Monday, January 30, 2012

Stuffed Pepper Soup

So, I've been wanting another soup and decided to try the Stuffed Pepper Soup recipe over at Gina's Skinnytaste.

Somehow, I managed to select a 60-degree day in January (!!?!) to make it--but even though it's not a cold day, the soup was still wonderful and hit the spot.

I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I used a full cup of chopped red pepper--instead of just a half-cup--because I really like red pepper and I was hoping to also add to the total veggie count in the recipe. Also, i added some worcestershire sauce, which really added to the rich flavor of the soup, in my opinion. FYI, my calorie count (see bottom of post for nutrition info) will be a little different from the Skinnytaste version because I used slightly leaner beef and unsalted tomatoes, sauce, and broth. :)

Here it is!

Stuffed Pepper Soup

3 cups cooked brown rice (I used Uncle Ben's boil-in-bag)
1 lb 96% lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup finely diced onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cans (14.5 oz each) petite diced tomatoes (I used Hunt's No Salt Added)
1 3/4 cups tomato sauce (I used Contadina's)
2 cups reduced sodium, fat-free chicken broth (I used Kitchen Basics Unsalted)
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
salt and fresh pepper to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown ground meat on high heat and season with salt. Drain fat, if any, reduce heat to medium-low, then add peppers, onions and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes on low heat.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, marjoram, worcestershire, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Serve about 1 1/3 cups of soup in each bowl and top with 1/2 cup cooked brown rice.

Nutritional Info:
(Soup Without Rice)
Calories: 178        Fat: 3g     Sodium: 489mg       Carb: 16.27g     Fiber: 5g        Protein: 20.68g

1/2 cup Uncle Ben's brown boil-in-bag rice:
Calories: 85       Fat: <1g     Sodium: 0mg         Carb: 18g         Fiber: 1g        Protein: 2g

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Lazy Week

Well, I haven't been totally lazy this last week, I just haven't put much effort into cooking or exercising because I've been so busy with work and family lately.

Between the start of state testing season (Nebraska state writing assessment was last week...reading, math, and science coming soon) and accepting a different position in the district, I've been crazy-busy with work. I am now a curriculum specialist at one of the high schools, and I am going to be overseeing the English, art, world languages, and PE departments. Until they hire someone to replace me in my old position, though, I've been slowly "transitioning" to the high school ("transitioning" = doing both jobs while learning the new job).

So, I didn't get around to making the buffaloaf again this week. In fact, we weren't feeling too hot Thursday night, so we just heated up some venison meatloaf that my in-laws had given us. It was very tasty, but not terribly healthy, I'm afraid (I'm not insulting their cooking--they got it pre-made from a local butcher!). Aaaand now we're kind of meatloafed out right now. Patience, my friends--the buffaloaf is worth waiting for. ;)

In the meantime, let me share a couple of pretty-awesome product discoveries I've made:

First, Ziploc® Zip’n Steam® Microwave Cooking Bags. I like steamed veggies, and they're super-easy and quick when I buy the Green Giant Steamers from the frozen section. However, I really dislike frozen green beans, even when steamed (they just seem awfully chewy to me). Also, I don't have an electric steamer/rice cooker thingy, and my bamboo steamer baskets are kind of a pain to use (have to keep an eye on it/guess at cooking times, plus it makes the kitchen all humid and hot). That's where the beauty of the Ziploc steam bags comes in. They aren't terribly cheap (are any Ziploc or Glad bags cheap?), but it's still worth it to me. You just put your veggies in the bag, seal it, toss in the microwave, and cook based on the suggested times written right on the bag! You can even add seasonings for your veggies to soak up while being steamed, if you so desire (I put a squirt of lemon juice in the bag before sealing it to add some zest to my beans).

I also noticed that the bags came with an insert with various recipes (and a coupon for more bags! Weee!), and they looked fairly tasty, easy, and healthy. Like this steamed shrimp and peppers recipe. I think I'm going to have to try this. Soon.

The other product I just discovered is actually pretty new. They had a special display case at HyVee last week for Crystal Light Mocktails. They come in 3 flavors: margarita, mojito, and appletini. I LOVE margaritas, but haven't had one in soooo long because of the gazillion calories (yes, that's the exact calorie count) for most margarita mixes. I did try the Skinnygirl Cocktails margarita last summer, but it tasted like water wrung out from dirty athletic socks. Or at least, what I imagine that to taste like. And considering it still had a pretty hefty calorie-count (100 calories/4oz), I was truly unimpressed.

Anyway, Ben made a pitcher of the mix, and it's pretty good. A little sweeter than I usually like, but I'm sure it would be totally fine blended with ice and put in a glass with salt on the rim. Plus, it's only 5 calories per serving, so it wouldn't be that big of a deal to add a small shot of tequila to it (to give it that alcoholic bite...and to give the drinker that alcoholic buzz). Patron Silver only has 69 calories per 1oz--just sayin'.
I'm looking forward to trying the mojito and appletini mocktails...and will make sure to update you if/when we make them. It makes me look forward to summer, drinking my mocktails on the back patio on a warm evening...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bean & Sausage Soup

Blog FAIL this past week. :(

Not only did I not post more than once (my goal was twice a week), but I made a blog-worthy dinner and completely, utterly forgot to take pictures. Well, it's not so much that I forgot. More that I was a bit busy, late, and overwhelmed on Thursday and almost didn't even get the buffaloaf (buffalo meatloaf) made by a reasonable time, so taking pictures just...fell by the wayside. Until dinner was made and already eaten, and then I suddenly remembered. Oops.

I'll make my buffaloaf again this week and remember to take pictures and post about it, I promise. It will be worth the wait--it's a healthy version of a yummy comfort food (with lots of veggies hidden in it).

In the meantime, here is a delicious soup recipe I tried out last night: Bean and Sausage Soup. The original recipe is from Recipe Girl, and I pretty much followed the recipe completely. Well, mostly. I screwed up and forgot to put the baby spinach in the soup. Until after it was done and already eaten. Oops. I kinda suck at remembering things these days, I guess.

Not all is lost, though. The soup was a big hit with Ben and my mom, even sans spinach (I sent the leftovers home with mom because she liked it so much--and she doesn't like "healthy" food!), so they weren't sad when I told them I will be making the soup again this week so I can use up the spinach I bought. I suppose I could just make a spinach salad instead, but...meh. I'd rather have the soup again. ;)

Anyway, this soup is excellent--and very filling--while it really doesn't taste "healthy." Enjoy!

Bean & Sausage Soup

1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup chopped sweet onion
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
7 ounces turkey kielbasa halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces*
4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth (I use Kitchen Basics Unsalted)
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Two 15.8-ounce cans Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
One 6-ounce bag fresh baby spinach leaves

*I used Hillshire Farm Lite Polska Kielbasa. It is made primarily with turkey, but with some pork/beef added in. It didn't even taste like turkey sausage! Yum. Also, the other option was a different Hillshire Farm turkey kielbasa that listed "mechanically separated turkey" as an ingredient (ick!) and lots of additives and preservatives (including corn syrup), and the calorie count was almost the same.

Heat a large pot to medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion and garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the kielbasa and sauté for 3 additional minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium; cook 5 minutes.
Add the broth, seasonings and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Place 1-2 cups of the soup in a food processor or blender--be careful, as it will be hot! Process until smooth, then return the pureed mixture to the pan. Simmer the soup an additional 5 minutes.

Remove the soup from heat and mix in the fresh spinach (this is where I screwed up and forgot the spinach. Don't make my mistake!)

Serve hot, preferably with a slice of crusty bread!

For the calorie counters: one serving is about 1 and 1/4 cups of soup. According to my calculations on, each serving is about 236 calories. This soup is light on calories, but very filling and full of flavor!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Speedy Breakfast!

So. I actually planned to have a new dessert post for today. I tried to make a low-carb "Creamy Egg Custard" last night, and while not quite disgusting, it definitely wasn't...enticing. I couldn't find the Carb Countdown milk that it called for, but I didn't want to make the 500-calorie version with heavy cream, so I tried it with unsweetened almond milk. Perhaps it was my substitution that ruined it, or perhaps it was that the recipe is just bad... but it turned out kinda gross. A little slimy, and it totally smelled and tasted like cooked eggs--which isn't bad if you're expecting a breakfast casserole, but isn't good when you're expecting a smooth, rich, sweet custard dessert.

Anyway, as I was making my usual breakfast this morning, it occurred to me that many people (including me at one time) struggle to put together a quick, simple, healthy and/or low-carb breakfast in the mornings. So I thought I'd share what I usually do: an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich. Many studies have shown that eating breakfast--and especially including protein in your breakfasts--has numerous benefits, including help with controlling hunger and metabolism. Check out these articles and sites for more information here, here, and here. I know--you could probably get a breakfast sandwich quicker at McD's, BUT at least you know everything that's in it and how many calories it is when you make it at home...not to mention how much cheaper it is if you're eating this as frequently as I am.

FYI, to speed up food preparation in the mornings, it would be easy to cook the egg the night before (or a few days before). You can just fry them up and store them in ziploc bags, or--my favorite trick--cook several eggs up at once by plopping them into a muffin tin and baking them, then popping them out and storing them in baggies or containers. Easy and quick to reheat!

Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich

Olive oil (I use my oil mister)
1 egg
1 slice reduced-fat cheese (I use pre-sliced Sargento RF Colby Jack, but really, any reduced-fat cheese would work)
1 Orowheat Mini Sandwich Thin

Heat olive oil in small frying pan on medium heat. Fry egg as desired. I like mine "over hard" so I don't have a runny mess in the morning if I have to eat this in the car. It's up to you, though. You could also scramble the egg and pour it into a cookie cutter or pancake shaper placed in the pan so that it isn't too big for the sandwich, I guess....  Or, if you made your egg in a muffin tin ahead of time, just reheat the egg in the microwave and plop it on the sandwich!

While the egg is cooking (or reheating), place cheese on the bottom half of the Orowheat mini. I am a little OCD about not having a bunch of cheese hanging over the edges of my bread, so I usually tear my cheese to fit mostly within the edges. :) Again, to each their own....

Place the cooked egg on top of the cheese, and cover with the other half of the Orowheat mini. Ta da! A quick, simple, delicious, and portable egg sandwich.

I always eat mine with a Dannon Light & Fit fruit yogurt (to get some fruit and dairy in with my breakfast), and sometimes with a cup of coffee with stevia and half-and-half in it. This is really filling, and always tides me over until lunchtime.

Egg Sandwich Nutrition Facts: 
Large egg....................70 cals, 4.5g fat, 240 chol, 70 sodium, 0.5 carb, 0 fiber, 7g prot, 0 sug
Sargento Cheese.........50 cals, 4g fat, 10 chol, 125 sodium, 0 carb, 0 fiber, 6g prot, 0 sug
Orowheat Mini............50 cals, 0.5g fat, 0 chol, 115 sodium, 10.5 carb, 2.5 fiber, 2.5g prot, 1 sug
Totals:........................170 cals, 9g fat, 250 cholesterol, 310 sodium, 11g carb, 2.5 fiber, 15.5g protein, 1 sug

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lasagna Soup

Well. Pretty much nothing went according to plan today--including dinner. But that's okay, because this recipe is easy to make, and perfect for a super-cold, blustery day like today.

This soup is from the Deen brothers (Paula Deen's sons). Their food blog has a whole section of their mother's recipes that they have re-written to be a just-as-yummy lighter version.  This one is called "Lighter Tastes Like Lasagna Soup."

One problem that I ran into was that my grocery stores only carry Italian turkey sausage once in a great while, and this week turned out to not be one of those times. :( You can use regular ground Italian pork sausage, but I really wanted to keep this lean. After pouting for a few minutes in the store, I looked up a recipe for homemade Italian turkey sausage on my smartphone (so smart!) and decided to make my own sausage (well, Italian-seasoned ground turkey, anyway--not really sausage).

Ideally, you would want to make the turkey sausage ahead of time and let it sit overnight so that the meat can absorb the flavors of the seasoning a little more fully, but this ended up working out just fine for tonight. Ben recently received a meat-grinding attachment for our KitchenAid mixer for his birthday, though, so I may buy some turkey breast and try to make my own real Italian turkey sausage to freeze and keep on hand.

One final note on the ingredients-- pay attention to the nutrition labels for different brands of the same item, as they can definitely vary! I looked at Hunt's tomato sauce, and it had over 400mg of sodium in it...Contadina's tomato sauce only had about 280mg of sodium!

Also, I must apologize for a lack of pictures tonight--I was so rushed and overwhelmed by the time I got home (late), I forgot to stop and take pictures until I was about halfway done with the meal.

Is it Friday yet?

Easy Italian Turkey Sausage (adapted from Cooking with Michele recipe)
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 tbspn fennel seeds
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Mix spices and meat well with a fork. Set aside to rest for a few minutes before cooking.

Lasagna Soup

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (32-ounce) container chicken broth (I used Kitchen Basics unsalted chicken stock)
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce (I used Contadina's brand)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes (I used Hunt's No Salt Added)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces broken whole-wheat lasagna noodles (I used Kroger brand whole wheat rotini because I didn't have lasagna noodles)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated parmesan cheese and/or part-skim ricotta cheese (for serving)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick pot or Dutch oven. Add the sausage, onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is crumbled and browned, 8 – 10 minutes.

Add the broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are blended, about 20 minutes. Add the noodles; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens slightly and the noodles are tender, 10 – 12 minutes.

Remove from the heat; stir in mozzarella and basil.

Serve in a bowl with sprinkled parmesan or a dollop of ricotta cheese.

The noodles were actually enough to be my carb serving for the evening, but how can you eat soup on a cold day without at least a small slice of crusty bread? ;) 

Also, FYI, I did saute some zucchini to eat while the soup was simmering--partly because I was starving, but also to make sure I still got my full vegetable serving in for the day.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mediterranean Tilapia

I actually made this for dinner last weekend, but it's been crazy-busy at work this week, so I haven't had a chance to post until tonight.

I originally picked up this recipe from the meat counter at our local Baker's grocery store about a year ago while waiting to be helped. It sounded interesting, and it tasted delicious. It has now become a staple in our household for when I want some lean, tasty fish.

The original recipe calls for onions, too, but I never used them because they were restricted on my diet plan in the past...and I just never got around to trying it with onions. If you decide to include onions, saute them with the garlic.  The recipe also didn't call for capers, but I thought capers sounded like a good match for this dish, and it turns out they are. :)


Mediterranean Tilapia

1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (I use Hunt's No Salt Added)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
2 tbspn chopped fresh parsley (or 1/2 tbspn dried parsley)
1 (or 1 1/2) tbspn capers
1 1/4 lbs tilapia fillets (2 good-size fillets)
Sea salt & cracked pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic; saute until softened.

Add wine, tomatoes, olives, and parsley; simmer 5 minutes.  Add fillets and capers to skillet; simmer 5-10 minutes or until fish turns white and flakes easily with a fork.

 Season to taste with salt and pepper.  I usually serve mine over about 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa, with a side of steamed broccoli or sauteed zucchini.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chicken with Garlic, Mushrooms, & Balsamic Vinegar

Well, it's been a long week, with a lot of stress (work-related, of course) and some nice dinners. I got to enjoy a decadent, gourmet meal and dessert at The Grey Plume to celebrate my birthday with my in-laws on Tuesday night. I had the squash soup and wagyu beef with sweet potato puree, salsify (a tuber similar to potato), and trumpet mushrooms. I also tried some of Ben's charcuterie tray (even though one of the cheeses tasted like sweaty sneakers) and his halibut. Very yummy. For dessert: chocolate mousse with popcorn, "popcorn powder," and stout gelee. It sounded strange, but the popcorn was a nice complement to the mousse, and the "popcorn powder" was some kind of powdered-sugar mixed with something tasty to give it a crushed-popcorn texture. Odd, but excellent. 

Wednesday was another birthday dinner with family at my sister's house. We had salad, tacos, and mini-cheesecakes. Simple and delicious!

Anyway, on to this week's recipe: chicken with garlic, mushrooms, and balsamic vinegar. Otherwise known as "another attempt to make chicken interesting."  It's very good, I promise. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I found the original recipe, so I apologize for not being able to direct you to it. I did make some changes--the original recipe had directions to turn the liquid into a thickened sauce by adding butter and flour, but I left that out for the sake of keeping it lean and healthy.


Chicken With Garlic, Mushrooms, & Balsamic Vinegar

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
10 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (I used "Baby Bellas" from Bakers/Kroger)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp chicken broth (I use unsalted cooking stock)
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Rinse the mushrooms and pat dry.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute the chicken until it is nicely browned on one sdie (about 3 minutes).

Add the garlic cloves. Turn the chicken breasts and scatter the mushrooms over them. Continue frying, shaking the skillet and stirring the mushrooms.

Cook for about 3 minutes, then add the vinegar, broth, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover tightly and simmer over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I usually like to eat this served over quinoa or rice, but it had been a busy day at work and I was trying to clean the kitchen, empty/reload the dishwasher, and cook at the same time... so the quinoa didn't happen.  Instead, I ate my chicken and mushrooms with some sauteed zucchini (for a little bit of extra veggies) and a slice of rye bread with Brummel spread.

By the way--for those wondering about my portion sizes--I ate 4oz of chicken, 3oz of sauteed zucchini, and about 2-3oz of mushrooms with liquid. Very satisfying, especially after a run!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

New Year's Day (yesterday) was my birthday! I am 33 years old, and I am the skinniest and most healthy I've ever been. I'm in the best shape of my life, and it feels damn good.

I don't have a new recipe for you today--I took it easy over the weekend. I just wanted to let everyone know I'm still around and to expect another recipe later this week.

Oooh, pretty!
How did I spend my birthday yesterday? Well, I slept in, had breakfast, took a nap, had lunch, and then went for a run. In my brand new, fancy running shoes. I got a gift certificate from my wonderful mother-in-law to a local running/exercise store, and I got these shoes last Saturday---->
I tried them out for the first time yesterday, and I have decided that expensive, fancy running shoes actually do make a difference--my feet weren't as fatigued, and I had no hot spots or blisters at the end of my run. Also, I ran 3.28 miles in 38 minutes, so I'm pretty sure these shoes made me run faster. ;)

The reason I married Ben: smoked meat.
My birthday dinner wasn't 100% healthy, but it was delicious. Ben took all day Saturday to smoke some ribs, and that's what we had for dinner last night. Well, that's what he had for dinner. I had some orange roughy that I sauteed in olive oil, along with some green beans (fresh green beans, steamed in the bag in the microwave) and 2 ribs. The ribs were delicious, but two was enough to satisfy my craving (because I DID start craving them once I smelled them), and yet still have a pretty healthy meal. No birthday cake for me yet, though--we're going out to dinner tomorrow with my in-laws at a fancy-schmancy, fairly-new restaurant here in midtown Omaha: The Grey Plume. I'm sure I"ll find some incredibly wonderful and decadent dessert there with which we can celebrate my birthday.

Did I mention I'm going for a run after work--before going to the restaurant--tomorrow? Yeah. I might run an extra few minutes just to make sure I can totally enjoy my dinner--and dessert--without any guilt. :)

Check back later this week for more recipes!