Guilt-Free Alfredo Sauce

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Once in a meeting at work, we were talking about eating healthy. (Okay, this has happened more than once – but I’m writing about one particular instance.) My coworker, Miranda, referenced her then-fiance-now-husband, Henry. “When I met him,” she said, “He thought fettuccine alfredo was healthy if it had broccoli in it.”

For whatever reason, this exchange stuck with me. I’m trained in health education, so I’m intrigued by what people do and don’t know about health (and, ultimately, helping them to better understand how to be and stay healthy).

In this case, Henry was acting on what he knew: broccoli is healthy, broccoli is in my fettuccine alfredo, therefore fettuccine alfredo is healthy. Also, fettuccine alfredo is creamy and delicious – why avoid it? For all you Henrys out there, here’s a heads up: alfredo sauce is usually made with loads of butter, heavy cream, and cheese, leading it to be pretty high in fat. That’s why it tastes so good. You’d need to eat a LOT of broccoli to balance that out.

Or, you could find a way to have your fettuccine alfredo and eat it too – without all the calories. I’ve always liked to live in a world where the tastiest, most delicious foods can be good for you too. Enter this recipe for a guilt-free alfredo sauce (inspired by Gimme Some Oven).

So what would Henry have done had he not met Miranda? Hopefully started reading nutrition labels. A serving of Bertolli Alfredo Sauce is 110 calories per quarter cup – this recipe is just 68. Enjoy!

Guilt-Free Alfredo Sauce

Yield: 10 servings. Serving size: ¼ cup. Per Serving: $0.31, 68 calories, 5g fat, 3g carbs, 4g protein.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-low heat in a large saute pan. Make sure not to burn the butter or your sauce will end up an unappetizing brown/gray color – I learned this the hard way! Add 1 garlic clove, minced and cook for about 1 minute until garlic becomes fragrant. (Again, be careful not to burn it!) Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in 1 cup of chicken broth. Let the mixture come to a low simmer. Add 1 cup of low fat milk when it starts to bubble at the sides. Continue to whisk and stir, letting the sauce come to a consistency you like. Add ½ cup grated fresh parmesan cheese to finish.

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To serve as pictured, slice cherry tomatoes in half and saute over high heat in a non stick pan until charred. Chop the broccoli and coat with olive oil, salt, and pper and saute over high heat in non stick pan until charred. Peel shrimp, coat with olive oil, salt and papper, and saute over high heat until pink. Toss with pasta and sauce and serve warm.

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The Honey Moon Phase – What I’ve Learned After 3 Months of Juicing

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I’m a little over 3 months into a new relationship… with my juicer.

As with any relationship, the first few weeks were very exciting. I tried all sorts of juices… green juice, carrot juice, even beet juice (not my best choice). Every week was a new adventure with a different fruit or vegetable. My very favorite juice to make is fresh orange juice (pictured here). Simple, yes, but it’s irresistibly good. Never will I ever again buy Minute Maid. Nothing beats a glass of fresh, cold orange juice with breakfast on a sunny Saturday morning.

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Three months later, my juice experimentation has slowed, but I’m still loving this new addition to my life. It has become staple appliance in my kitchen, used more frequently than most of my other plug in appliances (my poor blender, rice cooker, and kitchenaid are starting to feel neglected). While I’m certainly still in the honey moon phase, I’m hoping to ride this wave for a while. I’ve only had my juicer for 3 of the coldest, dreariest months of the year – and in just a few more months my farm share will start stocking my kitchen with fresh vegetables eager to be juiced.

This 3 months has taught me a lot – so for all of you newbie or soon-to-be juicers out there, here’s some tips, myths, and general advice:

  • Juicing is pretty expensive. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but I’ve surrended. Juice is not a meal replacement (for me, at least, since I can never get more than a day into a cleanse). I treat juice an addition to my diet, like an extra snack. So everything I juice is purchased in excess of what I have to buy anyway to, you know, eat. I love a good deal so I like to think I’m a pretty savvy juicer regardless, which brings me to my next point…
  • Choose a cheap veggie that holds a lot of juice as a base. Vegetables like celery and cucumber are relatively inexpensive and produce a lot of juice, and you can add tastier ingredients (like, kiwi, strawberries, or apples) in smaller quanitites. Choosing a less expensive base can make your more expensive ingredients go further.
  • Juicers aren’t that hard to clean. The number one complaint I heard from juicers was that it’s a pain to clean up. I have a slow masticating jucier, and I have to say it is super easy to clean. The juicing parts come right off of the base and you can very easily hand wash them in soap and water. They are even dishwasher safe. (On the other hand, this type of juicer takes more prep time – apples must be peeled and cored, for example.)
  • Think about color when you build a juice. It really does matter. I made a watermelon cucumber juice which tasted delicious, but was a weird muddy pink color because of the green from the cucumber. Also, peeling can change the color of a juice. For example, peeled carrots have a brighter color than carrots that are juiced straightaway.
  • Juice will keep for 2-3 days. Some people (juice purists, we’ll call them) will insist that you must drink juice the same day you juice it. People like me, who can’t juice every day, will juice a big batch that will last for a few days. After that starts to taste and smell different.
  • Apples, limes, and ginger make everything taste good. Seriously, everything.

Here’s to a healthy, happy lifetime of juicing! Bottoms up!

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Cooking When You Just Can’t Even

IMG_1821It just won’t stop snowing in Boston. We’ve seen record breaking snowfall (over 70 inches in the last 14 days) and there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon. The snow is literally taller than me. Even as I write this, it’s still snowing.

This weather is utterly exhausting. Trudging through the unshoveled sidewalks, navigating shoulder-high snow banks, schlepping in oversized, fleece-lined, waterproof boots. It takes forever to get anywhere, both due to the added obstacle of the snow and the gridlocked traffic.

When I get home, I just want to climb into my bed, wrap myself in a fleece blanket, and attempt to warm up. I’ve watched an unprecendented amount of Netflix because it’s just about all I can do. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner. I just can’t even.

So, there’s been a lot less cooking, especially during the week, in my kitchen these days. But a girl’s gotta eat. So I’ve put together my go-tos for this snowy, tiring season.

  • Soup – this is when my soup season hoarding comes in handy. Just heat up a frozen serving of soup and serve with some crusty bread or topped with a sprinkle of cheese.
  • Scrambled eggs – a go-to in the morning but also for an easy weeknight dinner. Lately I’ve had them taco style served in warmed up flour tortillas with sriracha.
  • Oatmeal – just a couple minutes in the microwave and dinner is served. Even better with milk and sliced banana.

Stay warm, Boston!

Mac & Squash

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Comfort foods – I’ve written about them before. I’ve stated my oldies but goodies (mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs) and new ones I’ve come to love (miso soup, shakshuka, polenta). Over time, my comfort foods have become lower in calories as I, apparently, learn what’s good for me.

Here’s another to add to the list: what I’ve come to call “Mac & Squash”. It’s deceptively similar to your favorite homemade mac and cheese, without all of the cheese (and calories). The cheese is replaced with a squash sauce with a creamy consistency, and you still get some cheese melted on top. Here I used acorn squash, but you can really use any squash that you prefer.

I have to be honest – this is a multi-pot recipe, which isn’t my favorite way to cook. I used two saute pans, two pots, and a baking dish. If you have a limited pantry, do this in shifts and set aside each item as it is finished. The plus side? It’s easy to make a large batch, freeze some, and reheat later when that mac and cheese craving hits you out of nowhere!

Mac & Squash: Squash Baked Pasta

Yield: 8 servings. Per Serving: $2.29, 374 calories, 12g fat, 49g carbs, 21g protein.

Cook 1 pound of large shells according to package directions. Meanwhile, chop 2 acorn squash into one inch pieces. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. When boiling, add squash and boil until fork tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the squash and add back to the pot. Add ½ cup milk and blend using a hand blender.

While the pasta and squash are boiling, brown 1 pound of ground turkey in a medium saute pan in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Also saute one bunch of spinach in a medium saute pan in 1 tablespoon olive oil, with salt and pepper.

Combine the turkey, shells, squash, and spinach, and ½ cup ricotta in a large bowl. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray, put in the pasta mixture, and top with ¼ cup of mozzarella. Additionally, you could divide the pasta into two 9×9 pans and freeze one before baking for later.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

Chicken & Grapes Waldorf Salad (and a slightly bent resolution)

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How many of you resolved to eat better this year? I’m guessing a lot. It’s a pretty popular resolution. (Actually, that might be why you’re here right now!)

I resolved to eat clean as much as possible by eating fewer foods that have more than five inrgredients on the label. (More than 5 ingredients is okay as long as I make it myself). Essentially, I’m trying to cut processed foods. Just a few weeks into the year I’m already realizing how hard that is. Bread is impossible to buy in the store without a ton of ingredients and preservatives (and as much as I’d love to, I’m NOT making my own bread on a regular basis). I’ve spent a lot of time reading food labels in 2015.

So when I had a craving for waldorf salad, I was in a bind. (Waldorf salad is usually a chicken salad with apples, grapes, and/or nuts.) I wanted a fresh, crisp dish to start off a healthy New Year, but there was one barrier in my way: mayonnaise – the base for the waldorf dressing.  Sadly, the mayonnaise I had in my fridge had exactly 10 ingredients. Too many.

I thought about substitutes, but couldn’t come up with any that could properly replace the creaminess of the tradition dressing for a waldorf salad. So I went for it – but in a small quantity. The dressing in this recipe includes a little mayonnaise, but also apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Overall, this is a healthier, lighter version of a waldorf salad. So what if I cheated a little bit? Rules are meant to be broken (or just slightly bent)!

Light Chicken Waldorf Salad

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Yield: 1 serving. Per Serving: $3.28, 434 calories, 13g fat, 70g carbs, 39g protein.

Slice ¼ cup grapes in half, cook ¼ cup faro according to package instructions, and slice 1 large stalk celery on a bias. Prepare dressing the dressing by whisk together 1 teaspoon each of mayonnaise, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss grapes, faro, celery, 1 cup arugula, and 6 ounces of sliced, cooked chicken breast with the dressing.

Polenta with Sauteed Chard and Mushrooms

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Everyone has those dishes that taste like home. For me, it’s a big bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce, doused with parmesan cheese. Another favorite is a pile of mashed potatoes with a deep hole in the middle filled with brown gravy. (If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll top that with corn – a mini shepherd’s pie.

I ate these dishes a lot as a kid, and they have become my comfort foods: easy to make, warming from the inside out, and nostalgic. As an adult, I’ve grown accustomed to some new comfort foods: scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, miso soup with tofu and roasted bok choy, and shakshuka with crusty, buttered bread. They’re my new (and healthier) comfort foods.

The newest of my comfort foods is polenta. Polenta is mashed-potato-esque, made from cornmeal and water. For a long time, polenta was a black box to me. We never ate it growing up, so I didn’t have much exposure. I first learned of it through my college roommate – she made it a few times from the tubes you can but at the grocery store. Until this year I hadn’t even tried it. Change is hard.

Now that I know how easy it is to make, it’s a regular part of my dinner line up. This time of year, when the air is getting colder, it’s an extremely warming, feel-good meal. It’s also very inexpensive: a 24-ounce bag of cornmeal cost me less than $2 at the grocery store. As a starch it’s high in calories, so go easy on it as you’re dishing it up (if you can). It’s very versatile and I like to serve it with sautéed vegetables, as in this recipe.

This dish comes together very quickly, but requires that you pay attention to three pots at once. To make it easier to read, I separated the directions for each ingredient. If you start the mushrooms first, then the chard, and end with the polenta, they should all finish around the same time for a delicious meal in less than 20 minutes.

Polenta with Sauteed Chard and Mushrooms

Yield: 2 servings. Per Serving: $2.43, 364 calories, 12g fat, 87g carbs, 11g protein.

Mushrooms: Wipe 1 container (8 ounces) of baby portobella mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel and slice into ¼ inch pieces. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until brown.

Chard: Cut 2 garlic cloves in half and place in a cold sauté pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put on low heat and cook slowly until the garlic turns slightly brown, then remove the garlic. Clean and chop 1 bunch green chard and add to the garlic oil with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss the chard occasionally over medium heat until wilted.

Polenta: Bring 1 ¼ cup water to boil in a small sauce pan. Turn to low heat and whisk in ½ cup fine yellow cornmeal, adding slowly. Add ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon cheddar cheese. If the polenta becomes too thick, add more water. Cook for about 5 minutes on very low heat, stirring frequently.