Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beef Stew

There's nothing particularly fancy about beef stew.  It's not all the rage.  It's not gourmet.  I'm pretty sure it's what peasants used to eat.  But it is simple, hearty, and it makes a chilly day feel a little warmer.  So every winter beef stew is on my list of of winter foods to make.

Recently I was looking through some Cook's Illustrated recipes and I came across one entitled "Best Beef Stew."  The writer of the article was raving about how deep the flavors were and how beefy this stew was.  I was intrigued.  Usually when I make beef stew I start with pre-packaged beef stew meat, turn to a handy-dandy packet of beef stew seasonings, and follow their directions.  It is always good, but not knock-your-socks-off delicious.  Could beef stew made from scratch be that much better?  There's only one way to find out!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brownie Covered Peanut Butter Patties

Because I actually enjoy baking cookies, I am not one to buy buy cookies.  But about a month ago, my husband and I were spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at home when the doorbell rang.  It was two little girls selling Girl Scout cookies.  How can I turn away Girl Scouts?  So I bought some Peanut Butter Patties. 

The girls returned last week with our cookies.  I ate a few as they were, but I wanted to somehow make something special with them.  I was thinking that I had a recipe stashed somewhere for brownie covered Oreos and I thought that would be a good way to use my Peanut Butter Patties.  I did a little searching and found what I was looking for on Picky Palate's website.  With that I set out to make my own peanut buttery version.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Makeover Monday: Secret Ingredient Baked Mac & Cheese

Raise your hand if you like mac & cheese.  Keep your hand raised if you would like it more if it had less fat and fewer calories, but still tasted great.  I'm imagining everyone reading this still has their hands raised.  If your hand is in the air, keep on reading.  And you can put your hand down now.

This is a casserole-like mac & cheese.  It consists of cooked elbow noodles in a homemade cheese sauce, with a secret ingredient that gives it creaminess without fat, and is topped with buttery Ritz crackers.  To be totally honest, I didn't think this recipe was amazing.  While I think most foods are better made from scratch, when it comes to mac & cheese, I've got the blue box blues.  I love Kraft macaroni and cheese!  

But I made this baked mac & cheese for my husband and a friend of his and they absolutely loved it.  I think the only thing that prevented them from polishing off the whole pan in one sitting was fear of their intestines exploding.  I didn't say anything about my secret ingredient.  I just sat, watched, and grinned as they gobbled it up.  Some things are better left unsaid.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Health Tips: Smart Snacking

Today I want to talk about something that can make or break any diet plan: snacks.  I am an avid snacker.  You don't want to be near me if I haven't eaten in more than 3 hours!  Snacking has become a normal part of our culture, and it can be helpful in trying to lose weight.  Eating small meals with a snack between keeps blood sugar from dropping, and appetites from soaring.  Unfortunately, it is often times a diet buster.  We are constantly bombarded by junk food that is marketed as snacks.  Chips, cookies, candy bars, crackers, pop, etc.  In my nutrition counseling, I have seen first hand how these poor snack choices can add up to a lot of calories and pounds.  

Fortunately, snacking can be a part of a healthy diet.  But instead of using snacks to derail your diet, think of snacks as an opportunity to fit in foods you currently don’t get enough of.  Think about your typical diet and how much you eat from the different food groups.  Are there foods you eat too much of?  Are there foods you don’t eat enough of?  The typical American diet is heavy on carbs and meat and low in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy.  If you’re not sure how you are doing, the website is a great place to find out!
Now that you have an idea of which foods you need to increase or decrease in your diet, here are some healthy snack ideas from the different food groups:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuna and Brown Rice Casserole with White Wine Sauce (and a Cream Soup bounus recipe!)

A few weeks ago I shared my tuna ring with Swiss cheese sauce and discussed my quest to make tuna a little more sophisticated than my old go-to, Tuna Helper.  Now that Lent is here and I need some meatless meals, it's time to bust out the tuna.  My journey continues today as the classic combo of tuna and rice gets a delicious taste makeover with a scrumptious white wine sauce.

And this post comes with a bonus recipe!  I found this original recipe in an old cookbook, and it called for using cream of chicken soup, but I made my own.  I'd like to say that I made this from scratch because I am just that fancy.  But here's what really happened: I had my heart set on making this and then realized I didn't have cream of chicken soup.  So, I frantically searched the web for a substitute.  I found a great recipe for homemade cream of chicken soup on My Family Eats' website.  Bingo!  Then I realized that to make the soup, you need chicken broth.  Which I also didn't have.  So I substituted soy sauce and water for the broth to make just regular "cream soup."  But you can use this basic recipe to make either cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup.  This recipe is great if you don't also find yourself without cream soup, but it is also a good recipe if you are trying to make more food from scratch to reduce your processed food intake.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vegetarian Mexican Pizza

'Tis the season for me to break out vegetarian meals.  Yes, Lent is upon us tomorrow.  It totally caught me by surprise this yea!.  Although I am a hard-core carnivore, I actually like mixing it up with some meatless meals.  I have posted a few vegetarian or fish meals, but I plan to share even more in the next 40 days.  And I'm going to start it off today with one of my favorites: Vegetarian Mexican Pizza. 

I can't get enough Mexican food.  I can't get enough pizza.  Combining the two just makes good sense!  This recipe layers refried beans, Mexican cheese, taco sauce, onion, tomatoes, and spices on a whole wheat pizza crust.  I am pro whole grains.  Put it all together and you get a fiesta on a pizza crust.  This is gooey, cheesy, spicy, Mexican goodness.  And it is a good source of fiber.  Bonus!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Makeover Monday: Whole Wheat Banana Waffles

A few weeks ago I shared my adventures in making the perfect waffle.  And while my blueberry buttermilk waffles were amazing, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt as I scarfed down the crispy, fluffy, and fatty circles of breakfast goodness.  Yes, these were going to need a makeover to earn a spot in my Saturday morning breakfast rotation.

Thanks to whole wheat flour, applesauce, and bananas, I can now enjoy delicious waffles with a clear conscience.  And believe it or not, my husband actually said these were BETTER than the regular waffles I made previously.  They weren't quite as fluffy as the originals.  That could be due to the applesauce instead of oil, or it could be that the 2 litter bottle of seltzer water I used had been open for a week and had lost some of its carbonation.  Or maybe a combination of both!  But I think the 400 calorie savings are worth it!

I substituted mashed bananas for the sour cream which gave the waffles good texture and a nice banana flavor.  Since I was adding bananas to the mix, I thought some yummy complementary spices were in order.  So I added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  They were a great touch!  Of course, I added some whole wheat flour for a fiber bonus.  I used non-fat dried milk powder instead of the buttermilk powder to cut out some of the fat.  And I was back to my usual trick of applesauce instead of oil.  I even used just the white of the egg for even more extreme calorie savings.

Even with the healthy changes I made, these waffles are great!  I was so happy to have a tasty waffle with way less fat.  These are the perfect way to start a Saturday morning!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Dieters beware!  I try to share healthy dessert recipes here and there.  This isn't one of them!  I first came across chocolate chip cookie pie at the restaurant in my little town.  My husband and I had dinner there and our waitress asked us if we would like dessert and told us what they offered.  We don't usually order desserts at restaurants (1: I like to make my own desserts and 2: we are usually too stuffed) but our ears perked up when she mentioned Toll House pie.  She explained that it was a pie filled with chocolate chip cookie.  Yes please! 

Minutes later she came out with a plate containing a slice of luscious chocolate chip cookie pie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  We quickly dug in and experienced one of those moments of pure food bliss.  It was melt-in-your mouth good!

I knew I had to reproduce this at home.  I am too shy to ask for a recipe at a restaurant, but I thought it couldn't be too hard to make it at home.  It's a pie crust filled with cookie dough.  I put this on the back burner for a long time.  It came back to the forefront when I came across a recipe for chocolate chip cookie pie in my grandma's old cookbook.  I had been planning to just make standard chocolate chip cookie dough, but I figured it would be a better idea to actually use a recipe.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Red Wine Pot Roast

I confess.  I am a promiscuous pot roast maker.  I don't have one "go-to" pot roast recipe.  I have previously shared a few of my pot roast suitors, rosemary thyme pot roast, and a newbie to my recipe collection, pot roast with cider-maple gravy.  Today I have another one to introduce.  Everybody, I'd like you to meet red wine pot roast. 

I made my first red wine pot roast several years ago.  I'm no wine sommelier, but I do know that red wine and red meat go together like a hand in a glove (I wanted to say meatball and tuna fish, but I wasn't sure everyone would get the Adam Sandler reference).  So it seemed like it would be a good idea to cook red meat in red wine.  And it is a great idea!  Not only do the tastes complement each other, but wine helps tenderize tougher cuts of beef, which roasts typically are.  That's why you roast them!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oatmeal Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Random musing: If I had a cinnamon roll tree in my backyard that produced calorie free cinnamon rolls all year, I do believe I would have cinnamon rolls every day.  I love them that much.  But alas, cinnamon roll trees don't exist (that I know of!) and they are certainly not calorie free so I have to settle for having them every once in a while.

A while back ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning inexplicably craving cinnamon rolls.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the hours it takes to make up a batch of fresh cinnamon rolls.  So I started to make a batch of one of my favorite pancake varieties, oatmeal, which has a hint of cinnamon, thinking that would calm my craving.  I thought maybe I could even add a little extra cinnamon to up the ante.  Then I remembered seeing a recipe somewhere for cinnamon roll pancakes.  A quick internet search brought me to just what I was looking for--pancakes with a cinnamon-sugar swirl and a cream cheese glaze.  I just adapted the idea into my whole wheat oatmeal pancakes for a breakfast that was fast, hearty, and surprisingly cinnamon roll-like.  Perfect!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Happy Valentine's Day to all those out there in internet land!   V-Day is a great excuse for those of us in relationship bliss to enjoy a nice romantic dinner together.  And for whatever reason, when I think of a romantic dinner, my mind goes straight to Italian food.  But every brother and their mother takes their significant other (what a rhyme!) out to eat for Valentine's Day, and dealing with a crowded restaurants can be a nightmare. 

So if you find yourself at your favorite Italian restaurant with a 2 hour wait, head home and make some delicious Italian food with your sweetheart!  Cooking together can actually be a really great date.  One of my favorite Valentine's Day dinners with my husband was when we stayed at home and leisurely prepared ourselves an amazing three course meal.  I thought about which dinner I wanted to share today and I settled on something that is quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious: Baked Eggplant Parmesan. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Makeover Monday: Skinny Dark Chocolate Mousse

If you haven't heard the news already, Valentine's Day is tomorrow!  It's the perfect day to give your sweetie sometime sweet.  For the past week I have been sharing great chocolate-themed desserts, but they all take a little time to put together.  So if you want to make a delicious treat for your Valentine, but have been putting it off and need something quick, I've got just the thing for you.  And it's low calorie, but full of chocolate flavor!  

I saw this recipe for dark chocolate mousse on a package of Hersey's Special Dark Chocolate cocoa.  I have never made mousse before, and I'm not even positive that I've had it before.  But I love dark chocolate and this seemed like a nice, easy, tasty dessert that would be the perfect end to a special Valentine's Day dinner.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dark Chocolate Sugar Cookies with Cocoa Butter Frosting

I think I have admitted before that I am a recipe junky.  I have collected more recipes than I could hope to make, and yet I continue to seek them out.  It's my cross to bear.  While flipping through one of my recipe binders recently, I realized that I have two different recipes for chocolate sugar cookies.  I used one to make chocolate Halloween cookies last fall, but the other one hadn't been tested yet.  I had been planning to make Valentine's Day sugar cookies and decided it was time to try out chocolate cookie recipe #2.

After testing, I am bumping #2 up to #1.  Taste-wise, it might not be a totally fair fight because I used dark chocolate cocoa powder this time, and I like my chocolate dark.  But where this recipe really gets the nod is in workability.  I remember the dough of my other chocolate sugar cookies being pretty sticky and hard to roll out.  I didn't have any problems with this dough.  These were probably the easiest sugar cookies I have ever made.  And they were packed with amazingly delicious dark chocolate.  Where have these been all my life?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Health Tips: How To Make a Lowfat Fudge-Like Chocolate Cake!

Disclaimer: I did not make or decorate this lovely cake!
This week I have been enjoying this beautiful chocolate cake a coworker made for me.  And I am enjoying it even more now that I know her secret for a low fat cake that has a nice dense texture!  She made a chocolate cake from a box mix and used applesauce instead of oil.  And while it was hot out of the oven she placed cardboard over it and gently pressed down to compress it. 
It has a great chocolate flavor and a bit of a fudge-like texture.  This cake was so good I never would have guessed it was low fat!  I thought it was a great trick I should share with you all.  What a great looking cake!
Thanks Kathy!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Romeo and Juliet.  Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.  Pocahontas and John Smith.  Bella and Edward.  Lady and the Tramp.  All classic couples (although the last one seems kind of mean).  As we approach Valentine's Day I think it is about time we acknowledge the world's greatest couple--chocolate and peanut butter.  I am definitely glad these two found each other so long ago.  To say I am a fan of the combo is an understatement!

Peanut butter cookies have always been one of my favorite cookies.  When I added chocolate to the equation in these cookies, it jetted up even higher on my list!  Double chocolate peanut butter cookies are like peanut butter cookies with cocoa powder added to the other dry ingredients and chocolate chips stirred in.  And just for good measure, peanuts joined the fun as well.  It is chocolate and peanut butter bliss!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies

I consider myself a pretty savvy shopper.  I like to pinch my pennies and love a good bargain.  So even though I have been trying to do my baking from scratch, I am still sometimes suckered in to buying a box of cake mix when I see its price slashed.  Thus, many moons ago I found myself with a box of red velvet cake mix, and no plans to use it.

When I saw this recipe for red velvet cheesecake cookies I was instantly intrigued.  Who could resist a cookie made from red velvet cake batter and filled with a little ball of cheesecake?  Not me!  When I saw that it used a box of red velvet cake mix, I knew I had found a solution to my little cake mix dilemma.  And these pretty red cookies with the cream cheese glaze make the perfect treat for your valentine. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chocolate Waffles (Two Ways!)

Well folks, I've done it again.  Chocolate for breakfast.  Isn't that the dream?  And what better way to start your Valentine's Day than with some chocolate waffles?  Trust me, the way to a man's heart is chocolate.  And waffles.  Hence, chocolate waffles!

The Belgian waffle maker I got for Christmas came with a few recipes.  I hadn't tried any of them yet, but I had my eye on a chocolate waffle recipe.  It's brilliant.  They suggested serving it as a dessert with ice cream.  I wanted it for breakfast.  So I used whole wheat and Splenda to make myself feel better about having chocolate for breakfast.
Now that I had decided I was going to make chocolate waffles for breakfast happen, I had some serious decisions to make.  What was I going to use as my topping?  I sometimes have donuts for breakfast.  I sometimes have coffee cake for breakfast.  But ice cream seemed like going a little too far.  I thought that for Valentine's Day, whipped topping and strawberries with strawberry syrup would be great.  But at the same time, peanut butter is chocolate's true valentine.  I remembered the peanut butter glaze I used on my Elvis cake and thought a thinned out version of that would be amazing on a chocolate waffle.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Makeover Monday: Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake

There is something about chocolate covered strawberries that just screams romance.  Or maybe, whispers it seductively in your ear.  They would be the perfect end to a delicious Valentine's Day dinner.  Except that it's February and strawberries are a few months from being in season.  I'm not even sure my little small town grocery store has fresh strawberries right now!  If I could find them, I bet I wouldn't like them. 

So when I saw a recipe for strawberry cake in a summer issue of Cook's Country that called for frozen strawberries I thought it would actually be perfect for winter.  Frozen strawberries are fresh year round!  However, I'm still trying to be a good girl and eat fewer calories from fat and sugar.  The cup and a half of butter (132 grams of fat) and 1 3/4 cups of sugar weren't jiving with that resolution.  But I knew I had to have this cake.  I remembered I successfully substituted margarine for butter in the cranberry upside down cake I made last fall.  So I used it again, which cut out half the fat.  And I used my favorite sugar stand in, Splenda, instead of the sugar.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Whole Wheat Homemade Pita Bread

Earlier this week I shared my recipe for roasted red pepper hummus.  Hummus just has to be eaten with pita bread.  Pita is a soft, chewy, circle of pure bread goodness.  And if you are having pita bread, it might as well be homemade!

When I made my hummus, I thought about going to the store to buy some pita bread, but then I thought better of it.  A quick internet search lead me to this recipe for homemade pita bread.  It had me at whole wheat!  I am gradually getting over my fear of yeast breads, so I set out to make my own pita bread.  I am so full of good ideas!