Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rosemary Thyme Pot Roast

The weather is getting colder, I finally replaced the tank tops in my closet with sweaters, the pretty leaves are off the trees and in my yard, and my bed is now graced with flannel sheets.  Winter is officially right around the corner.  Every year I think to myself that global warming is really going to kick in this winter and it will never get below 40 degrees.  No luck so far. 

But with winter's inevitable return comes warming, wonderful, comfort food.  The menu in my kitchen is definitely seasonal and meals I wouldn't dream of making in my shorts and flip flops become staples when I am snuggled up in my sweats and fuzzy slippers.  Pot roast is one of those meals.  There is something irresistible about the aroma and warmth of a roast this time of year.  And because everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off during the holidays, the fact that pot roast is easy is just an added bonus.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Makeover Monday: Low Fat Cornbread

Cornbread is delicious, but it has a bad rap for being high in fat.  Case in point, the southern part of our great Union.  I didn't eat a lot of cornbread going up.  Then I discovered what apparently the whole world already knew; cornbread is awesome with a hot bowl of chili.  And I do eat a lot of chili.  So now I eat a lot of cornbread.

I started my cornbread journey with a basic recipe from an old cookbook I inherited from my grandma.  It was good and I do want just a simple cornbread to take the edge of the heat of the chili.  But the original recipe was a little fatty for me.  Between the one cup of whole milk and 1/4 cup of shortening, I was potentially looking at a little over 7 grams of fat for piece one piece.  Compare it to a slice of whole wheat bread with its 1 gram of fat, and that seemed a little extreme.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Food Science 101: The Perfect Pie Crust

My unofficial statistic (as in, totally made up but I'm sticking with it) is that about a billion pies will be made in America over this Thanksgiving weekend.  Some of those pies will have a beautiful, flaky, tender crust with a perfect crispiness.  And some will be dry, tough, crumbly, and/or soggy.  You want yours to be the former.  But how does one acheive such pastry perfection?  I've heard many times that making the perfect pie crust is an art.  That's incorrect.  The perfect pie crust is actually a science!  

A standard recipe for pie crust is actually a pretty simple.  It only contains flour, fat (generally butter and/or shortening), salt, sugar, and water.  The thing that makes pie crust scary to the casual cook is that those simple ingredients can turn into something terribly wrong if not prepared properly.  To make the perfect pie crust, you must first have a basic understanding of how the different ingredients help a pie crust get its tender, flaky, crispy characteristics.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Health Tips: Surviving Thanksgiving Dinner

Photo from

Let’s all let out a joyous cheer that we are in the holiday season.  It is a wonderful time of year, filled with friends, family, and food.  Lots, and lots of food.  Thanksgiving, holiday parties, treats at the office, food gifts from neighbors and friends, sneaking a Cinnabon at the mall, Christmas dinner, Christmas cookies, more Christmas cookies, New Year’s, etc, etc, etc!  While this might be the happiest season of all, most Americans will not be cheering when they step on their bathroom scales January 2nd.   Although weight loss during this time of year can be challenging, if not impossible, with a little planning and some will power, weight management is possible. 

I could probably focus this whole blog on tips for managing weight during the holiday season, but for now I will focus on the most imminent threat to your waistline: Thanksgiving dinner.  According to the Calorie Control Counsel (yes, there is officially a counsel for everything now) the typical holiday meal contains a whopping 4,500 calories.  That’s like eating 8 Big Macs.  Goodbye, skinny jeans!  How can a meal possibly be that atrocious?  Blame it on fatty, sugary foods and lots of ‘em.  But here’s a few things you can do about it:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Makeover Monday: Cranberry Walnut Jell-O Salad

The week of Thanksgiving is upon us!  After a two year hiatus, I am finally returning to my parents' house to have Thanksgiving with my family and I could not be more excited. As the big day quickly approaches, I find myself thinking about my favorite dishes that my mom has been making every year for as long as I can remember.  While I love them all, perhaps the one I get the most excited about every year is this Cranberry Walnut Jell-O salad.  I know that Jell-O salads aren't usually the star of the show, but for some reason I can never get enough of this stuff.  It is sweet, tart, crunchy, and just plain good.  With cranberries, apples, oranges, and walnuts, it is a perfect dish for this time of the year.

As with many of the recipes I have requested from my mom over the years, I was a little surprised when I saw that this seemingly healthy side dish was deceptively unhealthy.  It had a cup of sugar!  I've eaten desserts with less sugar than that.  And that is on top of the 73 grams of sugar in the package of Jell-O.  Ouch!  But I loved this recipe too much to just forget about it.  I was going to make it myself.  I was going to enjoy it without feeling guilty.  And I was definitely going to eat it more than once a year.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sweet Potato Pie

I have never made, had, or wanted to have sweet potato pie.  Mushy potatoes baked into a pie?  No thanks.  But as Thanksgiving creeps towards us, I kept seeing recipes pop up.  I have been trying to broaden my culinary horizons, so I decided to try it.  Plus I still had some of the giant sweet potatoes our neighbors gave us remaining.  Deciding to make a sweet potato pie was easy.  Deciding which sweet potato pie recipe to make was not so easy.  I suddenly found myself knee deep in variations of this traditional dish.  Traditional pie crust, graham cracker crust, ginger streusel, different spices, different fillings.  My head was spinning! 

I decided on a graham cracker crust.  I'm not a huge fan of traditional pie crust, and I had some graham crackers that I needed to get rid of anyway.  I did add some chopped pecans to the crust.  For the filling, I went with a recipe I found from Baking Illustrated.  It was a little more involved than some other recipes I considered, but I knew it would be a winner.  They don't mess around at Baking Illustrated.  I did make a few minor changes to the filling just based on ingredients I had at home.  And their filling called for whole milk.  I don't do whole milk.  Even though this isn't a Makeover Monday recipe, I did use Splenda instead of sugar.  I have to cut all the calorie corners I can with the holidays upon us!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Easy Apple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls With Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Yesterday I was going to make beef stir fry.  The recipe was out, the meat was thawing in the fridge, and the veggies were ready to go.  Then I went to take a walk.  About a minute into my walk it started snowing.  I made it about 10 minutes before I went inside and started making a pot of chili.  Stir fry could wait.

And since I was making chili, I needed some cinnamon rolls.  Unfortunately, I didn't have all day to make a batch of cinnamon rolls that required kneading, rising, rolling, more rising, and time to actually bake.  Fortunately, I had a recipe for quick and dirty cinnamon rolls lying around.  I did make a few changes to suit my preferences, and pantry stock.  I was not about to go out again for groceries.

These cinnamon rolls are awesome and really easy to make.  My husband went so far as to say they were the best cinnamon rolls he has ever had.  They are baked individually in muffin tins, so each roll has a crispy exterior and a sticky, gooey center.  Ah, heaven.  I didn't have the heart to tell him they were the easiest cinnamon rolls I have ever made.  They are such a cozy treat on a snowy day, and I am sure they would also be great for breakfast.  If you have company coming for the holidays these would be a great way for your guests to start their day.  And they will think you slaved over them for hours.  No one needs to know they are easy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pumpkin Crescent Rolls

I can't get pumpkin out of my head.  I think in September I should have bought stock in Libby's.  My latest pumpkin quest was Pumpkin Crescent Rolls.  When I came across this recipe a few years ago I actually wasn't even looking for a pumpkin recipe.  This was during the dark ages when I thought baking with yeast was too hard for me, and I was searching for a crescent roll recipe that didn't require yeast.  I have been wanting to make these for a long time and finally got around to it this week.  Now I wish I hadn't waited so long!

The dough itself was so easy to put together, and the assembly was definitely doable.  And the result was delicious homemade rolls that were soft on the inside with a nice crispy crust, and a subtle pumpkin flavor.  I used part whole wheat flour which gave it a nice nutty flavor, along with a fiber boost.   

As with most fresh breads, these were great right out of the oven.  But they did reheat well in the microwave for about 7 seconds.  These would be great on a Thanksgiving table, and I think could easily be made the day before. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apple Cranberry Oven Baked Pancake

In case you haven't noticed, I love making yummy breakfast treats.  A few years ago I decided I wanted to make apple pancakes and began searching for a recipe.  What I came across was oven baked apple pancakes.  It's not what I originally had in mind but I thought it was worth a try.  The first recipe I used was okay, but not great.  To me it was too egg-y, too bland, too soggy, and just forgettable.  I thought I could do better.

In my own version of the oven baked apple pancake, I added more flour (whole wheat of course!) to make it more like the pancakes I was used to and less like an apple omelet.  I also added walnuts for a bit of crunch, and cranberries for a little extra flavor punch.  I chose cranberries because I love their tartness and it is November, but you could use raisins if that's what you have.  You could also use whatever kind of nuts you have if you don't have/like walnuts.  But if you don't like walnuts I suggest you seek mental help immediately.  I used margarine to save calories, and added some ground flax seed to give these pancakes a boost of omega-3 fatty acids.  But if you aren't into preventing heart disease, feel free to leave the flax out. 

One advantage of oven baked pancakes compared to traditional pancakes is that you simply prepare a pan of them, and then stick it in the oven, and forget about it for a half an hour.  That is a great time to brew some coffee and read the paper while the aroma of apples and cinnamon overtakes your house.  Yum!  This version really hit the spot and is a great fall breakfast.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Makeover Monday: Guiltless Pumpkin Pie

My tummy is counting down to Thanksgiving.  Only 10 more days!  My favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner, much like most meals, is dessert.  And my favorite Thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin pie.  It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it.  Every year after overindulging on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and the rest of the gang, I tell myself I am going to wait and have a piece of pie later.  Then I see my mom cutting and distributing the delectable pieces of pumpkin pie and topping them with a generous scoop of whipped cream.  My resolve instantly weakens and I know I can't resist.  It gets me every time. 

The good news is that pumpkin pie isn't all bad.  The main ingredient is a vegetable, after all.  Pumpkin pie's best quality is that it is an excellent source of Vitamin A.  Unfortunately, it is also an excellent source of fat and sugar.  Pumpkin pie's worst quality is its crust.  A standard piece of pumpkin pie has about 315 calories, and almost 40% of that comes from the crust. 

I came across this recipe for Guiltless Pumpkin Pie a few years ago and thought it was brilliant.  It has a meager 100 calories.  That's 100 calories for dessert.  On a day known for overeating, that's kind of a big deal.  The main calorie slashing method of this recipe is that it is crust-less.  This is a double bonus for me since I'm not a crust person anyway.  It also saves calories by using fat free evaporated milk, using less of it than a standard recipe, and using Splenda instead of sugar.  If you are a pie crust enthusiast, you could still make this filling with a crust and lose about 95 calories per slice.

Friday, November 11, 2011


 Last week I mentioned making guacamole when I shared my Make it Yourself Margaritas recipe.  I thought it was about time to share my guacamole recipe as well. I am a fairly new member of the guacamole fan club.  It is one of those things I just didn't get around to eating until a few years ago.  For the record, as far as appetizers go, chips and salsa will always be number one in my heart.  I have been known to polish off a small jar of salsa in one sitting.  And to be honest, I probably wanted more when I was done.  But guacamole is pretty high up there as well. 

This recipe is the only one I have ever used for guacamole because I was hooked the first time I made it.  It just tastes so fresh.  The jalapeno gives it the perfect amount of kick and the lime juice adds just a touch of tartness.  When making guacamole, you do want to make sure the avocados you use are soft to the touch.  Unripe avocados are hard.  That means gritty, yucky guacamole.  I know from experience.

Not only is this guacamole delicious, it is also nutritious!   Avocados are a good source of potassium, magnesium, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K, which are all low in the typical American diet.  Do keep in mind that avocados are high in total fat, which means guacamole packs 5 times more calories per serving than salsa.  The good new is that the fat in avocados is mostly monounsaturated fat, which is a heart healthy fat.  Plus, one avocado contains a whopping 13 grams of fiber.  That's more fiber than you would get from eating 3 medium apples.  Holy guacamole!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I guess I am on a cookie bender this week.  I made a batch of these Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies before I had even finished my Chocolate Reese's Pieces Cookies.  Oops.  I did redeem myself a little bit by giving some away.  Albeit reluctantly.  These are seriously yummy cookies.  

With Thanksgiving sneaking up on us (2 weeks away!) I have cranberries on my mind.  I love their sweet tartness.  I also love that they are a great source of antioxidants.  This time of year is when fresh cranberries show up in stores, but I enjoy dried cranberries year round.  Surprisingly this was the first time I put them in cookies.  I am not a huge fan of baked raisins, but these cranberry cookies turned out great.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Garlic Knots

My husband and I have a great tradition we call "wine and cheese night".  Every now and then we forgo the usual weekend restaurant trip to stay at home, pop open a bottle of wine, try a new kind of cheese, munch on olives, and break a nice loaf of bread.  We had a wine and cheese night last Friday.  Usually we pick out a loaf of bread from the store, but this particular day I decided I was going to make my own.  I am getting so brave!  

I searched high and low for the perfect bread to make.  It had to be something flavorful, but something that complemented the cheese we were having.  I settled on these Garlic Knots.  While it's not a loaf of bread, I figured it would do the trick. And indeed, it did.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chocolate Reese's Pieces Cookies

I did a bad, bad thing.  I don't buy shoes just because I see them in the store and want them.  I don't stop and get a cappuccino whenever the mood hits me.  I am not an impulse shopper.  Except for food.  For some reason,  I can't help myself.  If I find a good deal when I'm in the grocery store,  I pull the trigger.  So when I went to the store on November 1st and saw the Halloween candy on sale, I bought a few bags.  I don't even eat candy most of the time.  
 One of the candies I bought was Reese's Pieces.  My husband loves chocolate and peanut butter, and I thought he would have them eaten after day one.  But he was oddly abstaining.  Although he was resisting the candy, I know he can't resist cookies.  So I decided to make some cookies with my purchase.  I considered peanut butter cookies with the candy in it, but thought it would be too peanut buttery.  Chocolate cookies seemed like a better balance.

What a good call.  These were amazing!  Soft, chewy, moist, chocolate and peanut butter goodness.  Maybe they were too good.  I am totally addicted!  Make at your own risk!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Makeover Monday: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

I have quite an arsenal of pancake recipes.  Of all my weekend breakfasts I make, pancakes have to be my favorite.  I have been making pancakes on weekend mornings for as long as I can remember.  And of all my pancake recipes, pumpkin pancakes are my favorite.  I love that fall allows me an excuse to make as much pancake stuff as I can!

I am always trying to make my weekend meals live up to my weekday standards.  This Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancake recipe wasn't too bad to start out with, but I found a few ways to improve it.  I used 100% whole wheat flour (24 extra grams of fiber), Splenda brown sugar substitute (70 fewer calories), flax instead of an egg (35 fewer calories), and applesauce instead of oil (105 fewer calories).

My main experimentation in this recipe was using the ground flax seed instead of an egg.  Eggs are slowly shedding the villain role they previously held for their high cholesterol content.  I didn't lose the egg in this recipe because I think I need fewer eggs so much as I think I need more omega-3 fatty acids, which flax seed is an excellent source of.  I eat ground flax seed most mornings either in Bran Flakes or a bowl of oatmeal, and I have noticed the box says you can substitute 1 tablespoon flax plus 3 tablespoons water for one egg.  I hadn't tried it yet, but I thought this recipe would be a good tester.   

It turned out great.  These pancakes are moist, thick, and perfectly pumpkin-y.  Not only is the pumpkin tasty, but it is an awesome source of Vitamin A.  I topped these with margarine and light pancake syrup to complete a breakfast that tastes like an indulgence, but really isn't!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Easy Rosemary Bean Soup

Winter weather has officially struck a large part of the country, and I am not pleased.  I hate cold weather.  However, I must say there are a few bonuses to its arrival.  One is soup. There is nothing cozier than putting on your favorite old sweater and fuzzy slippers, and savoring a nice hot bowl of soup.  Especially one that smells this good.  Thank you rosemary!

There are three things I love about this Easy Rosemary Bean Soup.  
1: It is fast!  Unlike many soups or stews that require hours of simmering, this soup is basically ready when you are.  
2: It is healthy!  It is about time I put a healthy recipe on here.  I have been slacking off lately!  This recipe is just beans and veggies.  That means lots of fiber, and not many calories.  And if you've been eating all the desserts I've been posting (which I have!), or sneaking pieces of leftover Halloween candy (which I have!) you could probably use a light meal by now!
3:  It is delicious!  The flavors of the sauteed onions and garlic, the rosemary, and the stewed tomatoes come together to make a soup that will make your taste buds very happy with you.  Trust me, they will think you spent hours.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Make it Yourself Margaritas

This post is dedicated to my mom.  I am like my father in almost all ways possible.  But in my love for margaritas, I am like my mother.  Nothing brings us together quite like a glass (or two!) of sweet, tangy, salty goodness!  

Typically I just buy a margarita mix.  It is easy and always satisfies.  Last weekend for college football Saturday, my game day theme was Mexican.  I made homemade guacamole (coming soon!) and I thought some homemade margaritas would complement the chips and dip nicely.  I searched around for a good margarita recipe and settled on this one.  Jackpot!