May 28, 2009

Eating what's in your pantry

Well, the healthie foodie is moving. Not like a new web domain, like literally preparing to move from D.C. to Atlanta, so I apologize for the lack of posts. For one, I have been preoccupied with apartment hunting, and traveling. Secondly, I have had a new mission to eat all of the food that is currently in my freezer or pantry.

This has been an interesting experiment in not only working with what you have to save money, but also making sure that my "make-shift" meals are still healthy. This can be a little challenging when much of what is in my pantry is crackers, pasta, and other carb variations.

The other challenge has been staying "inspired" by the lackluster pantry items. As I've said before, a subscription to Cooking Light was a true blessing after 2 months of hardcore dieting in the fall. I was able to maintain my diet and continue losing weight by finding new ways to make low-fat small meals, and new sensible alternatives for food groups that I love. Unfortunately, working with what you have means you have to work hard to not go buy additional ingredients that might be needed for a fun new recipe.

Here are some of the things that I've had to work with:
  • Multi-grain crackers (wheat sociables), triscuits
  • LOTS of fat free cream cheese (I had bought a tub, and for some reason had a block of reduced fat cream cheese too. Oh and individual packets of WW brand cream cheese.... I mean, what?! Why did I have so much... I don't have a good explanation!)
  • Several frozen chicken breasts
  • Frozen spinach
  • Frozen corn
  • Frozen chopped onion
  • Frozen ground turkey
  • Pasta galore
  • 2 jars of pasta sauce
  • Couscous
  • 1 tube of polenta
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can fat free refried beans
  • 1 small can of sliced black olives.
  • 2 packages potato gnocchi
  • Wild rice
  • 1 can garbanzos
  • 2 cans canellini
  • 1 can seasoned black beans
  • brown rice
  • blueberry muffin mix
  • 1 package steamed lentils
  • Cheese galore: crumbled blue cheese, feta, goat cheese; shredded mozzarella, parmesan.
  • golden raisins
  • 2 packages fat free brownie mix
  • 1 carton of egg whites, 1 carton of egg substitute
  • Pretty much every condiment, oil, vinegar and spice.
The good news for me was that, since I had been buying more groceries than usual when I was cooking for the last couple of months, I now have a pretty well stocked pantry filled with great basics. The bad news is that I really do need to start chipping away at all of this stuff.

In particular, I've had a real come to Jesus with myself over how much cream cheese I had. But now, I've really come to appreciate it; it's versatile, and to me it is a condiment that is easily forgotten unless it's being put on a bagel. Cream cheese is the perfect low fat spread for wraps (remember
my chicken pesto wrap?), and it's actually good on crackers too! Weight Watcher's brand of 1-point tubs of cream cheese are perfect for this: good for portion control, and great for grabbing and taking to work.

So, while I have been able to get creative with some of these items, most of the time, it's just been a matter of getting back to basics: crackers with cream cheese, pasta with spaghetti sauce, etc.

More recipes to come, although I've had to breakdown and buy a few ingredients here or there.

May 17, 2009

Weekend Baking Fail: Tasty, but Not-So-Pretty Meringue Cookies

I love meringue cookies, and because they don't contain butter or flour like other cookies, they can be pretty reasonable snacks.

I used to buy Miss Meringue chocolate chip meringue cookies from the grocery store (, and really liked them. Making them yourself, though is a lot cheaper, especially since they go fast! (You can eat about 4 for 2 weight watchers points a piece - right under 100 calories!).

So this weekend I prepared to make these Chocolate Hazlenut Meringue Kisses that I had seen in an old issue of Cooking Light. I knew there was an art to beating egg whites, and that making a meringue can be tricky, but I was ready.

It was not pretty site, though. Here's what the finished product was supposed to look like (picture from Cooking Light, December 2008) :

Cute, huh? Problem is.... mine did not look like this. And I've had a lot of difficulty after 3-4 attempts (sad, I know) to make stiff peaks with my meringues. But, before I show youa pic of how mine turned out, here is another picture of what meringue cookies should look like. This time, Sandra Lee's Strawberry Meringue Cookies. Picture courtesy of the Food Network:

By the way, this recipe was labeled "Easy" on the Food Network's web site. Apparently it's supposed to be "easy" to beat egg whites and make a meringue with a proper, stiff peak. Well, apparently I am challenged in this arena, because I did not find it easy... At all. And I don't consider myself a total rookie in the kitchen...

But clearly I was doing something wrong, because here is a picture of my cookies (image courtesy of my crappy camera and terrible photography skills):

Granted, they do look more like cookies (do I get points for that?). Granted, they still taste like a meringue cookie; just as healthy, and just as melt-in-your-mouth good as the more proper kind... But obviously, something is not right about these bad boys, and I followed the recipe to a T... so what went wrong?

The difference in color I can explain: the recipe called for toasted hazlenuts, chopped bittersweet chocolate, and cocoa powder to be combined in a food processor. The hazlenuts were still warm when I combined them, so it made the cocoa powder clump with the melted chocolate, rather than dispersing throughout the batter. Oh well, that I wasn't worried about.

The clear problem is that my egg whites never reached the optimal volume.

Here are some details from a few of my failed attemps:
  • Round One: The first time I beat the egg whites, I think I actually got the right consistency. But then instead of gently folding in the chocolate nut mixture, I continued to use the mixer, so I think I over-beat the eggs.
  • Rounds Two and Three: I was going try again, making sure to not over-beat the whites. Except I was using liquid egg whites I had bought from the grocery store, which were not foaming, or peaking whatsoever. After another try with them, I came to the conclusion that there was something very different about the liquid egg whites that was preventing them from fluffing.
  • Round Four: I went back to regular egg whites, and went through the steps, and saw better results than through the liquid whites, but the peaks never reached a really stiff consistency, and obviously, made my meringue batter like the consistency of pancake batter.... which is why my meringues are flat like pancakes.
Well, after so many attempts, obviously I'm exhausted, and a little confused. One thing I think makes the difference is having the egg whites be room temperature. Sandra Lee's recipe above calls for the whites at room temp, and my mom agreed that to her knowledge, egg whites separate easier when cold, but beat better when a little warmer.

Round Five to come... I'm determined to get this right eventually. Int he meantime, does anyone have any ideas on what I'm doing wrong?

May 14, 2009

White Pizza Remix: A Chicken Pesto Wrap

I was so excited about this when I packed it for work, and was NOT disappointed when I heated it up today at lunch.

Using a lot of the same ingredients from the White Pizza from the other night, I made a wrap to take to work. This post will be short and sweet, people... here's all you do:

  1. Spread about 1 Tbsp. fat free cream cheese on 1 garlic and herb tortilla from La Tortilla Factory
  2. Spread about 2 tsp. of the store-bought pesto on top of that.
  3. Put about 1/4 cup of chicken breast strips on top (I actually just bought a package of pre-cooked, sliced chicken strips... Perdue / Tyson, etc. all make them and I was pleasantly surprised.)
  4. If desired, add a couple of artichokes.
I wrapped it all up in some saran wrap to take to work. It was good cold, and very delicious heated up for about 1:25 in the microwave... I loved it.

Also, the good news? It's 3 WW points each too! (2 pts for chicken, 0 points for the tortilla, and 1 point for the combination of cream cheese and pesto.)

I didn't have time to take a pic of it since this was an impormptu creation this morning, but I did prance around work showing my friends. My coworkers pretty much make up my readership, so it's the same thing...?

May 12, 2009

You should make this white pizza. Wow.

I have a new favorite meal... and it's only 3 Weight Watchers points.... and it's delicious.

The secret is a low fat / high fiber small tortilla as the crust. I bought the 6 inch garlic and herb tortillas from La Tortilla Factory. Each one is ZERO Weight Watchers points, since they're just 50 calories, with 6 grams of dietary fiber a piece.

Here's a look at what you're getting:

Pesto. Goat cheese. Feta. Mozzarella. Artichoke hearts.

Here's what you do:

  1. Place the tortilla on a cookie sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray, and place in the oven to toast at 375 for about 4 minutes. (You need to give the tortilla a little bit of a head start on getting crispy).
  2. Remove the tortilla from the oven and spread about 2 teaspoons of jarred store-bought pesto, or however much you need to cover the tortilla. (I used the pesto I had left over from using it in the crust of my beloved Italian Tomato Tart!)
  3. Sprinkle about 1/4 of a cup of white cheeses on top of the pesto, using reduced fat varietes when possible. I used a mixture of part skim mozzarrella, reduced fat feta, and goat cheese. Any of these by themselves would be delicious.
  4. Chop about 1/4 cup of canned, quartered artichoke hearts so that they're bite-sized, and sprinkle on top.
  5. Return the mini pizza to the over for about 4 more minutes.
At 3 WW points, really you could have this as a snack, or you could put some sliced chicken breast on there to make it a little heartier. I was just using what I had in the pantry (the artichokes), but you could use diced roma tomatoes, mushrooms, fresh spinach, prosciutto, onions, etc.... I can't wait to try it with more toppings!

May 11, 2009

Happy Belated Cinco de Mayo!

I was craving Mexican food when I came home from work on Friday (perhaps as a belated Cinco de Mayo craving), and decided to whip up a variation of those goat cheese and roasted corn quesadillas from the March 2009 Cooking Light.

I mentioned these quesadillas briefly in my other post because they were delicious, and have inspired me to looks at quesadillas in a new (healthier) way using smaller corn tortillas and goat cheese. I used the Cooking Light recipe, but added some black beans I had left over from another recipe. After roasting the corn in the pan, I removed it from the heat and added the beans till they just warmed through before setting the mixture aside to add to my quesadillas.

I quickly found that roasted corn is DELICIOUS with black beans as a side and nothing but a little salt. I munched on this in a bowl for a while until my quesadilla was done!

My Not-So-Cinco de Mayo celebration was a total success: a roasted corn and black bean quesadilla, with a dab of light sour cream and salsa verde on the side (oh and another helping of the leftover corn and beans!). It was a totally satisfying meal. The quesadilla was about 4-5 WW points, and another 4 points came from the additional corn and beans....

When was the last time you had a super filling mexi-feast for about 8 points? I'm still craving the corn and bean mixture, and plan to make it again to take to work as a small meal.

May 7, 2009

Tangy Berries-and-Cheese Salad from Southern Living

I first mentioned this salad in this post; it was just one of the many recipes I tried making after reading several issues of Cooking Light and Southern Living while traveling.

The April 2009 issue of Southern Living I was reading was filled with recipes for using strawberries since they are so delicious this time of year.
Salads are something I get burnt out on easily, and this salad seemed like a great way to mix things up. Plus, I adore fruit and cheese together. (who doesn't?!)

The recipe called for "farmer's cheese" and noted that queso fresco could also be substituted... Um. Yea, I didn't know what either was, so that was a problem.... After all, prior to this past year I mostly just ate turkey sandwhiches, lean cuisines and soup (with the occassional session of cookie baking). So what do I know? I looked it up online and then just made a point to look for it at the cheese case next to the deli counter at Safeway. Sure enough, I found the farmer's cheese with the bries and gourmet cheeses near the deli, and the queso fresco was easy to find too. (I found this on the dairy aisle with the yogurt and butter, where they had a specific section for Hispanic cheeses and tortillas.) I went with the farmer's cheese:

I divided the round of cheese up into individual portions once I bought it, and calculated that one eighth of the package was 3 Weight Watchers Points. Having the cheese divided made it easier to grab a wedge to add to my salad if I was packing it for work, or even just as a snack by itself. Without the portion control, I tend to keep cutting off little chunks of cheese here and there while I'm around the house, and may not be actually tracking how much of it (and how many calories) I've had. (In fact, one of my favorite snacks to take to work for a while was a wedge of this cheese, and about a cup of diced pear, blackberries and strawberries mixed: absolute healthie heaven as a small meal for about 4 Weight Watchers points.)

This salad was not from Weight Watchers or Cooking Light, but I calculated the different components on their own to make it work with my diet. (Goes to show you don't have to read diet books to eat healthy!) With three WW points worth of cheese (1 wedge shown above), and about 1 point worth of almond slivers and strawberries combined, youre looking at a tasty salad for about 4-5 WW points, depending on how much dressing you use if any. Enjoy!

Tangy Berries-and-Cheese Salad
Southern Living
April 2009


  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1 (5-oz.) package mâche (about 4 cups), thoroughly washed* (yeah I didn't know what mache was either...)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup crumbled farmer's cheese**


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.
  2. Whisk together oil and next 3 ingredients in a bowl; stir in basil. Add mâche; toss to combine. Top with strawberries, farmer's cheese, and toasted almonds. Serve immediately.

*4 cups Bibb lettuce may be substituted.

**Queso fresco may be substituted

May 2, 2009

Use leftovers to make these easy (healthie) veggie quesadillas

Consider this Part II of the post on Rachel Ray's Honey-and-Lime-Glazed Salmon with Warm Black Bean and Corn Salad. When Ben and I made that recipe, we only made 2 salmon fillets (instead of 4), but made the full amount of the warm veggie salad that the recipe called for. When I was halfway done cooking the salad - which called for a full bag (roughly 6 cups) of spinach - I realized just how much of the veggies we would have left over.

While the extra spinach, bean and corn salad would have been delish on its own as a filling snack between meals at work, the full flavor potential of the leftover mixture was finally realized one night for dinner, when I used it as the perfect filling for a veggie quesadilla.

I first thought to use this veggie mixture with corn tortillas and goat cheese after making this recipe for roasted corn and goat cheese quesadillas from Cooking Light (where else?). These quesadillas are also completely delicious, and I believe 5 Weight Watchers points.

A few notes about these quesadillas before I jump into the recipe:The veggie mixture is the most complicated part, but it's still very simple. And if you make the full batch of veggies you'll have a TON to keep on had in tupperware, which will make it incredibly easy to assemble the quesadillas when you're ready to eat. (I'm actually considering freezing some of it sometime, but I'm not sure how it will turn out.... any ideas?) Also, using tortillas made of corn is a lot healthier than flour tortillas and is essential to making these extra healthie. It of course doesn't hurt that you're using the smaller 6 inch tortillas compared to 9 inch big guys... Now on to the recipe!

Veggie Quesadillas with Goat Cheese

You'll need:

Quesadillas don't really require directions, but I'll tell you what I did in case it helps...
  • Heat a skillet over medium-high heat
  • lay out one of the tortillas; spoon veggie filling onto tortilla, making sure not to pile too much on (this will make the quesadilla too full to flip easily in the pan).
  • sprinkle 1/4 cup of goat cheese on top of the veggies, and slap the other tortilla on top.
  • spray the skillet with cooking spray, and heat the quesadilla for about 1-2 minutes on each side. I'll admit I'm not an expert on getting these golden brown yet, so just keep a close eye on them the first couple of times.
Making the veggie salad:
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you want it)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 20 oz. box frozen corn kernals, defrosted
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock / broth
  • 1 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2-3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 6 cups baby spinach
  • Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat with 2 tbsp. of the olve oil (twice around the pan.) Add the onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring ocassionally, for 3 minutes.
  • To the cooked onions, add the bell peppers and corn kernals and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add the black beans and cook until the beans are just heated through. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the juice of the second lime, the cilantro, and spinach. Toss to wilt the spinach and then taste and adjust the seasoning.

The quesadillas are
5 weight watchers points each: 2 of these corn tortillas is 2 points (110 calories / 1.5 g fat / 3 g dietary fiber), 1/4 cup of the cheese (or 1 ounce) is 2 points (80 calories / 7 g fat according to the daily plate), and while most of the veggies in the filling are generally 0 points, I count 1 point for the olive oil, corn and beans that are mixed in.

If you're like me, either of these recipes will be so good that you'll want to make another one when you're done. To avoid this, I recommend drinking a diet soda, or just getting up and walking away from the table when it's all gone...