greetings from scotland…

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I’ve been visiting family in Scotland for a while, so I’ve not been very good at updating the blog. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about it! One thing I really want to do when we return to the States is cook healthy dinners more often, so future posts won’t too far off.

I’ve been to Scotland four times now and the one thing that’s really amazed me is how good quality produce, dairy and bread is cheaper here. Eating out, as you know, is much more expensive. So people tend to cook at home more. And so much of the produce is locally sourced. It’s really fantastic. A trip to Sainsburys is a great adventure for an American, believe me. Anyhow, I can’t wait to cook more when I get home!

Until then, here’s a little something I thought you’d enjoy.

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They were delicious! The potatoes for these crisps were from a farm just down the street from where I’m staying.

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Edinburgh.

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Old Town, Stirling.

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Ahhh, what is a trip to the UK without some fish and chips…? Delish!

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heaven is a healthy spinach artichoke dip….

Spinach artichoke dip is one of my all-time favorite appetizers. It’s piping hot, creamy and cheesy – and often served with tortilla chips or some sort of bread product (carbs, yay!), so what’s not to like? In a nutshell, it is divine.

It is also so very unhealthy. As I was perusing recipes for this delicious dish, I was surprised to see that mayo is in most of them. Really? I hate mayo. Seriously hate it. So much I had to use italics.

And while I wanted to have spinach dip while enjoying the premiere episode of good, quality television (ahem, Bachelor Pad – don’t judge), I didn’t really need to get my arteries all clogged up while doing so.

So I stumbled across the infamous Cooking Light variation. It looked good – really good….but then I found an even better one. The perfect spinach artichoke dip recipe that didn’t leave me feeling fat and bloated just reading the ingredient list. This recipe from Serious Eats, which uses less cheese than the CL version, is as healthy as you can get for a cheesy dip. Plus, it’s full of fresh spinach, which was a big plus for me, since I had some in fridge and I needed to make it in a hurry.

People tell me that football season is starting soon (I don’t do sports, sorry), so this may be a terrific lower-fat option for game day! Plus, no mayo. Ick.

It tastes awesome. Heavenly. Fantastic. And it was quick enough to throw together once you tear up your spinach and take out any big stems. The whole crushing garlic thing with a knife was new to me, so that was super exciting. I actually watched this video to get an idea of what I should be doing.

Anyhow, I would’ve never known this was a healthier version, to be honest. My guests devoured it while we mocked our reality TV contestants – and then we all came back for seconds. I had thirds – again, don’t judge!

It makes a lot. Enough for a small get-together. The only thing is that the ingredients aren’t exactly cheap. I never knew how much canned artichoke hearts cost…yowza! I already had the spinach, garlic, spices, shredded cheeses and sour cream on-hand. The rest was still pretty pricey. Get it on sale and you’re golden!


Mixing the ingredients together.

Ready to go into the oven!


Dig in! Sooo good.

So, here’s the recipe (from Serious Eats):

INGREDIENTS

10-ounce bag fresh spinach (I used much less ’cause that’s all I had – was still good!)
6 ounces (3/4 block) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
6 ounces (3/4 block) fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1 1/2 cups part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed (not minced) (first time I ever crushed garlic by hand!)
6 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese, divided

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Tear spinach into bite-size pieces, removing any thick stems. Rinse in a colander, leaving a little water on the leaves. In a large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven, sauté the spinach over medium heat until wilted. Drain in the colander, pushing a little of the extra water out.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheeses with a potato masher. Add sour cream and mash more. Add spinach, mozzarella, artichokes, pepper, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Stir everything until thoroughly combined.
Pour mixture into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan on top. Bake 30 minutes, or until parmesan is melted dip is all bubbly. (Mine took probably another 10-15 minutes longer!) Remove from oven and give it a minute or two to cool down.
Serve…and enjoy. I can’t wait to make this again!


a chicken pot pie that won’t kill you…

Fall is coming…..

If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will get my little joke (switch winter with fall and you’ll be all Stark-like!). If not, the statement is still rings true. Fall is indeed coming!

And cooler weather means comfort food like chicken pot pie. One of my favorites…mmmm.  As I’ve mentioned, my favorite recipe is a Weight Watchers recipe, which is packed for of chicken and veggies and normally calls for four reduced-fat crescent rolls as the “pie crust.” And I’m not a big fan of those things. Sooo, I searched around for the perfect pie crust recipe (read: so easy that I couldn’t mess it up). I’ve never made pie crust from scratch, nor do I have a food processor, so I also wanted one that was super simple that I could make, literally, by hand. I found a recipe at Baking Bites.

It turned out wonderful. I will never buy those refrigerated pie crusts again!

My house still smelled like burning, though, because the pot pie juices dripped while cooking and burned on the oven floor. Yay, me! Lesson: put a cookie sheet or something under the pie dish.

OK, so here’s the scoop. The pot pie filling is healthy; we’re cool with that. The pie crust has a lot of butter in it. And you are only using one on top, so it all balances out to an OK meal, right?


Here’s my pot pie filling simmering away. Look at all the veggies and chicken goodness!


And here’s my pot pie complete the homemade pie crust…all ready for the oven! Please note I don’t know how to flute a pie crust. In fact, just saying “flute” makes me think of Ron Burgundy playing the jazz flute on a mountaintop (“that’s baby-making music right there, that’s what it is”).


And here it is, all cooked.


And a slice of goodness for you, my friends!

Now for the recipe. I made the pie crust first, then let it chill while I prepared the pot pie filling:

Homemade Pie Crust (recipe from Baking Bites)
INGREDIENTS

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces
4-6 tbsp cold water

DIRECTIONS
Stir together flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add in butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips, forming pieces no larger than a pea. Stir in 4 tbsp cold water with a fork, letting the dough come together. Add additional water until dough forms a rough ball (I didn’t need more than the recipe states, but it can vary). Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press down into a disc and chill until ready to use. When ready to use, roll out a little larger than the pie plate. Place over filling and seal edges (“flute” edges if you have those mad skills). Make sure to cut some slits on the top to allow steam to escape while cooking.

Healthy Chicken Pot Pie Filling (recipe from Weight Watchers)

INGREDIENTS
cooking spray
1 tsp butter
1 small onion(s), chopped
2 cup(s) mushroom(s), sliced   (I am sure I added more than this)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp table salt, or more to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cup(s) frozen mixed vegetables   (I used the whole bag)
1 cup(s) canned chicken broth
3 cup(s) cooked chicken breast without skin
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk, divided

DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. Coat a 10-inch round shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Coat a large pot with cooking spray. Add butter and melt over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms and cook, until tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Add vegetables, broth and chicken. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
  • In a small cup, combine flour and 1/4 cup of evaporated milk; stir into chicken mixture. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup of evaporated milk and cook until mixture is slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes more.
  • Spoon chicken mixture into prepared baking dish. Place pie crust on top. Bake until pie crust is golden brown – this took about 40 minutes for me. (If the pie crust edges get too brown, you can place some foil strips on top of them.)
With comfort food like this, I have to say I’m ready for fall. What about you?

 

sunday dinner prep…

It’s a gray and rainy Sunday here in Michigan, which is just fine by me as long it as it’s not 90 degrees.

The weather today reminds me that fall is just around the corner…and I love fall. The crisp weather, the smell of fallen leaves, cozy sweaters…it’s my favorite time of year.

In honor of fall, I’ve decided to make a classic comfort food for dinner – chicken pot pie. And I’ve also decided to use one of my favorites recipes, but switch it up a bit (always a scary notion).

One of my favorite chicken pot pie recipes is a Weight Watchers recipe, believe it or not. It is absolutely delicious and as healthy as chicken pot pie can get. The recipe calls for reduced fat crescent rolls instead of pie crust. And I’m really not a fan of buying that refrigerated dough stuff (and the list of strange ingredients on the tube sorta’ freaks me out). Sooo, I am going to make my own pie crust from just a few ingredients, so wish me luck. I’ll report back with the results!

In the meantime, say hi to my trusty scrub brush. She’s gotten quite a workout lately. I made some wonderful focaccia on Friday – will share that recipe, as well! Have a great weekend, everyone.

healthy lasagna (and yes, it’s delicious!)….

You would never know it from reading this blog, but I like to keep my dinners as healthy as possible (without totally sacrificing taste).

My favorite dish to make for company is a doctored-up version of a Weight Watchers recipe for tomato and roasted red pepper lasagna.

OK, I was so skeptical when I first saw this recipe…and I followed it exactly, only adding some mushrooms and onions to the tomato sauce. It was wonderful.

And each time I’ve made it since then, I’ve changed something. Sometimes it wasn’t quite as good (zucchini and summer squash), sometimes it was absolutely sublime (tonight’s version with turkey meatballs and an egg instead of substitute).

It reheats well, too, which is always good because I absolutely hate cooking on Monday nights. So I usually make this lasagna on Sunday night and we eat it once or twice more throughout the week.

If you want the original recipe, click here. But from here on, I will tell you how I make mine. It’s so easy, it’s so filling, it’s pretty healthy. And it’s so delicious (I promise).

The best part is you can switch up the ingredients. Don’t like mushrooms? Use green peppers or zucchini. Want to add some meat? Go for it. Tonight’s lasagna featured some Trader Joe’s turkey meatballs (freezer section), about 1/2 – 3/4 of a bag. I cut them up small and added them to the sauce. Phenomenal!

I think I’ll just call this lasagna “My Trader Joe’s Lasagna” because I get everything I need there.

My Trader Joe’s Tomato and Pepper Lasagna (modified from Weight Watchers)

INGREDIENTS

24 oz marinara sauce, store-bought (I always use the simplest marinara I can find – usually Tomato and Basil marinara from Trader Joe’s)
1 cup(s) canned diced tomatoes, fire-roasted, drained (again, TJ’s has some delicious fire-roasted tomatoes)
sliced mushrooms (up to you how many you add – I usually use 1/2 to 3/4 of a container)
1 onion, chopped
a clove or two of garlic, minced
1/2 bag of fresh baby spinach
1 cup(s) fat-free ricotta cheese (ahem, TJ’s)
1 cup(s) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheeses (and extra for sprinkling on top!)
1 cup(s) shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup(s) fat-free egg substitute (or 1 egg, beaten)
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried oregano (I use a little more)
dash of crushed red pepper (optional)
9 item(s) dry lasagna noodles, regular or whole-wheat (TJs!)
1/2 cup(s) roasted red peppers, water-packed, cut into thin strips (TJs!)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Saute some sliced mushrooms, onion and garlic in a little bit of olive oil until mushrooms are almost cooked.
  • In a small pot, combine marinara sauce and tomatoes; throw in a dash or two of crushed red peppers (if you like a little spice) add mushroom mix and and simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses; stir to combine. I find that using the back of a spoon works well to break up the ricotta. Stir in egg ( or substitute), salt, pepper and oregano.
  • Spoon 1 cup of sauce in bottom of an 11- X 7-inch glass baking dish.
  • Arrange 2 lasagna noodles over sauce, down center of dish. Take another lasagna noodle and snap it in half – put one half below each of the full-length noodles. (So you are using 3 noodles per layer.)  If it breaks awkwardly, it’s OK. It doesn’t have to be exact. Nobody will ever know!
  • Spread half of cheese mixture (about 1 cup) over noodles; top with pepper strips and a layer of fresh baby spinach. Pile a lot of spinach on…it shrinks a ton!
  • Place 3 more noodles on top; spread with remaining cheese mixture.
  • Top with 1 cup of marinara sauce; place remaining 3 lasagna noodles on top.
  • Spoon remaining sauce over top and gently press down on lasagna.
  • Cover dish loosely with aluminum foil; bake for 40 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and remove foil. I sprinkle some mozzarella on top at this point because cheese is awesome.
  • Bake until sauce is lightly browned and noodles are tender when tested with a knife, about 10 to 15 minutes more.
  • Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes to firm up slightly. Slice into 8 pieces and serve.
  • Enjoy!!!!

s’mores cookies, no camping necessary…

Confession time.

I was a Girl Scout, but I never went camping.

Shocking, isn’t it? How did I earn all those merit badges without having the pleasure of sleeping outdoors with bugs and spiders and snakes? We all know it was certainly not through cooking. Ha! Look at me – I made a little joke.

But seriously, I’ve never spent the night in a tent, on the ground, under the stars, et cetera. And mark my words: I never will, if I have anything to say about it.

I prefer a bed. And smooth, high-thread-count sheets on that bed. So my point of all this? I have managed through sheer will and determination to escape camping (hell) while still allowing myself the (few) gastronomical pleasures associated with this outdoorsy pastime.

I grew up in a relatively rural area, so come summertime, there were no shortages of bonfires at friends’  houses and late nights spent grilling hot dogs on sticks and charring marshmallows. I like my marshmallows on fire, sizzling, crispy on the outside and molten in the middle. I don’t have the patience for toasting a marshmallow – I light that baby on fire. And it’s delicious.

Anyhow, since it’s nine-kazillion degrees outside, I figured what better time to heat up my house with the oven?

No doubt you’ve seen the numerous iterations of s’mores recipes online (and especially on Pinterest). This one was the easiest recipe I could find. I am lazy. Don’t like too much work or too many steps.

Anyhow. Cookies. The recipe can be found at Some Kitchen Stories, which is a food blog with an interesting concept – original stories accompany each post. Pretty cool.

I let my cookies bake a little longer than the recipe because I like a crispier cookie. And now that you know how I like to cook my marshmallows…can you be surprised?

Only thing I’d change about this recipe? I’d add more marshmallows. Other than that, it’s pretty darn tasty.

I’ve switched around a few steps because you need to chill the dough for at least an hour, so unless your oven is crazy slow, you do not need to preheat it first thing (for over an hour).

S’more Cookies (via Some Kitchen Stories)

INGREDIENTS

11 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 ½ cups flour
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup mini marshmallows (I added a little bit more, but wish I would’ve used even more!)
3 regular sized Hershey’s bars, broken into pieces (I used 4 king sized bars – I’m generous with my chocolate)
1-2 packages graham crackers, broken into squares (I used 2 ½ packages – seriously!)

DIRECTIONS

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, sea salt and cinnamon to combine. Set aside.

In an electric or stand mixer, cream butter with white and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla. Combine.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixer slowly, on low speed.

Fold in the chocolate chips and marshmallows. Chill dough in refrigerator for 1 hour to overnight. (I chilled mine for 90 mins – it hardened up nicely.)

While dough is chillin’ like a villain, line two baking pans with parchment. (Why parchment? I’m guessing it’s because these cookies can really stick if the dough spills over the graham cracker onto the pan, so the parchment worked out quite well. Plus it makes it easy to transfer the entire batch, in one go, to the wire rack for cooling.)

Place graham crackers side by side on pans as close as possible (they should be touching).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place tablespoons of dough on graham crackers about 1 – 1 ½ inches apart. Wet your fingers with water and press the cookie dough down a little until flat. (This step took longer than I thought!)

Bake for 5 minutes then remove from oven to press Hershey’s pieces on to the top. (I did 1-2 pieces per cookie, depending on how generous I was feeling. One piece per cookie is perfect, really, though. I went overboard.)

Bake for 5 – 7 more minutes or until dough starts to turn golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Slice when cool. (I totally ignored this and sliced off one piece. They are a lot easier to cut once completely cooled. Really. You won’t wait, though, because it smells too good!)


Say hello to the trusty spoonula! Here it is, folding in the marshmallows.


Rationalization = these cookies are healthy because graham crackers have calcium in them! Mmm-hmm. Really.


Here’s the cookies at the 5-minute mark, when you take them out of the oven to place the little Hershey’s piece on each cookie.


And the sliced cookies, ready to eat.


Just like that, they’re gone. Yum!
And you’re left with a semi-nekkid hula girl and a few stray crumbs.
Also, if you are like me, you also are reminded why your stomach looks nothing like hers. This is when I say, “I may not be skinny, but I got my calcium for the day. Thanks, graham crackers!”

I have way too many cookies in my house. Anyone want some? 🙂

some things never change…

I’ve always liked baking cookies. Just stumbled across this photo from the 80s, when I was a kid. I’ll give you one guess on which child is me.

Here’s a hint. I’m the one who looks way too excited. Yeah, the super-enthusiastic kid waving around the spoons of dough? That’s me.

I am making some awesome cookies this weekend, y’all. And you’d better believe that I will share the results with you as soon as I’m able.