicken. REALLY. (Ok, give it a few tries…)

Time for Dinner, Ya'll!

Time for Dinner, Ya'll!

Reduced to Guessing

I apologize in advance for posting something without being certain about the stats, but this was just so darn yummy.  I’m going to do my best to figure out the cals in the meantime. 

I had a bottle of red wine that someone had given to me as a gift and I questioned the drinkability of it (which should tell you something, as this girl will fill up a glass with diet tonic and top it off with Beringer White Zin).  I didn’t want to pour it out (gasp!) and I certainly couldn’t regift it in good faith, so I asked my cooking-guru Aunt Jennifer what oh what to do with an extra bottle of red.

The Vino in Question

The Vino in Question

After she confirmed that I really, really, really didn’t think it was drinkable, she told me I could use it to make a reduction sauce.  I’d never done those and it sounded somewhat complicated, but a few youtube video tutorials later, I was ready to go.

It was incredibly straightforward.  I sauteed some onions and garlic for a couple minutes, dumped in about half the bottle of the aforementioned red and let simmer.  It simmered for about 30 minutes, just long enough to make a Caesar bibb salad, saute some big onion circles and for hubby to grill up some sirloins.

Sizzzzzzling Onions & Garlic

Sizzzzzzling Onions & Garlic

End result: DELICIOUS.  It was the perfect compliment to our steaks and the best part is that it was absurdly easy.
Red Wine Reduction on Sirloin with Onions (In other words... voila!)

Red Wine Reduction on Sirloin with Onions (In other words... voila!)

However, I’m really curious as to what the stats on this would be.  A half a bottle of wine would be 310 calories + 1 Tablespoon olive oil would be another 120.  I figured that some of the alcohol had to evaporate, thus reducing the calories?  We used about 2/3rds of the sauce, so at worst, it’s a 145 cals/serving.  (310+120 = 430/3 = 143.3 per serving)  I asked my chemistry-savvy hubby who started rambling about molecular properties, boiling points and evaporation and well, I’ll be honest, I zoned out.

DEAR CHEMISTRY MAJORS, HERE IS A FUN LAB ASSIGNMENT FOR YOUR SUMMER VACAY!  (Seriously…anyone out there know how to figure out the calories in a reduction sauce?)

Needless to say, this will be a repeat in our household.  My best guess at total stats for the meal was 220 for the 4 oz sirloin, 145 (?) for the sauce, 75 for the onions (25 cals for the onion + 50 for a 1/2 T of OO), 80 cals for a light Caesar (Ken’s dressing = 70 per 2 T + 10 cals for the lettuce).  Grand total of 520…   try to do THAT at Outback!!

And yea, you might as well tack on an extra 120 calories, cos you know you’re going to pour yourself a glass of that vino and try it anyways. (A little diet tonic takes an iffy wine a long way….)

My Secert Weapon

Jamie asked me to publish my recipe for my smashers back in my “fried fish” entry, and although I don’t have a specific recipe that I use, I do have a secret weapon.  It is…. :::drum roll please::::: YOGURT!

Yogurt!

Yogurt!

I use yogurt in anything that calls for creamy, goopy textures and tastes.  The smashers on that day were requested by my hubby to be “traditional” smashers (read: no subbing cauliflowers in, no swapping goat cheese for butter, and REAL BUTTER PLEASE.)  I just knew I couldn’t make them for-real old school, all butter and whole milk, but I did want to create a creamy, rich taste the way smashers are supposed to be.  So, in went an entire container of yogurt, along with 2 T of butter.  Yup, just 2 T for the whole dish, along with a small pat on the top of the pile for visual appeal when finished.  (An Ellie Krieger “we eat with our eyes” trick.)  It was delish, and hubby was thoroughly satisfied.

I use both the Fage Greek yogurt and Stonyfield plain yogurt in almost any recipe that requires creaminess: I’ve used it in chicken tetrazini and subbed out some of the cream of chicken soup, in mashed potatoes, in making homemade bleu cheese dip, in my aunt’s famous sour cream chicken enchiladas.  There is no creamy recipe in which I am above dumping in an entire thing of yogurt and secretly sneaking out most of the cream, sour cream or whole milk.

Homemade Bleu Cheese Dip... with yogurt!

Homemade Bleu Cheese Dip... with yogurt!

So, there’s my secret!  Smash away!

Smashed potatos: (in my house growing up, smashed meant you leave the skins on)  1# potatos, 2 T butter, 8 oz fage yogurt.   Made 4 servings at 170 calorie each, according to my fave calorie calculator.

Parsley Pesto

Recently I bought a ginormous bag of fresh parsley at Harris Teeter, with great intention to sprinkle into a mustard potato salad I was making. Once I used the requisite teaspoon of parsley required, I was left with approximately six more cups and no game plan. I decided, impulsively, to see if I could make a pesto out of parsley. As I began combining my ingredients, I realized I also did not have pine nuts. I did, however, have walnuts – so toasted and chopped they were, and into the mix they went. It actually turned out pretty yummy – once tossed with my pasta, I would never have guessed it was parsley.

Chop chop chop chop chop.

Chop chop chop chop chop.

Pesto is not exactly known as a health food, due to it’s caloric density. In my version (compliments of my kitchen-savvy Aunt Jennifer), there is olive oil, Parmesan cheese, red wine, walnuts, lemon juice, pine nuts and basil. Well, in this case, walnuts and parsley. However, there are great health perks from the olive oil, walnuts and red wine. Parsley, another native of the Mediterranean, is an overlooked powerhouse of nutrients.  With portion control applied, my parsley pesto can be a health happy food too.

Parsley, known most often as a pretty garnish on the plate that your hamburger comes on, is underestimated herb. Turns out parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C & vitamin A, as well as vitamin K.   Vitamin C is one of our major sources of antioxidants, which protect the body from free radicals damage and improve iron absorption.  (Which means if you actually eat the parsley under your hambruger, you’ll eek out more iron from that burger.  Woo!)  Vitamin A, a fat soluble vitamin, has the mighty task of helping preserving your eye sight and combat viruses.  Vitamin K also prevents oxidative damage and helps your blood clot normally.   ALL THAT in that forgotten about little sprig.  And did I mention it tasted delicious all ground up in my blender with parmesan cheese and walnuts?

According to my fave calorie counter website, my recipe had 130 calories per servings (8 servings).  With 1.5 oz of fusilli (160 cals) and 3 oz chicken (140), the whole combo clocks in at 430 calories.  Pair with a small side salad with a 100-cal dressing or some raw veggies and hummus as an appetizer, and you have a truuuuuly decadent yet good for you meal.  Oh and the best part, this is the EASIEST dish to make for big groups.  Party time!

Parsley Pesto

Parsley Pesto

Aunt Jennifer’s Pesto Recipe:

2 cups basil (or parsley)
1/3 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 T red wine
2 T lemon juice
4 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt

*Mix all in food processor.  Toss over warm pasta.  Add chicken, si vous plait.

Spaghetti and Meat(and carrots and zucchini)balls

Spaghetti was one of my family’s go to meals in the late 90’s, in the days of fat-free everything, but from a cal-counting perspective it doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. See: Macaroni Grill’s spaghetti & meatballs plate clocking in at a mere 1810 calories. 1810! But, spaghetti is a classic quick meal and with a few tweaks can actually be a pretty healthy meal.

Tweak as follows:
1. Swap out the ground beef for ground turkey breast. (Regular ground turkey often has dark meat, and isn’t much of a calorie/fat saver.)
2. Bind the meat with egg whites (instead of eggs) and make your own bread crumbs out of a whole-wheat, high fiber bread or grind up a cereal like fiber-one. Trust me, once it’s all mashed together, nobody gonna know.
3. Grate up vegetables like carrots, zucchini, or onions and mix them in. Ahhh yes, sneaky, I know. Veggies in meatballs!

The Ingredients, Ready To Get Mashed Up

The Ingredients, Ready To Get Mashed Up

4. Use a whole-grain spaghetti to get some extra fiber vs. a refined pasta. I like Barilla’s blue box brand.
Barilla Whole Grain Pasta

Barilla Whole Grain Pasta

Mash together the ground turkey, egg whites, bread crumbs, and veggies. Sprinkle in a little bit of Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. I use a pound of ground turkey, 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 2 egg whites and a 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. The veggies I just do by eye-ball – whatever I’ve got on hand. The meatballs end up being about 90 calories each if you make 12, 70 calories you make 16.

Make the meatballs and stick them under the broiler for 10 minutes. Then add them to the sauce (which did I mention, was simmering on the stove top? Hope you read the whole post before trying.) Let them bask in the tomato hot tub for another 10 minutes or so.

Meatballs Soaking It Up

Meatballs Soaking It Up

Plop on top off your noodles, add some parmesan cheese, a lovely green salad and voila. Healthy Italian does exist.
Final Product!

Final Product!

Final stats: 1.5 oz whole wheat spaghetti (150 cals), 2 big meatballs (180 cals), 1/2 cup Classico Fire Roasted Tomato & Garlic sauce* (50 cals), 1 Tbsp of parm cheese (20 cals) = a mere 400 cals for spaghetti & meatballs. Take that, Mac Grill!

*This is the lowest sodium sauce I’ve found and it’s pretty tasty too.