Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No Cream - No Cry Penne Alla Vodka

Since my entry about my favorite cookbooks, it has become official.  I am in love with my Rocco DiSpirito Now Eat This cookbook!  And not just because it is filled with full page-sized photos of its drool-worthy author (that's just an added bonus)... it's full of healthier versions of the foods we all want to eat, but the mere thought of consuming the associated calories makes us want to cry.  Mac n' cheese?  Rocco's got it!  Brownies?  You betcha!  Burgers?  Absolutely!  One of my favorites and closest to the real thing I've tried from this book so far is the No Cry - No Cream Penne Alla Vodka.  It is SO GOOD.  Brian claims he wasn't its biggest fan (I'm pretty sure he's just jealous of my crush on Rocco), but I loved it.  Personally, I'd never guess there was no cream in it if I hadn't seen it made with my own eyes!  I present to you, ladies and gentlemen...

No Cream - No Cry Penne Alla Vodka
(From Now Eat This)
Serves 4

  • 8 ounces whole- wheat penne
  • 2 cups low fat marinara sauce
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • One 7-ounce container 2% Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, about 9 minutes; drain.

While the pasta is cooking, bring the marinara sauce and crushed red pepper to a simmer in a large nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Cook the sauce, stirring it occasionally with a heat-resistant rubber spatula, until it is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the saute pan from the heat.

Stir about 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce into the yogurt until smooth (this tempers it and prevents the yogurt from curdling). Then whisk the yogurt mixture back into the marinara sauce.

In a large serving bowl, toss the sauce with the drained penne and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the cheese on top, and serve.

Fat: 4.8 g
Calories: 320
Protein: 18 g
Carbohydrates: 55 g
Cholesterol: 11 mg
Fiber: 6 g
Sodium: 416 mg

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Sorry I haven't posted anything in a while, guys!  I've been sickly for the past week or so, and haven't had the energy to write anything good.  I'll make a good post soon, promise!!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chili Burgers / Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

If you're like me, every once in a while, you get a craving for a big juicy burger with fries.  Turkey burgers are a good lower calorie solution, but sometimes I really need my burger to be made with beef.  So how do I get that big juicy burger without the big juicy body to go with it?  Here's a good recipe to try!  If you only like a little bit of spice, you should remove the seeds and membrane from the jalapeño... but if you like more of a spice, you can leave them in (that's what I did).  I am also completely in love with this sweet potato recipe!

Chili Burgers
(From EatingWell)
Serves 4

1 tsp canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup canned black beans
12 oz 90% lean ground beef
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
4 whole wheat Kaiser rolls

Heat oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until light golden, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, and cumin; saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes longer. (If the mixture becomes too dry, add 1 Tbsp water.) Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.

Prepare the grill or preheat the broiler. Add beans to the onion mixture and mash coarsely with a potato masher. Add beef, tomato paste, cilantro, thyme, salt and pepper; mix thoroughly but lightly. Shape the mixture into four 3/4-inch-thick patties.

Grill or broil the patties on a lightly oiled rack until browned and cooked through, aout 5 minutes per side. Place on rolls and garnish with tomato and lettuce.

Nutrition Info: 377 calories; 8g fat; 53mg cholesterol; 50g carb, 30g protein; 7g fiber; 705mg sodium.

If you'd like to cut out a few more calories/carbs, you can use light wheat burger buns instead of Kaiser rolls.  This is a hearty burger, so I preferred using the bigger rolls.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries
(From Weight Watchers)
Serves 4
2 large sweet potatoes, (about 1 3⁄4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick wedges   

1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning
2 tsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick spray.

Combine the potatoes, chili powder, Cajun seasoning, and oil in a large bowl. Spread the potatoes in one layer on the baking sheet. Bake until tender and golden, 30–40 minutes. Yields generous 1⁄2 cup per serving. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Take a Look. It's In a Book. A Reading Rainbow!

Reading Rainbow was a great show.  I just Wikipedia'd it and I guess it existed from 1983 until 2009!  Why do I have this growing suspicion that future generations are doomed?  Because Reading Rainbow doesn't exist anymore, and shows like Jersey Shore and Skins do.  Listen to me... I'm slowly but surely approaching "Stay off my lawn, you damn kids!" ranks.

ANYWAY!  The original intent of this post was to talk about cookbooks, so I'm going to steer back in that direction now.

I try to eat as healthy as I can as much as I can, but if the healthy food I'm eating doesn't taste good, it becomes less likely that I'm going to continue the trend.  It's really hard to stay focused on eating smart in today's world where everything seems to be drenched in fats and oils or smothered in cheese (mmmm... cheese)... especially if you eat out a lot!  Want a sure-fire way to make me bitter?  Take me to a restaurant when I'm "being good", order a bacon cheeseburger with fries, and watch me scoff at you from over my grilled chicken salad (dressing on the side, please).  It's so hard to stay focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle sometimes!  I want to eat food that tastes good!  I am not a bunny... I do not want to exist on a diet of lettuce and carrots.  I want things like mac n' cheese, burgers, potatoes, etc.  Fortunately, if you tend to cook your own meals most of the time, there are SO many resources out there for making healthy foods that still taste fantastic!  Here are a few of my favorites, and you'll probably see a lot of the recipes I post come from one of these:

Weight Watchers - Make it in Minutes
This one is great for weeknights.  Everything in it takes 30 minutes or less!  Recently, we made the tortellini with prosciutto (we omitted the peas, bleck) in creamy sauce, and it was deeeelicious!  I also have another Weight Watchers cookbook that I like a lot, but I bought it 4-5 years ago and it appears they don't sell it anymore.  I'll just have to post my favorites from that one in here!  :)

Cooking Light - The Essential Dinner Tonight Cookbook
Brian gave me this one for Christmas.  I'd say this one is probably my favorite of my healthy cookbooks.  It has pictures, and everything I've made from it so far has been fantastic!  My favorites so far have been the chicken chilaquiles and the chicken thighs with roasted apples and garlic.  So so delicious! 

The Essential EatingWell Cookbook
Brian also gave me this one for Christmas.  The only negative is that it doesn't have as many pictures as I would like.  Cookbooks with pictures of the recipes tend to get used more in my house.  However, almost all of the recipes in here sound delicious, and the couple that I have tried were excellent!  I can't remember which recipes specifically came from it, though.  I think maybe the mini meat loaves?

Now Eat This!
Okay, so I haven't actually tried making anything from this one yet, since it's brand spanking new, but I can already tell I am going to love it!  The hunk on the cover caught my eye while meandering around Borders one day, so I looked it up on Amazon and saw it got rave reviews, so I ordered it (right there in in Borders using my Amazon Droid App... gotta love technology!).  I can't wait to try making the mac n' cheese they show on the cover!

So... if you're trying to eat better, but still want your food to taste more like people food than bunny food, and you like to cook, then I would highly recommend any of these books!  Now, I've made myself pretty hungry, so I am off to find some lunch!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Oven-Roasted Honey-and-Apple Pork Loin / Mashed 'Potatoes' With Chives

Oven-Roasted Honey-and-Apple Pork Loin, Mashed 'Potatoes' With Chives, and Steamed Veggies

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes!  The combination of ingredients may seem a little bit odd to some, but if you don't mind a little spice, the flavor is absolutely AMAZING!  Also pictured here are some steamed veggies and my newly discovered recipe, Mashed 'Potatoes' With Chives.  It's a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes that is extremely extremely delicious!  You would never know they weren't 100% creamy buttery potatoes.  I will include that recipe as well!  Also, please note that the picture shows a much bigger serving size of pork than I take (Brian's plate, I believe).  Enjoy!

For the Pork:
(Recipe modified from Better Homes Oven-Roasted Honey-and-Apple Ribs)

Oven: 350 F
Makes: 6 servings

2 pound pork loin
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 apple, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 tablespoons Frank's red hot sauce
1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard

Place loin in a shallow roasting pan.  Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven until internal temperature reaches about 100 degrees.  Drain off fat.

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a medium saucepan cook onion, apple, and garlic and hot oil until tender.  Stir in hot sauce, apple cider, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard.  Bring to boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Spoon 1/2 of the sauce over the loin.  Bake, covered, until tender (inside meat temperature 155-160 degrees).  Heat sauce and serve with loin.

For the 'Potatoes':
(Recipe from Weight Watchers)

8 oz cauliflower, florets 
3 small uncooked Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 10 oz) 
2 cloves garlic cloves, peeled   
1 tsp table salt, divided 
1/4 cup low-fat milk 
2 tsp butter 
1/8 tsp black pepper 
1 Tbsp chives or green onions, fresh, snipped 

Place cauliflower, potatoes, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover ingredients and bring to a boil. Boil until vegetables are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain and return to saucepan.

Stir in milk, butter, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper; mash with a potato masher until smooth. Stir in chives and serve. Yields about 1/2 cup per serving.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Learning the Hard Way, and a Couple of Personal Endorsements

Alright, ladies and gentlemen!  My first healthy living tip!  Are you ready for it?  Here it is:

Lift with your legs, not with your back!

I know, I know... you know that one already!  We all do, right?  Yet we find ourselves throwing our backs out anyway, sometimes doing the silliest of things like picking a pen up off the floor or tying our shoes.  It's just so much easier in theory than it is in practice!  In my particular case, I was shoveling my driveway after that awful snow/sleet/rain storm last week, and the snow/slush was so heavy and the snowbanks on both sides of my driveway are so high that my only option was to sling it up and over the top of the giant piles.  The only problem is I don't really have the arm strength for doing that when the snow gets too heavy, so I was using my entire body as a sort of catapult to fling the stuff as far up and over as I could manage.  I felt a pop, froze, instantly knew I was in trouble, and then felt the pain shoot up my spine.  Fortunately for me, a few days of putting heat on it and taking things easy has me back to almost-normal after only a few days of discomfort.  This week I'm going to be taking extra care to really stretch out my back muscles well, and I'm slowly phasing my workout back in.  So, take care of  your backs, people!  Do stretches and strength exercises, be careful when lifting, and ask for help if something is too heavy!  Young people can throw their backs out too!

For those of you who have made a resolution that 2011 will be the year you shed those excess pounds and get into better shape, I'd like to share my personal winning combination with you.  First, I will preface this by saying that I hate dieting.  I like to think that in general, my eating habits are pretty healthy, and I can't stand being restricted from eating certain food groups like a lot of these diets out there tend to do.  I've done low carb, low fat, high fiber/protein and found all of them to be pretty unrealistic and unmaintainable for my personal lifestyle.  My problem is usually portion size control and unhealthy snacking (usually out of boredom).  Sometimes I don't realize how much I've eaten until it's too late.  The next thing I know, the pounds are creeping on one by one until I feel terrible about myself and force myself onto a diet.  These are sometimes met with moderate success, then I fall off the bandwagon, and the cycle repeats itself.

I also don't like working out in a gym.  I've never been able to maintain a consistent gym workout schedule.  I just can't do it!  I get so bored on the same machines day after day, exercising in place, staring at a TV that's showing a news story about how doomed humanity is.  That's not to say that I hate exercise... I love things like hiking, kayaking, and even bits of biking here and there.  I enjoy getting my exercise by actively exploring new places, or even familiar places where at least the scenery changes as I move.  However... I've come to realize that a regular workout routine is pretty much unavoidable.  During the week, I just don't have the time to go kayaking, hiking, or biking every day... especially in the winter when the days are so short.

Where am I going with this?  Well, I think I've found a personal healthy eating and exercise routine that works really well for me and is yielding some pretty great results!  Weight Watchers and Jillian Michaels!

I've done Weight Watchers before and was very successful on it.  I lost about 25 lbs in 6 months and maintained it for a while... until I canceled my membership and stopped tracking my foods and activity, that is.  About a month ago, I signed up again (online only this time), and I am really truly enjoying it!  What I like about it is it keeps me accountable for what I eat.  It forces me to think about my portion sizes and food choices.  Now, Weight Watchers has a new "Points Plus" program where fruits and most vegetables are zero points, which is great because now I'm choosing them more often as snacks, whereas on the old program I didn't want to "waste" my points on a banana when I could have a few reduced fat cookies.  By choosing fruits and veggies for snacks, I'm filling myself with more nutritional food instead of "empty calories" that don't fill me up!  I also really like the flexibility of the system.  With my weekly allowance points, I can allow myself to splurge once a week and eat whatever I might have a craving for.  It keeps me sane to have those kinds of options.  It just more "normal" feeling to me.  Let's face it... things like pizza and pasta are always going to be a part of my life!

In conjunction, I am also doing the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred workout (although I did take some time off due to my back injury).  You can get the DVD at Target for $10, and it's a 25 minute workout that incorporates circuits of strength, cardio, and ab exercises.  I like it because it's only 25 minutes, and yet it makes me sweat more and I feel it more than I do after an hour or two of half-assing it at the gym.  It's 25 minutes of non-stop movement (no breaks!), and it is definitely NOT easy, but it's doable.  Personally, I would rather do a very difficult and intense 25 minute workout than a moderate hour-long workout... but that's just me.  It also helps that I can roll out of bed and do the workout in my own living room, instead of having to drag myself to the gym.  So, this workout in conjunction with other active living habits have really done the trick for me.

I don't plan on focusing this blog on weight loss, but I know that it's something that plagues a lot of people's minds this time of year... just before the weather starts getting warmer and we have fewer layers of clothing to hide ourselves under.  I figured I would share what is working for me, and maybe it will help some of you as well!  I'm down 8 lbs in 4 weeks so far!

Oh, and if Jillian Michaels or anyone from Weight Watchers happens to stumble across this blog, feel free to send me an endorsement check!  :)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kicking Things Off...

I've been a participant in the blogosphere since around 2003, but I've never attempted to make anything particularly interesting out of it.  It's always been "this is what I did last weekend" type posts with sprinklings of venting and attempts at being "deep" here and there.  I suppose I mostly still keep my longest running blog for myself.  Every once in a while, it's fun to go back and look at how juvenile I was 6 or 7 years ago, or perhaps relive a fond memory.  It's a poorly kept/sporadic chronicle of my awkward transition into adulthood.

Now that I've (mostly) figured out who I am as an adult, I really want to keep a more interesting blog about the things I take a personal interest in, and that other people might find interesting/useful as well.  I'm planning on posting things like New England hiking and kayaking spots, healthy living tips and discoveries, recipes (both healthy and not-so-healthy), restaurant reviews, and whatever else I find interesting at the time.

So, here we go!  A couple of things to kick this off:

Last year, my boyfriend Brian and I bought a couple of kayaks.  They're nothing fancy, just a couple of 10 foot recreational kayaks we use for quiet water paddling.  Brian put together a fantastic Google Map of places to go kayaking in New England.  In red are the places we've been to, and in blue are places we've read or heard about.  He has added so much that it doesn't even all fit on one page anymore, so make sure you click "next page" down at the bottom to see everything!  You'll find a little blurb about what we thought of each place we visited, which serves as a great "where I've been so far" starting point for the kayaking aspect of this blog.  Once the weather warms up and I am able to get back in the water again, I'd like to provide more detailed descriptions and pictures of the places I go.  But, for now:

Recently, I've become addicted to Yelp.  I was made an Elite member this year, which I'm pretty excited about!  So if you care to read about my opinions of various establishments I visit, then you may do so here:

Okay!  I'm ready for fame and fortune!