If we’re brutally honest, we all crave delicious fried goodies and good old fashioned comfort foods. Even the most wheat-germ swigging, multi-grain munching among us surely stoop now and again.

Enter the tater tot casserole. It’s not native to my childhood, I confess, but the main ingredient is one I have the fondest memories of munching. Over the last few weeks, my search for a flavorful, filling, and diet-friendly recipe for tater tots in any form has been a consuming passion. At last, I developed a recipe that (1) made plenty of room for flavor and (2) made plenty of room for tater tots. Is it the healthiest meal on the earth? You could do better. Is it pure comfort food that won’t ruin your diet when you desperately need that taste of home?  Absolutely.

You can thank me later. Just go start preheating your oven this very second.

Tater Tot Casserole
Serves 2

1/2 lb Extra Lean Ground Turkey
1 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Sage
3 cloves garlic (more or less to taste!)
1 tsp pepper
1 can no-salt-added green beans – drained (couple handfuls of the real thing if you have it)
2 cups broccoli florets (frozen or fresh will work)
1 can reduced-fat Cream of Chicken
1/2 cup water or 4oz chicken broth (optional)
1 oz. finely-grated medium cheddar cheese
27 frozen tater tots (!!!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss together ground turkey and spices and cook until browned. Spread the ground turkey evenly on the bottom of your 8×8 or 9×9 square casserole dish. Drain your can of green beans and layer beans evenly atop the ground turkey. Take your broccoli and spread it atop the green beans. Next, pour your can of Cream of Chicken as evenly as possible over the dish. Optional: if you like your casseroles a bit creamier, mix Cream of Chicken with half cup of water thoroughly and pour evenly over dish. Next, sprinkle your cheddar cheese over everything.

And here comes the best part! Take your 27 tater tots and set them in neat rows atop the cheese.

Place casserole on middle rack and cook for 25 minutes–40 minutes if you added water or broth to the Cream of Chicken.

Calorie Breakdown
PER SERVING

1/4 lb extra lean ground turkey [120 calories]
1/2 can green beans [20 calories]
1 cup frozen broccoli florets [30 calories]
1/2 can low-fat Cream of Chicken [88 calories]
1/2 oz medium cheddar cheese [55 calories]
13.5 tater tots (1.5 servings) [240 calories]
TOTAL: 553 calories

Enjoy!

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Look, recipes for strawberry smoothies abound. Some involve ice cream and frozen yogurt. Others rely on protein and fiber supplements to provide the healthfulness. In my opinion, nothing in the whole world tastes quite as good as SIMPLE. Enter: the smoothie recipe I’m sharing with you today.

If you’ll forgive the picture quality, you may notice that this cup is empty – only the tell-tale signs of a recently consumed smoothie remain. Let that be proof enough that these smoothies–simple, cheap, healthful as they are – disappeared in record time. My husband, who is always a fan of smoothie, couldn’t believe the full, rich flavor of this low (almost non-existent) fat, low-cal, delicious treat. Oh, and even if you’re tempted to add a teaspoon or two of sugar or fake sugar, don’t. This baby is sweet enough on its own!

Use it as a dessert. Use it as a meal replacement or supplement. Use it as a “PICK ME UP NOW, I NEED SOMETHING COOL AND AMAZING.” You will love this basic recipe. Guaranteed. Also, the high Vitamin C, Potassium, and Calcium content is a good boost to your daily nutrition – and the fiber ain’t terrible either.

I chose to use frozen, unsweetened, un-fiddled-with strawberries from Costco. They come in a big ol’ bag for cheap. You can also use fresh strawberries that (1) you freeze on your own or (2) supplement with 5 or 6 ice cubes.

Stupdendous Strawberry Smoothe
Serves 1

1 ripe banana
6 oz (1 container) non-fat vanilla yogurt [I used ‘Light and Fit,’ which had amazing flavor]
1 cup (140g or so) frozen strawberries, unsweetened
1/4 cup 1% milk

Plop your banana, yogurt, strawberries, and finally, milk into the blender. Pulse on low, then blend until smooth (about 10 seconds). Serve in a large cup and suck that smoothie down.

Calorie Breakdown
PER SERVING
1 ripe banana [110 calories]
6 oz. (‘Light and Fit’) non-fat vanilla yogurt [80 calories]
1 cup frozen strawberries [50 calories]
1/4 cup 1% milk [25]
TOTAL: 265 CALORIES

Enjoy!


Okay, so you’ve been wondering why I haven’t posted in ages. You have every right to ask. Truth is, Peter started working 10 hour days, which means a 4 day work week. I followed suit. As you can imagine, a 10 hour day does not leave much energy for blogging. So where have you been on that extra day off?

Again, valid question. The answer? Sleeping.

Now then, this salad is the product of a few different desires: (1) to taste something a little new to us, (2) to try, try, try to get Peter into some sort of salad, and (3) to avoid creating a lot of mess, which my husband would graciously need to clean up at a later time. It is rare that we eat a dinner around here that does not include meat, but I’m sure my dear friend Meghan will appreciate its vegetarian nature. I have to say, though, having had this salad in my belly for a couple hours now, I’m still full and satisfied, feelings which I need after eating dinner or I’ll be tempted to stuff my face later.

You’ll forgive the blurriness, I hope. Until this blogging gig starts paying more, the ol’ cellphone camera will just have to suffice.

A few notes. Use fresh, squishy, amazing mozzarella if it’s in your budget. You will notice the difference. It wasn’t in our budget this week, but even with our plain old Lucerne low-fat, low-moisture mozzarella, everything still tasted out of this world! Regarding the choice of pear, we used Anjou, but I’m sure that any variety–provided it’s neither too mushy nor too sweet, would suffice. As for the vinaigrette recipe I provide, you are free to use any old goodie you have around. The recipe I give here makes quite a bit of dressing, so if you (like us) prefer your vinaigrette light, you can easily halve the amounts. And finally, it’s not a requirement that you halve those cherry tomatoes…but it does make it easier to fork them.

Tomato, Mozzarella, Pear (Light Vinaigrette) Salad
Serves Two

SALAD:
1 Anjou Pear – 1/2 inch cubes
5 oz. Mozarella – 1/2 inch cubes
5-8 oz. Cherry Tomatoes – halved
5-8 oz. Salad Leaves (I used a mix of red lettuce and fresh spinach)

VINAIGRETTE:
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Crushed (or pre-diced) Garlic
3/4 tsp Ground Mustard

Add all your vinaigrette ingredients to a mason jar or piece of tupperware. Shake the hell out of them until everything has combined. Give it a little taste to see if needs a little extra of this or that. Set aside.

Throw your salad into a large bowl and put your chopped ingredients on top. Give that vinaigrette another good shake or two and drizzle the desired amount over the salad. If you’re not sure how much to use, less is more. Start with a little and see if that suits you.

Roll up your sleeves, get your hands into that bowl, and mix everything until every bit tomato, mozzarella, and pear is evenly coated. You can serve immediately, or wait five minutes for the spinach to wilt a bit. Up to you! We ate ours fresh.

Calorie Breakdown

PER SERVING
2 1/2 ounces cherry tomatoes – 14 calories
2 1/2 ounces mozzarella – 200 calories
1/2 anjou pear – 50 calories
2 1/2 ounces red lettuce and spinach – 25 calories
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil – 240 calories
1/8 cup red balsamic vinegar – 21 calories
TOTAL PER SERVING: 549 Calories

Bear in mind that this number will be significantly lower if, like Peter and me, you only end up using HALF your vinaigrette.

ENJOY!


I’ve pretty much dedicated this blog to proving you don’t have to eat boring microwaved food with tiny portions in order to diet successfully. You don’t NEED to have food delivered to your doorstep in expensive, prepackaged portions. You don’t need to give up the best things in life – ice cream, chocolate, Mexican (er, well, American-Mexican) food, et cetera. I’ve decided to prove it, too, by sharing some of my most favorite discoveries. They’ve made dieting a real pleasure and I look forward to using them when I start maintaining my weight loss in the future.

Julie’s Low Fat Chocolate Frozen Yogurt130 calories per serving

I’m starting off with this item because, folks, it is spectacular. So many things to love.

(1) Low-fat and low-cal.
(2) Small company.
(3) AMAZING flavor. Better, in my opinion, than full-fat/full-cal ice creams. I cannot over-emphasize my delight in this discovery. I buy it at Top Foods and I’ve heard you can get it at Whole Foods as well. Jury’s out on Trader Joe’s.

Ciao Bella 98 calories per serving

Another fairly small company, Ciao Bella makes not just superb sorbets, but also some outstanding gelato. This blood orange sorbet is high in vitamin C, low in calories, absent fat, and the flavor is like a sunburst on your tongue. I alternate between Julie’s and Ciao Bella – they are equals. You can find Ciao Bella at most standard grocery stores (including Safeway and Top Foods).

Ghirardelli Intense Dark (72%) Cacao Squares55 calories per square

Dark chocolate is good for you, people. Like most things, it just requires a bit of moderation. That’s what makes this chocolate and chocolate format ideal. Each square is a trifling 55 calories, comes individually packaged to reduce the likelihood of a binge (I carry one in my purse when I go out and about), and makes a fine showing in terms of flavor. Studies suggest that a serving this size, once a day, has the same effect as an anti-depressant on light or seasonal depression. So treat yourself!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray0 calories per serving

Oh yes, it’s ALL chemicals. We can all agree that nothing beats real butter, but when you just need a spritz for buttering your toast, moistening your bread, oiling a pan, or buttering an item about to be pan-friend – nothing beats this spray. It has zero calories, has a great buttery flavor, and helps you cut some extra calories.

Oroweat Double Fiber Bread70 calories per slice

This bread has large slices, low fat, high fiber, great flavor, and comes light on calories. I love it, we eat it every day, and we will keep eating it for years to come! If you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to do so.

Laughing Cow Light Spreadable Cheese Wedges35 calories per wedge

I love cheese. I just do. While this item is a tad high in sodium, it offers a sizable portion of calcium and cheesy flavor with a low calorie cost. Me? I make a piece of toast in the morning, spread an entire wedge on top (just 35 calories, remember!), and put hard-boiled egg slices on top of THAT. Decadent, delicious, and a great way to kick off my morning. Oh, did I mention? Goes great as a replacement for cheese on your sandwich (really).

Kirkland Diet Green Tea0 calories per serving

I am a sucker for beverages. I do not enjoy the flavor of water. While this drink has some obvious drawbacks (it contains aspartame, for example), it DOES actually contain green tea, which among other pros, stimulates your metabolism. And the taste? Not lacking.

Have any suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them!


Let’s get serious about asparagus for a moment. I first discovered asparagus one magical night as a 19 year old senior at university. Imagine me as that stereotypically frazzled, over-achieving English major with ten papers to write and twice as many books to read. I’d just been told I couldn’t walk around campus because I was wearing spaghetti straps (oh yes, it was THAT sort of university). Feeling rebellious and over-worked, I knew I needed an excellent pick-me-up meal. Comfort food – real comfort food: something that would replenish my tired body but leave me feeling like I’d indulged.

So, I put on my favorite (extremely low-cut *chortle*) blouse, applied mascara, and went grocery shopping.

I don’t even remember what I chose for my main course that evening. But I know what I tried as a side for the first time. Asparagus. Gloriously green, light, and crisp asparagus.

Now before you run out and get your asparagus, let me share with you the first step in making the best asparagus of your life: start with the best possible produce. Here’s a few tips to use at the start of your experience to make sure the end is just as enjoyable.

When selecting your asparagus at the grocery store or market, make sure of the following:

(1) The stalks are straight, rounded, and not bendable. If you try to bend a stalk, it should be more inclined to snap cleanly than flex.

(2) The asparagus is a vibrant shade of green and free of any strong odor.

(3) The asparagus tips (or ‘buds’) are tightly closed and have a dark green or purple hue. Light green or yellowish tips are a sure sign of asparagus aged past its prime.

(4) The asparagus you select is generally uniform in size so that the bunch cooks evenly.

Now that you’ve selected the best possible produce, we can move onto 3 excellent recipes for preparing it. Remember this one last tip, however: never roast your asparagus in heat less than 475 degrees or an oven which has not fully preheated. What gives roasted asparagus that satisfying crunch on the outside with the tender center is the initial burst of heat that sears the exterior. High heat also ensures the asparagus retains its vibrant green color.

Lemon-Garlic Roasted Asparagus
Serves 2

1lb Asparagus (with at least “3/8 diameter)
4 Tbsp fresh-squeezed or bottled lemon juice
4 cloves (2 Tbsp) garlic – finely minced
1 tsp grated lemon peal (optional)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Gently wash asparagus. Trim 1 1/2 to 2 inches off the bottom of the stalks. Fill a large freezer-size Ziplock bag with asparagus stalks, lemon juice, garlic, and grated lemon peel (optional). Give the bag a shake until asparagus is well-coated.

Cover a cookie sheet with foil. Spread out asparagus evenly on cookie sheet. In one quick motion, place the cookie sheet on the center rack of the preheated oven. Let cook for 10 minutes.

Calorie Breakdown

PER SERVING
1/2lb Asparagus [45 calories]
2 Tbsp lemon juice [6 calories]
2 cloves garlic [8 calories]
TOTAL PER SERVING: 59 calories

Balsamic and Thyme Roasted Asparagus
Serves 2

1lb Asparagus (with a diameter of at least “3/8)
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbsp Thyme

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Gently wash asparagus and trims its ends 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Place asparagus, balsamic vinegar, and thyme in a large freezer Ziplock bag. Shake until asparagus is well-coated. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and spread asparagus evenly across it. In one quick motion, place asparagus on center oven rack. Cook for 10 minutes, and enjoy!

Calorie Breakdown

PER SERVING
1/2lb Asparagus [45 calories]
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar [10 calories]
TOTAL PER SERVING: 55 calories

Buttered Garlic and Sage Roasted Asparagus
Serves 2

1lb Asparagus (with a diameter of at least “3/8)
1 1/2 Tbsp Butter – melted
3 Garlic Cloves – finely minced
1 Tbsp Sage

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Gently wash asparagus and trim ends by 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Put asparagus, melted butter, garlic, and sage into a large freezer Ziplock bag. Shake until garlic is completely covered. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and spread asparagus across it evenly. In one quick motion, place cookie sheet on center oven rack. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove and enjoy!

Calorie Breakdown

PER SERVING
1/2lb Asparagus [45 calories]
3/4 Tbsp Butter [75 calories]
1 1/2 Garlic Cloves [6 calories]
PER SERVING: 126


Deeeeeeelicious.

I chose to use 5 thin-cut, boneless pork chops for this recipe, but you’re free to use bone-in or a couple more thickly-cut chops. So long as the weight of meat comes out to around .75lb [That’s 3/4 lb, for you fellow English, non-mathematical nerds].

I recommend (and highly) using a mix of onions, too. After some deliberation at the grocery store the other day, I decided that I’d use one red and one yellow onion. Believe it or not, the type of onion you use can drastically alter the flavor of your recipe. In my experience, rarely for the worse. Just different. By mixing the red and yellow, I knew I’d arrive at a sweeter, tangier result, which would compliment the salty-sour nature of the BBQ sauce.

A note or two on counting calories for this recipe. Regarding marinating and simmering: your meat will absorb very little of whatever you’re cooking/marinating it in. In other words, even though I’m using an entire bottle of BBQ sauce for this recipe, and assuming I spoon some sauce onto my place, I’ll only end up using about 1/4 the bottle (or 1/2 the bottle, if you count Peter’s portion)–and that’s if I figure generously.Also, even though we start with .75lb of meat, we’ll end up with less. As meat cooks, its weight drops as moisture and fat ‘cook out.’ So if you’re wondering why I can’t seem to compute half of .75lb when I count the calories for you , now you know what’s going on. Same goes for potatoes!

I got to buy a case of beer for this recipe, so it’s basically a winner out the gate.

Simmered Pork Chops and Onion over Roasted Potatoes
Serves Two

.75lb Pork Chops
2 tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Can or Bottle Beer (I used one bottle of Alaskan Amber Ale)
16-18oz BBQ Sauce (I used Stubb’s Original BBQ Sauce @ 480 calories a bottle)
2 Onions – sliced
1 Large Russet Potato – one-inch cubes

Mix together pepper and garlic powder and rub mix into pork chops – add additional seasoning to taste. Heat a pan with high sides for a couple minutes over high heat until it’s very hot. When pan is well-heated, add pork chops and cook until just browned on both sides (approximately 20 seconds a side). Remove pork chops from pan and set aside.

Remove pan from heat and add your bottle of beer. Be careful, as beer may splatter. Using your spatula, deglaze the pan. Add your BBQ sauce and mix well. Return pan to heat and add the pork chops to the mix, making sure they are well-covered with the beer-BBQ mix. Add onions. Cover. Let simmer over low heat for 1 to 2 hours.

As your pork chops near readiness, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Season your cubed potatoes lightly with pepper. Cover a cookie sheet in foil and spread your cubed potato evenly over it. Place sheet on middle oven rack and let cook for 20 minutes, or until evenly browned.

To serve: spread potato on bottom of plate. Cover with cooked onion and pork chop. Consider serving with broccoli or asparagus on the side.

Calorie Breakdown

PER SERVING
.25lb (3/8lb) Pork Chop [255 calories]
1/2 bottle Alaskan Amber Ale [90 calories]
4.5 oz. Stubb’s Original BBQ Sauce [120 calories]
1 Onion [20 calories]
1/2 Large Russet Potato [150 calories]
TOTAL PER SERVING: 635

Enjoy!


Arroz Con Pollo

08Mar10

I’d been looking around for a workable, mostly authentic Mexican recipe for us. Hindrance: We lack the space, tools, and cookware necessary to make many truly authentic Mexican meals. This recipe is as close as I’ve gotten, and in my opinion, it’s about as close as you’ll get from a typical American kitchen. What makes me particularly happy here is that this dish required very little tweaking to make it diet-friendly, so kudos to Mexican cooking. Not only is this dish rich and flavorful, it’s also filling and low in fat and calories.

People often assume that once they get on a diet, or at least start to eat more healthfully, that Mexican food is out. Not true! Americanized Mexican food, on the other hand, might be. If you look hard, you can find that Mexican food you love without sacrificing your waist-line.

Yum!

Arroz Con Pollo
Serves 2 to 3

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts – cubed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 Tbsp paprika
1 green bell pepper – chopped
1 medium onion – chopped
3 cloves garlic – minced
1 cup brown rice – uncooked
1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
1/2 c dry white wine
1/8 tsp saffron (optional)
1/2 Tbsp paprika
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp parsley (fresh preferable)

Sprinkle cubed chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika. Heat a non-stick pan you trust over medium heat. Add chicken, cook until just turning golden. Remove chicken, set aside.

Add green pepper, onion, and garlic to skillet. Cook for five minutes. Add uncooked rice and stir until rick is opaque (1 to 2 minutes or so). Stir in broth, white wine, saffron (optional), and diced tomatoes. Add paprika and additional salt and pepper to taste. Return chicken to the pan, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until rice is finished cooking. Once rice has finished cooking, add parsley and mix well.

Calorie Breakdown

PER SERVING
7.1 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast [190 calories]
1/2 c uncooked brown rice [300 calories]
1/2 green bell pepper [15 calories]
1/2 medium onion [22 calories]
1/2 can (7.25 oz) chicken broth [15 calories]
1/4 c dry white wine [35 calories]
1/2 can (7.25 oz) diced tomatoes [20 calories]
TOTAL CALORIES: 597 calories

Enjoy!