Spaghetti Squash… Who Knew?

Recipe for Garlicky Spaghetti (Squash) and Asparagus at the bottom of this post!

So here’s the thing. I make a conscious effort to do what I’ve decided to call eating “smart”. I wish I could say I eat completely healthy foods all of the time… but the truth of the matter is, I love bacon, peanut butter, and cheese way too much to make the healthiest possible choices at all times.

I am, however, a new member of Weight Watchers, and over the past four weeks I have been following the WW program, I have lost a pound to a pound and a half each week. And I had Wendy’s one time. And dessert when I was on vacation last weekend. So go figure. What I’m learning, though the process of looking up and tracking my daily ‘points’, is that eating is a game of give and take. I absolutely can, and will, have bacon every now and then. But when I do eat bacon, I will plan the rest of my daily points accordingly, to allow for the delicious, crispy treat.

My point, which I promise to stick to now, is that food is good, I like it, and I’m happy that with WW I do not have to feel that eating smart is a lifelong sentence of misery. With that said, my biggest obstacle to a life of eating smart is not bacon, or even peanut butter… but PASTA.

Pasta is just so stupid delicious, and I could honestly eat it every night of the week. Now, on WW, I could eat pasta every night- as 1 cup of cooked spaghetti is 5 points (before sauce, meatballs, cheese & garlic bread enter the equation). The problem is not the sauce or the cheese, however, it is the simple fact that no human could possibly eat only one cup of pasta, without returning for seconds. Not this human, anyway. To me, pasta is like a can of Pringles. Once you pop scoop some delicious pasta onto your plate, you just can’t stop.

Fortunately, for the sake of my waistline and fast-approaching wedding day… I have finally discovered the magical pasta-addicts remedy that is Spaghetti Squash. I heard good things about this vegetable, but was slightly skeptical that a squash could satisfy the way a big plate of pasta does. So, I had to try it out!

The answer to my dinner-time woes

There are a few cons to the cooking and eating of Spaghetti Squash in place of pasta.

a) It doesn’t really taste like pasta. So if you expect a forkful of carb-filled goodness in your first bite, you will be disappointed. But if you try spaghetti squash expecting to taste a yummy vegetable, I believe you will be quite pleased.

b) It is expensive. One spaghetti squash costs around $6.00.

c) It is kind of a pain to cook/prepare. Cooking a SS takes about 45 minutes, so plan ahead.

Cons aside, the spaghetti squash meal I prepared last night had some very big pros.

a) The final meal was, to me, completely delicious, and very filling. (Recipe below!)

b) Spaghetti squash, being a vegetable, is a whopping ZERO POINTS for all you Weight Watchers folks out there. I repeat… ZERO points. Dig in.

c) I felt great after dinner, and can’t wait to cook SS again!

And so, without further ado, I present to you my recipe for Garlicky Spaghetti (Squash) and Asparagus

Ingredients:

1 spaghetti squash (find it in the produce section at your local grocery store!)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces

2 teaspoons Minced garlic

Salt & Pepper to taste

Cooking the Spaghetti Squash

There are several different ways to cook a Spaghetti Squash. I opted for what seemed to be the easiest route- cooking the squash whole in my oven.

1. Puncture several holes in the squash with a fork.

2. Place the squash in a baking dish close to its size, and add 1 1/2 cups of water

3. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, or until a sharp knife can be inserted with little resistance.

4. Allow squash to cool, then slice the squash lengthwise with a large, sharp knife.

5. Remove the seeds from the center of each section.

6. Use a fork or a knife to scoop out the insides, creating stringy, spaghetti like pieces!

Meanwhile:

1. Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large saucepan. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned.

2. Add asparagus and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until asparagus can be easily pierced with a fork.

(I have double the oil/asparagus in my saucepan, as I cooked pasta for FH to mix with half. He was not sold on the delicious promise of the spaghetti squash!)

Toss the spaghetti squash & asparagus until evenly coated in the garlic oil sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

WW people- the only cost in this meal is the EVOO (and cheese if you use it). I calculated my meal at a total of 9 points plus!

The verdict- spaghetti squash scores! Have you ever tried it? What creative & healthy meals have you cooked lately?

The Joys of an Organized Fridge (and a Recipe for Honey-Lime Chicken Kebabs)

I consider it a miracle if I can get to the grocery store on the weekend with an actual shopping list (imagine!) and a meal plan for the week ahead. Most weeks (especially when FH & I are at our busiest) I am lucky if I get to the store by Wednesday, which means Monday and Tuesday consisted of take-out or pasta for dinner. For some reason, we always have plenty of pasta in the house. I think it is because I tend to head to the grocery store without a list, and therefore grab a few boxes of spaghetti or macaroni each time, assuming we need it when we do not, and thus the stash continues to grow.

I used to think it was cute for FH and I to go to the store together on Sundays, and stock our cart while making plans for lovely home cooked meals and so on. I suppose I still think it is cute, however I’ve learned it is not financially wise (or particularly healthy) to take my man grocery shopping. Empty stomach or not, he is an impulse shopper who grabs every delicious looking thing in sight. By the end of our trip through the store, we have a cart packed to the gills, a huge bill, and an assortment of things like Tortilla chips and Queso dip, which Lord knows neither of us need to be eating.

So bad. But so good.

So these days, I make the dreaded trek to the grocery store alone. Which means by the time I am done, I am cranky (it is always crowded, and the self checkout is NEVER as easy or convenient as it should be), hungry (and I managed to pass by the boxes of Cheese-Its, my ultimate weakness), and completely dreading the task of unloading my bags of groceries. This means that when I do get home, I quickly throw all of my new groceries into the fridge and shut the door. The end result is typically a big mess of a fridge, full of new and old (and probably expired/moldy) food that I will later shove around while trying to find the ingredients to a particular recipe, etc.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. And my life may quite possibly have been changed forever.

I was feeling weirdly motivated, even after returning home from the store and lugging my groceries up to our second floor apartment by myself (FH was out). I was inspired by the sight of my future Mother in Law’s (FMIL?) fridge- which was neatly organized, with all produce cleaned, cut and easy to find in clear containers. So I set to work chopping up my veggies (bell peppers and yellow squash), slicing my strawberries and cleaning my ears of corn, so that everything will be cleaned, cut and ready to use this week.

The end result made me giddy with domestic joy. I threw away about 20 bottles and jars of expired food, and now my fridge is neat and orderly. I know exactly what I have and where it is. Imagine if I could apply this to the pantry next or… dramatic emphasis… my closet! How much simpler my life would be if everything was as easy to find as the kiwi in my fridge! I was so excited to go into my neat fridge later in the afternoon and make myself a fresh and delicious snack.

Seriously- summer fruit cannot be beat.

I now fully understand the benefits of planning and preparing in advance, and I look forward to a week of easy eating.

In other news, I made the most delicious Honey-Lime Chicken Kebabs for dinner last night. You should try them.

Honey-Lime Chicken Kebabs (served with Couscous and Grilled Corn on the Cob)

Recipe adapted from here.

Ingredients:

Boneless, skinless chicken breast (four- or a pack of tenderloins)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Juice of 1 Lime

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, honey, olive oil, garlic, and lime juice.

Cut chicken into large chunks (or you can leave the breasts whole rather than make kebabs). Put chicken into the sauce mixture and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Soak the bamboo sticks in water for 5 minutes. Once chicken is marinated, skewer the chunks onto the bamboo sticks.

Grill on medium high heat for 6-8 minutes.

Served here with Near East Toasted Pine Nut Couscous and grilled corn on the cob (wrapped in foil packets with a little butter for a delicious grilled taste!)

The marinade is sweet and the lime juice adds a zesty kick… these were so good! FH grilled them to perfection, each piece was tender & delicious! I love couscous, by the way. I’m a meat & couscous kind of gal.

So, friends, the moral of the story here is- organize your refrigerator and you will make & enjoy a delicious dinner. Or something like that. 🙂

Have a great day!

Homemade Cashew Milk

I’ve never been much of a milk drinker. In fact, as I kid I totally hated milk, and remember being stuck at the dinner table many times until I finished my mandatory glass of milk. (Good parents. I get it now). As a woman, with a history of osteoporosis in the family, I recognize the importance of getting calcium in my diet, and so I see milk as a necessary evil.

I love milk *in* things, like in my coffee, or in my smoothie. But you will never see me sit down and drink a glass of milk of my own free will. Put anything other than skim milk in front of me, and I lose control of my gag reflex.

On the other hand, I love soy milk and almond milk. I know neither of these carry the Calcium or Vitamin B of your standard cow’s milk… but they are both oh so yummy! That’s why, when I came across the recipe to replicate the Blueprint Cleanse (a trendy juice cleanse getting lots of hype these days) version of Cashew Milk… I had to try it! Click here for recipes to DIY the BluePrint cleanse. (Yes, I will probably be doing this soon. For now, just trying to eat balanced, whole foods).

So, without further ado, here is how to make your own Sweet Cashew Milk. (It’s so easy, by the way. Keep reading- you’ll see!)

Homemade Sweet Cashew Milk Ingredients:

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews

4 cups water

1 tablespoon Agave Nectar (I use Agave Blue, found in the organic aisle at my grocery store)

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

This recipe, using the Agave Nectar, cinnamon and vanilla, yields a delicious, sweet beverage that is yummy enough to be dessert! Leave out the sweeteners and you’ll have plain cashew milk that still tastes good & can be used in smoothies. For my cashew milk, I halved the sweetener ingredients from original BluePrint recipe to save on some calories- and it still tastes great!

Soak 1 cup of cashews in water. Most recipes say to soak for at least 2 hours- I let mine soak overnight.

Strain the cashews & rinse with cold water. Transfer cashews to your blender.

Blend the cashews with 2 cups of water until smooth. Add 2 more cups of water, and the Agave Nectar, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Liquefy!

Cashew Milk can be stored in your refrigerator (in an air-tight container) for 3-4 days.

I enjoyed a lovely afternoon snack of fresh strawberries & sweet cashew milk garnished with a sprig of fresh mint!

Delicious!

Panera Pick-Two Inspired Soup and Sandwich

I love me some Panera. When I lived in Pittsburgh, there was a Panera Bread just a five minute drive away from my house. I probably had Panera for lunch or dinner at least twice a week.

Many miles (and many pounds) away from those college days, I still crave the exact same meal from Panera Bread: the You-Pick-Two combo of Creamy Tomato Soup and the Chicken Caesar Sandwich. Caesar dressing and tomato soup are two of my all-time favorite things. Put them together & add some amazing asiago bread (and, of course, those delicious potato chips…) and I am in heaven. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for my bridal-body-diet-plan), we do not have a Panera bread nearby.  I am usually able to convince FH to make a special trip on the weekends, but a weeknight Panera craving will go unfulfilled these days.

That is, until tonight. When I masterfully recreated my favorite Panera meal… and… (yes, it gets better) for half the calories!

I checked the nutritional value of my Panera Pick-Two of choice here using the Panera Bread Nutrition Calculator. Including the chips (lets be honest, I always ask for chips. Apple? Yeah, right.)  my meal of choice carries a whopping 760 calories. Ouch. And that is not including the times I also got a cup of Panera’s vermont cheddar mac & cheese. Oh, you say decisions like this lead to weight gain? Who knew.

Anyway…

Tonight’s homemade version weighs in at about 350 calories (for 1 sandwich & 1 cup of soup), yet still packs flavor.  Now that is a Tuesday Miracle.

Chicken Caesar Sandwich

{Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats}

First I poached three chicken breasts (1 sandwich for me, 2 for FH). I boiled them for about 12 minutes, and then pulled them apart by hand.

I moved the chicken pieces into a saute pan on low heat & added three tablespoons of Ken’s Lite Caesar Dressing, a handful (maybe 1/4 of a cup?) of DiGiorno Three Cheese Shredded Blend, & some dried parsley & pepper. (I LOVE the taste of pepper in my Caesar dressing- so I probably used a full teaspoon).

I threw my multi-grain sandwich thins  into the toaster while heating up the chicken mixture.

I easily built my sandwiches by filling the sandwich thins w/ the chicken mixture, and adding some mixed greens & a slice of tomato.

Meanwhile… I was making:

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

{Adapted from here}

2 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes

16 oz fat free chicken broth

12-15 fresh basil leaves

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup skim milk (recipe called for cream… talking wedding dress in my mind said no way, lady!)

1/2 cup butter or margarine (I used margarine)

Step 1- bring the crushed tomatoes & chicken broth to a boil

Chop up your fresh basil, and toss it in! Add pepper to taste.

Turn the heat down to low, and add the milk and margarine.

This soup, ladies & gents, was amazing. FH said, and I quote, “delicious”.

Take that, Panera! (No chips needed).

Enjoy your night, everyone! I am currently watching New Girl- my favorite Tuesday night show. I totes adore Zooey Deschanel… and laugh my bootie off at her show!

Temporary Solutions {Part 2}

As detailed in Monday’s post, FH & I embarked on a quest this past Saturday to purchase a new piece for our kitchen- to replace our old, small kitchen cart & help create some more counter/storage space in our small kitchen while we save & dream for a future kitchen renovation.

After a long search, we finally found two pieces of furniture at IKEA- which I then proceeded to spend the remaining afternoon building. FH is good at a great many things, but assembling furniture is not one of them. I single handily built the desk and wall to ceiling shelves in our second-bedroom-turned-office, and I assembled our TV stand/entertainment center as well. Most of our furniture is ‘temporary’ much like our kitchen- as eventually we hope to acquire some nicer pieces. Second-floor apartment living is not ideal for large, single-unit furniture, either.

I am a visual learner- so instructions portrayed by cartoon-like pictures are pretty easy for me to interpret. I would much rather see a diagram than read written instructions.

My tips for successful assembly of IKEA furniture:

1. Carefully separate all pieces, including screws/dowels/etc. & make sure you can tell the difference between each size item.

I use the top of the cardboard box to separate all of the small assembly pieces.

2. Accept help. While FH lacks the patience to carefully follow each step of the assembly, when it comes to lifting/flipping furniture pieces or screwing in the 100th screw when my hand is getting tired… occasionally I need to *ask for* help. When assembly IKEA furniture I assume a very independent, GIRL POWER mentality that often makes it difficult to remember this tip.

3. Your dog probably cannot help you very much, so enlist your partner/buddy to entertain said dog.

Or, your construction zone may look something like this:

3. Take your time & resist the urge to throw things. Sometimes, the pictures just don’t make sense. Or you built the entire thing & then realized one tiny piece was backwards. It happens to the best of us IKEA furniture builders. Take a break, eat a snack (Doritos for me), and before you know it, you’ll be done & proud.

My two pieces took about 3 hours total to assemble. It was a bit tedious, but we are very happy with the results:

Done!

Both carts have wheels, and the smaller one on the left has an extension. Putting the microwave (yes, it is a different, smaller microwave) on the shelf leaves lots of counter space, and our important every day dishes still fit on the one bottom shelf. (We purged a few extra items & relocated some bigger pieces to a cabinet in our back hallway). I will probably not store anything too heavy or breakable on the small cart, as I plan to move it towards the sink/stove/kitchen counter when in need of extra cooking space.

The best part about our new furniture is we that have created a separate working space in the kitchen. I can juice/blend/etc. over by the sink in the morning, and FH can make a bowl of cereal or pack a lunch on the cart next to the fridge. We hope to have significantly less elbow-bumping, frustrating mornings from now on.

I updated the chalkboard calendar...finally.

I love the nice bright white w/ the wood counter top.

I put the new rolling cart to use while preparing dinner last night. It served as a great place to lay out my ingredients.

Ingredients for a new Stuffed Peppers recipe

 

I often cook from recipes I find online (more now, thanks to Pinterest!), so I use my iPad propped up on a plate stand.

Works like a charm!

Dinner was absolutely delicious Turkey Stuffed Peppers from Skinny Taste.

This delicious, healthy, take on traditional stuffed peppers uses lean chopped turkey & fat free chicken broth for an amazingly flavorful stuffed pepper at 184 calories for one half-pepper.

Mine turned out SO great- FH loved them & I was super proud!

Delicious! I put a salad of mixed greens, feta cheese & craisins w/ balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side. YUM!

Find the recipe at Skinnytaste.com & make them for yourself!