Monthly Archives: March 2013

Coconut Cranberry Oat Bars

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Coconut seems to be one of those things that people either love or hate. Though I can understand why some dislike coconut, I happen to fall into the category of loving it. Over the past year or so I’ve grown to love all things coconut: shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil – you name it. The only time I dislike the flavor of coconut is in coconut rum, bleh. Keep that stuff away from me.

Since making those Chewy Biscoff Granola Bars earlier this year, I have become obsessed with homemade granola bars. I’ve been making them 2-3 times a month, trying out all sorts of recipes. Coconut oil has become a staple in my granola bar-making process. It makes the bars wonderfully chewy, with a small hint of coconut. I briefly wrote about the benefits of coconut oil in a post back in February, but if you’re interested in learning more, click here!

Though I adored the Biscoff granola bars, and also using peanut butter or other nut butters in my granola bars, I started searching for a slightly lighter recipe with less sugar and less fat. I came across these Oatmeal Bars on Collecting Memories and knew I had found the one. Her photos of the bars are far more attractive than mine, but oh well. Hopefully mine still tasted just as good!

This recipe combines creamy coconut oil and honey with ground oats, almonds, and dried cranberries. They are no-bake so they’re a cinch to throw together and are wonderfully chewy. I added some chia seeds for a bit of crunch and for their endless health benefits, and threw in some brown sugar and dried cherries as well. The flavor of the honey really comes through and is perfectly balanced by the tartness of the cranberries.

Coconut Cranberry Oat Bars
adapted from Chewy No-Bake Oatmeal Bars on Collecting Memories

Ingredients:
makes 12 bars

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp sliced or slivered almonds (whole almonds will work too – use about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 –Β  1/3 cup dried cranberries and/or dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, sweetened or unsweetened
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
  • 2 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine oats and almonds. Pulse until they they break down into small pieces, about 15-20 seconds. You may also throw in the dried cranberries if you want them broken up into small pieces, or you can leave them whole.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine coconut oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Heat over a low heat until melted, stirring. Pour into a medium mixing bowl along with the crushed oats, almonds, dried cranberries, and coconut flakes.
  3. Stir the mixture together until all of the ingredients are well-incorporated and it forms a large, sticky mass. Press mixture into an 8×8″ baking pan lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until bars have hardened before cutting. Store in the fridge for up to 2 or 3 weeks and enjoy πŸ™‚

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Veggie Pita Pizza

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It’s finally starting to feel a bit like spring here in Massachusetts. I suppose I shouldn’t say “finally”, seeing as the first official day of spring was just last week, but it’s been a very long, snowy winter. The temperature has risen above freezing during the day and my favorite produce market is opening up the outdoor portion of the store to sell flowers.

Usually at this time of year, I’m realizing that bikini season is just around the corner and deciding I should start exercising more and eating better. Last fall I joined a gym for the first time in a long time, and had the epiphany that I don’t want being healthy and fit to just be a seasonal thing. Though it’s an effort to make yourself go to the gym every week and eat right, it’s even more difficult to let yourself go during the winter and then scramble to get yourself back into shape for the summer.

My attempt to become healthier has definitely been a process. I didn’t just wake up one day and magically eat all the right foods and go to the gym everyday. There’s been a lot of figuring out what does and doesn’t work for my body, and trying to form new habits. I’ve learned that my body functions best with an abundance of protein, healthy fats, limited sugar, and limited dairy. Though I’ve heard that carbs can slow you down and tend to contribute to belly fat, limiting my carb intake has been a bit more difficult. Like many other Americans, I tend to find a meal incomplete without some source of grains and find comfort in eating a bowl of pasta or a sandwich on really good bread.

Instead of completely cutting grains out of my diet, which just seems too drastic for me, I’ve been focusing on incorporating more whole grains into my diet. Lately, one of my favorite ways to eat whole grains is Arnold Pocket Thins. They are a pita pocket-style flat bread and one serving has (1/2 a pita) 100 calories and 8g of whole grains. They come in a number of flavors and are perfect for a sandwich, or in this case, pizza! I chose the Italian Herb flavor for this particular recipe, which seemed appropriate.

This Veggie Pita Pizza is loaded with fresh vegetables, marinara sauce, low-fat cheese and cooked on a delicious whole grain pita. You can use any type of pita bread that’s available to you, and feel free to switch up the veggies. It’s a quick and easy meal, perfect for a weeknight or even for lunch. This is a fun way to eat pizza without feeling guilty afterwards, plus you’re getting a healthy serving of veggies, too.

Veggie Pita Pizza
makes 1 pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 6-inch pita pocket
  • 3 Tbsp marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup mozzerella and/or parmesan cheese, divided in half
  • handful of fresh spinach, chopped
  • 3/4 cup of veggies of your choice, thinly sliced or chopped
  • optional: pinch of red pepper flakes

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Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425ΒΊF. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Spoon the marinara sauce onto your pita and spread around in an even layer. Sprinkle with half of your cheese. Layer on your spinach and veggies, and top off with remaining cheese and optional red pepper flakes.
  3. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cheese is fully melted and edges of crust are golden-brown. Let cool slightly before eating and enjoy:)
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Begin by spreading a thin layer of your marinara sauce on your pita, and sprinkle with half of your cheese.

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Add your spinach and veggies, and top with remaining cheese. I used onions, peppers, and mushrooms but you can use whichever veggies you like. Bake at 425 for 10-12 minutes.

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Once your cheese is melted and crust is golden-brown, your pizza is done. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

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πŸ™‚

Lightened Up Chicken & Broccoli Casserole

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The other day I woke up with a strange craving for Chicken & Broccoli casserole. I’ve only really had it once, at a friend’s house back in high school, but suddenly I was struck with a craving and felt like I needed to make it.

One of my favorite meals growing up that my mom would make was Chicken, Ziti & Broccoli. Her version was pretty light, just using grated parmesan instead of an alfredo sauce, but always so satisfying. Chicken and broccoli pair well together, and cheese just makes everything better.

Many recipes I looked at for this casserole included loads of fatty ingredients such as condensed cream of chicken soup, mayonnaise, sour cream, etc. I knew cream of chicken soup would make it taste good and help hold everything together, but in addition to being fatty it’s also full of preservatives and weird ingredients. I wouldn’t say that my diet is 100% “clean”, as I do like to eat chips and candy every once in a while, but cream of chicken soup is just one thing I’ve never really had the desire to include in a recipe.

To make a healthier version of cream of chicken soup, I found a few low-fat ingredients in my kitchen and kind of decided to wing it. The soup starts out with a little bit of butter or olive oil, fat-free chicken stock, skim milk, and then fat-free Greek yogurt and low-fat cream cheese are whisked in. The result was surprisingly similar in texture to cream of chicken soup, but lighter and a bit tangier tasting. I was pleased with how it turned out and would definitely use it again in the future.

This Lightened Up Chicken & Broccoli Casserole is filled with bite-sized pieces of chicken, broccoli, whole grain breadcrumbs, and finished off with my cream of chicken soup substitute and some shredded cheese. It’s filling and flavorful and I’m betting whoever you serve it to wouldn’t guess that it’s low-fat πŸ˜‰ If you’re looking to cut carbs, feel free to leave the bread out, or substitute it with something like quinoa.

Lightened Up Chicken & Broccoli Casserole
makes 3-4 servings

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large head broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large or 2 small breasts cooked chicken (about 1/2 lb.), cubed
  • 2 slices whole grain bread, toasted and cut into small chunks
  • cream of chicken soup substitute (see recipe below)
  • 3/4 cup reduced fat shredded cheese (I recommend cheddar or mozzerella)

Lightened Up Cream of Chicken soup substitute: (makes about ~1 cup)

  • 1 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 2 Tbsp nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp low-fat cream cheese or 1 Laughing Cow cheese wedge
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your ingredients (forgot to include the cream cheese!)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ΒΊF. Prepare the broccoli by steaming it for 5-7 minutes, until it’s about halfway or 3/4 of the way cooked (it will continue to cook in the oven). Set aside.
  2. In a small sauce pan, melt butter and garlic over low heat. Add minced garlic and let it simmer for about 1 minute. Whisk in flour and stir well.
  3. Slowly whisk in chicken stock and skim milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat, continuing to stir. Once mixture is starting to thicken, stir in Greek yogurt and cream cheese. Once they’ve melted and the sauce is thick, you can remove it from heat.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine cubed chicken, broccoli, chunks of bread, cream of chicken soup substitute, and half of the cheese. Stir well and layer into a greased 8×8″ baking dish. Top of with remaining cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is melty and golden-brown. Let cool for 5 minutes and then serve. πŸ™‚
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After cutting your broccoli into bite-sized pieces, steam until about halfway done (about 5-7 minutes). You should also preheat your oven to 350ΒΊF at this time as well.

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Prepare your cream of chicken substitute by melting 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil together, and sauteing your minced garlic for 1-2 minutes.

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Whisk in your flour until well-incorporated, and then add chicken stock and skim milk. Bring to a boil, continuing to whisk, until mixture starts to thicken slightly. Add your Greek yogurt and cream cheese and stir until melted, then remove from heat.

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Don’t forget to cut your chicken and bread into small chunks!

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In a medium mixing bowl, add chicken, bread, broccoli, cream of chicken soup, and half of your cheese and stir to combine.

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Place mixture in a greased 8×8″ baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melty and golden-brown.

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Let your casserole cool slightly and then dig in. Mmmm πŸ™‚

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Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

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When I was in high school and part of college, I worked at Panera Bread. After working there for three years, you’d think I would have become incredibly sick of their food, but instead it was just the opposite. I would take advantage of my discounted meal at my half an hour lunch/dinner break most shifts, and I almost always brought home some type of goodie for myself or my family. Needless to say, I probably gained at least 5 pounds while I was working there.

One of my favorite soups to get on my breaks at Panera was Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice Soup. Chicken noodle soup is comforting to most, but I’ve always preferred rice and I’ve always been a sucker for creamy soups and dishes. Two years ago, when I had been living in my first apartment for just a few months, I made this Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup I found on the blog Budget Bytes. The soup was so delicious and instantly reminded me of the one I enjoyed at Panera Bread on so many of many occasions.

This soup is one of my very favorite recipes and is so satisfying every time I make it. It’s creamy, soothing, and filled with tender chicken, wild rice, and vegetables. It’s a perfect soup to make for your family, or to cheer up a sick friend. The combination of the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves creates a wonderful aroma that will make your home smell amazing.

To make this soup slightly lighter, I subbed the whole milk for evaporated milk and it was still incredibly creamy and flavorful. If you wish to eliminate the dairy all together, this soup is delicious just with a broth base, too! You can actually use any type of grain you like, as long as you make sure to follow the cooking instructions so as to not overcook it. I used a combination of wild & long grain rice and Bob’s Red Mill “Vegi Soup Mix”, which includes split peas and lentils in addition to grains.

Winter is coming to an end in New England, and what better way to celebrate than with this lovely soup? πŸ™‚

Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
adapted from Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup on Budget Bytes

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Ingredients:
serves 5-6

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. chicken (about 2 medium-sized breasts)
  • 1 quart (4 cups) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 sprigs rosemary + 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup wild rice or your favorite grain mixture
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • salt, to taste

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Directions:

  1. In a 3-4 quart cooking pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over low heat. Add diced onions and carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, until slightly softened. Add your celery and garlic and continue to cook over medium-low heat.
  2. Once veggies are tender, add your chicken breasts, chicken stock, water, herbs, and rice to the pot. Stir to combine and bring soup to a boil, then return to a simmer.
  3. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until rice is finished and chicken is cooked throughout. Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and use two forks to shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then transfer back into the pot and turn off the heat.
  4. In a separate smaller sauce pan, melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour until a thick paste is formed. Stir in evaporated milk and bring to a simmer, continuing to whisk. Once mixture is thickened, remove from heat.
  5. Pour milk mixture into soup and season with salt to taste. Fish out herbs before serving, and enjoy with a piece of nice, crusty bread πŸ™‚
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Saute up your veggies until nice and tender.

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Add your chicken, herbs, chicken stock, water, and wild rice and cook for about 30 minutes or until rice is finished and chicken is cooked throughout.

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Remove your chicken from the pot, shred it using two forks, and return it to the pot.

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In a small sauce pan, prepare your roux. Melt 2 Tbsp of butter and whisk in 2 Tbsp of flour. Stir in your 12 oz. can of evaporated milk and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Once mixture has thickened, remove from heat and stir into soup. Season with salt to taste.

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πŸ™‚

Kale Pesto

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Kale: It’s what’s for dinner.

Somewhere over the last year, I developed a deep love for kale. Yep, I’m one of those strange people that actually truly enjoys kale and I even prefer it to spinach. I eat it in salads, stir-fry, pasta dishes, soups, scrambled eggs, and I get kind of anxious when I don’t have any in the house. I love curly kale because there is so much surface area to the leaves and it’s one of the cheapest greens you can buy, averaging around $0.99 per pound. It’s much more substantial than spinach and doesn’t wilt into a slimy pile of nothing when you cook it. Kale can be bitter sometimes, but every now and then I’ll get a really good bunch that is sweet and full of flavor.

Today I somehow found myself with four bags of kale crammed into the back of the fridge… oops. I had seen recipes for kale pesto and today seemed like the perfect time to make it. I’m a huge fan of traditional basil pesto so I of course had to try out a pesto recipe using my favorite green.

I was concerned this pesto would be lacking in flavor since kale isn’t as fragrant as basil, but I was wrong. The kale gives a sweet, mellow flavor and the combination of almonds, parmesan cheese, and garlic doesn’t hurt, either. You can still include some basil in this recipe if you think you’ll miss the flavor. Incorporating kale into your pesto will make it go a long way and will save you money as well. Win-win!

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Kale Pesto
makes roughly 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch/6-8 stalks kale, leaves torn into pieces and stems discarded
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted (to toast raw almonds, see directions below)
  • 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 green onions or 2 Tbsp chopped shallots
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil or small handful of fresh basil leaves (optional)

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Directions:

  1. Fill a 3-4 quart pot halfway full with water and bring to a boil. Add kale and cook for 1-2 minutes, until kale turns bright green and is slightly tender to the touch. Drain in the sink and let cool.
  2. To toast your almonds, lightly spray a small frying pan with cooking spray and turn onto low-medium heat. Add your almonds and let them toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until they are light brown.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. You may need to do this in batches if your food processor is on the smaller side, especially because kale takes up so much space. Season with salt to taste and enjoy on pasta, sandwiches, and more!
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Bring water in a large pot to boil and cook kale for 1-2 minutes until bright green and slightly tender. Drain and let cool.

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Toast your almonds in a small, greased frying pan if they are not already toasted. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until light brown.

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Combine all ingredients in your food processor and blend until smooth.

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Season with salt to taste and enjoy πŸ™‚

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Mmm πŸ™‚