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Category Archives: Weight Watchers

Healthy Green Bean Casserole with Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

Photo credit: orphanjones on flickr.com

I’ve posted a lot about how our traditional Turkey Day menu has been the same for as long as I can recall. What I can’t remember, though, is when the green bean casserole got added to the mix because we didn’t grow up with it. I asked my sister, thinking it might have coincided with a newly added in-law. Her husband doesn’t do mushrooms so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on his account. Although neither of us can remember why or when, one thing is for sure…if I’m making it, there won’t be any canned soup in it.

The ironic thing is that condensed soup is actually really easy to make from scratch. Combine fresh ingredients with low fat milk, bind them together with either flour or corn starch and you have the making for something far tastier than you can ever get out of can without all the yucky additives, preservatives and sodium.

I pulled the basics for this extremely rich base from an old Weight Watchers recipe. The sauce is so thick that the texture is similar to condensed soup as it comes out of the can. You could easily take this technique and use it to create any variety of “cream-o” soups.

This recipe is easily adaptable to either one or two pounds of green beans. You can use either fresh or frozen green beans. Since the mushroom mixture is so thick, you may need to add extra milk (1/4 cup at a time) until you get a consistency you’re happy with. I’ve chosen to top this year’s presentation with caramelized onions. In years past I’ve also done a mixture of grated Parmesan cheese and Panko bread crumbs with equal success.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Very thick mushroom sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1.5 cups fresh mushrooms, chopped (I use baby bellas)
  • 1 cup nonfat or lowfat milk
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (I prefer white pepper in this recipe)

Directions:

  1. Add the milk, cornstarch, thyme, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Whisk together. Cornstarch clumps together in liquid so keep the whisk handy.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook for about five minutes until they start to release their juices.
  4. Pour this milk mixture into the saucepan with the mushrooms. Increase the heat to medium high. Stir constantly as the mixture thickens considerably. This will happen quickly so be careful not to let it burn.
  5. Remove from heat and set aside.

Green Bean Casserole

Onions after 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, sliced into 1/4″ rings
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 pound bags frozen cut green beans
  • 1 portion cream of mushroom soup, above
  • 1/3 cup panko or whole wheat breadcrumbs

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°
  2. In a medium frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onion slices and cook over medium low heat until they are golden brown (about 15 to 20 minutes).
  3. Spray a 1 1/2 to 2 quart casserole dish with non-stick spray.
  4. Spread the beans in the casserole dish. Pour the mushroom soup in and stir. If the mixture it too thick, add milk 1/4 cup at a time until you achieve a nice creamy consistency.
  5. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and then top with the caramelized onions.
  6. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Kat’s tip: You can easily start with frozen green beans; you just may have to leave the casserole in the oven a while longer.

Serves 8

Nutritional information:

Calories 80.8  Total Fat 3.3 g  Cholesterol 1.5 mg  Sodium 21.7 mg  Potassium 118.4 mg  Total Carbohydrate 9.7 g  Protein 2.0 g

 
 

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Chicken and Lentil Stew

Ingredients for chicken and lentil stew, check!

Watch out world, Kat is about to add another bean under her belt! Remember the bean mausoleum? Somewhere on the back of that shelf, there is a Tupperware container of dried lentils that is about to see the light of day. This is momentous because I don’t really cook with lentils. Now that I think about it, even though I almost always have them on hand, I don’t recall actually adding them to a recipe. Until now.

On a separate note, while much of the blogosphere is busy posting T-day recipes and tips, I am busy trying to use the last of the cooked chicken from the two batches of soup I made for the germ ridden people I know. Each cooked chicken yields about 24 oz of meat. Harkening back to my Weight Watcher days, and depending on how much protein I want in my dish, that is enough chicken to make two or three recipes with four servings each which I can store in the freezer. Multiply that by two chickens and I’ll have a pretty healthy stockpile to choose from. Which is good because December is a busy month and I operate much better when I can throw a pre-cooked meal in the microwave. Otherwise, historically I end up subsisting on Christmas cookies and wine.

P.S. I’m giving myself bonus points for finding another way to use up some of the kale that I bought.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large celery stalk
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 to 12 ounces cooked chicken, diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup dried lentils, picked through
  • 4 cups kale, ribs and stems removed

Directions:

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until the onions are soft.
  • Add the carrots and celery. Continue cooking about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the mushrooms and cook another two to three minutes.
  • Add the chicken, lentils, thyme, oregano and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the lentils are tender.
  • Drop the chopped kale on top of the stew. Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the kale softens.
  • Stir through and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves four
Nutritional info:
Calories 214.0  Total Fat 5.0 g  Cholesterol 32.9 mg  Sodium 93.7 mg  Potassium 835.6 mg Total Carbohydrate 23.4 g  Protein 21.3 g
 

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

Skinny chicken & kale casserole

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

Kale!

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  • 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

 
5 Comments

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

 

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Roasted Vegetable Soup

Top the soup with crumbled feta or goat cheese

Oven cooking vegetables is perfect for fall. It brings out the fullest flavor of vegetables; reduces any bitterness and enhances their natural sweetness. The combination of vegetables in this recipes imparts a nice earthly flavor when roasted.

I’ve been making this soup for years and have streamlined the directions. The vegetables can be cut and/or roasted ahead of time to cut down the cooking time. This recipe also freezes and re-heats well too. Garnish just before serving.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cut into large strips
  • 1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and cubed
  • 3 large plum tomatoes,* quartered
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (low sodium or homemade)
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Garnishes:

  • Crumbled Feta
  • Goat cheese
  • Sour cream

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400°
  • Cut veggies into similar size pieces. Place them in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil to coat.
  • Pour the coated vegetables in a shallow roasting pan and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are moderately soft. Stir the mixture once or twice. during the cooking process to make sure everything cooks evenly.
  • Transfer the cooked veggies to a stock pot. Add the broth and seasonings.
  • Bring the broth to a boil and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetables are very tender.
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.  Add a little broth, if necessary.
  • Return back to stock pot and stir to combine with remaining broth.
  • Gently warm the soup over medium heat until heated throughout.
  • Ladle the soup into a bowl and garnish to your fancy.

Kat’s Tip: Recipes frequently call for deseeding tomatoes. More often than not, I don’t because I’m usually in too much of a hurry to painstakingly separate the seeds from the juicy pulpy part. Plus this soup is blended. There may be a few seeds that escape getting pulverized but I think they add character.

Kat’s Second Tip: If you have an immersion blender, you can purée everything right in the pan. Just be careful not to get splattered because everything will be hot.

Serves four

Nutritional information – values are approximate per serving:

Calories 150 Total Fat 8 g Cholesterol 5 mg Sodium 547 mg Total Carbohydrate 18 g Protein 5 g

Inspiration: Weight Watchers Smart Choice Recipe Collection – 1994

Photo credit: SaijaLehto on Flickr. CC Licensed. A perfect picture for the time-crunched recipe-sharer.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Feta cheese, October Unprocessed, Weight Watchers

 

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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 http://onceamonthmom.com/. 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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Creamy Salmon and Double Mushroom Casserole

Salmon, broccoli, mushrooms and pasta come together in a creamy casserole

Oh, the wonders of fall. The temperatures in Phoenix are finally starting to taper off a bit and I’m hankering for some healthy casseroles. I have some standby recipes that I’ve been making for years (and some, for decades). This recipe is one of them.

The basis for this casserole, a rich homemade sauce that mimics cream of mushroom soup from a can, comes together in minutes. Low fat and tasty, you’ll never believe it was made with skim milk; you’ll definitely never miss canned “cream-o whatever.” Since I’m participating in “October Unprocessed” I’m purposely avoiding foods with added preservatives.

The ingredients are heart healthy and provide an ample amount of calcium from the salmon, broccoli and milk. Score again that broccoli is a seasonal fall food and is found abundantly (read cheaper than normal) in grocery stores today. Two different types of mushrooms lend a somewhat exotic taste to this dish making this a nice option if you’re having company too.

Although this recipe calls for pasta, I’m forever on a mushroom/barley kick so I used two cups of cooked pearl barley in place of the pasta. I may make this a permanent substitution.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms (porcini or shiitake)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups cooked broccoli florets
  • 6 oz orzo, elbows, petite shells or other small pasta
  • 1 cup nonfat or lowfat milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper (I prefer white pepper in this recipe)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1.5 cups fresh mushrooms (I use baby bellas)
  • 7 ounce can salmon, drained
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for topping
  • Dried or finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

  1. Measure out 1/2 cup water in a 1 or 2 cup glass or plastic measuring cup. Microwave for about a minute until boiling. Add dried mushroom and let them sit for about 15 minutes until they reconstitute. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. (The liquid will have some grit in it from the mushrooms. I strain mine through a paper coffee filter.)
  2. In a medium to large saucepan, heat water until boiling and cook pasta according to package directions. The pasta should be al dente so it holds up to the sauce so cook for the minimum amount of time (or even a minute or two less). Drain when done.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, add the milk, cornstarch, sage, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Whisk together. Cornstarch clumps together in liquid so keep the whisk handy.
  4. In the same saucepan you previously cooked the pasta, heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
  5. Add the fresh mushroom and cook for about a minute. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and cook for another minute. The mushrooms will soak up the small amount of oil that was in the pan so add *one or two tablespoons* of the reserved mushroom liquid to the pan.
  6. Pour the remaining mushroom liquid into the milk mixture and whisk again until the cornstarch is evenly distributed.
  7. Pour this mixture into the saucepan with the mushrooms. Increase the heat to medium high. Stir constantly as the mixture thickens considerably. This will happen quickly so be careful not to let it burn.
  8. Remove from heat and add the broccoli, salmon and pasta to the pot. Stir everything together and pour it into a 8″ x 8″ baking dish sprayed with non stick spray.
  9. Sprinkle the top with cheese and parsley. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and bubbly.
  10. Optional: Place pan under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes so the top turns nice and brown. Watch this closely so it doesn’t burn.

Kat’s Tip:

Salmon from a can is a clean, safe, sustainable option to tuna. And its high on Omega-3s. Be warned that it does come with a small amount of skin and bones. These are totally edible and will disappear once you mix the salmon into the recipe.

Kat’s Second Tip:

In this recipe the milk and mushroom liquid come together with the mushrooms to make a rich sauce. If you are like me and want an easy substitution for “cream-o whatever” soup for other recipes; check out these easy to follow directions from the Once A Month Mom website.

Serves four

Nutritional information – values are approximate per serving:

Calories 308 Total Fat 5 g Cholesterol 27 mg Sodium 570 mg Total Carbohydrate 45 g Protein 20 g

Inspiration: Weight Watchers Smart Choice Recipe Collection – 1995

 

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Chinese-style Pork Stir-fry

Healthy stir-fry when you're craving Chinese food

I don’t have to tell you that dining out these days is fraught with peril. America’s well-documented love affair with super sizing means that restaurant portions are likely to be twice the portion size you would serve yourself at home.

The same goes for take-out or delivery. People often assume that Chinese food is low in fat. While I’m pretty sure most restaurants no longer rely on the much-maligned MSG as a food additive, prepared Chinese food is still loaded with calories and very high in salt. Inferior cuts of meat are often coated in batter, deep-fried and then sauteed. Although the dishes tend to be laden with vegetables (lending to the belief that they are healthy for you), said veggies are loaded with hidden fats and sodium.

Today, I bring you an easy to prepare dish that is much lower in fat and sodium than any take-out. An attractive dish filled with colorful vegetables, you won’t miss the Kung Pau chicken for long. As a matter of fact, by substituting ingredients associated with Asian cuisines (sesame oil, garlic, ginger, nuts), you can satisfy your cravings and give any dish an international spin.

Ingredients:

  • One pound boneless pork loin, trimmed
  • 2 tbls low sodium soy sauce
  • 4 tsp sesame oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, shaved
  • 2 tsp minced fresh garlic
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced into rings (optional)
  • 1 cup red or green bell pepper strips
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, fresh or frozen/thawed
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms (I prefer baby bellas)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbls corn starch
  • 2 tbls slivered almonds

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, the garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper.
  2. Cut the pork into bite size cubes and toss into the soy sauce mixture. If possible, marinate for 15 minutes or more.
  3. In a large, non stick pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil over medium high heat. Add the pork and stir fry until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pork back to the marinade bowl (see Kat’s tip below) and cover loosely to keep warm.
  4. Add the onion (if using) and bell pepper to the pan. Stir fry until the veggies soften a bit (3 minutes). Add the broccoli and mushrooms to the pan. Stir fry another 3 to 4 minutes until they are tender-crisp to your liking.
  5. Place the corn starch in a liquid measuring cup. Add the chicken broth and whisk until smooth.
  6. Return the pork and drippings to the pan. Add the corn starch mixture to the pan, whisking to smooth out any corn starch that collected at the bottom of the measuring cup.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium. Sprinkle the almonds in the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the pork is cooked through and the sauce thickens up slightly.

Serve over white or brown rice.

Kat’s tip: Pork must be fully cooked to avoid food-borne illness. To prevent contaminating meat, normally you should never place cooked meat back in the container that the raw meat came out of. However, since the pork is going through another phase of cooking in step 6 the risk of tainting the dish is eliminated. Plus, it cuts down on the number of dirty dishes that have to be cleaned afterwards.

Serves four

Nutritional information – values are approximate per serving (not including rice):

Calories 339.2 Total Fat 15.9 g Cholesterol 90.2 mg Sodium 642.6 mg Potassium 844.6 mg Total Carbohydrate 11.6 g Protein 36.8 g

Inspiration: Weight Watchers Smart Choice Recipe Collection – 1994


 

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