Monday, January 30, 2012

My Marinade

  I do not mean to confuse anyone by having a title about a marinade and then a picture of a salad.  Originally, I thought I'd post about my Greek salad.  But as I started thinking a little deeper, I realized just about anyone can make a salad.  This fella consists of a crisp bed of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, chickpeas, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and my homemade tzatziki sauce.  The tzatziki sauce consists of 1 cup fat free Greek yogurt, one half chopped and seeded cucumber, 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill, and 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder.  That is all easy to explain, but the real star of the show is my chicken and my lovely standby marinade.

My marinades always consist of the same base- olive oil, citrus juice, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper.  That's it.  Plain and simple.  I switch out different citrus flavors and add spices depending on if I am making more of a Mexican or Tex-Mex, Mediterranean, Italian, etc.  But all in all, it consists of the same base and works for me every time with any kind of meat or as a basting liquid to brush over grilled veggies. 

My Simple Marinade
(for 1-2 pounds of meat)

1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon or lime
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together until combine.  Place meat in a large Ziplock bag and pour the marinade over the meat.  Let the meat marinade for at least 1-2 hours or overnight.  If you are planning on grilling your meat, make sure to shake off the extra drips of marinade before placing the meat on the grill so you do not have a massive flame.

Do not fear the olive oil.  Olive oil is your friend and will make your meat nice, tender, and juicy. I also do not suggest swapping the olive oil for any other kind of oil because it adds depth and flavor.  Put away the sodium induced marinade packets.  Use this marinade and you will be happy:)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Menu Plans

  I'm not being lazy this week by just photographing the weekly menu and posting it on the blog; although, it is saving me a little time.  Really, I just wanted to show you all my cute Valentine's Day themed paper.  I love seasonal magnetic paper pads!  I wish I had one for every holiday. 

This week's menu was inspired by an odd craving for lean proteins.  I think it is my body's way of healing and telling me what it needs.  After my visit to the doctor for a follow up on my back and neck after the car accident last week, I am now on two different types of muscle relaxers and an anti-inflammatory pill.  One muscle relaxer is for the morning and afternoon.  The other is for night.  This is to help with the tension and muscle spasms.  The anti-inflammatory medication is to help with any swelling.  Today is my first day taking the new meds.  So far, I'm a little drowsy, but I can feel it helping.

The doctor also wants me to go to a physical therapist.  I have an appointment on Thursday.  While I want to do what is best for my body, I'm a little disappointed in the Kansas "No Fault" laws.  Because it was an auto accident, I can't use my regular health insurance.  As far as my car insurance, I have to pay everything health and injury related out of pocket, send in the receipts, and then pray to God that either my insurance or the little chica's insurance fully reimburses me.  I guess this is where the insurance thing is beginning to suck.  I am trying to remain patient and positive.  Planning this week's menu helped me remain positive, so let's discuss...

Sunday we will be enjoying a light dinner served with a side of quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) and roasted veg.  Justin is not the biggest fan of fish, so we are going to experiment with our smoker.  Monday and Tuesday will be a taste of Greece with chicken gyros and Greek salad.  I am on a quest to find some gluten-free pita bread, otherwise my gyro may be served as a salad topper on the Greek salad.  Wednesday and Thursday, will be a make-ahead casserole packed with hearty white beans and turkey sausage.  Finally, either Friday or Saturday we will dine casually on pecan crusted chicken, baked sweet potatoes, and roasted broccoli. 

Here is the grocery list rundown:

1 bag yellow onions (because I'm out and it is cheaper to buy them in bulk)
1 head garlic
Sweet potatoes
Kale (for a minestrone soup I will be making for my lunches this week)
Romaine lettuce
1 bag lemons
Kalamata olives
2 cans chickpeas
1 bag white beans
Reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 can pumpkin
Slivered almonds
Pumpkin pie spice (the pumpkin and spice are for my breakfast recipe)
Non-fat plain Greek Yogurt
Parmesan cheese
Boneless, skinless chicken breast (I am buying a bag in bulk, as it is generally cheaper)
Turkey kielbasa sausage
Pita bread (I will be on the hunt for a gluten-free version)

Pantry items you will need or can purchase if you do not have them:
Dried dill weed
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Bay leaves
Red pepper flakes
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Brown sugar

For my breakfasts this week, I am trying a new sweet potato & pumpkin parfait idea from the magazine my gym publishes. I will be blending the pumpkin and roasted sweet potatoes into a puree and then topping it with stevia sweetened Greek yogurt and toasted slivered almonds.  For lunch, I'm still on my kale kick and thought making my own minestrone soup sounded good.  I will be serving the soup along side sliced apples and a peanut butter dip.  I am pretty pumped!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tanner's Chicken Nachos

One of our favorite watering holes in the Kansas City metro area is Tanner's Bar & Grill.  For some odd reason, no matter where we've lived there has always been a Tanner's near by.  Besides having decent pub grub the prices are cheap and there is always a special.  My favorite item to order, the chicken nachos.

Normally, these nachos are laden with cheesy Rotel.  I've lightened it up by using 2% cheddar, 2% Velveeta, and skim milk.  I didn't have any Rotel on hand, so I chopped up some jalapenos to add to the cheese sauce.  Needless to say, we were pleased.

"Tanner's" Chicken Nachos

1 cup skim milk
2 cups 2% shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. cubed 2% Velveeta
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons chopped jalapenos
1 cup shredded chicken breast
2 diced Roma tomatoes
1 bunch chopped green onion
Tortilla chips
Sour cream & salsa to serve on the side

Pre-heat your oven on the lowest broiler setting.  Pour the skim milk, cheeses, garlic powder, and jalapenos into a saucepan.  Melt, stirring constantly, over low to medium-low heat.  When the cheese is melted, remove from heat and set aside.  Spray a large cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.  Arrange the chips on the cookie sheet.  Top with chicken and cheese sauce.  Place in the oven.  Keep a close eye on them, so not to burn the chips.  When the cheese begins to bubble, remove the oven and top the nachos with the green onions and tomatoes.  Serve along side with sour cream and salsa.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Black Bean, Sweet Potato, & Kale Soup

So, you probably think, "Man!  Sara and Justin eat a lot of soup.  What the heck?!"  Well, we do eat a lot of soup.  And, we don't really get tired of it either.  Once the weather begins to cool, I find that soup is so easy and comforting on a busy week night.  I love it not only for the warmth and comfort, but also because I can make a big batch ahead of time, it gets better after you make it and the flavors marry together, and I can easily freeze the leftovers for a quick lunch when I don't have anything else planned. 

Some find that soup does not always fill them up for long.  Not so with this soup!  Chuck full of fiber and protein due to the black beans, this soup is given added bulk and nutrients with the addition of sweet potato and kale.  Do not fear the kale my friends! The kale packs a flavor similar to a country smoked ham.  I originally thought this soup would taste more like a chili, but found it to have more of a Southern flare similar to the traditional ham and beans.  It is so good!

Black Bean, Sweet Potato, & Kale Soup
(inspired by Hy-Vee Seasons magazine)

1 bag black beans
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-1/2-inch cubes
1 bag cut and ready kale (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth to make vegetarian)
4 cups water

The evening before you make your soup, you will want to soak your black beans following the overnight directions on the back of the bag of beans.  I poured my beans into a large bowl, covered the beans with water, and let them soak overnight.

The next day, rinse and drain the beans in a calendar.  Dump the beans into a large crock pot.  Add the onion, carrot, celery sweet potatoes, cumin, red pepper, broth, and water to the crock pot.  Cover, and set your crock pot on high.  Stirring occasionally, let the soup simmer for 6-8 hours.  When the beans start to break down, and the soup has thickened, add the kale.  Stir, cover, and simmer for another 1-1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  When the kale has softened, turn your crock pot off.  I like to let the soup set and cool for 20-30 minutes before serving.  You can garnish with sour cream and chopped green onions or serve on its own with a side of crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do You Feel Like Chicken Tonight?

Sorry for the slight delay in recipe postings.  I've been trying to wean myself off pain meds and it is not going so well.  I can move more and each day I'm waking up feeling better; however, by 9:30 a.m. I feel like I need a heating pad, vicodine, and a nap. 

Anyhow, enough of the whining and on to the cheese:)  Do you feel like chicken tonight?  Chicken is by far the most versatile protein, but can get a little boring.  No worries! Here is not one but two recipes for you to try.  One is an spin on Chinese take-out.  The other is more Italian.  Either way, you should try these tasty recipes.

  Originally, this dish was on last week's menu plan, but we ended up eating it on Saturday when I could finally move again.  A traditional Chinese take-out meal takes on a healthier spin using far less oil, brown rice, and a lovely mix of veggies.  This recipe is inspired by Hy-Vee's Seasons magazine, which I believe is offered in stores quarterly.  You can check out the original recipe at Hy-Vee's website, or see my adaptation below.

Spicy Cashew Chicken
(inspired by Hy-Vee)

Non-stick cooking spray
14 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch chunks
4 tablespoons light soy sauce, divided
2/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
3 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons Thai red chili paste
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 stalk celery, chopped
20 baby carrots (you can roughly chop them, or leave them whole as I did)
1 cup frozen broccoli florets
1 cup frozen peas
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained
1/2 cup cashews
4 cups steamed brown rice

In a small dish, whisk together 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1/3 cup chicken broth, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, and one clove minced garlic.  In a plastic marinating bag (a Ziplock bag) or larger dish, toss the above marinade with the chicken.  Let stand for at least one hour or overnight if you are prepping the dish before hand.

Next, spray a large skillet with non-stick spray.  Heat the skillet to medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cook the first side for 3 minutes.  Flip the pieces and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle.  Remove the chicken and set aside in another dish.  Add the celery, carrots, broccoli, peas, and onion.  Toss and stir the veggies around in the pan until the onion starts to look slightly opaque.  While the veggies are cooking, whisk together the remaining 1/3 chicken stock, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, chili paste, 1 clove garlic, and 1 tablespoon corn starch together in a small dish to create your sauce.  When the onions turn opaque, add the sauce to the pan.  Add the chicken back to the pan and the water chestnuts.  Toss and stir to coat until the sauce begins to thicken.  Remove from heat.  Top the chicken veggie mixture over brown rice and sprinkle the cashews on top. 

  Well, this lasagna is not a looker, but pretty tasty.  My food photography skills are already lacking and this proved to be even more of a challenge.  D- on the photog, but A- on the recipe:)  If you're like me, lasagna is kind of a drag to make.  Boil the noodles, mix the ingredients, then the layering.  Bah!  Not with this recipe.  There is no boiling required!  Just mix and layer my friends.  Mix, layer, refrigerate for later, or pop in the oven to enjoy for a meal right away.  Nice!

Chicken Lasagna Florentine
(inspired by Cooking Light)

Nonstick cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup skim milk
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups poached and shredded chicken breast (see this post for flavorful poaching)
1 10 oz. thawed and drained box of frozen chopped spinach
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1 brick 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles ( or whole wheat or whatever you prefer)
1 bag 2% shredded mozzarella cheese
1 sheet of foil to cover the top of your baking dish

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Spray an 8 by 12 inch baking dish with non-stick spray.   Heat and melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat.  While the butter is melting, whisk together the chicken broth, milk, garlic powder, and corn starch until smooth.  Add the mixture to the butter.  Stir constantly until thickened.  Remove from heat.

In another dish, mix the chicken, spinach, sour cream, and softened cream cheese together.  You can add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread 1/2 of the sauce into the baking dish.  Arrange the noodles into the pan.  I used five noodles (4 across, and then I had to break one for the end).  Layer the chicken mixture over the noodles.  Again, arrange noodles over the top of the chicken layer.  Ladle the rest of the sauce over the noodles.  Top with the cheese. 

Cover your baking dish with foil.   Bake in the oven with the foil over the top for 30 minutes or until the middle of the lasagna looks like the cheese is melted.  Remove the foil.  Bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the edges and top of the cheese look bubbly and golden.  Remove from the oven.  Let set for 5-10 minutes, slice and enjoy. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Menu Plans

Top of the morning to you all!  I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.  I am still mending from my little accident, but am trying to remain mobile.  Yesterday I did go into work; however, by noon quickly regretted my decision.  While I did make it the entire day, I was so exhausted when I got home that I was in bed before 8:00 p.m. and didn't wake up until around 7:30 a.m. this morning.  So, I am trying to move as much as I can, but at the same time am taking it easy.

In other news, knock on wood, the insurance companies have been very accommodating and helpful.  In the last 48 hours, I have heard from not only my insurance company, but also the chica's insurance company.  They were having a little bit of trouble with communications lines on her end, as she was not answering her phone.  So, they are now communicating through her parents.  I am trying to remain patient about that by reminding myself that the brain's pre-frontal cortex does not fully develop until the age of 25; however, the other part of me would honestly like to smack her for her immaturity in dealing with adult life and the law.  I am now taking my deep yoga breath....ahhh...remaining calm.  New subject.

On the agenda today, grocery shopping.  One of my favorite things to do!  For this week's menu, I am re-vamping one of my favorite recipes to make it gluten-free.  We are also planning on having another soup recipe from the Hy-Vee Seasons magazine.  And, last but not least, I will be using some extra chicken breast I plan on making early in the week for some chicken nachos inspired by one of our favorite bar and grill restaurants, Tanner's.

Menu for Sunday 1/21/2012 to Friday 1/26/2012

Sunday 1/21       Chicken Lasagna Florentine with Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Monday 1/22      Left-overs

Tuesday 1/23      Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Kale served with Cheese Bread

Wednesday 1/24  Left-overs

Thursday 1/25    Chicken Nachos w/ Tomato, Corn, & Avocado Salad

Friday 1/26         Left-overs or out to eat

For your grocery items this week:

1 lb. chicken breast
1 bunch kale or if you can find some already washed and chopped, I suggest you buy the bagged kale
1 bag celery
1 bag baby carrots
2 pints grape tomatoes or 2 lbs. of Roma tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 medium sweet potato
2 bunches green onions
2 medium yellow onions
1 avocado
1 bag black beans
2 boxes reduced sodium chicken stock (if you don't already have some on hand)
1 gluten free baguette
1 package gluten free lasagna noodles
1 container sour cream
2 packages 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1 container Parmesan cheese (if you do not already have some on hand)
1 package 2% shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package 2% shredded cheddar cheese
1 package 2% Velveeta (if you do not have any one hand)
1 package Feta cheese
Skim milk
1 package frozen spinach
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag tortilla chips

Pantry items you will need:

Dried chopped chives (you can find these in the spice section of your grocery store or use fresh)
Dried Italian herbs
Corn Starch

Happy shopping everyone!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Collisions & Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Thankfully, on tonight's menu we are having soup.  I love soup because it is comforting, fulfilling, and something you can make ahead and gets better after the flavors marry together over time.  I was in a car accident this morning on my way to work.  Literally, a block away from work.  I was at a stop light with several other cars in front of me and was rear-ended by a younger driver.  She claims she was not on her cell phone, but she must have been preoccupied with something to not see that we were all clearly stopped at a red light.  I have some whiplash and a sprained neck, but no other major injuries.  Thankfully, I am okay and have two different sets of prescribed pain killers.  Thankfully, I have excellent friends and an excellent husband who came to my aid.  And, thankfully, I have soup for dinner tonight.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about this particular soup recipe for I am not really a fan of cauliflower.  Justin picked out this soup.  I think he saw the word cheese and saw the croutons in the picture and thought it sounded good.  Well, he was right.  It is good!  If you are looking for a way to add some additional veg to your diet and are craving comfort foods, I suggest this soup.  We found the recipe in the winter addition of Seasons magazine published by our grocery store, Hy-Vee.  I made a few additions and tweaks to the recipe to boost the flavor and nixed the pumpernickel croutons.  I think it is a winner.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup
(inspired by Seasons)

Non-stick cooking spray
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bag frozen cauliflower
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 cup 2% shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. chopped 2% Velveeta cheese
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Spray a large stockpot with non-stick cooking spray and saute the garlic and onion until soft and translucent over medium-low heat (about 4-6 minutes).  Add your carrots and celery and cook until softened (another 4-6 minutes).  Next, add you cauliflower and chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer and cook the cauliflower until softened.  Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

After your veggies have cooled, add the mixture to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. You may have to work in batches so you do not overload your processor or blender.  Place the puree back into your stockpot and reheat over medium-low. While the puree is reheating, whisk together the milk and corn starch, then add the milk and cornstarch mixture to your puree.  Stirring constantly, begin adding your cheeses.  Continue stirring until the soup begins to thicken and the cheeses are melted.  This should make 6 one cup servings of soup.  I garnished my soup with a sprinkle of 2% cheddar and chives.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken & Sweet Potato Fries

  What meal is my go-to meal to feed the Bear or a crowd?  This easy buffalo chicken recipe is from Iowa Girl Eats.  Kristen is one of my favorite bloggers.  All of her recipes are very tasty and she has a good sense of humor.  I love this recipe because you can use the chicken in wraps, on a salad, or as a pizza topping.  It also makes enough to feed a crowd.  All you need is chicken, a packet of ranch dressing mix, and your favorite wing sauce.  Pop everything in your slow cooker on low for 4 to 6 hours, shred the chicken, and you have one tasty meal.  The Bear enjoyed a wrap and I topped the chicken over a salad.
  We both enjoyed a side of sweet potato fries.  I love sweet potatoes!  They are just as versatile as your regular tator, but are packed with a ton of nutrients.  I know anyone could pay a couple of extra dollars for the bagged sweet potato fries; however, why not save your cash and make your own.  Here is how I make mine.

Sweet Potato Fries
Non-stick cooking spray
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1/4 inch fries
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Peel and cut your sweet potatoes into 1/4 fries.  I try to select sweet potatoes that are a little longer versus chubby so they are easier to cut.  I cut mine by slicing the whole potato in half, then into fourths, and then cutting the slices into sticks.  Next, place the fries into a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle in the sugar, salt, and pepper and toss to evenly coat each fry.  The sugar will bring out the natural sweetness of the sweet potato and make a nice brown crust on the fry without having to fry them in oil.  Next, spread the fries on a large baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake them in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until they are golden brown.  If you want your fries to have a more even color, you can flip them once in the middle of the baking process.  Serve plain, with catchup, or a side of creamy ranch dressing.  I served the above fries with a side of chipotle ranch by using plain ranch dressing and adding a little adobo sauce for a little kick.  Yum!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


  This morning, Justin and I decided to try out the espresso maker my mom bought us for Christmas.  After one cup, Justin started clearing out the basement for future work on the man cave today.  I am working on the blog.  Wheeeeeee!  Maybe we would be this productive every weekend if we started our mornings with fresh espresso.

To recap last night's meal, the Spicy Chicken Sausage Ragu over polenta, which was on last week's menu, I simply browned 1/4 of a tube of Isernio's Chicken Sausage in a skillet, added 6 chopped portabella mushrooms, and 1 cup marinara sauce.  While the sauce was heating through, I made my polenta.  I actually just used corn meal, as it is basically the same as polenta.  It just isn't ground as fine and is a little more budget friendly.  I brought 2 cups of chicken stock up to a boil, whisked in 1/2 cup corn meal.  Stirring constantly, lower your heat to low or medium low.  When the mixture begins to thicken, you can switch your utensils from a whisk to a spoon.  Stir until desired consistency.  I like mine to be about the thickness of oatmeal.  This should make about 2 cups of polenta.  Divide the polenta between two bowls and top with the ragu.  If I would have had some Parmesan cheese, I would have topped with a little freshly grated parm.  This meal is so comforting.

Finally, in case some of you might be utilizing my weekly menu posts and prefer to do your grocery shopping over the weekends, here is the starting line up for this week:

Sunday, 1/14  Crock Pot Buffalo Chicken Wraps, Sweet Potato Fries, & Salad (my chicken will be topped over a bed of salad)

Monday, 1/15 Left-overs

Tuesday, 1/16 Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Bread

Wednesday, 1/17 Left-overs

Thursday, 1/18 Spicy Cashew Chicken Stir Fry with Brown Rice

Friday, 1/19 or  Steaks w/ Roasted Red Skinned Potatoes & Green Beans
Saturday, 1/20

For your grocery list you will need:

8 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 steaks, your choice (we are using fillet Mignon)
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 pound red skinned potatoes
1 medium sized yellow onion
1 head garlic
2 large carrots, or 1 bag baby carrots (I usually buy baby carrots to cook with and munch on)
1 bag celery
1 bag salad
Red chili paste
1 can water chestnuts
1 package ranch dressing mix
1 bottle buffalo wing such (I use Cookie's sold at Hy-Vee)
1 box reduced sodium chicken broth
1 box brown rice
1 container of cashews
1 loaf fresh bread
1 bag 2% cheddar cheese
1 brick 2% Velveeta cheese
1 bag frozen green beans
1 bag frozen cauliflower
Your favorite whole grain tortilla wrap

Pantry items you will need for this week include:
Brown sugar
Reduced sodium soy sauce
Corn starch

Hope your weekend is going well!  I am off to finish cleaning my house.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bacon, Onion, & Mushroom Pizza

  With the cold wind blowing and light flurries falling, what food is more comforting than a good pizza?  Well, maybe a pot roast or soup, but we've already covered that for the week.  I love bacon, but often times, I find that people try and either cut bacon out of their diets or substitute turkey bacon to find a replacement.  It is not the same!  And, who could replicate bacon?  Not a turkey!  My trick is to still eat regular bacon, but choose the center cut bacon.  Center cut bacon still gives you all the flavor and satisfaction of regular bacon, but with 30% less fat!  Don't deny yourself, just modify and look for center cut bacon at your grocery store.  Trust me, you will be happy.

Bacon, Onion, & Mushroom Pizza

The Sauce:
1 brick 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1 tablespoon dried chopped chives (look in the spice section of your grocery store)
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Stir all ingredients together until smooth and creamy.  Set aside.

The Toppings:
1 diced and sauteed onion
12 sliced and sauteed mushrooms
2 cups 2% shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup 2% shredded cheddar cheese
8 slices cooked and diced, center cut bacon

The Crust:
I used a personal sized, gluten free pizza crust by Kinnikinnick Foods.  They sell this brand in the health section at Hy-Vee food stores for around $5.00 per box.  Each box comes with 4 pizza crusts.  It is very handy when you are trying to practice portion control.

For the Bear, I used a regular pre-made pizza, whole wheat pizza crust.

I spread about 1/4 of the sauce on my pizza and the rest on his pizza crust.  I think you could easily spread the sauce on 2 full sized pizzas.  Next, top with your onions, mushrooms, and cheese.  Use the bacon as your last topping so it remains crispy.  Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until golden and bubbly.  Cool for 5 minutes, slice, and serve.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Simple Parmesan Dip

  I'm guessing some of you might be trying to add more veggies to your diet.  As the saying goes, "Strive for five!"  If you are not a raw vegetable fan, this can be tough.  Salads get old and who wants to eat plain carrots and celery with no dip?  Not me!  Back when I was in college at Iowa State, I took a nutrition class.  For extra credit we could take the Strive for 5 challenge.  While some did not take the challenge very seriously, I took it as an opportunity to change some of my eating habits.  Back then I was on a beer and bagel diet with the occasional salad, apple, or banana that might have been on hand in my sorority house.  I was finally living in an apartment, on my own, and had to cook for myself when I took the class.  This was an important time in my life and I took the challenge on.  Fruits and vegetables quickly became a primary staple in my life.  I really had to get creative with my preparation because I did not want to get bored and fail the challenge.  Too get the most nutritional value bang for my buck, I ate (and still do) a lot of raw vegetables with my lunch.  And, I became a master at making my own dips.  Dips make everything fun!

The above dip is one of the most simple dips I have ever made.  My Grandma Duree used to serve this dip at every family function.  I have entertained and brought this dip to many parties and always am asked for the recipe.  The only problem with grandma recipes is that they are never documented.  It is always a "pinch of this" or "well, I just add enough to make whatever taste good."  So, you might need to tweak this recipe to your palate.  I will warn you though, it contains a lot of garlic.  Vampires beware!

Parmesan Dip (inspired by Allene Duree)

1/2 cup light mayonnaise (I use Hellman's.  It is hands down the best)
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8-1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, more if you like the kick

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl.  You can add more or less of either Parmesan cheese or garlic.  Serve with any fresh vegetable.  It is so good!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Veggie Chili Wraps/ Enchiladas

  So, there was a slight deviation from my weekly menu.  This happens sometimes when one forgets a key ingredient, item, or just doesn't feel like making the originally planned entree.  No need to stress or order take-out!  Just improvise.  If you read my weekly menu post, you may have noted and been hoping for a simple recipe utilizing wraps. Do not fret my dear(s) or whomever might be reading this blog, I will lead you in my thinking.  This weekend, I ran out of my stand-by gluten free wraps.  This was after the Bear (my husband) and I had taken our weekly trip to the grocery store.  Being it was Tuesday and I pre-made my veggie chili on Sunday, I simply forgot that the gluten free wraps were consumed on Saturday.  Thus, I had corn tortillas and a can of gluten-free enchilada sauce.  FYI, for those on a gluten free diet, Old El Paso finally listed what "modified food starch" they use...drum roll please...corn starch!  A winner if you can consume corn products!  So, I wrapped my veggie chili in my corn tortillas, topped with my enchilada sauce, baked at 350 degrees in the oven for 30 minutes, and topped them with some sour cream and jalapenos.  The Bear still had his version, only with a flour tortilla.  All is good in the Nickel house.  You too can enjoy these wraps, tortillas, or even turn them into a lovely chili inspired lasagna and layer your tortillas with some cheese if you so choose.  Let this veggie chili be your inexpensive culinary canvas for dinner in the very near future!

Veggie Chili Wraps (original recipe, minus Sara's extra improvising:))

Non-stick cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pressed garlic clove
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1 dash cinnamon
1 coarsely chopped, small carrot (or 10 chopped baby carrots)
1 coarsely chopped stalk of celery
1 15 oz. can Great Northern beans, or any other white bean on sale
1 7 1/4 oz. can diced tomatoes with chilies (such as Rotel)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Tortillas or wraps (I would suggest something high in fiber, check the nutritional value before purchasing)
Sour cream (I use fat-free sour cream from Target.  It is the Market Pantry brand, they have the modified food starch listed)
Shredded cheddar cheese (again, I use the Market Pantry brand because they list the modified food starch)
Jalapenos (if you dare)

Spray a large pot or Dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray.  Add the oil and heat the pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery.  Stir occasionally and cook until softened (about 7-9 minutes). Add your spices, beans, and tomatoes.  Stir and reduce heat.  Simmer, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes to an hour.  This mixture will be thick.  This is so you can later scoop it into your wraps.

Spread 3/4 cup of the chili into the center of a wrap.  Top with 1 tablespoon sour cream and cheese, wrap and enjoy! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Provencal Beef Stew

  How is your Monday going?  My Monday has been okay, but is getting better by the minute now that I am home, have gone on a brisk walk, and plan to eat this hearty bowl of goodness before yoga class.  Honestly, my mouth is watering just looking at it!  To make this Monday a little easier, I prepared this stew in my slow cooker. You can make your Monday night eats easier too with this simple recipe!

Provencal Beef Stew (inspired by Weight Watchers, tweeked my me:))

Non-stick cooking spray
1 pound lean beef cut into 1-inch cubes, I used lean pre-cut meat from my grocery store
1 small chopped onion
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 pressed garlic cloves (I use my handy garlic press from Pampered Chef, or you can finly mince your garlic)
2 large sliced carrots (or you can use 20 baby carrots and save yourself the time as I did)
1 large stalk celery, sliced
1 15 oz. canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups reduced sodium, organic beef broth
1 11 1/2 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 large bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Spray a 5 quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.  Place all ingredients into your slow cooker.  Stir, cover, and set your slow cooker on low for 7 to 8 hours.  This recipe should yield around 6, 2 cup servings.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

First Post of the Year

I don't really have many New Year's resolutions that are too out of the ordinary. Of course I do have a little weight I need to drop from the holidays and a lingering 15 pounds that have crept up on me since turning 30. What is it about that? Anyway, I'm not going to stress about it because I know it will just require watching my diet a little more closely and going to the gym a litte more regularly. My goal for the gym is to go at least 3-4 times per week. That is totally doable. My other major goal is to make peace with myself. Last year, I attempted to just be content with where I was at in life. Finding content was a little more challenging than what I thought, but eventually just turned into laziness which later fuzed some major anxiety and frustration. So, this year, peace. Just saying the word peace calms me instantly. I like this goal.

Amongst goals and resolutions, I want to help people more. This not only will help bring peace to my life, but also help others to feel good. One thing people generally as me for help with is their health and diet. So, I'd like to try something. I will post my weekly menu and attempt to include pictures and recipes throughout the week. If you read my blog, just leave me a little comment if you try something, like it, feel it needs improvement, or whatever. While I do enjoy gourmet cooking, I really try to keep things very simple. I am afterall, trying to obtain peace:)

So, here is this week's menu. We are a household of two, so feel free to double any recipes if need be or make additions to your menu as you see fit. This week's menu is a cozy combination of winter comforts bulked up with extra fiber, protein, and veggies.

Sunday 1/8/2012 Provencal Beef Slow Cooker Stew (adapted from with Gluten Free Baguette

Monday 1/9/2012 Left-overs

Tuesday 1/10/2012 Veggie Chili Wraps with Veggie Sticks and Dip

Wednesday 1/11/2012 Left-overs

Thursday 1/12/2012 Bacon, Onion, & Mushroom Pizza with Salad

Friday 1/13/2012 or Saturday 1/14/2012 Spicy Chicken Sausage Ragu over Polenta

Keeping with somewhat of a French theme this week, I also prepared a week's worth of lunches for myself using a simple French Potato Salad recipe inspired by an old Weight Watcher's recipe I had always wanted to try.

French Potato Salad

1 pound poached boneless, skinless chicken breast (see method below)
1 roughly chopped onion
2 roughly chopped carrots
2 roughly chopped stalks of celery
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
Water (enough to cover your veggies and chicken for poaching)
Cooking spray ( I prefer canola oil spray)
1 pound quartered red skinned potatoes
1/2 bag frozen green beans
1 cup sliced seedless red grapes
2 medium celery stalks, thinnly sliced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup organic, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

I simply poached one pound of boneless skinless chicken breast for 45 minutes in a large pot of water with one garlic clove, one onion, two roughly chopped carrots, two stalks roughly chopped celery, and one bay leaf. Simply put all ingredients into a large stockpot, cover with water, and bring to a gentle boil. After the chicken mixture comes to a boil, lower your heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon into a bowl. You can either chop or shred your chicken. I prefer to shred my chicken using two forks and pulling the chicken into shreds.

While the chicken was poaching, I roasted one pound of quartered red skinned potatoes and one half of a bag of frozen green beans on a large cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray in the oven at 350 degrees until the potatoes were golden brown (about 45 minutes). To crisp the potatoes slightly, I sprayed them with a light coating of canola oil, salt, and pepper. Cool for 5-10 minutes.

Next, add your chicken, potatoes, green beans, grapes, and celery to a large mixing bowl. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, broth, tarragon, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard and olive oil together until combined. Poor the dressing over the salad and mix until the salad is evenly coated. Finally, I portioned the salad into six Ziplock containers so my lunches would be ready for the week.

Tomorrow's recipe- Provencal Beef Stew. Enjoy!