Friday, January 25, 2008

Chocolate Cravings

Who doesn't pause after eating dinner sometimes and I would love something sweet to eat! This is always a tough predicament because we work so hard to plan something healthy for dinner and then we STILL want something more. I have a few tricks that I have learned along the way, but today I wanted to tackle that pesky chocolate craving.

At some of my Weight Watchers meetings some people would share that to curb their chocolate cravings they had a Hershey's kiss, or a Weight Watchers cake (which I used for awhile as well, but they are expensive and don't hold very many per box!). However sometimes when I want desert...I want something a bit larger than my pinkie finger.

One of my big discoveries was No Pudge brownies. These treats are amazing. They come in a few different flavors, but I tend to stick to the traditional ones. All you need is a serving size of fat free vanilla yogurt (or plain with the addition of vanilla extract) and the mix. They taste exactly like brownies and are fat free! Erin and I like to add fat free vanilla yogurt to ours to make sundaes. I also have come across the trick of adding a can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) to a mix of regular brownies. I haven't tried this myself but I hear that the results are very similar as well. The No Pudge brownies are a little harder to find, as some grocery stores don't carry them. They are only two points a brownie, so imagine my surprise when I found a WW recipe that looked very similar but only yielded 1 point per brownie!

These Chewy Cupcake Brownies were really good! Erin described them as dense and delicious. I loved that the serving size was a regular cupcake, and not a mini one, and that I already had all the ingredients in my cupboard. These couldn't have been easier and they stayed moist and chewy for the next few days. I do not think that these cupcakes needed any frosting, however some powdered sugar might have been nice.

I must say I didn't miss the extra point that the No Pudge brownies gave, and instead will just add a bit more ice cream to my next sundae.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mastering the art of cooking a Spaghetti Squash

A few months ago I saw a recipe on Eating Well claiming that spaghetti squash was the perfect alternative to pasta. WHAT? I had never heard this before. I had been introduced to a lot of different squashes via my aforementioned chef friend below and she taught me tons of yummy ways to incorporate and substitute squash to make dishes healthy and fantastic. But Spaghetti squash for pasta??? (a disclaimer to mention she does in fact do this as well, however she can't teach me every squash recipe in one season!)

My first attempt at making this dish proved mixed. The ingredients in the rest of the recipe made it very tasty, however the consistency of the squash was anything but pasta-like. I followed the directions on the bottom of the recipe to a tee, and still came out with a mush of squash. Now one would assume that the use of the adjective "mush" when referring to a squash is a good thing. Not so much with the spaghetti squash.

After having an unused pork tenderloin in the freeze for a week, I decided to attempt this dish again. I spent my lunch hour googling "how to cook a spaghetti squash that is not mushy" to hopefully improve the errors of my are the changes I made. One, I made sure to pierce the outside of the squash about five times on each side. I also had read numerous times that it is better to under cook the squash than over cook. AH HA, I have come to believe that was my mistake last time! The recipe reads to cook the squash for at least an hour, mine was done in approx. 40 mins. Perfectly Pasta-like. The key, I read, was to check the outside of the squash to see if it was soft to the touch, if so then turn it over and attempt shredding to test the consistency.

The flavors in this meal is Asian inspired and definitely creates a unique and tasty substitute for a normal high calorie noodle stir-fry. Although you may not have a few of the ingredients in your cupboard, believe me when I say that you will definitely use them again and again to make some delicious Spaghetti Squash & Pork Stir-fry!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slow cookin Monday

So this Monday was a holiday, which means I had a day off from work! I decided to relax and sleep in, but for me cooking is also part of a relaxing day. I know a few posts ago I boasted about how warm the weather has been in NYC. Well...the weather gods quickly changed their temperatures and I was quickly back to craving hot and hearty foods.

I got a late start to the day and decided that before I hit the gym I should have something to eat. I had been wanting to try this recipe that I saw on youtube awhile back and thought it perfect for a cold, late morning day. It was one of those things that I jotted down and never really threw out, even after cleaning out my recipe binder numerous times. I try to only print out recipes that I am making that day, because often I end up with a huge pile of unmade ideas...that end up being far to overwhelming to pick from. Needless to say this recipe also struck me because I seemed to have most of the ingredients lying around on any given morning (I think is important note because if you are hungry and don't want to run to the store in the morning its nice to have all you need!). Also if are someone who orders brown rice with their Chinese food, which I just happen to do, well then that's the main ingredient!

Here is a how to video (starring the cook) about how to make Brown Rice Breakfast. It tasted a little like warm rice pudding in a way. It was very good, and totally kept me fueled up for the gym!

When I returned back to the gym the house was warm, but the stomachs inside were hungry. Having the day off Erin and I decided to take in some movies and snack on popcorn (one of my most popular snacks). I wanted to throw together something that would be ready to eat later, but also hearty and filling. What else but chili fits that bill? This Hearty Turkey Chili is another Weight Watchers fave. I also made this over Christmas for my family. Its not the traditional chili as I substituted white beans and turkey meat, however it packs a punch like Teddy Bruschi! (the patriots just made it to the Superbowl what can I say?). A few notes about this one. I add extra chicken broth and tomato sauce especially when I am cooking it longer than directed. Its also quite spicy so if you aren't a fan of heat I would suggest cutting back on the red pepper flakes.

What better than to serve chili with than cornbread? I resorted to the Hungry-girl site to get a great recipe for Cheesy-Good Cornbread Muffins. These are not only low calorie but low fat too! They definitely aren't as sweet or corny as your typical cornbread, but they are a easy substitution.

Erin is always a fan of the chili (must be the New Englander in her). On her rating scale it got a whopping 7.5, not too shabby. I wasn't a huge fan of the muffins, however after researching and discovering that boxed corn muffins have twice the cals and fat...they seemed to grow on me. Although cutting corners with the chili could allow for the extra in regular cornbread!

It sure may be cold outside but this chili will certainly warm you up!

Mexican Day, OLE!

As you can already guess from previous posts I really enjoy many different flavors and types of cuisines. I think one of the hardest things to do is find dishes, from your favorite cuisines, that you can make healthy yet still keep the authentic taste. One of my personal favorite cuisines is Mexican. Living in NYC there are alot of amazingly delicious, authentic Mexican restaurants around. There also just happens to be a cheap, deliciously good delivery place that is right near my apartment! I must admit that most of the time when I am in the mood for Mexican I utilize a "cheat" night as I find the indulgence well worth it. With that said I do find myself trying to pick "healthier choices" when it comes to my selection. For a long time I really didn't think that good Mexican food was something that could be altered into a healthy option.

However over the summer erin and I were introduced to some amazing, healthy choices for Mexican showing me it WAS in fact possible . One of the dishes was chile rellejnos, made healthy with an amazing stuffing of corn and tons of veggies instead of the normal oodles and oodles of cheese. Very healthy and extremely tasty! Along side that was served homemade guacamole with the slight indulgence of chips (one of my downfalls although our chef friend also introduced me to Guiltless Gourmet Chips!). Now I must add that these dishes tasted anything but "healthy".

So this weekend, when faced with what to cook, we were actually getting together with our friend/chef that created that incredible meal above. Naturally we decided to go Mexican again. This time we attempted Shrimp Fajitas . Both of our significant others are also big chicken lovers, and being a lean protein we opted to double the marinate recipe and add chicken as well. We made sure to cook the chicken first, as it takes longer than the shrimp, but kept everything in one big pan.
In addition to the fajitas we also had her amazing homemade guacamole again(this is a regular request made from her kitchen when we visit) and she also did a homemade salsa. Crazy good!

Weekends are also a good time to indulge in a drink or...more. An obvious pair to Mexican food would be a Margarita. Being a consumer of these in the past, and then having to give them up due to their high point values, I was pleasantly surprised to find this healthy margarita recipe! What a find. Erin is normally the bar tender when it comes to these drinks. And as we keep to the kitchen she keeps the shaker going (although to be honest I would not recommend shaking these margaritas because the soda will go flat!).

I will always indulge in a good authentic Mexican meal, however this alternative just gives me yet another way to say OLE!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An Apple a Day

I love apples. When I started Weight Watchers I quickly learned that I would be one of those people who needed the 0 point food items a bit more frequently than others. Although fruit is not 0 points, it is low on the Weight Watchers scale. I would also like to say that in my world/stomach all fruit is not created equal. Apples, however, pack quite a punch. Not only do they come in a variety of colors, flavors and sizes but they are also chocked full of fiber. Fiber=fullness.

Erin and I are currently counting down the days until we become Bostonians (we are relocating to Boston). There are a lot of things that I know I am going to miss about this city. One of these being the Union Square Green Market. I pass this market every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the rain, shine and snow. All of the stands are local farmers and the rule is that everything sold must come directly from their farms. It was so fun to see the colors that emerged as each new season started. In the fall there were gourds, pumpkins and apples. The winter brought trees, wreaths and hot cider. The spring and summer bring flowers and veggies galore.

No matter what the season one of the main staples was Apples. Every morning on my walk to work I would pass crates and crates of apples. All kinds. My personal favorite is the green, tart, crispy Granny Smiths. There is also nothing like a tart Macintosh apple in the fall. I found that even in the middle of winter those farms show up with delicious, even if they are smaller, options. Today for example I found an amazing large and delicioius Winesnap.

These wonder fruits are also great to cook with. I added them in the stuffing I made at Thanksgiving, the hold endless possiblities for deserts and nothing beats a cup of apple cider.

I personally think we should change the saying to:
An Apple a day keeps the hunger away. Hooray!!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bridge Mix, Beer Bread and key lime Bars

Weekends are always a bit hectic for erin and I, and normally the cooking takes a back seat to take out menus and TV. I'll admit it, I give myself the weekends to indulge the "cheater" that lies within us all. I think I deserve those two days to order greasy food, bring out the whole bag of chips instead of just a bowl and down a few extra drinks. With that said I also put my running shoes on every weekend as a precursor to my festivities.

This past weekend we got invited to a football party. Sports and parties, two of my favorite weekend pastimes. When faced with what to bring there was the first easiest selection, Bridge Mix. Now to be fair not only is this not my recipe, but I don't even cook it. This is Erin's specialty. If erin had formed the rating system back when i tried Bridge Mix for the first would most definitely be a 10 for me. Although most may look at it and think it's your typical chex mix cereal party mix, to me it's heaven. Unfortunately I can't share this recipe (because it's not mine to share!) however believe me when I say it's worth trying to win erin over for a taste!

The next item selected was our Beer Bread. Now here comes another disclaimer. I do not consider this cooking as the instructions are simply to add a can of beer to the mix of bread. But come on, it was a football party doesn't that just seem fitting?! And need I remind you of my philosophy regarding weekends? The mix is from a company called Tastefully Simple. They carry a lot of yummy mixes and dips. If you are interested in getting some let me know and I can hook you up with a great consultant. This bread has a sweeter flavor so I like to serve it with a dill or onion dip on the side. The bread takes almost and hour to bake, but the wait is well worth it!

The final dish I brought was in fact a new recipe AND it did fact require actual cooking! I often come across deserts that sound super simple, healthy and fun to make. However unless we have company it can be quite dangerous to leave erin and I with an entire desert, even if it is healthy! Recently I came across a Weight Watchers Key Lime Pie Bars recipe. Now I know it may sound strange making a citrus desert in the middle of winter, but if you live anywhere near NYC you can believe that this past week felt anything but wintry. Inspired by the weather I set out to make this summery desert. I substituted the sugar in the crust for Splenda, mainly because I ran out of sugar and didn't want a substitution to change the taste of the filling, and I also added a bit of extra fresh lime juice because I like tart flavors. It came out great, a bit foamy on top but that settled a bit the longer it sat.
In order to transport these bars I decided to cut them ahead of time. Now another rule of mine is to take note of the serving sizes mentioned on recipes and try my best to follow them. If you disregard how many servings the dish creates you could end up undoing the choice to eat healthy in the first place. This rule also helps me eliminate some recipes where I would find myself having one bite for a serving. The Key Lime Bars were said to serve sixteen. Now in my weekend induced haze I began to cut the bars eight on one side, eight on the other. As I began to struggle with plating them, and hold myself back from throwing away the entire dish, erin calmly mentioned that in fact I had cut them into 32nds...not 16th. The other half of the pan made it out mathematically correct. The one plus side to this was as erin and I ate the leftover 32nds that held even fewer calories than their counterparts. The guilt of desert slide right off the plate.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Peanut Pasta from a kitchen not so far away...

My little sister was visiting NYC the other day and called to ask for my suggestion for a good Thai restaurant. I then directed the inquiry to Erin who is much better at remembering the city that I will ever be. This also prompted us both to have an intense craving for Thai food. Not the healthiest cuisine, yet with the help of my trusty, now neatly organized (this is a recent description) recipe binder I was able to find my recipe for Peanut Pasta with Shredded Chicken and Vegetables.

I remembered that this recipe contained Chile-garlic sauce (or chili-garlic sauce, or paste) which is a blend of ground chiles, garlic and vinegar and is commonly used to add heat and flavor to Asian soups, sauces and stir-fries. It can be found in the Asian section of large supermarkets and keeps up to 1 year in the refrigerator. The good news is although that seems like an intimidating ingredient to find (and it was) it last through many many recipes. I actually add a bit extra this time around, and we had to add a few more wipes of the nose as well. It was spicy! I also recommend cooking the chicken in fat free chicken broth, rather than water. Just adds a bit more flavor.

I'll have you know that this one obtained an 8.8 by Erin. We actually had quite a lengthy debate about the rating. You see she was unaware that I had begun sharing her ratings, and felt immense pressure now to make sure they were accurate from this point on. So I warned her that sometimes she might get caught up in the moment/bite and blurt out a rating that will forever affect the other dishes she may try. She wanted to give this dish a 9, but when I reminded her that this was in fact the rating for the previously blogged Chicken Saagwalla she had to rethink her entire process.

I may have done the cooking last night, but she sure worked too!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Brilliant Brussel Sprouts

Don't mistake the title of this entry as boasting. The only thing that deserves to boast when it comes to Brussels sprouts are the sprouts themselves. I was introduced to these wonderful veggies by a friend of mine who just swore that I would love them. Now normally I would have smiled and thanked her for the suggestion and continued to fill up on broccoli (my former favorite side/filler dish). However this certain friend had a way of constantly suggesting and cooking food that both my girlfriend Erin and I could not get enough we took heed and discovered Brussels sprouts.

She had schooled me in her method of preparing them and instructed that all she simply sauteed them with some salt and pepper and various other spices. Nothing fancy. Nothing difficult. My first attempt at cooking them yielded an average response from Erin (as you may recall she is my food taster and grader). I believe she may have given them a six. I had cut the bottoms off and allowed the outer layers to fall off. I then sauteed them with some cooking spray, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and a pinch out of my St.Marteen spices bag (as a side note this was a bag of spices labelled "magic spice" on a trip that we recently took to St. Marteen). They were yummy, however a bit al dente for Erin's liking. My next attempt I opted to steam them first, and then follow the above saute/seasoning plan. This was a success! It created a softer veggie, however giving the outside a nice crunch.

We often have these now as a healthy, highly guilty free side dish. Seriously, I have to make sure that I give Erin her share first because if she gets up for a drink I often forget what helping I am on!

For Thanksgiving I am a strong believer of enjoying all of the normal indulgent, traditional dishes that my family cooks. This year when I was asked what I wanted to bring, keeping in mind all of the normal dishes were accounted for, I decided to make Brussels Sprouts with Bacon-Horseradish Cream. Not only did this recipe include my new favorite vegetable, but it also contained bacon and horseradish (which my dad is a huge fan of)! This dish was a hit as well, although not with my dad. He just couldn't get past the Brussels Sprout. No harm though the rest of us devoured it quickly. It was even requested again at Christmas. The only tweak I made was doubling the horseradish and giving it an extra piece of bacon. It was the holiday's after all!

Whenever I Google recipes for Brussels Sprouts the options listed seem endless.
Much like my appetite whenever I know those green little lovely lumps are on the menu.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cusine Cooking

When I mentioned that I "broke-up" with food for awhile it occurred to me that the path I took back to this relationship was a complicated, yet fun one. During my "break-up" I dated the ever growing fad that is Weight Watchers. Without selling the program too heavily I will say that it was a complete fit for me. It in fact allowed me to eat anything I wished, and drink as much as I wanted (which can be quite important to a 20 something living in the city). I learned tricks and ways to make WW work for me that I love sharing with others. One of the areas I began to explore was cooking. This allowed me to create/try dishes that used low point foods that I was already familiar with. As previously mentioned I was a big eater, so I began with recipes that I could eat alot of, while taste was a secondary thought. As my weight dropped so did my need to inhale and entire recipe alone and taste moved back into the drivers seat.

One of the cuisines that I fell in love with was Indian food.

I recently read that it is a common misconception that Indian food is primarily healthy. Although some dishes can be, I find that alot of people assume meals that contain primarily vegetables are healthier than those containing meat. That in fact is highly dependent upon how the food is prepared. One of my main rules in cooking is to use little to no oil. Even olive oil. Alot of vegetarian dishes derive there flavor in cooking the vegetables in oil. This is especially true when eating out. My rule of thumb is to substitute oil for spices. I have officially broken up with oil, and sometimes say hi if only to be cordial.

Returning to my weight watchers roots I often find myself searching the Internet for various recipes that show the weight watcher points for food that I had come to love. Which brings me to my first recipe. Chicken Sagwalla. One important point I should mention is that not only was I cooking for myself, whom I consider to be pretty open to new foods, but I was also cooking for my pickier yet adventurous girlfriend. One thing we did agree on was our love of Indian food.

When I make new recipes I always make my girlfriend rate them. The scale is simple from 1-10, 10 being the best and so on. In her book this one got a 9! I have yet to receive a 10.

The Chicken Sagwalla is the one that has the spinach and chicken. I also made another main dish of Indian-Spiced Eggplant & Cauliflower Stew. This recipe was found on, another website that will be a frequent visitor to my blog. I served it with a brown basmati rice and store bought Naan. I served fat free plain yogurt on the side that added coolness to the spices in both dishes. At the suggestion of my knowledgeable girlfriend we thought that white wine added to the overall experience.
The spices in Indian food, cumin, curry, coriander to name a few are quite potent in flavor. Through finding/trying and loving this recipe I have since tried experimenting with those spices with my pita chips, toasted pumpkin seeds, even french fries.
I hope when I make this dish people say to me : "khana bahut sawaad, bahut tita" simply stated "your food is delicious and spicy".

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Course

I think everyone is a foodie deep down. I don't think you have to be a good cook, enjoy fancy meals or even know every food group to be a foodie. I just think you need to love food. Not just like it. Not just utilize it for nutrition. But really love it. I love it. I've spent the past two years breaking up with the food I used to love and taking my space with new foods. I tried alot of variety and in the end even made my way back to some of my old stand bys. Although there were some foods that I just could not, would not ever escape. I also started to try my hat at cooking.

I wanted to start a blog where I could document the recipes that I use and the foods that I try. I know that some would say, "why not keep a recipe book?". Well of course I have one of those. But I have to have something productive to do with my time and this is my current passion.

To be fair I should state my objective: To create and try foods that will be delicious and nutritious. (The addendum to this would be that sometimes it doesn't HAVE to be nutritious, but for the most part that just adds to the allure. Also to be fair nutrition to me stands for: low fat, low calorie, won't make me gain back any of the weight I have worked so hard to discard!)

I hope to not only post recipes but also my own struggles with finding that balance.

Happy healthy cooking and happy eating!