Monday, January 27, 2014

Super Bowl Week: GF Beer Cheese Soup

Hello! I feel like I'm meeting up with a long, lost friend. After being out-of-town for two weekends in a row, not only am I exhausted and rundown with yet another cold, I have not had much time to blog. Last week, we cleaned out some of the deep freeze leftovers and had a couple of recipe repeats. Sort of boring to blog about. This week it is all about quick, healthier, and AMAZING Super Bowl recipes. Normally, I don't get very jacked up about the big game. I'm more of a college football kind of gal. This year I'm kind of excited about it. Pete Carroll somewhat mesmerizes me with his coaching talent. Plus, I like the Seahawk colors. Is that the kind of girly response you were looking for ;)?

Now let's talk about gluten-free beers. I have not really delved into this territory. I really like Redbridge, but can no longer find it anywhere in Kansas. The other's I've tried are way too bitter. I even went so far as to search for Redbridge this Monday night at three different liquor stores only to feel like a total disappointed booze-hound as it is a Monday night. No Redbridge anywhere! But, a dear clerk did steer me to Omission Pale Ale. I think I've found a new gluten-free beer friends. I tried a little sip and am in love! All the great flavor of regular pale ale without the gluten-free bitterness. It is perfect for this lovely beer cheese soup!

Not only have I found a beverage I can enjoy this weekend while watching the handsome Pete Carroll, I can also make my favorite beer cheese soup again! In true Drake Diner style, I also used popcorn in place of croutons. The trick to lightening everything up you ask? Lighter cheeses. Here, I've used 2% Velveeta and fat-free shredded cheddar to pack all of the cheesy flavors with fewer calories. If you are looking for a fun and healthier way to feed a crowd, you may want to try this soup!

Gluten-Free Beer Cheese Soup

Nonstick cooking spray
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1/4 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 oz. gluten-free pale ale (such as Omission)
6 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup corn starch
8 oz. 2% Velveeta cheese
2 cups fat-free shredded cheddar cheese
6 cups popped popcorn for topping (optional)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the beer (pale ale). Stir to break up any brown bits that are at the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and milk. Whisk in the corn starch until smooth. Cook, stirring frequently, until the soup begins to thicken (about 5-6 minutes). Using an immersion blender, blend until all of the veggies are blended into the soup. Add the cheeses. Stir until the cheese is melted and smooth. Top with popcorn for a fun garnish if you choose before serving.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cabonara Quinoa Mac

Are you feeling like some of your old recipes need a makeover? I don't really ever feel this way since I am constantly trying to invent or adapt new recipes to post on the blog, but I do sometimes get in a recipe rut. Sure everyone has staples. You need "go to" recipes whether it be for picky eaters or when you-know-what hits the fan and you have no idea what to feed yourself, let alone a family, to sustain some sort of nutritional balance without relying on the nearest restaurant. I have my staples too. Soup, a funky sort of deep freeze items usually consisting of chicken and whatever leftovers are around, and my funky assortment of pantry items which includes quinoa.

You've probably heard me talk a lot about this quinoa stuff right? It's all because quinoa is so versatile. It cooks up to be like rice or that fancy couscous stuff. It's not really a grain, but acts like it. As a gluten-free girl, I heart quinoa. While you might gasp at the price, chill out. Explore the bulk section and buy what you need if you are seaking a recipe makeover. You can substitute it for rice or that fancy couscous stuff. You can substitute it for pasta. I've even used it as a base for a healthier pizza crust a time or two before. If you decide you don't like it, try it again. Try it in these stuffed peppers, try it in a salad like this Chicken, Berry, Quinoa Salad, or better yet try it in one of now two quinoa macs such as my Broccoli Quinoa Mac or the recipe I am about to share. You may even get your kids to like it. Then if you decide you like it or hopefully already love it, you can purchase quinoa at places such as Costco or Sam's Club in a nice huge resealable bag for a fraction of the price compared to the boxed stuff they are marketing next to the Uncle Ben's rice at your grocery store.

Now that I've peaked your interest, how about another quinoa recipe? By the way, you can also make this dish ahead and store it until you are ready to bake and serve!!

I know it wasn't totally necessary, but thought I'd play with my Cabonara Mac'n'Cheese penne bake a little just for kicks. Believe it or not, I managed to slash a few calories and maintain all the taste, but friendlier all through the use of substituting quinoa for the pasta. The quinoa still added the bulk, but with fewer calories. Amazing!! 

Cabonara Quinoa Mac
inspired by my Cabonara Mac'n'Cheese

Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup dried quinoa
1/ 3/4 cup reduced sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
4 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 8 oz. box baby bella mushrooms, washed and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
6 slices center cut bacon, cooked and crumbled (divided)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fat-free mozzarella cheese

Spray a medium sized casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large stock pot, bring chicken broth to a boil. Add the quinoa and stir to combine all the quinoa with the broth. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and leave covered.

While the quinoa cooks, bring a medium sized non-stick skillet to medium heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent in color. Add the mushroom mixture, milk, cream cheese, Parmesan, bacon, peas, salt, and pepper to the quinoa. Stir until creamy and combine. Pour mixture into the casserole dish. Sprinkle cheese on top. At this point you can cover and store in your fridge for baking later in the week. When you are ready to bake, let the dish sit uncovered at room temperature for 15 minutes while your oven preheats at 375 degrees. Then place the dish in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes and serve. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fajita Chicken Skewers

I absolutely love it when it is warm enough to grill in the middle of winter. Not that I'm sick of winter by any means. Winter has only just begun. It is just nice when a little warm front moves through to thaw things out a bit. Last night we took advantage of the warmer weather and cleaned the grill for a nice, speedy meal.

I can't really call this a recipe. I got a lot of help from my McCormick's spice friends with the fajita marinade. For anyone out there is who is gluten-free, I checked several sources, including the McCormick's website, and it is in fact gluten-free. For those of you who aren't gluten-free, it doesn't hurt to know in case you ever need to throw a meal together for a gluten-free visitor.

I cut about a pound of chicken breast into large chunks and placed them into a large resealable bag. Then, I simply added 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon olive oil, the marinade, and sealed that puppy up. I shook and squished the bag with my hands until it was all mixed together and the chicken was coated. And finally placed in it in the fridge until we were ready to grill. We chose to skewer the chicken with the 2 chopped green peppers, one red onion, and mushrooms for me. All in all it worked out well, but I'm not sure how my house still smelled like fajitas this morning since we grilled outdoors. I guess no matter what you do when you make fajitas everything will smell like fajitas:). Ha!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Light & Simple Menu Post

If you are catching up on Nickel news lately, you may have discovered I totally forgot to blog this weekend. It has been so much warmer and sunny that I've been spending time outdoors walking/jogging, taking outdoor Christmas decorations down, and busily getting ready for the upcoming week. Then, we got hit with news that Justin's sister's husband fell off the roof of their new garage while shingling. This is not his first major incident as about three years ago he fell of a ladder and shattered his knees. Word is this time he's broken one of his ribs and has several fractures in his pelvis. Prayers to Justin's sister and Mark that all will be okay!

As work and now family life gets crazier and crazier, I find myself getting more and more prepared so I can remain on track with my Weight Watcher's plan. I'm not sure about what is going on this weekend as we may need to indulge and go out for a change. Otherwise, this week I've taken some old favorites and lightened them up or put a new spin on some past recipes. I am so excited to share throughout the week as it is a pretty stellar rundown! Hopefully, I remember to blog with you all:) Here we go...

  • Sunday 1/12            Grill Fajita Chicken Skewers with Rice & Black Beans
  • Monday 1/13           Cabonara Quinoa Mac
  • Tuesday 1/14           Leftovers
  • Wednesday 1/15      Lemon-Ginger Chicken with Veggies & Rice
  • Thursday 1/16          Leftovers
Here is some of what you will need to make this all happen...

2 packages boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 package center cut bacon
1 red onion
1 bulb garlic
1 1-inch knob ginger root
1 green pepper
2 8 oz. boxes baby bella mushrooms
1 bag baby carrots
1 bag precut broccoli
1-2 lemons
1 package McCormick's fajita seasoning
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 14.5 oz. can black beans
1 box reduced sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1 box brown rice
1 box quinoa
1 bag frozen green peas
1 quart skim milk
1 8 oz. package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1 bag fat-free shredded mozzarella cheese

Pantry items you will need include...

Extra virgin olive oil

Bacon Honey Mustard

As I was typing the title for this post, my mouth started to water a little. This honey mustard sauce is over the top. Yes, over the top. I made this dip Friday night to pair with my homemade chicken tenders. I have yet to try the Tyson gluten-free chicken tenders at my grocery store, but might give them a try in the very near future as it would make my life somewhat easier, especially on Friday or Saturday nights. I just can't seem to get the whole gluten-free homemade chicken tender thing down without some of the breading falling off. Kind of over this happening again and again. The one thing I will make again though is this awesome Bacon Honey Mustard sauce for dipping.

At 2 points per serving, the bacon adds a certain wow factor to honey mustard dip. You could even thin this out with a little milk and use it as a salad dressing. It is so good!

Bacon Honey Mustard
2 WW points per 2 tablespoons

1 strip cooked center cut bacon, diced
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Place all ingredients into a small dish. Whisk together until combine. Use as a dip for chicken, pretzels, or fresh vegetables.

Chicken Rice Casserole

I know this was supposed to be posted on Wednesday or Thursday of last week. Honestly, I snapped the picture, sat down to eat, and then totally forgot to post! Last week ended up being such a crazy week, I was one of the last teachers to leave the building Friday night. Friday + crazy kids at school + never ending stack of paperwork = one tired Mrs. Nickel. The good news, I was still able to squeeze exercise in and maintain my healthy eats to stay on track with the Weight Watchers. I'm down another pound from over the holidays:). I cannot state enough how important it is to have meals like this on hand that I can throw together over the weekend so they are ready to go throughout the week. I think this has really helped.

What can I not say about this simple casserole? This gem of a recipe comes together so nicely without any cream-of-something soup. I almost bought a gluten-free condensed soup, but refuse to pay $3.50 when I can simply recreate a healthier and much cheaper version myself. The trick is to cook the rice in chicken stock or broth to get the super chicken flavor. To get the creamy factor I used fat-free sour cream. This meal totals out to be 8 points per HUGE serving. Perfect for a chilly weeknight meal!

Chicken Rice Casserole
Makes 6 servings, 8 WW points

1 cup brown rice
1 3/4 cup reduced sodium chicken stock
Nonstick cooking spray
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 cups light or fat-free sour cream
1 cup shredded 2% cheddar cheese

In a medium stock pot, bring chicken stock to a boil. Add the rice. Lower heat and cover. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the chicken. Cook for 5 minutes, turn and cook for 5 minutes more or until browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and set on a plate. In the same skillet, add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the rice, chicken, carrots, celery, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and sour cream. Stir to combine. Set aside.

Spray a 8-inch by 12-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place the rice mixture into the dish. Spread to evenly distribute the rice. Sprinkle the cheese over the rice. At this point you can cover the dish and store in the refrigerator until you ready to bake and serve. When you are ready to bake, let the dish set out at room temperature for 10 minutes while you oven preheats at 375 degrees. Place in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cheese becomes bubbly in the middle and begins to brown around the edges.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Vegetarian Gyros

I hope everyone is staying warm! I don't remember it getting this cold since I was a kid living in northern Iowa. I managed to stay warm by wearing thermal Under Armor underneath thermal running clothes. Thank goodness it was a workday and I could get away with wearing comfortable clothing today. It was perfect since some of us got together for a little sweat sesh later in the afternoon. I had not tried any of Jillian Michael's workouts. Aside from feeling awkwardly uncoordinated, it was not too shabby.

Good news is tomorrow the temps will be on a gentle rise with a high of 38 degrees. Still a bit chilly, but above freezing. With the help of my thermal gear, I plan to finally make it out for my first walk jog of the year!! What does this all mean for you? Well, the meatless Monday entree is actually getting posted on Monday instead of Tuesday. I tried using what little daylight there was to snap a couple of pictures. I'm posting both the Bear's gyro and my gyro wrap because his turned out a little prettier than mine. The wrap started to fall apart a little as I arranged it on top of the greens. Whether or not, this meal is an amazingly healthy alternative to traditional gyros if you have a hankering for some Greek food. We actually had this meal last week as well. The Bear declared it worthy of going on the blog as I think he is becoming proud to be the male spokes model for meatless Monday meals. He was sure to remind me to tell you all that this is a husband approved recipe:)

Here is the Bear's pita pocket...

And here is my wrap...

My mouth is watering just looking at it!

Vegetarian Gyros

For the gyro "meat":
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup dried lentils
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon thyme

For the tzatziki sauce:
1 cup light or fat free sour cream
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup cucumber, skin peeled, seeded, and diced
1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Other ingredients you will need:
1/2 cup cucumber, skinned and sliced
1-2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
4 gluten-free wraps or pita pockets

Place all ingredients for the gyro "meat" in a small stock pot. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Place in a food processor. Pulse until the lentils are the consistency of ground meat. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, feta, cucumber, green onion, and salt until combine. Set aside. Heat the pita pockets or wraps according to package directions. Top with the lentil mixture, tzatziki sauce, cucumber slices, and tomato slices and serve.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Moroccan Meatball Soup

How are your New Year's Resolutions going? Mine are going splendidly as the Bear and I decided we didn't have much to resolve. I did, however, sign up for a 10k. I decided to set one goal to get myself back into running-- a 10k by May. A 10k is around 6.2 miles. Since I was not able to run through the months of July-October and I've run my share of 5k's, I thought this would be a fun goal. I went ahead and asked for suggestions on Facebook for a good 10k race. I love St. Patrick's day celebrations in Des Moines, Iowa. Call me crazy, but I went ahead and registered with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa to run the Leprechaun Chase 10k. Guess this moves the 10k by May to a 10k by March.

I know, a little soon, right?! I'm freaking out a little since I did quit my gym membership back in September when I thought we'd be expecting. Not to mention again that I have not run at all since July and it is well below zero with snow and wind chills that would have any Eskimo hiding out in their igloo. My solution, any activity will do. Yes, any activity. This includes cooking, cleaning, and my favorite workouts from Tone it Up. Since hitting the ripe old age of 30, my knees and ankles have gotten a little week. This has made getting back into running every time a little tough. I LOVE the workouts Katrina and Karina have created. They are the perfect subscription to strengthen muscles around the knees and ankles, preparing me to run when the weather permits. Seriously, if you have not checked them out when I've mentioned them before, check them out. These girls are awesome!! Now, how about some soup to warm your soul?

This soup is uber packed with veg my friends. Kale, zucchini, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and the like. Do I have you salivating or totally freaking out because you would not even touch a 10 foot long stick at the sight of kale? Well, quite being a whimp and try some kale already okay? Trust me, I wouldn't put anything into my mouth that tasted like you-know-what either. Kale is not that bad. Plus, this soup is super easy as it comes together in your Crock Pot. What is there not to love? For the love of kale, try it!

Moroccan Meatball Soup
inspired by Cook Light & Rachel Ray
Makes 8 1 1/2 cup servings, 5 WW points

4 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
2 cups water
1/2 cup dried lentils
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
3 cups frozen chopped butternut squash, thawed
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can omit this if you do not like heat)
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
Nonstick cooking spray
1 lb. ground chicken breast
1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground flaxseed

Place all ingredients to the cooking spray in your slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and set on low. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick spray. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground chicken, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and flax seed together. Form into 1 inch meatballs. Place the each meatball onto the baking sheet. Place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the meatballs are browned on the outside. Place the meatballs into the soup mixture to finish cooking. Cover and continue cooking in your slow cooker on low for 6 hours.

* Note, there was a slight change to the grocery list. I did not use liquid egg whites, as I found these to make the meatballs to liquidy. Instead, I used ground flax seed as this was a great binder for the meatballs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year Menu Post

Wow! I know I probably say this every year, but I cannot believe it is now 2014! We are somewhat happy to have 2013 behind us and are excited to see what this year will bring. This year will be a little different as the Bear and I have decided to make 2014 the year of no resolutions. Plain and simple. No resolutions. Most of our goals we are already successfully progressing towards. It does not make sense to start from scratch, rearrange our lives, map out the course, etc. I am only planning on supplementing the progress I am already making with my Weight Watchers plan. I would like to start running again. The goal is to run a 10k by May. Do you like how that rhymes? Catchy isn't it? Yes, a 10k by May. Running brings me peace. The challenge will be strengthening my knees and getting back into running condition. This will take a little time, but I feel really good about all of this.

So, let's talk menu shall we? Even though I did not track my points for a week, I did practice moderation while celebrating over the holidays. I still enjoyed 3 prime rib dinners, but did not over-indulge to the degree I have in the past. It was more about savoring every morsel and time spent with family. I was happy when we got home from our travels and stepped on the scale to see that I actually lost 2 more pounds. Since I feel that I have a pretty good thing going, I'm going to keep on going. This week's menu has some exciting new global entrees as well as some comforting winter classics. While the pantry list might look a little lengthy, you will be utilizing your spice rack to add flavor packed punches to your dishes without the need for adding much fat. Here is the rundown:

  • Sunday 1/5         Moroccan Meatball Soup with GF French Bread
  • Monday 1/6       Vegetarian Gyros with Greek Salad
  • Tuesday 1/7       Leftovers
  • Wednesday 1/8  Chicken Rice Casserole with Green Beans
  • Thursday 1/9      Leftovers
  • Friday 1/10        Chicken Fingers with Bacon Honey Mustard and Broccoli
Some items you will need to make this all happen are:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. ground chicken
1 package center cut bacon
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley
1 bunch green onions
1 bunch kale
1 bag romaine lettuce
1 bunch celery
1 bag baby carrots
1 yellow onion
1 bulb garlic
1 zucchini
1 cucumber
2-3 roma tomatoes
1-2 lemons
2 boxes reduced sodium chicken stock
1 loaf gluten-free French bread
1 bag gluten-free wraps or pita pockets
1 box brown rice
1 box dried quinoa (or 1/2 cup from the bulk section)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 bag dried lentils
1 bag frozen cubed butternut squash
1 bag frozen green beans
1 bag frozen broccoli florets
2 containers light or fat-free sour cream
1 bag shredded 2% cheddar cheese
1 container feta cheese
1 carton liquid egg whites

Pantry items you will need include:

Nonstick cooking spray
Gluten-free bread crumbs
Dijon mustard
Cayenne pepper
Chili powder
Curry powder
Ground cumin
Dried dill
Garam masala
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Salt and pepper

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. I look forward to posting all next week!