Category Archives: Appetizers

Roasted red pepper soup

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First, let me say: I hate soup. You can dress it up however you like—put it in a bowl, add some toppings and a spoon—but it’s basically a chunky beverage. I have never eaten  a meal of soup—no matter how hearty—and thought, “I am so satisfied right now.” Nope, it’s usually like, “Interesting liquid pre-dinner. Now where’s the actual dinner?”

So, why the soup recipe? It all comes down to math. Grab your calculators, people—we’re ’bout to talk equations.

Complete the following: 1 miserable head cold  +  (23 inches of snowfall / 48 hours)   8 remaining WW Points  x  0 interest in cooking = roasted red pepper soup

It’s the “new math.” Learn it.

I put this one together on my own; it’s rich , smoky, flavorful, and very, very easy. It’s on the thin side, so if you want your soup to be hella thick , you should probably use cream or half & half instead of milk. That said, my version has a fraction of the Points, which you can then spend on a warm, toasty chunk of break for dipping… and doesn’t that sound like a better use of calories? I thought so.

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, packed in water, drained, 16 oz.
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup low-fat or 1% milk
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 t. butter
  • Basil (to taste, about 1 t.)
  • Salt (to taste, about 1 t.)

Recipe

Heat butter in medium saucepan. Add onion and cook 3-4 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes, stirring regularly.

Reduce heat. Add remaining ingredients except milk—peppers, broth, basil, and salt. Let simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Pour mixture from pan into food processor or blender; process until smooth. Pour back into a saucepan or a crock pot, add milk, and stir to combine. Heat on low (stirring occasionally) until you’re ready to eat—I let mine go for about an hour.

Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and some fresh basil. Add croutons, toasted pita, or bread for dipping, if desired.

 

 

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The food item you need to have in your kitchen, always

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Yes, you. You need this. Go buy it. Now.

It’s FlatOut bread–specifically the Pinwheel party-sized variety.

It’s big–like, the size of a full cookie sheet–and it has just 5 PointsPlus. That means you can do just about anything with it.

  • Do what its name implies and cover it with sandwich fixin’s, roll it up, and cut it into pinwheel finger sandwiches.
  • Cut it in half (only 2 P+) and use as a bread or wrap for hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, spreads, or gyros.
  • Cut in halves or thirds and use in place of higher-Point tortillas for burritos.
  • Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and seasonings, and bake at 350 for five minutes for awesome pita chips. Dip in hummus, guacamole, salsa, or PB2.
  • Brush with olive oil, add garlic seasoning and Parmesan, and bake for a delicious (much healthier) alternative to garlic bread.
  • Top with fat-free ricotta cheese, sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, and reduced-fat mozzarella cheese for a ginormous and super-satisfying personal pizza. If you stick to 1/4-cup serving sizes for both cheeses, you’re looking at just 9 PointsPlus for the ENTIRE thing. That’s not to say you can’t share… but you can also say, “back off, bitches” and eat the whole damn thing. That was my strategy.

Holiday leftovers = dinner deliciousness

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‘Tis the season for office festivities, holiday get-togethers, dinner parties—and lots of leftovers. And if you’re anything like me, it’s also the season of penny pinching. (Christmas is pricey, yo.)

This weekend, I found myself with three high-level leftovers: a giant half-tray of day-old crudites (broccoli, cauliflower, red pepper, carrots, and cherry tomatoes), a ginormous bowlful of quinoa, and a partial block of parmesan cheese. All too awesome to pitch, and yet the work involved in recipe-creating seemed daunting.

So, I took to my kitchen. Dug through cupboards. Raided the fridge. Investigated the spice drawer. Without buying a single new ingredient, I whipped up two fun new recipes that utilized all of my leftover foods. And they were good.

Half-eaten crudites party tray becomes… coconut curry vegetables

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Ingredients

  • Fresh veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, red pepper, cherry tomatoes (halved), and 1 large onion, all rough chopped (about 6 cups total)
  • Garlic, 1 T. diced
  • Ginger, fresh, 1 T. grated
  • 1 can Thai Kitchen light coconut milk
  • 2 T. madras curry powder
  • Salt
  • Olive oil

Recipe

Heat 2 T. olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add veggies and saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Veggies should be tender and starting to brown.

Add coconut milk, curry powder, ginger, and salt. Stir well and continue to cook at medium another 6-7 minutes, until veggies are soft and liquid is beginning to reduce. Serve in a bowl topped with some fresh chopped Thai basil. Season with soy sauce if desired.

The veggies are all Weight Watchers freebies, so the only Points are the coconut milk and olive oil. I ate a quarter of the batch, which yielded a heaping bowl, for a grand total of 4 Points+.


Bowl of leftover cold quinoa becomes… crispy cheesy quinoa balls

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These little guys are the ones I’m really excited about. I cannot state this with greater emphasis: They. Are. So. Good. If you have a yen for tater tots or mozzarella cheese sticks, these will totally satisfy the craving. Guaranteed.

Ingredients

  • Quinoa, cooked and cooled/chilled, 2 cups (mine was three days old and did beautifully)
  • Egg whites, 3 large or 1/3 cup
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • Shredded carrot, 1 cup
  • Reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup
  • Parmesan cheese, grated, 1/2 cup
  • Garlic, 1 T. minced
  • Flour, 2 T.
  • Season salt, 1 t.

Recipe

Preheat oven to 375. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Add all ingredient to a bowl and mix well. Form into balls using about 1 T. mixture each. Add to baking sheet and cook for 25 minutes, until the balls are crispy browned at the bottoms.

Makes 24 balls, 1 Point+ each. I ate six with a side of curry veggies and I was stuffed. They look relatively small, but they’re cheesy, crispy, gooey, and DELICIOUS… and they stick to the ribs. If you’re not worried about calories, they would also be amazing served with ranch dipping sauce.

Loaded nachos, skinnified


I was given a challenge by a friend: make a Weight Watchers-friendly loaded nachos.

Game on.

Nachos are one of my all-time favorite foods. They’re easy, they taste like junk food, you can eat them with your hands… what’s not to like?

I spend so much time futzing around with low-Point nachos recipes, I could probably add it as a professional skill on LinkedIn. Needless to say, I’m happy to share my tips. Some may seem weird, but have faith: for me, it’s all about the taste. Nutritional awesomeness is purely a bonus. : )

Kara Can’t Cook’s tips for making amazing skinny nachos:

  1. Choose a better chip. Tortilla chips—even the baked kind (and who likes baked chips anyway?)—are Point heavy and contain tons of salt. Oven-crisp seven wontons instead. No salt or oil necessary; just stick them under the broiler for a few minutes. They’re bigger than chips and provide a sturdier base for all of your fixin’s. (5 Points+)
  2. Lighten your cheese. Rubbery fat-free cheese sucks. But never fear: Sargento makes an awesome reduced-fat sharp cheddar that tastes (and melts) virtually the same as regular. (2 Points+ for 1/4 cup)
  3. Swap your sour cream. Fat-free sour cream? Gag. My greatest Mexican-food discovery in ages is Fage nonfat Greek yogurt. It’s soooo thick, creamy, and non-yogurty tasting, you’ll swear it’s the real deal. Even better? Used in small doses, it’s ZERO Points. (0 Points+ for 2 tbsp)
  4. Heap on the guac. It’s worth the extra Points. Guacamole is absolutely packed with flavor and healthy fats, so it punches up the taste and keeps you full. And it’s ridiculously easy: just mash a ripe avocado with a fork, add a touch of garlic, a splash of lime juice, a tbsp of diced onion, and a pinch of kosher salt. (3 Points+ for 1/2 of a small avocado)
  5. Pick a smarter protein. I’m a long-time vegetarian so I’m used to finding animal-free alternatives for traditionally meaty dishes. This one’s a snap: buy a bag of Quorn meatless soy-free grounds. It looks like beef and cooks like beef. Add some taco seasoning and mix with black beans. You won’t miss the meat, I swear. (2 Points+ per 3/4-cup serving)
  6. Finally—pile on the produce! Embrace the Weight Watchers free-fruits-and-veggies freedom, people! I add mountains of sliced green onions, cilantro, chopped leafy green lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, and fresh pico or salsa. (0 Points+)

If you’re keeping tabs, that’s 12 Points+ total, and for a big-ass heap of food. Give thanks to the Mexican food gods and DIG. IN.

Cheesy stuffed jalapeno pepper-poppers

Stuffed jalapenos

I ate SO many of these stuffed jalapenos at a friend’s barbecue this weekend, I gave myself sore lips and and a burnt tongue. And yet, looking at this picture right now, I want more. More, more, more.

You probably won’t believe that these are as wickedly delicious as they are. But take my word for it: once you try these crispy, spicy little dudes, you’ll be addicted. We’ll be running into each other at support meetings. “Hi, my name is Kara and I’m addicted to poppers.”

“Hi, Kara.”

Ingredients

  • 12 fresh whole jalapenos, big and firm (that’s what she said)
  • 1/2 cup Sargento reduced fat sharp cheddar, shredded
    I only use Sargento—when going reduced fat, it’s simply the best. It tastes no different than regular.
  • 6 tbsp reduced fat cream cheese
    I am in love with a new brand: Green Mountain Farms Greek yogurt/cream cheese blend. It looks like cream cheese, tastes like cream cheese, spreads like cream cheese—but for a fraction of the fat (less even than most reduced-fat cream cheeses).
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Garlic salt
  • Chili powder

Recipe

This one came straight from weightwatchers.com. Normally I wouldn’t be the type to rip off another’s recipe without giving a link, but since WW makes you pay to access their recipes (shame, shame, Weight Watchers)—I’m going to be sassy and spill the beans.

Preheat oven to 400.

Cut off a thin slice from one side of each pepper, leaving stems intact; scoop out seeds with a grapefruit spoon or a small spoon (be careful not to touch seeds with bare hands). Rinse with cold water.

Add jalapenos to a frying pan heated to medium and allow to cook until backs are slightly charred/blackened, about 7 minutes. (Use no oil or cooking spray.)

Meanwhile, microwave cream cheese for about 30 seconds to soften it, then mix in cheddar, onions, and garlic salt and chili powder to taste (I used 1 tsp of each).

Remove jalapenos from pan and lay on an oven-safe baking sheet. Divide your cream cheese filling into twelve portions and fill each pepper. Sprinkle panko over peppers and bake for 5-8 minutes, depending on your preferred doneness.

These are only 1 PointPlus each. ONE. That’s bananas. You could literally eat the entire pan. (But don’t, because you’ll be in pain later.)

Rockin’ baked egg rolls

Rockin' bakes egg rolls
Mmmm, don’t these egg rolls look crispy and satisfying?

They are. They just aren’t fattening. They’re packed with fresh veggies and garlic, low in carbohydrates, and baked–not fried.

Did I mention they’re also super easy? Like, ten-minutes-of-prep easy?

You’re loving me right now, admit it.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cabbage, shredded*
  • 1/2 cup carrots, shredded*
  • 5 scallions, chopped
  • 1 cup bean sprouts, fresh or canned/drained
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 egg roll wrappers

*These come pre-shredded in convenient little bags in the produce section. Because the healthy food gods love us and want us to be happy.

Recipe
Heat olive oil in large frying pan on medium and add first five ingredients. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season however you like (I used kosher salt, ginger, and salt-free Szechwan seasoning blend). Remove from heat.

Arrange an egg roll wrapper on a flat surface, corner facing up (so it looks like a diamond, not a square). Split your veggie mixture into four even portions and add the first portion to the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper’s top down, then fold the bottom up, then fold the left side over, and then roll the rest of the way. Lightly moisten the edges with water to help them stick. Repeat with remaining veggies and wrappers.

Place on baking sheet and spray lightly with Pam Olive Oil cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, flipping halfway.

Serve with dippable of your choice, like peanut, soy, or plum sauce. My recommendation: soy sauce mixed with ginger, wasabi, and sesame seeds. (Mmmm, dinner is SERVED.)

Eat them all. Yes, really–they’re only 2 PointsPlus each. You’re basically eating a big heap of veggies with a few low-carb wrappers. But it tastes like junk food. Go you.

Fresh “sushi” spring rolls

Not so pretty, but who cares? It all ends up in the same place.
I firmly believe in the four major food groups: vegetables, raw fish, soy sauce, and wasabi.

I love sushi. Looooooove it. Unfortunately I live in a landlocked Midwestern town with neither ocean access nor a population of adventurous eaters. Our local grocery stores don’t even sell fresh fish. Not a tuna steak or live lobster or un-frozen scallop to be found within a 250-mile limit. Basically, if you don’t like fried lake whitefish or trout, you’re SOL.

The inspiration for tonight’s culinary experiment came from my dear friend, Mark. When I whined about having no ideas for dinner, he suggested spring rolls. I don’t love the intensely flavored herbs in traditional Thai spring rolls, but I do love the crisp veggies and chewy rice-paper coating. Once the idea was planted, my obsession for sushi took over and this mix between the two was born.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup carrots, shredded (shoestring)
  • 4 tbsp green onions, chopped
  • 4 sticks imitation crab meat
  • 4 large leaves of mild lettuce, like Bibb
  • 4 spring roll wrappers/rice paper sheets

Recipe
Prepare your vegetables and crab so that everything is chopped and placed in front of you.

Fill a large bowl with very hot water (steaming-hot but not boiling). Place your first spring roll sheet into the bowl until it softens and shrivels, about 15 seconds. Remove and lay on flat surface.

Add lettuce leaf to the center of the wrapper; top with crab stick, avocado, carrots, and onions. Roll like you would an egg roll or burrito. Wrapper will be sticky so the edges seal easily.

Repeat with remaining wrappers and innards. Serve with dipping sauce of your choice–I went with simple soy and wasabi; salty with a nice kick. This dish packed quite a punch for a teeny 8 PointsPlus.

There you go: sort-of sushi, no complicated (/carb-dense) rice required.

A leaner, meaner mozzarella stick

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Someone said to me recently, “I don’t much care for mozzarella sticks.”

If you tell me you don’t like mozz sticks, you’re a big fat lying liar. Everyone likes them; they’re deep-fried cheese, for fuck’s sake. Do you also hate puppies and sunshine and freedom?

But I digress. Her comment really made me think. About mozzarella sticks and how much I want to eat them. Luckily, the heavens opened up and the Pinterest gods came together and a recipe for Weight Watchers-friendly mozz sticks appeared. Haaaaaa-llelujah. 

Ingredients

  • Egg roll wrappers
  • String cheese (Weight Watchers brand is my fave)
  • Marinara sauce
  • Parmesan cheese, 1 tbsp, optional

Recipe

Wrap a string cheese in an egg roll wrapper. Wet the edges and seal well. Cook them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet under a low broiler, 3-5 minutes each side. (Check often so they don’t overcook.) Caution—if you cook them too long or at too high a temp, the cheese breaks free from its carbohydrate cage and goes everywhere.

Heat some seasoned marinara for dipping, and sprinkle the whole plate with parmesan cheese.

3 mozz sticks + 1 cup of veggie marinara + 1 tbsp parm = 12 PointsPlus.

Beer cheese queso

Is it actually possible to make a cheesy, Weight Watchers-friendly queso dip? Spoiler alert: yep.

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During my first week on Weight Watchers, I had a dream. Not an MLK kind of situation–an actual dream. In it, I was eating Applebee’s soft-pretzel and beer cheese appetizer. Stick after salty, oven-warmed stick drenched in buttery-thick cheese sauce. I woke up drooling on my pillow.

Some evil fucking genius invented that dish, which weighs in at 31 PointsPlus and has about the same level of addictive lure as crack cocaine. I mourned giving those things up. (Yeah yeah, I know, I can have a small amount and count it. If I was really capable of stopping at three bites of hot-pretzel heaven, do you think I’d be on Weight Watchers?)

At first I experienced phantom pretzel syndrome–it was like I could still taste it. But I adapted. I had actually stopped fantasizing about bubbling beer cheese–and then I stumbled across this recipe on laaloosh.com (an amazing site).

A WW-friendly queso. What-what?

Don’t be doubters. This is good. Like, really good. And–I kid you not–less than 2 PointsPlus per quarter cup. Is it the same as an Applebee’s soft-pretzel app? Nah. It doesn’t have that heavy cream base and bite of salt. It’s a lighter, brighter version–the onions, garlic, and chillies pop in every mouthful; the creamy, dark ale adds a nice undertone without overpowering; and the finished product is sooo freaking rich and cheesy.

Here’s the recipe: http://www.laaloosh.com/2011/02/01/chile-con-queso-recipe/. I calculated the PointsPlus on my own and–even using less beer–found it higher than listed: about 1.5 PP per quarter cup. (Totally worth it!) I served with wonton chips and celery spears.

You too can quit the hot-pretzel app. Just take it one day at a time… and make this queso dip.

Awesome-easy guacamole + roasted corn

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In my original KaraCan’tCook blog in early 2008, I stated, “Gun to head, I couldn’t pick an avocado out of a vegetable lineup.” As the cigarette ads used to say: You’ve come a long way, baby.

First of all, the avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable—so it would be fairly unlikely that it would even be in a vegetable lineup. Note to self: Before penning snarky prose, Wikipedia that shit. But I digress.

I have spent a lot of years hating the avocado. Like, hating. Loathing. Abhorring. Skin like a hard, discolored scrotum. Innards like baby diarrhea. Gag reflex.

But from-scratch guacamole at a local restaurant recently forced me to rethink my position. A friend ordered it and I reluctantly sampled a bite: not bad. Then another trip to the restaurant—this time I ordered the guac myself: pretty good, actually. Then a third trip, because oh-my-freaking-god, for the love of all that is holy, I NEED that guacamole in mah belly! And that, folks, is how an obsession is born.

Short of permanently changing my address to “Mexican Restaurant, Table 17,” I thought it might behoove me to learn a recipe for myself. I wanted something authentic-tasting—none of that tub-o-guac bullshit at the grocery store—but also simple. This is me, after all—Kara. Who cannot cook. So I tested and sampled and found my tried-and-true winner.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • Red onion, finely chopped (to your taste—a few tbsp for me)
  • Juice from a fresh lime (1 tsp)
  • Cilantro, leaves and stems, rough chopped (a few tbsp)
  • Fresh salsa or pico, from the produce section—use in place of tomatoes and jalapenos/chilies for a quickie recipe (2-3 tbsp)
  • Cumin, ground (to taste—try about 1/4 tsp)
  • Cayenne, ground (to taste—about 1 tsp for a guac that punches back!)
  • Kosher salt (2 pinches)

Recipe
Mash the avocado in a bowl with a potato masher or butter cutter (don’t over-mash—some chunks are good). Add everything else and mix well, tasting as you go. Eat it right away, or let the flavors meld a bit.

Perfect with crudites, baked wonton chips, or corn tortillas. I also served with pan-roasted corn: canned sweet corn (the good stuff, not the crap: Green Giant super sweet yellow and white niblets) spread out on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, sprinkled with cayenne, and broiled for about ten minutes. Roasty, smoky, and dark, with a heated kick. Yee-owza.

Guacamole itself (the entire bowl): 7 PointsPlus. With fresh crudites, a serving of baked wonton chips, and 3/4 cup corn: 14 PointsPlus. I’m still full five hours later.