Monday, September 14, 2009

Gridiron Get-Togethers

The NFL season has begun and many of our neighbors like to invite friends over to root on their favorite team and enjoy some great game day food.

Casual sandwiches, dips, and other finger foods are perfect for game day get-togethers as they can be made ahead so the host can enjoy their own party. The recipes below are also easy clean-up.

Stuffed Sandwich

Serves 8

Assorted sliced deli meats

Assorted sliced cheeses

Thinly sliced tomatoes

Thinly sliced red onions

Salt & pepper

Cream cheese

Mayo, mustard, or oil & vinegar

Loaf of round crusty bread

Cut a round hole at the top of the bread. Scoop out the insides of the bread leaving it hollow. Spread thin layer of cream cheese on sides and bottom to coat the bread.

Layer your sandwich with your favorite cuts of meat and cheese, adding alternate layers of onion and tomatoes. Add condiment of choice. Keep layering until bread bowl is filled and packed firmly.
Spread cream cheese on the inside of the top piece, and place back on top of your sandwich. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or overnight) before serving. Cut in the shape of a pie wedge.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Serves 8

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 (10 ounce) can chicken, drained (or equivalent rotisserie or freshly-cooked, chopped chicken)

1 cup ranch dressing

3/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot sauce

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Corn chip, scoops

Beat cream cheese, ranch dressing, and red hot sauce.

Fold in shredded chicken.

Put all in slow cooker on medium until melted and bubbly. Stir

Serve in slow cooker on low heat during party with Frito scoops.

Coca Cola Sloppy Joes

Serves 8

1 lb ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 cup Coca-Cola

2/3 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons dry mustard

Brown beef and onion in a large skillet. Drain well.

Stir in remaining ingredients as listed. Mix well.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dollar Stretching Dinners

Feeding a family in these economic times can be tough. Always on the hunt for money saving menus and dollar stretching dinner ideas, I seem to find the best values to be casseroles and other one dish wonders. A loaf of homemade bread (see recipe here) costs less than one dollar to make and can round out the meal.

Casseroles and one dish meals can help to stretch the expensive ingredients by bulking up the dish with less expensive items. Many times the bulk item is a starch, such as pasta or rice.

The recipes below cost roughly $2 per serving. They also freeze well, so consider doubling the recipes and putting the extra pan in the freezer for a future meal.

Skillet Spaghetti & Simple Meatballs
Serves 4

Simple Meatballs

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced onion
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl combine egg, water, bread crumbs, onion, salt and pepper and combine. Add ground beef and mix together using a spoon or your hands. Form into meatballs about 1" in diameter and place on a broiler pan (I use a portion scoop for this so all meatballs are uniform in size). Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until meatballs are no longer pink in center. While meatballs are baking, prepare the Skillet Spaghetti.

Skillet Spaghetti

28-oz. pasta sauce – homemade or your favorite jar pasta sauce
1-1/2 cups water
12 oz. spaghetti pasta, broken in half
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large (12") skillet, combine spaghetti sauce and water. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add spaghetti and stir well, making sure spaghetti is submerged in the sauce. If necessary, you may add another 1/4 cup or so of water.

Bring to a boil again. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently. You may add more water or tomato sauce if the mixture appears to be too dry. Cook until spaghetti is al dente. Top with cheese and serve immediately.

Mediterranean Chicken & Brown Rice Casserole
Serves 14

2-3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1.25 cups feta cheese, crumbled
6 cups cooked brown rice
1 10 oz package frozen spinach thawed and squeezed of excess liquid
1 28 oz can tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
salt, pepper, basil, and oregano to taste

Add olive oil and garlic to a COLD skillet. Turn heat on to medium. When the garlic has started to soften, add chicken and par cook, about 5 minutes. Add can of tomatoes, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove chicken breasts and set aside to cool slightly, then chop into bite sized pieces. Return chopped chicken to pan. Add sun dried tomatoes and herbs. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the Romano cheese and combine thoroughly. Place in a large baking dish and sprinkle with grated Romano. Bake for 25 minutes; until cheese is brown on top.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baby, It's Hot Outside!

It's mid-May, which can mean 100+ degree days here in the desert. The beginning of hot season tends to dull our appetites and make us crave cool and refreshing foods. Besides Philly Swirl sugar free bars (0 points!), I am in the mood for chilled fruit and vegetable based dishes.

Cold dishes like soups, salads, and cut-up fruit make up a large part of my family's diet when the temperature rises. The best thing about these dishes is that they are low calorie, low point foods, so I can maintain a healthy diet and continue my weight loss journey.

Strawberry Soup
Serves 5

2 pints strawberries
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (or ginger if you prefer)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until well blended.
Chill and serve

Cold Cucumber Soup
Serves 4

2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into large chunks
1-1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 small onions, cut into wedges or chunks
4 sprigs of parsley, stems removed
2 sprigs fresh dill, stems removed OR 1 teaspoon dill weed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Puree all ingredients in blender until smooth. Serve chilled.

Fruit Dip
Serves 12

1 8oz package fat free cream cheese, softened
1 7oz jar marshmallow creme
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a mixing bowl, add cream cheese that is either room temperature or slightly warmed in microwave. Beat until smooth.
Remove lid from marshmallow creme and heat in microwave for 30 seconds. Add to beaten cream cheese and beat again until smooth.
Add vanilla and lemon juice, beat until combined.
Chill and serve with fresh fruit for dipping.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stocking a Healthy Pantry

Whether watching your weight or just trying to provide the family with healthier fare, the first step should be to stock the pantry with healthy items. With a well-stocked pantry, dinners can be made in a flash, which helps resist the urge to eat high-calorie, fat-filled, and sodium-laden restaurant meals or fast food. A partial pantry list is below.*

BROTH. Either canned or dry, fat free & low sodium broth is a must. I buy this stuff by the case and use it almost daily. Use it instead of water to add flavor to rice, without adding fat or calories. Broth is also a good substitute for alcohol or oil to save calories in a recipe.

BEANS. Dried beans and canned beans are a great source of both protein and fiber. Beans are also terrific for bulking up a recipe and adding texture and "meatiness" to meatless dishes.

COOKING SPRAY. Using cooking spray instead of oil or butter makes dishes healthier and far lighter. A couple of quick sprays is all it takes.

HERBS & SPICES. One of the best ways to reduce the use of salt is by using herbs and spices. Bold flavors, without salt, are key in a low sodium diet.

WHOLE GRAINS. Try brown rice instead of the white. It is healthier and has a more pleasing texture. Experiment with grains such as quinoa, bulgur, and kamut. Whole grains are filling and a great source of fiber.

HEALTHY OILS. Such as olive, canola, and grapeseed. A small amount of healthy oil is a necessary part of a healthy diet. The body needs it for healthy skin and hair.

CANNED TOMATOES. Diced, chopped, pureed, and whole. Tomatoes are low in sugar and high in fiber and potassium. Eating tomato based sauces instead of those made with cream is great for the waistline.

BALSAMIC VINEGAR. Aged until syrupy and intensely flavored, a little bit goes a long way as a salad dressing, needing very little oil.

PASTA. Preferably whole wheat and in lots of different shapes (including couscous). Add a few simple ingredients to pasta and lunch or dinner is a snap. Pasta is delicious at any temperature, which makes it great to pack for lunches as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Girl Scout Cookie Time! How Many Points?

Of course Girl Scout Cookie season lands right in the beginning of my weight loss journey. I love Girl Scout Cookies, so I budget for them so they'll fit into my daily points. I also budget for a glass of skim milk to have along with them. It helps me get my dairy for the day and that makes me feel a smidge better about my GS Cookie obsession.

This year's cookie variety lineup includes the usual offenders, plus the new Dulce De Leche cookies with caramel chips and a caramel drizzle - egads. In order to budget these once-a-year cookies into my day, I have had to calculate the points for each. I am surely not the only one fitting GS Cookies into my day, so here are the values. P.S. - A cup of skim milk is 2 points. :-)

Trefoils 4pts (5 cookies)
Dulce de Leche 5pts (3 cookies)
Do Si Do 3pts (2 cookies)
Sugar Free Chocolate Chip 4pts (3 cookies)
Lemon Chalet 4pts (3 cookies)
Tagalong 3pts (2 cookies)
Samoa 3pts (2 cookies)
Thin Mints 4pts (4 cookies)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Points-Friendly Soups

I like soup. In fact, I could eat soup year-round, even here in the Sonoran Desert. Studies show that broth-based soups can curb your hunger for very few calories. Pureeing some ingredients can give broth-based soups a creamy texture, without the added fat and calories of cream. The Spicy Black Bean soup below is creamy and satisfying, and only 3 points for 1-1/2 cups. The Zero-Point Asian Soup below is great for when you are craving something warm and comforting, but have no points left for the day.

Spicy Black Bean Soup - 3 points
Servings: 8

Cooking spray, 1 spray
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 (1
5 oz.) black beans, canned, undrained
1/2 teaspoon(s) red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon(s) cumin powder
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can chicken broth, fat free, or vegetable broth
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can diced tomatoes, with green chiles, such as Rotel
1 (12 oz.) can yellow corn, drained

Coat bottom of large stockpot with cooking spray. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently,un
til onions are soft but not brown - about 5 minutes.

Place one can of beans in blender; add sauteed onion mixture, red pepper flakes, and cumin. Cover
and blend on high until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour mixture back into stockpot.

***I just add the can of beans, red pepper flakes, and cumin to the pot with the onion mixture and blend until smooth with an immersion blender.***

Add second can of beans and the chicken broth to the stockpot and puree with immersion b
until smooth.

Stir third can of beans (DO NOT PUREE FIRST), tomatoes and green chilies, and corn into stockpot.
Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
Yields about 1-1/2 cups of soup per serving.

0 Point Oriental Soup
Servings: 8

3 cans FF chicken broth (14.5 oz cans)
1 package frozen Oriental-style stir fry veggies (about 1 pound)
1 can (small flat can) Bamboo shoots
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or add another tablespoon soy)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon garlic chili paste (or to taste)
juice of 1 large lemon

Bring chicken broth to a boil, add veggies and turn off heat.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to blend.

You can adjust the seasonings to taste, adding more or less soy, vinegar, etc. til you get the flavor and "heat" you want.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins - 2 WW Points

So, I am back on the Weight Watchers wagon and currently in my 5th week. It's going pretty well and there hasn't been much temptation - until today. I turned on the television this morning and it is "Chocolate Weekend" on Food Network. Now I've got a chocolate monkey on my back. Luckily, I had the few simple ingredients on hand to make 2-point Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins. My snack tonight was one of these muffins and a cup of skim milk. It hit the spot and took care of that chocolate monkey, too! Here's the recipe - if you could even call it that.

Chocolate Pumpkin 2-Point Muffins
makes 24

1 box Devil's Food cake mix
1 (15oz) can of pumpkin
1 cup of water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Either place paper cupcake liners into muffin tins or spray them with cooking spray.

Blend together all three ingredients, using either a whisk or an electric mixer. Evenly distribute batter in muffin tins.

Bake for 18-20 minutes. Muffins will be extremely moist.

*Can be made with any flavor of cake mix, so experiment to see what you like the best. My family likes spice, chocolate, and strawberry the best.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Saving Money By Going Meatless

Meatless entrees are favorites of my personal chef clients for a number of reasons, including special diets, personal preference, and religious requirements. Vegetarian entrees are also gaining popularity in the current economy as budget stretchers. The recipes below are for a few of the meatless entrees that my clients repeatedly request.

Meatless Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4

1 cup water

1/2 cup uncooked Arborio rice

2 green bell
peppers, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 green onions, thinl
y sliced
1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1 pinch ground black pepper

1 tomato, diced

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly grease a baking sheet. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in the rice. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside. Place the peppers cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Roast 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until tender and skin starts to brown. While the peppers are roasting, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions, basil, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper in oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato, and cook for 5 minutes. Spoon in the cooked rice, and stir until heated through. Remove from heat, mix in the feta cheese, and spoon the mixture into the pepper halves. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Cheesy Eggplant Lasagna
Serves 6

2 medium eggplant peeled and cut into 1/4" thick, lengthwise slices

2 pinches garlic salt or to taste

8 ounces mushroom, fresh, sliced

1 medium garlic clov
e, minced
2 cups Marinara sauce, lowfat

6 ounces Mozzarella cheese, l
owfat or fat free - finely shredded

Preheat the broiler.
Mist a 13" x 9" glass baking dish with olive oil spray. Set aside. Lightly mist the eggplant with olive oil spray. Place on a medium nonstick baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides with garlic salt. Broil 6" from the heat source for 3 to 5 minutes per side, or until tender. Meanwhile, lightly mist a medium nonstick skillet with olive oil spray. Set over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until there is no liquid remaining in the pan and the mushrooms are starting to brown. Preheat the oven to 350. Place half of the eggplant in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with half of the mushroom mixture, half of the marinara sauce, and half of the cheese. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, mushrooms, sauce, and cheese. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until hot and the cheese is bubbly. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes. Cut into 6 equal portions. Serve immediately.

Southwestern Vegetarian Bake
Serves 6

3/4 cup brown rice, uncooked

1 1/2 cups water

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (11 ounce) can mexicorn, drained
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 cup salsa

1 cup sour cream

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup red onion, chopped

1 (2 1/4 ounce) can black olives, sliced, drained

1 cup Mexican blend cheese, shredded

In a large saucepan, bring rice and water to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes, until tender. In a bowl, combine beans, corn, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, cheddar, pepper and rice. Transfer to a 2 1/2 quart baking dish coated with nonstick spray. Sprinkle onions and olives over top. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 30 minutes. Sprinkle Mexican cheese over top. Bake 5-10 minutes longer, until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back On The Wagon in 2009

We've all heard, "the cobbler's children have no shoes." In my case, I have helped several of my clients lose weight by preparing meals for their specific diet plans, yet my weight continues to increase. Maybe I need to hire a personal chef too!

As many people do, I've committed to getting back on the wagon this new year. After reaching my goal with Weight Watchers in 2004, I quit smoking and gained back the weight - and then some. Ugh.

This past Monday, I started again - journaling and counting my points. It's not so bad, actually. It's really a stark wake-up call as I again realize that my portion sizes had gotten out of control and my food choices were not the best.

Of the healthy meals that I prepared for my family this week, there were two that I really enjoyed. The first was Garlic-Pecan Mahi Mahi and the other was General Tso's Chicken & Brown Rice. These dishes both have a points value of 6. Add a cup of green beans or broccoli and you have a complete low points dinner that satisfies.

The General Tso's Chicken recipe was found on and the Garlic-Pecan Mahi Mahi recipe was adapted from the message boards.

General Tso's Chicken (6pts)
serves 4

3/4 Cup chicken broth (low sodium)
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger
2 Teaspoons peanut oil
1/4 Cup scallions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 Pound boneless, skinless chicken breast - cut into 2" chunks
2 Cups cooked brown rice - kept hot

In a medium bowl, whisk together: broth, cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger; set aside.

Heat oil in wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallions, garlic, and pepper; cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken and cook until browned on all sides - approximately 5 minutes.

Add reserved sauce and simmer until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through - about 3 minutes.

Serve chicken and sauce over brown rice. Recipe yields approximately 1 cup of chicken & sauce and 1/2 cup brown rice per serving.

Garlic-Pecan Mahi Mahi (6pts)
serves 4

1 Pound Mahi Mahi filets
2 Teaspoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Ounces chopped pecans

Spray grill and fish with PAM. Grill (or broil) fish until white and flakey.

While fish is cooking, melt butter in small pan. Add pecans and garlic. Saute' over medium heat, stirring frequently so pecans toast but do not burn. When fish is cooked, top it with the garlic pecan butter.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thank You From Soldiers in Rounds 4 & 5

I received this fabulous thank-you card from one of my Baking Gals team's Round 4 soldiers - Deb Davis - who is serving at a M*A*S*H type unit in Qatar. Check it out!

Team Your Place Gourmet has also received a big THANK YOU email from one of our Round 5 soldiers - Alan Scobel - who is also serving in Qatar.

Hello! Just wanted to thank you for all the goodies! It was pretty nice, especially being around the holidays. Of course I couldn't eat all of it, so usually I'd just leave a box around our shop (which has about 30 people in it), and within a day or two it was all eaten. All of the cookies & snacks were great! The shop really appreciated it. To all who attempted to make the no-bakes, they were awesome. Tasted like they should have! haha. I'm out of here & going back stateside sometime this month (hopefully the earlier part), so I just wanted to thank you for setting this up, and my shop thanks you as well! I tried to e-mail all who sent packages, if they left an e-mail addy, but most did not. If you could thank them for me I'd appreciate it. Thanks again!
Alan Scobel

To read more about these brave soldiers, check out my previous blog entries.