Weekly Gratitude

Thank.God.It’s.Friday.  That’s really all I need to sum up this week.  However, there are always more things to be thankful for…

  • Thank you to my Aunt Deb who surprised me by getting tickets to go to dinner and see a live taping of “The Cooking Show” at The Rustic Kitchen Bistro & Bar in Boston tonight.  I’ll be the complete DORK in the audience taking pictures of her food.  (Seperate blog post to come about that.)  I’m so excited to spend quality time with my auntie, eat good food, drink good wine and maybe pass out some blogger cards.  Opportunity beckons.
  • Thank you to BU’s College of Communication for giving me a $10,000 scholarship to help me pay for my Master’s Degree program.  Without it, I’d be slightly more panicked.
  • Thank you to Claire for being in the Royal Wedding spirit today.  Not onlydid she don a tiara all morning at work but also brought in a Queen Elizabeth doll, English tea and a teacup from 1984.  Classic.

  • Thank you to Shazam for being able to capture any song on the radio so I know it’s title and artist instantly.  Have you heard Lifehouse’s new song “Falling In”? If not, download it.  It’s Stephen’s new ring tone.
  • Thank you to this weekend.  Lots of working out, some healthy cooking, maybe a bike ride, a trip the Newburyport farmer’s market, time with the family and the boyfriend, lots of sleep, wine and relaxing.

Pizza and Fries: Guilty Pleasures Re-Made

As a kid, I always loved pizza and french fries.  That’s probably explanation why I was a chubba growing up.  French fries were side dish staple to any kid’s meal, my favorite being McDonald’s.  As for pizza, well, let’s just say that even my 14-year old self could put away a couple of decent sized slices.

Nowadays, I no longer eat fast food and pizza is a fleeting indulgence, eaten sparingly and in small amounts.  So how do I satisfy even the worst junk food cravings?   I make my own.

I spend a lot of my time scouring the Hungry Girl website and cookbooks for healthy ways to make over my favorite foods.  She has a zillion pizza recipes and a few takes on fries as well, all without the guilt (and tighter pants) that come from the originals.  Last week, when boyfriend and I wanted pizza and fries but I didn’t want take out, I pulled out HG’s book and went to work.

Butternut squash fries are by far one of my most favorite recipes ever.  It’s not really a recipe, even, just a few simple ingredients and your oven set at a high temp.  Butternut squash has a similar starchy quality to potatoes without being loaded with calories.  I like to buy b-nut squash halves that are already peeled and de-seeded because it’s easier, but if you want to have a knife fight with a whole one, I wish you the best of luck.

Now, onto the pizza… Portobello mushrooms have always been high on my list of favorite foods but is something I don’t eat all that often.  I have no explanation for this.  Nevertheless, they are the “crust”, if you will, to my pizza and along with a few other things, I think the meaty texture and taste of the ‘shroom makes it even better than its traditional counterparts.  Try it if you don’t believe me.  Oh, and these babies are so low in fat and calories, that Stephen and I ate 2 each.  You can’t beat that.

Butternut Squash Fries
From Hungry Girl

Ingredients:
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and de-seeded
Salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Carefully cut your squash into fry shapes (you could also use a crinkle cutter like this one…) and sprinkle with salt. 

Lay slice on a paper towel and let some of the moisture release out of it, about 5 minutes.  Then, blot the fry shapes with dry paper towel to make sure all of the extra moisture is out (this will help them crisp in the oven.)

Lay on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through until squash is cooked through.  Sometimes, to get them extra crispy, I turn the broil onto high and let them roast an extra 4-5 minutes (Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Serve with ketchup or any other favorite condiment!

Portobello Mushroom Pizzas
Adapted from Hungry Girl

Ingredients:
4 large portobello mushrooms caps
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes (with basil if you can find it)
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
4 light string cheese
Turkey pepperoni (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove mushroom stems, chop and set aside. Place mushroom caps on baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray, round side down. Bake 8 minutes or until softened.

Meanwhile, tear each string cheese into shreds and roughly chop. Set aside.

Remove sheet from oven but leave the oven on. Blot excess liquid (there will be quite a bit) from caps and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix crushed tomatoes, garlic and onion powder. Equally distribute between mushroom caps and spread until smooth & even. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the sauce layer followed by mushroom cap pieces and turkey peps if desired.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted.

Peanut Butter Oat Bread

I have a confession to make… I don’t like Jif Peanut Butter.  I’m a Skippy girl, always have been, always will be.  But the other day at the grocery store, they didn’t have any of my beloved Skippy Reduced Fat.  (I’m not a full-fat PB lover either.) So I opted for the Jif Reduced Fat instead.

Right out of the jar, I immediately wasn’t happy.  Skippy PB has a way of inviting you back for more, which is probably why the jar is always half gone the day I open it.  I had a tablespoon of Jif on a piece of toast and to be honest, the burnt bread was the better of the two.  Sad.  Either way, last night, I was determined to use some of this peanut butter just to get it OUT of the pantry.  Who knew that I would love the finished product?

Every once in a while I get the urge to bake something out of ingredients I already have in my house.  A lot of the time, I won’t have every ingredient a recipe calls for and I end up making a quick trip to the store just for a tablespoon of one thing.  But yesterday, the whole jar of Jif Reduced Fat was sitting in my cabinet begging to be used.  Begging.  I also had a cylinder of Old-Fashioned Oats that haven’t been touched in a while.  My idea? Peanut Butter Oat Bread.

It was a simple recipe that made the whole kitchen smell like a toasted peanut butter sandwich.  Divine.  Chewy from the oats and loaded with peanut butter flavor, it’s more of a breakfast bread than a dessert but hey, to each his own.

What’s your favorite peanut butter? 
Up there with Skippy Reduced Fat, I also enjoy Better ‘n Peanut Butter Low Sodium spread.

 

 

Peanut Butter Oat Bread
Adapted from Cooks.com

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Old-Fashioned Oats
1/2 cup Splenda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 TB baking powder
1 cup smooth peanut butter (whichever your favorite)
1/4 cup liquid egg substitute
1 cup milk (I used 1%)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9in x 5in x 3in loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, Splenda, baking powder and salt.  Add the peanut butter and mix until crumbly (I dug in with my clean hands). 

In a seperate bowl, whisk milk, vanilla and egg substitute until combined.  Stir wet mixture into dry until just moistened.  (I know, I know.. this is totally a no-no in Baking 101 but it’s better to use all of the dry ingredients and a little less of the wet in this case!)

Bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool before serving.

Weekend & Easter Recap

Happy Easter Monday everyone!  Too bad it’s not an actual holiday… I’m pretty sure we could all use an extra day to come out of our food-induced comas.

My weekend was full of friends and family and I loved every minute of it.  After work on Friday, my sister and I decided to spend some quality time together.  We hit the gym for a bit before getting Panera for dinner (I’ll have the You Pick 2: Black Bean Soup & 1/2 Chicken Thai Salad, no wontons, dressing on the side, please!) and went to see the movie Water for Elephants.  It was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.  The storyline was typical of a romance but the acting was wonderful and I have a soft spot for elephants anyway.  Go. See. It.

After the movie, I headed to Medford to meet up with some friends for Friday night in Boston.  I would have to advise you to skip Kitty O’Shea’s the next time you want a bar/club scene.  Needless to say, the bouncers there are inappropriate, rude and very inconsiderate.  No details necessary, just keep that in mind.

Saturday morning included an iced coffee and spending time with my sister before meeting up with some high school friends for lunch at Bertucci’s (Salad Vivaldi con Pollo & Bello is highly recommended..just saying).  I don’t know how I ever let my communication with these girls go.  We caught up on everything from college life to life now.  We’re older and wiser, but still those high school jokes are still as hysterical.

Later that night, I met up with the boyfriend and we decided to head to Grassfields in Danvers for dinner.  Little did we know that is the identical twin to one of our favorite restaurants a few towns away.  Who knew?  Regardless, I got the Surf & Turf broiled scallops and steak tips (medium rare of course) with a double side of veggies.  The scallops were dusted with a combination of spices that were out of this world and the steak tips were gently marinated and cooked to perfection.  And the veggies? Crisp tender and NOT slathered in butter, thank goodness.  We highly recommend it for a casual, inexpensive date night.  Oh, and try the pomegranate margarita – you will not be disappointed.

Easter Sunday rolled around and I was out of bed by 8:30 to go to mass with my family.  It was beautiful, as the St. Pius V Parish masses always are.  Communion takes a bit longer than normal Sunday service because of how packed the church is but our priest’s homily was short, sweet and meaningful.

We headed home and I made breakfast: Egga-Pinwheels from Hungry Girl.  The first carb-y thing I’ve had in 40 days.  It was heavenly and healthy which is always a nice combo.  It was similar to a ham-egg-cheese traditional breakfast sandwich but with way better nutritional info!

I also made HG red velvet cupcakes with my own buttercream (made with Brummel & Brown spread).  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the cupcakes but it was curiously warm outside yesterday and after piping beautiful swirls of buttercream on my cupcakes, it quickly melted ALL. OVER. THE. PLACE.  Still tasted good even though I was pissed about it.  And of course my family would say that “it’s not how they look, it’s how they taste, Rie.”  Yeah, yeah.  Good thing they were yummy – that could have been just embarassing.

Can you tell we are Italian?

After dessert, I headed to Stephen’s and had more wine and his mom’s Italian cookies.  I swear, I could eat an entire batch of those things.  Made with anise and almond extracts, they are little pillows of confectionary genius.  An old family recipe.  Utter perfection.

Overall, it was a successful weekend and I look forward to getting my butt to the gym today and spending the next 2 weeks in body detox.  Fine with me!

Also!  Here are a few things coming up that I am getting excited about:
– My first 5K : Saturday, May 14th @ 10AM
– NDA Staff Meeting in Oklahoma: Friday-Monday, May 27th-30th
– My First DanceWorks Boston show: Thursday & Friday, June 2nd & 3rd
– BAHAMAS: June 11th-18th

Egga-Pinwheels
Adapted from Hungry Girl

1 package (roll) of Pillsbury Seamless Creations Crescent Dough
6 slices lean deli ham (blotted dry with paper towels to get rid of excess moisture)
1 cup Egg Beaters
3 slices fat-free American cheese, torn into pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Spray a frying pan with nonstick cooking spray and bring to medium heat.  Scramble cup of Egg Beaters until fully cooked and set aside.

Roll out dough on a clean, flat surface dusted with flour.  Roll out until dough is about 1/4th inch think and even with the shorter sides to the left and right.  Lay ham evenly over the dough leaving a 1-2 inch border on the right side only.  Evenly spread scrambled eggs over the ham and sprinkle the cheese over the egg.

Starting on the left side of the doll, roll the dough tightly and seal both sides and the middle.  With a sharp knife, slice the roll into 8 disks.  Lay flat on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray and bake in oven 15-20 minutes, until dough is puffed and golden brown.

Weekly Gratitude

Hooray for Friday!  I know I’ve only had a 4-day work week (so spoiled..) but I’m really excited about this weekend.  It’s Easter .. duh .. and that means spending time with my family, eating good food and being thankful… I figured a Friday Weekly Gratitude was appropriate.

  • Thank you to my sister, Melissa.  She’s home from college for Easter break and man, she’s a funny kid.  She came with me to 2 nights of dance practice and totally showed me up in hip-hop.  I told her to stop being better at it than me.  She doesn’t listen.
  • Thank you to Marathon Monday for giving me the day off from work and giving me something else to strive for.  Those Boston runners are incredible!
  • Thank you to the sun.  It’s nice to finally see you.  Would you mind warming the Boston area up just a bit more?
  • Thank you to flip-flops.  I’ve missed you.
  • Thank you to Boston University’s Accepted Student’s Day.  It was so well-organized and everyone running it was beyond helpful.  I know I am making the right decision to go there for graduate school and I pray that I get picked to study abroad in London next summer to cover the Olympics! ::Fingers crossed::
  • Thank you to my high school friends who have recently gotten back in touch.  We’re getting together tomorrow and it’ll be so great to talk and catch up after a long time apart.
  • Thank you again to the people I work with.  The days go by faster and the crazors are a little easier to deal with because of you.
  • Thank you to my Nuna for everything she has given me.  Most recently paying my (very expensive) BU deposit.  She is amazing.
  • Thank you to my grandmother… another Easter with us and still going strong.  She is the cornerstone of our family.  We love you Grammy.
  • Thank you to Easter Sunday.  A day of love, family and faith.

My Blogger Cards Are Here!

Yay!!

At the Boston Brunchers event a few weeks ago, almost all of the other bloggers came prepared with their own cards.  I felt a little out of the loop.  Why didn’t I think of it before?  Instead of googling aimlessly looking for sites, a blogger card (similiar to a standard business card) is one of the best ways to spread the word about your blog.  Dur.

I immediately went onto the VistaPrint website and started designing.  I’ll admit I’m not the artsy-est person alive.  I’m probably the least artsy person alive.  Nevertheless, the website made it so easy.  I found a design I liked, plugged in my info and clicked the “Send Order” button (with free shipping, of course) and that was that.  Inexpensive, cute and perfect to give out to anyone and everyone!

Like ’em?

 

Veggie Lasagna & 3-Ingredient Chicken

So I’ve been on a Hungry Girl kick lately.  I want to make everything in her new 300 Under 300 cookbook and I’ve been trekking right along.  Tuesday nights are my biggest cooking nights during the week because after work and the gym, all I want to do is make new recipes for my family.  So far, they have turned out pretty well.

I decided on a complex, no-noodle veggie lasagna recipe with so-simple-I-could-make-it-with-my-eyes-closed bacon & ranch chicken.  I say the lasagna was a bit complex because it requires a good amount of prepping before the actual oven cooking begins.  It was worth it.  It takes about 30 minutes to cook at 425 degrees so when there was about 15-20 minutes left on the timer, I slid the chicken in too.

Now, just a heads up about the serving size.  Obviously, it’s one chicken breast per person but the lasagna also serves 4.  When I read the recipe in the HG cookbook, it said 4 SUPER-HUGE portions.  I didn’t believe her.  I mean, an 8×8 isn’t that big.  The portions can’t be that big either.  How wrong I was.  I couldn’t even eat the whole portion.  You’ve been warned.

No-Noodle Veggie Lasagna    
Adapted from Hungry Girl             

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, ends cut off and sliced lengthwise into wide, long strips
2 large portobello mushroom caps, stems removed, sliced
3 medium zucchini, ends cut off and sliced lengthwise into thin, long strips
2 cups crushed tomatoes with basil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 (16-ounce) package chopped spinach, thawed, drained and thoroughly dried
2 TB liquid egg subsititute
1/8 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 TB reduced-fat parm-style topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Bring a large skillet to high heat and spray generously with nonstick cooking spray.  Lay some paper towels next to the stovetop to drain excess liquid from veggies as they cook.

Cook as many zucchini and mushrooms you can lay flat in the pan at a time for 2-3 minutes per side.  Remove to paper towels.  Continue until all zucchini and mushrooms are cooked, respraying in between each batch.  Cook the eggplant 4-5 minutes per side, also respraying in between batches.

Next, stir garlic powder and onion powder into the crushed tomatoes.  In a seperate big bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and egg substitute and mix thoroughly.

To assemble: Spray a deep 8×8 baking dish with nonstick spray.  Even spread 1 cup of crushed tomatoes on the bottom of the dish.  Layer half of the veggies over the tomatoes, eggplant first, then zucchini, then mushrooms.  Top veggies with half of the spinach-cheese mixture.  Lay the rest of the veggies over the spinach-cheese mixture in the same order as before, followed by the rest of the spinach and cheese.  Top with the remaining crushed tomatoes and spread evenly.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese and parm-style cheese over the crushed tomatoes.

Place on a large baking sheet and pop in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until heated through and the cheeese on top is bubbly and golden brown.

Bacon & Ranch Chicken
From Hungry Girl

Ingredients:
4 (5-ounce) lean chicken breast cutlets
2 TB dry ranch dressing mix (I used DIPS)
2 TB real bacon bits

Spray a small baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Lay the chicken on the sheet and spray the tops with nonstick spray as well.  Rub 1/2 TB of ranch mix on each breast, front and back, and repeat with 1/2 TB bacon bits for each.  Lay flat on the baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until cooked through and tender, 15-20 minutes.