Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Recipe: Greek Penne Pasta

This recipe sounded delicious to me when I came across it, and it turned out that it was. Also, I've reached the point with cooking where I can make a few modifications without worrying that I'm going to ruin the whole thing. The modifications I made this time turned out to be terrific. However, the WW points that I'm showing here are for the original recipe, and do not include my modifications (which I'm sure made the whole thing less healthy).

Greek Penne Pasta: Makes 4 servings; 10 WW points per serving

  • 12 oz uncooked penne
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2/3 oz pine nuts, about 2 tbsp [I used more than this]
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 10 oz chopped frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 pound tomatoes, plum [I used on-the-vine tomatoes instead of plum]
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled [I used feta, but regular goat cheese would be delicious too]
  • 6 medium olives, black, pitted and chopped [I just used a small can, drained, of sliced black olives]
  • [I also used about 8 oz of boneless, skinless chicken breast]


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions (without butter or oil), drain and set aside. If necessary, cover to keep warm.
  2. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Add olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until oil sizzles. Add pine nuts and garlic. Cook and stir until pine nuts are golden brown, about 3 minutes. [I added the chicken with the pine nutes and sauteed until nearly cooked through before moving to the next step.]
  3. Stir in spinach and tomatoes and cook until heated through, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. [I also added the olives and some feta at this point instead of sprinkling them on at the end. This turned out to be a great idea--the sauce had a slight olive-y taste to it, which was great, and the feta was very nicely incorporated.]
  4. Add spinach mixture to pasta and toss until combined. Serve pasta sprinkled with feta cheese and black olives. [Despite having added some feta earlier, we also sprinkled some on our plates. It was great.] Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving.

The verdict: YUM. The only annoying thing about this recipe was that I had a bunch of tiny tomatoes that all needed to be prepped. Everything else was super easy and quick, and it came out delicious. The chicken was a great way to up the lean protein in the dish, but it would be excellent vegetarian style, too. This was so good, we were totally fighting over the leftovers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Recipe: Mexican Beef over Polenta

After being stuck in a recipe rut for quite some time, I have finally started to branch out again, at least a little. So, hopefully I'll be posting here a tad more often in the future.

The first branch-out attempt was tonight, and it was quite successful. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to take photos.

Mexican Beef over Polenta: Makes 6 servings; 5 WW points per serving

  • 1 pound uncooked lean ground beef (with 7% fat) [I used ground turkey instead.]
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 14.5 oz canned diced tomatoes, with chiles, drained, reserve 1 Tbsp of liquid
  • 1 cup canned yellow corn, drained, or frozen, thawed corn kernels [I just used a can of corn, drained. It may have been a bit more than a cup but it didn't feel like too much at all.]
  • 10 olives, Kalamata, sliced [10 olives seemed weird to me, so I just bought a small can of sliced black olives and dumped the whole thing in. It worked out to be a good amount.]
  • 2 tbsp canned jalapeno peppers, pickled, chopped (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp table salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 cup polenta, quick-cooking [I just used regular cornmeal. It didn't say anything about being quick cooking but it only took about 5-10 minutes to thicken.]
  • 3 cups canned chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup salsa
  • 1/3 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, or scallion, fresh, chopped (optional)


  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook beef and onion, stirring frequently, until meat is fully cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes; drain off any liquid.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and reserved liquid, corn, olives, jalapenos (if using), 1/4 teaspoon of salt, cumin and pepper; simmer 5 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine cornmeal, broth and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt; stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until cornmeal is thick, about 5 minutes. Note: The polenta will still be soft after cooking but will firm up if allowed to stand for a few minutes before serving.
  4. Spoon polenta onto a large serving plate and top with beef mixture. Top with salsa, cheese and cilantro (or scallion). [We also served it with a bit of sour cream.] Divide into 6 portions and serve. [I didn't put it all together on one big plate. I just put some polenta on each plate and topped with the beef mixture.]

The verdict: This was delicious, and super easy to make. Seriously, basically all you do is put a bunch of stuff in a pan while boiling some cornmeal. It took me about 15 minutes to make from start to finish, and Torsten and I both really liked it. It had a real Mexican flavor to it--I would definitely recommend using jalapenos, or, if you don't like spicy things, adding some other kind of Mexican-style flavoring to it so that it will have a nice strong taste.

It's relatively healthy, too. WW points vary based on calories, fat, and fiber, but a loose rule of thumb is 50 calories per point, so that would be 1500 calories in the whole dish, and between the two of us we only ate half of it (though of course Torsten ate more than I did), so that's an average of about 350-400 calories per serving. Not bad for a very filling meal. This will definitely be added to our regular rotation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random Odds and Ends Chickpea Salad

Jess posted over at Not A Diet yesterday about learning to cook without a recipe.

I agree with several of the commenters there, it's about practice and trial and error- after a while, you start to develop a sense of what would go with what. It also helps to keep certain items on hand. I feel Jess's pain about going to the grocery store too often, but there are a lot of fresh ingredients that last a long time, impart a lot of flavor, and are key to having around for last-minute meals.

Here's my list of things I try to keep in the house, aside from the usual salt, pepper, olive oil, etc:

Cans/dry goods:
-black beans
-chick peas
-diced tomatoes
-whole tomatoes
-light coconut milk
-chicken broth and veggie broth (I actually get this in those cartons and I know, making your own is better, but let's be realistic, shall we?)
-brown rice
-barilla plus pasta (for emergencies)

Perishables (that last a long time):
-sweet potatoes
-kalamata olives
-lemons and limes (seriously, with a lemon, you can make pretty much anything better)
-ginger (I cheat and get the pre-grated stuff in a jar.)
-thai red curry paste
-block of parmesan cheese
-salsa verde from a jar
-frozen mixed veggies
-block of feta cheese

From these ingredients, all of which are pretty cheap and last a long time, you can make all kinds of stuff. Some of my go-to meals include:

*Scrambled eggs with salsa verde, black beans, and feta
*Mixed veggie red curry with roasted sweet potatoes and brown rice
*Black beans simmered with canned tomatoes and salsa verde, served with brown rice or quinoa
*Pasta with quick homemade tomato sauce
*Mujadara (lentil and onion stew- so yummy, and so so cheap)

But my favorite, and the one I want to share with you today, was a happy accident. I call it "um, we have nothing to eat" chickpea salad:

can of chick peas
1 lemon
olive oil

optional ingredients (if you have them, toss them in)
spinach leaves
red peppers

To make:
1. Whisk together the juice of one lemon, about 1Tbsp of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and one clove minced garlic. If you're feeling really adventurous, toss some lemon zest in there, too. Taste for seasoning and tartness, and adjust with additional oil and/or salt if necessary. Toss dressing with a can of drained chickpeas.

2. Add any additional veggies, if using (spinach and red bell peppers are particularly tasty- you'll probably want to sautee the red peppers before mixing them in to soften them a little.) If you want, pop this mixture in a frying pan and heat through.

3. Prepare some quinoa according to the package instructions.

4. Scoop some quinoa into a bowl, top with some of the chickpea mixture, and sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped kalamata olives. If you want, grate some parmesan cheese on top. Pat yourself on the back for being so thrifty and gourmet.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Houswarming Lemon Bars

Hey everyone-

Some of you may know me from my own blog, pseudostoops, and I was thrilled when Jess said it would be okay for me to contribute to her recipe blog!

Normally, my own cooking tends towards the healthy side. (My dad had a stroke when I was 5 and he was 46, brought on by high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so healthy cooking has long been a priority in my family, and I'm fortunate to have develped healthy habits as a result.) But when it comes to baking and desserts, I inherited my dad's wicked sweet tooth, and I'd much rather eat a small portion of something delicious and homemade than a larger portion of something filled with chemicals and fake sweeteners and other ingredients I can't pronounce. Plus, I LOVE baking, and would be sad if I stopped. So I've developed a cadre of go-to dessert recipes that aren't healthy, exactly, but aren't over-the-top rich and are so delicious that you can be satisfied with a small portion.

As you may have heard, Jess is currently in the middle of a big cross-country move, and if I lived close enough to bring her and Torsten a small housewarming gift in their new place, this is what I'd bring them. Because I can't bring them in person, I'm giving them a housewarming recipe!

Easy-Peasy Lemon Bars
makes 36 bars

These lemon bars are perfect- lemony and tangy with a satisfying crunchy crust. They're much less rich than many lemon bar recipes, and they only use one bowl and require ZERO special equipment- not even a hand mixer! Plus, I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so I can make them in a flash. They're a winner.

For the crust:
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, melted in the microwave
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice (it usually takes me about two and a half lemons to get this much juice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 dgrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray. (for directions on making a foil sling for bars, look below. It's SO WORTH THE EFFORT because it makes cutting easy and you don't end up weeping over ruined brownies that have fused to the pan. Not that I speak from experience.)

2. Make the crust: in the same medium-sized bowl you microwaved the butter in, stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix until incorporated. Press dough evenly over the bottom of the pan with your fingers. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crust is fully baked- it will be well-browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.

3. While the crust is baking, make the filling: Give the bowl you made the crust in a quick rinse and dry out with a paper towel. Stir together the sugar and the flour in the bowl. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the zest and the lemon juice.

4. When the crust is ready, turn the heat in the oven down to 300 degrees. Slide the rack with the pan out and pour the filling onto the hot crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the filling no longer jiggles in the center when you tap the pan.

5. Let cool completely in pan. To make cutting easier, after it's cool I pop the pan in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Lift the foil sling out and set the bars on a cutting board. Cut into 36 equal squares. Dust with powdered sugar if you like.

Store the bars in the fridge for up to a week.

Welcome home, Jess and Torsten!

Foil sling method for brownies and bar cookies, from Cooks Illustrated

1. Fold two long sheets of aluminum foil so that they are as wide as the baking pan (if the dish is rectangular, the two sheets will be different sizes). Lay the sheets of foil in the pan, perpendicular to one another, with the extra hanging over the edges of the pan.

2. Push the foil flat into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Try to iron out any wrinkles in the foil, laying it flush to the pan. Spray the sides and bottom of the pan with vegetable oil spray before adding the batter.

3. After the brownies or bar cookies have baked and cooled, use the foil sling to transfer them to a cutting board before cutting into squares.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Old Favorite: Buttermilk Pancakes

This is not a Weight Watchers recipe, but I re-built it in the WW tool and did the calculations, and as long as you limit yourself to just a few pancakes, it's not too bad. The pancakes are so yummy, and now that we have a griddle we've revived the recipe. I don't normally like pancakes, but these are the ones my dad made when I was growing up, and they are delicious.

Buttermilk Pancakes: Makes 12 servings; 3 WW points per serving

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 ¼ cups buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.
  2. In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.
  3. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Let rest for a few hours, refrigerated. [My father always uses it immediately and I did the same.]
  4. Gently fold in any additional ingredients such as berries or chocolate chips.
  5. Heat a griddle over medium heat until a drop of water dances lightly across the surface and lightly grease it.
  6. Using ¼-cup measure for each pancake, pour the batter onto the griddle. Cook until bubbles form on the surface, the edges are dry and the bottoms are golden brown, 4 minutes. Turn once, cooking again until the bottoms are golden, 2 minutes.

The verdict: These are absolutely delicious, and not just because I ate them as a kid. They're just so fluffy and tasty and really good with maple syrup. The first few that I made came out very light-colored and not golden, even though they were fully cooked. I eventually figured out that it was because the griddle wasn't quite hot enough, but even the pale yellow ones were delicious. This is a great weekend breakfast--or dinner!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Old Favorite: Havarti Dill Smoked Salmon Risotto

This was one of our favorite recipes back when I first started Weight Watchers, and in the spirit of my post on my personal blog about wanting to get back into that mindset, I thought I'd post it here even though I don't have photos. And I think I'll make it again soon. After all, it is delicious.

Havarti Dill Smoked Salmon Risotto: Makes 2 servings; 7 WW points per serving

  • 5 1/4 oz milan-style risotto mix, with seasoning packet [Instead of risotto mix, I just use about a cup of risotto rice and cook it in low-sodium chicken broth instead of water, and add spices--lemon pepper, basil, oregano, a couple chili flakes, a bit of onion powder--and a splash of lemon juice to make it flavorful]
  • 2 cups water [or chicken broth--see above]
  • 2 tbsp dill, fresh, chopped
  • 2 oz smoked salmon, diced
  • 1 oz havarti cheese, about a 1/4 cup, grated
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tsp dill, or 2 small sprigs, for garnish
  • In a saucepan combine rice and seasoning mix [or, in my case, all the stuff I mentioned in my parenthetical aside above] with water [or, like I said, chicken broth]. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Stir in dill, salmon, pepper, and Havarti. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.
  • Serve in shallow bowls, garnished with dill sprigs.
The verdict: Well, I suppose this is obvious since it's an old favorite and all, but OMG yum. And plus, it's so easy to make! Seriously, you just dump a bunch of stuff in a pot, wait, and eat. And it is delicious, and the risotto is almost creamy, so it feels like it's much worse for you than it actually is. Bonus!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Old Favorite: Spinach Enchiladas

This is one of our favorite recipes, and I actually made and photographed it awhile ago and then never got around to posting it. But better late than never, right?

Spinach Enchiladas: Makes 4 servings; 6 WW points per serving

  • 10 oz chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed to remove water
  • 15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 medium tortilla, flour, fat-free [I use low-fat, whole-wheat tortillas instead]
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese [I was out of Mexican cheese last time I made these, so I used more mozzarella instead]
  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Coat a 7 X 11-inch baking dish with cooking spray. [I use a square dish instead.]
  2. Combine ricotta, spinach, mozzarella, oregano, onion powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl; mix well.
  3. Spoon 1/4 of spinach mixture onto center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas, fold in ends and place side-by-side in prepared baking dish. Spoon salsa over tortillas and sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of Mexican cheese.
  4. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 10 minutes more.

The verdict: This is so, so easy to make, and really yummy. I've made it with fresh spinach before instead of frozen, and it works just as well. I usually serve these with a side shrimp, either sauteed Veracruz style or baked in a lemony sauce. It makes for a fantastic and very healthy meal.