Category Archives: Weight Loss Wars

Recipe Re-Do: Martha Stewart’s Chicken and Kale Casserole

Skinny chicken & kale casserole

You know what we all need to eat more of??


In the same the family as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage, kale gets gold stars in the nutrition department. Kale is packed with vitamins, calcium and cancer-fighting compounds. Although kale is available all year, it is especially plentiful this time of year which means that it is über cheap too. I picked up a huge bunch today in the produce department for under a dollar making kale a better buy than lettuce or spinach. Score!!

So, I’ve decided we should all add kale to our diet. But not if that means dressing it up with a ton of fat. Take, for example, the Chicken and Kale Casserole in Martha Stewart’s November issue of Everyday Food. What is there not to love about a casserole combining chicken and kale?? Well…how about the 48 ounce container of ricotta cheese that the recipe called for. Martha, Martha, Martha. What the heck are you thinking?? Seriously, who puts that much ricotta cheese in any dish unless its my brother-in-law’s 19 pound lasagna??

I really liked the idea of the recipe so I made a few changes. I reduced the amount of ricotta and added a white sauce made of milk and flour to meld it all together. My version (FTW) comes in at a third fewer calories and half the fat of the original.


  • 1 large bunch kale (4 to 6 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 12 ounces large pasta shells
  • 12 ounces diced chicken
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided


  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Chop the kale into pieces, discarding the ribs and any woody stems. Place the kale in a large microwave safe bowl with a lid. Add about 1/2 cup water to the bottom. Cover and steam the kale for about 5 minutes in the microwave (see Kat’s tip below)
  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook pasta according to directions. Drain and keep warm.
  • In same pan, melt butter over medium heat
  • Stir in onions and garlic; cook about 5 minutes until onions are soft.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir well until flour disappears.
  • Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Add the ricotta and continue stirring until the cheese is combined and the mixture is smooth.
  • Add the kale, cooked pasta, chicken, spices and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese to pan and stir well until everything is combined.
  • Pour into a well greased 9×13 baking dish. Top with remaining Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Serves 8

Kat’s tip: Kale is in season from December to April. To retain the most nutrients, it’s advised to steam kale. Hence the microwave cooking. I really wanted to get away with one pot but it didn’t work out that way.

Nutritional breakdown (Kat’s version):

Calories 335  Total Fat 8 g  Cholesterol 46 mg  Sodium 181 mg  Potassium 452 mg  Total Carbohydrate 43 g  Protein 23 g

Nutritional breakdown (Martha’s version):

Calories 563  Total Fat 22 g Total Carbohydrate 52 g  Protein 40 g


Posted by on November 17, 2011 in Low fat, Weight Loss Wars, Weight Watchers


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Hot Pumpkin Breakfast Quinoa from The Wanna Be Chef

A pumpkin soufflé of sorts

Readers who know me personally will know that I have a slight streak of OCD in me (actually I’m pretty sure it runs in throughout my whole family). Once I get an idea in my head, it stays there until I thoroughly investigate it, experiment with it and pontificate on it. And then, with the snap of a finger, I’m done with said topic and its gone.

That said, I can either blame my current infatuation on all things pumpkin (especially when paired with quinoa) on my little OCD problem – or – the fact that pumpkins are in season and they’re everywhere. I’m going with the latter so literally it can’t really be my fault that I’m fixated.

Last week I whipped up pumpkin quinoa muffins. Today, its hot breakfast in a cup. My pictures aren’t as pretty as The Wanna Be Chef’s but it cooked up quick and it was hot, delicious and healthy. Its also perfect for a pre or post workout meal because its loaded with protein.

Note: The original recipe calls for a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the option of maple syrup. I very may well have mis-measured but I found the salt overpowering. Adding the maple syrup tempered this a bit. If you’re foregoing the maple syrup try this without the salt (or just measure more carefully than I did).


  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup cooked quinoa*
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice*
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter (I use unsalted almond butter from Sprouts)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped nuts
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)


  1. Crack two eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork
  2. Add quinoa, pumpkin, salt and spices
  3. Pour into a small ramekin or microwave safe bowl
  4. Cook on high for 3 minutes
  5. Allow to cool slightly and top with nut butter and nuts

If you’re fresh out of pumpkin and not weirded about by quinoa, you can substitute a mashed banana with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg in place of the pumpkin pie spice. Again I left out the salt and the results were amazing (although I think there’s a bit of egg mist on the ceiling of my microwave). I added a bit of maple syrup and nearly swooned.

Kat’s Tip: Make your own pumpkin pie spice by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon with 1/2 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon *each* allspice and nutmeg.

Kat’s Second Tip: I buy quinoa in bulk at Sprouts. It cooks up just like rice; one part quinoa to two parts water. I use my rice cooker but you could do it on the stove top as well. Quinoa has a bitter coating which washes away with water so make sure you rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer before cooking.

Serves one

Nutritional information (including nut butter and nuts):

Calories 404.0  Total Fat 26.4 g  Cholesterol 370.0 mg  Sodium 152.4 mg  Potassium 458.3 mg  Total Carbohydrate 26.4 g  Protein 19.4 g



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Pumpkin Quinoa Fitness Muffins

Perfect for pre-workout or breakfast on the go

I can already hear the groans. “Fitness muffins, yuck…and what the heck is quinoa anyway??”

Quinoa is a grain-like seed that cooks up much like rice. Originating from Peru, where it was revered by the ancient Incas as the “mother of all grains,” quinoa contains the essential amino acids necessary to make it a complete protein.

So, there you have it. Quinoa is a complete protein which makes it the perfect ingredient for a pre-workout muffin. Said muffins BTW have the same calorie count as my homemade energy bars but are moist and satiate my need for fall flavors. These muffins will not disappoint. As a matter of fact, aside from a slight crunchiness imparted from the quinoa, you won’t even know its there. But, your body will!


  • 1 1/4 cup flour, preferably whole wheat
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 3/4 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup quinoa, cooked and drained**
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried fruit (I used dried cranberries)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°
  2. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin with either non-stick spray or paper liners
  3. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl
  4. Add the quinoa, pumpkin, milk, eggs, butter and vanilla
  5. Mix well
  6. Add dried fruit and mix until incorporated
  7. Measure evenly into muffin cups
  8. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

Kat’s Tip: Make your own pumpkin pie spice by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon with 1/2 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon *each* allspice and nutmeg.

Kat’s Second Tip: I buy quinoa in bulk at Sprouts. It cooks up just like rice; one part quinoa to two parts water. I use my rice cooker but you could do it on the stove top as well. Quinoa has a bitter outer layer which washes away with water so make sure you rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer before cooking.

Nutritional information:

Calories 177.6  Total Fat 5.3 g  Cholesterol 42.0 mg  Sodium 53.6 mg  Potassium 173.7 mg  Carbohydrate 32.6 g  Protein 4.0 g

Inspiration: Bob’s Red Mill – I cut the sugar down to reduce the calorie count a bit.


Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Breakfast, Low fat, NaBloPoMo, Quinoa, Weight Loss Wars


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Weight Loss Wars – Week 3 update

A food diary is key for me

Week 3 is in the bag. I would love to tell you that I lost more weight but my spastic scale gives me a different number every time I step on it. Of course, I could just keep stepping on it until it gives me a number I like but that feels a bit like cheating. So, I’m not focusing on the scale but rather on what I can actually control.


One of my main goals with this contest was to clean up my eating habits. So I’ve been sticking to around 1500 calories per day which I record in a food diary. Thank God for technology since food trackers have come a long way. I use FitDay to log what I’m eating. I like that I can add in “custom foods.” Since I cook a lot, this is handy. I also use SparkPeople’s recipe calculator if my recipes don’t have the nutrition information included. This may seem extreme to some but my inner bean counter is a little OCD; she and the drill sergeant actually prefer full documentation. Bonus points for me that I can access it on my phone, tablet and various computers.


Taming my inner drill sergeant and the “go big or go home” tapes that keep playing in my head is difficult. However, I also find success in the fact that I’ve worked out 4 to 5 times in each of the the past 3 weeks. I started slow with low weights and am gradually working my way up. Suffice it to say that I’m no spring chicken anymore. And, exercise hurts and its exhausting…at least in the beginning. You can save the drivel about how exercise gives you more energy. I think its a myth. I usually feel the need to nap immediately afterwards.

Regardless, exercise is key to weight loss. So, I’m exercising. Not particularly because I want to or because I know that I will feel a sense of accomplishment at having done it. No, I’m more motivated by the small sense of regret and large sense of guilt I will have for not working out. That and the fact that there’s money on the line in said Weight Loss War.


So there you have it. Sticking to 1500 calories and working out 4 to 5 days a week HAS to have results. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve given up wine?? Damn tells you exactly what percentage of calories you’re consuming in alcohol. I think that adjustment alone should be good for at least one dress size. Anyway, back on to the results…I didn’t get all soft and pudgy and gain 30 pounds overnight. Besides, if I stick to my plan, the results WILL follow and eventually I’ll step on someone else’s scale and swoon with giddiness.

Photo Credit: o5com on Flickr. CC Licensed. A much better photo than I could ever take,

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Posted by on October 30, 2011 in Weight Loss Wars


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A Month’s Worth of Lunches

Variety is very important to me. But being the quintessential Libra that I am, my variety has to be balanced. You know; Libra, sign of the scales, etc. The same traits that rule my star sign shine through in my food planning too. Mentally picking one from Column A, one from Column B and one from Column C, I choose my recipes based on a nice array of vegetables, grains and my proteins. On a side note, I can’t stand the combination of fruits and vegetables in the same dish. There will be no fruit in my salads, no pineapple on my pizzas, no raisins in anything but trail mix and especially no fruity salsas or chutneys. For the record, that is precisely why there is no Column D.

In a perfect world, I would reserve a Saturday and pick five recipes to cook once a month. Each recipe would give me four portions (packaged, it goes without saying, in matching plastic containers). For purposes of this blog post, that means twenty lunches. Keep one portion of each in the fridge and freeze the rest. Straight from the freezer to the microwave. Reheat for five minutes on power level 5. Hot food at the ready!

Back on topic, my meal planning resembles someting like this:

Column A – Bread Column B – Protein Column C – Veggie
Barley Chicken Broccoli
Beans Turkey Tomatoes
Rice Pork / Sausage Bell Peppers
Wheatberries Fish Mushrooms
Pasta Shellfish Spinach
Quinoa Beef Squash

 So, here is what is on my meal plan for this week.

If you’re like me, the ratio of five recipes for a month works great for lunch because you’re probably only feeding yourself (say, at work). If you’re intrigued by the idea of true bulk cooking and need it on a larger scale because you’ve got a spouse and/or kids to feed, check out I am in total awe of the program that blogger Tricia Callahan and her team of contributing writers has put together. They’ve got meal plans, shopping lists, cooking plans and labels (I think I am in love).

Photo credit: kiwikewlio on Flickr. CC Licensed. So creative 🙂


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Weight Loss Wars – Fueling the morning workouts

The work out corner

I’m at the two week mark of my revised lifestyle plan and things are going well. True to my goals, I’ve stuck to eating clean, unprocessed food; been drinking LOTS of water and exercised 5 times each week.

I have filled my diet with fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains (brown rice, barley, quinoa and wheatberries). I limited my intake of fats, reduced sugary snacks and eliminated my daily wine ritual!*

My goal is to stick to around 1500 calories a day. The interesting thing is that when you’re eating “clean” foods getting up to 1500 calories is sometimes not that easy. I guess that’s why most major diet plans encourage you to eat this way. Fruits, veggies and whole grains fill you up for little to no calories.

So, I’m not suffering at all and I haven’t been hungry in the least (unless you count the times when I didn’t take the time to eat). I even had bacon with my breakfast one day.

The good news is I’ve lost 5 pounds and I can already see a difference. *Giving up wine should have been good for at least another 5 pounds. Pfft! The results are still worth it. I feel better. I’ve been sleeping better. And, best of all last night I fit into an outfit I wasn’t able to wear just a month ago. That is progress!

The key to having enough energy to work out in the morning and not pass out from sheer exhaustion whilst at the keyboard is the right nourishment. I simply can’t work out on an empty stomach so I need a little something before I exercise. May favorite thing for after working out is a smoothie. I’m also madly in love with quiche so I’ve included that as an option. The combination of eggs and cooked rice give the quiche a well balanced nutritional profile that is really perfect for a post-workout meal.

Meal planning is important to a successful diet. Or, in my case a lifestyle overhaul. If I have healthy food in the fridge I’ll eat it. If not, bad things happen.

Stay tuned for more of what’s cooking in Kathryn’s Kitchen.

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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Breakfast, Weight Loss Wars


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Weight Loss Wars aka The Bust and Butt Challenge

I haven’t posted in a while. August in Phoenix was just too damn hot to cook. I was cranky and didn’t have much of an appetite much less any groceries in the house. One would think that not eating would mean I would whittle away to nothing but sadly, that is not the case. There are numerous articles about how your body cannibalizes muscle in the absence of food. Muscle, as it turns out, burns more calories (even at rest) than fat. So less muscle means you don’t burn as many calories. This means you gain weight even if you’re eating the same amount of food, or less. Sigh!

I realized about a month ago that I was going to have to take drastic measures. Not eating/eating crap, drinking wine and not working out were taking a toll. I’m usually very date oriented so I figured I would wait until after my birthday.

The benefits of setting a future date to start are many:

  1. It would give me time to mentally gear up.
  2. The weather would hopefully have broken. I realize weather is not a great excuse, but its hard to get motivated when its over 100.
  3. Who wants to diet around their birthday? My Libra birthday party conga line starts September 24th. I’ve got a friend with a birthday almost daily through October 7th. That’s a lot of celebrating to do.
  4. In food blogger world, October is “unprocessed month,” where bloggers from across the country pledge to clean their diets of processed foods. This can range from hard core to baby steps, as in eliminating [insert vice of choice here]. I’m already fairly unprocessed so I’m sticking with avoiding all things that come in a box or a can.

All of which brings me to the Weight Loss Wars. Bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t motivate myself to get moving (exercise does build muscle, after all) one of my friends suggested a small wager. Well, that was ALL that I needed to get motivated. That and the fact that the liver-paralyzing birthday week was over. People laughingly suggest a birthday month. I’m getting too old for that; a week is about all I can handle. Seriously, by the time I was done celebrating, my body was practically shrieking for healthy eating, water and exercise.

So, here goes. The 10 week weight loss challenge. My goals are to eat healthy, incorporate as many seasonal and unprocessed foods as possible and stick to around 1500 calories a day. And, finally, EXERCISE. I hope to work out at least 5 times a week. I nicknamed this the Bust and Butt Challenge because those are my two problems areas. Tame them and two thirds of the clothes in my closet will fit again.

You’re welcome to join me!