Today I learned how to make knock-your-socks-off Simple Start pasta sauce

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“Pasta sauce” might be a bit of a misnomer; this stuff would be good on pretty much anything—quinoa, eggs, veggies, and tofu, off the top of my head.

There are recipes born from high-minded culinary inquisition; this is not one of those recipes. This bad boy came from sheer desperation—an incurable desire for a bangin’-good sauce to heap atop my whole wheat pasta. I consulted my Simple Start food list and started tossing things into the food processor. Voila, a new dinner favorite was created.

The result is a sauce that’s low in fat, calories, and carbs; high in protein; and seriously yummy. It tastes kind of naughty and creamy, but the fresh spinach makes it bright and beautiful and good for your body. Loosely translated, that means no guilt when ladling it into your bowl in epic quantities.

Ingredients

  • Fresh spinach, 1 bag/container (I used about 5 cups)
  • Fresh basil, 10 leaves
  • Garlic, as much as desired (I used about 3 T. minced)
  • Lemon juice, 1 T.
  • Olive oil, 2 t.
  • Fat-free cottage cheese or ricotta, 1 cup (I used cottage cheese because I already had it)

Recipe

Pack the first two ingredients in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add last three ingredients and blend for about 30 seconds, until mixture is well mixed (lightly chunky is okay). Store in refrigerator until ready to use, then heat through until bubbling and serve atop whatever your heart desires.

Note: If you have the time, let your sauce hang out in the fridge and chill for 12-24 hours before serving. I ate mine a few hours after preparing and it was perfectly fine; the next day, however, it was truly delish.

Another note: this recipe was made to be Simple Start friendly. It’s delicious as it is, but if you want sauce with more flavor body I would recommend adding a half of an avocado, pureed walnuts or pine nuts, or parmesan.

4 tips for rocking Simple Start

Bowl full of rad Mexican food = 8-lb loss. That's the new math; learn it.

Those of you who saw my last post know that I’ve spent the last four weeks plateauing and lugging around some extra Christmas poundage, making me a very UN-jolly fat chick.

Despite a lot of reservations about the Weight Watchers Simple Start plan, I made the decision to give myself over to it for one full week. Well, SS doubters, prepare to believe: I lost 8.2 pounds. For reals.

So, you’re wondering right now: Was it hard? The answer is mostly no. Stowing the tracker was tough for me because I derive a lot of control and peace from weighing, measuring, and counting. And I pretty much gave up restaurant meals for the week and stuck to home-cooking, which was tough at times (although, unplanned bonus: I saved $$$). But if you plan well, it’s actually kind of a breeze.

My 4 tips for rocking Simple Start like a total boss

1. Get the info in front of you. Download the SS phone and tablet apps and (an idea from a reader, Jamie) print out the approved foods list and hang it in your kitchen. Some of the foods weren’t intuitive to my regular eating style, so it helped to review the info every day.

2. Prep! I pre-made big batches of quinoa and wild rice, washed and chopped fruits and veggies, and stocked the fridge with fat-free dairy options. When meal times arrived, I was ready.

3. Have snacks ready. I’m one for pre-packaged snack foods like Fiber One bars and fruit snacks (and I’ve been hitting them pretty hard lately… which, in retrospect, might explain the stalled weight loss). I knew I was going to have to be armed and ready for these cravings. I prepared ahead of time and stockpiled SS-approved goodies: JollyPop Healthy Pop microwave popcorn, Yoplait Light yogurts (there are about a bajillion flavors and they all sorta taste like dessert), frozen grapes, and roasted chickpeas (1 can washed and drained chickpeas tossed with 1 tsp. olive oil and whatever seasonings your heart desires–curry, salt-free garlic or onion powder, chili powder, cinnamon, etc.–and baked at 400 for 40 minutes. Awesome crunchy snack!)

4. Start the week armed with a new recipe or two. This shit’s supposed to be fun, y’all—not some dreadful chore. It’s always more enjoyable when you get to experiment with a tasty new recipe. Check out my rad bowl full o’ Mexican goodness pictured above–a pile of greens topped with a scoop each of black beans, Greek yogurt, nonfat cheese, quinoa, tomatoes and chilies, red onion, and seasoned meatless crumbles. Make it even better by using some of your bonus points and slicing 1/4 of an avocado on that bad boy.

Test-driving Simple Start

A bowl of cereal, and I didn't have to count it? Absolutely wicked...
It’s the strangest thing: I went to Detroit for two weeks over the holidays this year, and five extra pounds followed me home.

But whatevs, it’s all good. I can gain and lose five pounds just by thinking about a good meal. More importantly, I know what to do to get back on track. So I hopped back on the wagon and… stayed the same. For three weeks in a row.

Maybe the scale is to blame, or the conspiratorial Weight Watchers staff. But the more likely culprit is my newly acquired taste for peanut butter M&Ms. (God damn them.)

Since the moment Weight Watchers unveiled their new Simple Start plan, I announced to all who would listen, “Nope, no way, nuh-uh, not for me.” Not only do I hate the idea of certain foods being off-limits, but as a lifetime overeater/binger, I can’t fathom a plan not centered around weighing, measuring, and tracking.

Four weeks of unsuccessful weigh-ins, however, have changed my perspective. I have decided to embrace Simple Start for a week and see how it goes. I’m three days in, and already I can see the benefits. It’s forcing me to be creative with my shopping and recipes, which is the main reason I found success on the WW program initially. And I can eat carbs. Carbs, people! Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and cereal–it’s all allowed. I said good-bye to these foods months ago because the Points values were too high, and now they’re back. I just ate my first bowl of cereal in a year. #epic.

So, bottom line–Simple Start is more fun than I gave it credit for; whether it’s effective, however, remains to be seen. But I’m optimistic. I’ll check in on Thursday, my weigh-in day, and let y’all know how it went.

Anyone else tried/trying Simple Start? Any tips?

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.

Garlic lemon-butter mahi with capers

Things around here have been entirely too healthy for my liking. It’s been a month of fresh fruits, lean protein, and new veggie experimentation (kale = blech). Time to shake things up with a bubbly, boozy butter sauce.

Of course, I never go off of Weight Watchers. I mean, I slip up and have rough days–but I never just toss my arms in the air and throw caution to the wind and careen into epic binges like the old days. So, long story short–if I want boozy butter sauce I need to create a plan-friendly version. So that’s what I did.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for the life of me, I will never understand why people eat frozen dinners when stuff like this is only 15 minutes and five ingredients away. The flavor is IN-sane. Like, really. It’s basically restaurant food, except cheap. And good for you. And you can throw it together with stuff already in your fridge. And you don’t have to drive anywhere.

Ingredients

  • Two mahi mahi fillets, 5 oz. each (chicken would probably be fine as well, but you didn’t hear it from Vegetarian Kara)
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 3 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 T. butter
  • Capers

Recipe
Rub a frying pan with olive oil, preheat at medium, then add thawed fish fillets. Cook on one side until lightly browned, then flip and add garlic, lemon juice, and wine. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until liquid is mostly reduced. Add butter. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly and spooning the sauce over the fish to get it all nice and coated.

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Serve topped with capers and fresh parsley.

Each fillet is 6 Points+, and an additional 4 for sweet potato chips on the side (slice ’em thin, add touch of olive oil and seasoned salt, bake until crispy, serve with a big dollop of spicy sriracha sauce). 10-Point dinner, ohhhh soooo yum!

Crunchy flat-bread chik’n salad

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My office held a going-away brunch for a departing coworker this morning, and the spread was legendary: fresh fruit, lemon pound cake, apple tart, granola, eggs, and stacks of breakfast pizzas.

Breakfast pizza is a unique thing around these parts. The Midwesterners at my workplace don’t just like breakfast pizza, or even love it—they view it as a religion. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a fluffy crust topped with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, veggies, and assorted melted cheeses. I had never heard of it before I moved here, but my coworkers quickly taught me. We can’t hold an event before the hour of 12:00 noon without the first question asked being, “Will there be breakfast pizza?”

So we had the event today, I ate my fresh fruit, a few hours passed, lunchtime rolled around, and the leftovers started calling my name. I don’t even care for the stuff (scrambled eggs on pizza crust? Only in northern Michigan.) But it’s junky, bready, easy-to-grab comfort food, and I WANTED it.

So I drove home to make myself something healthy. (I know, this is turning into a ramble—stick with me.) I haven’t grocery shopped and I’m not exactly flush with cash right now, so I decided to experiment. I’m pleased to say that the result rocked.

Here’s my crunchy flat-bread chik’n salad sandwich:

Start with two Wasa multigrain crackers—super crunchy, thick, and hearty, they make a great crust/base.

Add a big piece of curly-leaf or romaine lettuce to each cracker.

Top with a “chicken salad” mixture: 4 Morningstar Farms Chik’n Nuggets, broiled and chopped; 1 T. fat-free mayo; 1 T. nonfat plain Greek yogurt; 8-10 firm grapes, rough chopped; a dash each black pepper and Old Bay seasoning.

Simple, easily prepared, hearty, filling, and yummy. And no freebasing cold pizza crust from the office fridge. Win win!

 

The elusive 75# found me at last

w00t!

75 pounds on my ten-month Weight Watchers-versary. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Now, let’s get back to the food. 🙂

Butternut squash lasagna

Let’s start with this: the photo doesn’t do it justice.

I had great designs to style my lasagna up and take a lovely, arty photograph. Center it on the plate, dust with some dried herbs and fresh parm–really get peoples’ taste buds going. And then I tried a bite. And then all thoughts of refined photography hit the skids and dinner became this:

The recipe came from Skinny Taste, and I followed it to the letter. The sauce was every bit as creamy, buttery, and fragrant as it appears in the pictures. And mad props for turning me on to a new discovery: rolled lasagna versus traditional layered. Freaking brilliant. Makes it impossible to muck up the portion control.

Thanks to awesome Restoration Fitness for sharing this recipe. Psst: they share a bunch of other amazing recipes and fitness tips as well. You should check out their site and like them on Facebook.

Flourless chocolate cake

It’s high time we discussed this flourless chocolate cake.

There are a billion versions of healthy brownies out there and they all suck. There’s the one where you replace the oil with applesauce and produce a brownie with the consistency of crumby cornbread. And the black bean brownie, which–I’m sorry–tastes exactly like what is is.

When I saw a recipe for Greek-yogurt brownies a while back, I almost ignored it. I’m still not sure why I decided to give it a chance. Call it wide-eyed optimism. Or sweet-tooth desperation, perhaps. Regardless, I tried it. And what resulted was something so magnificent, so richly chocolatey, so utterly decadent, I can only chalk the entire affair up to fate.

Let’s get one thing straight off the bat: these are not brownies. The closest approximation is a flourless chocolate cake (hence my recipe name) or a chocolate souffle.  They’re thin, rich, and intensely chocolatey without being cloying or sugary (think dark chocolate–a little bit savory, a little bit sweet). The edges are cake-like while the interior is moist and fudgey.

And They. Are. Epic.

Oh, and did I mention–they also happen to be completely fat free and only 2 Points+ each? Yep, got your attention now.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick oats
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt

Recipe
Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Pour into square baking pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with Pam. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12-16 minutes. (12 minutes will yield cake so moist it’s almost gelatinous–which I personally love; 16 minutes will give you a legit cake consistency.) Makes 9 servings.

Serving suggestions

  • Dust with cinnamon and serve with a scoop of Edy’s Slow-Churned Light Eggnog ice cream
  • Dust with cocoa powder and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and strawberries or raspberries
  • Top with a scoop of raspberry sorbet
  • Do nothing but eat them straight from the pan, because they’re freaking delicious

Halloween before & after

Trick or treat? My real trick has been learning how to avoid the treats. There are days of fresh veggies and egg white omelets, and there are days of Skittles and York Peppermint Patties. Here’s to enjoying a little bit of that candy and chocolate, and then getting back on track tomorrow. I think we can all agree: when we stick to the program, the result is sweet.

Happy Halloween!