Taco Salad

I find myself on “Taco Tuesday’s” reaching for my salad bowl instead of the taco shells. If I’m in the mood for the crunch, I will incorporate something crunchy (a broken up taco shell or tortilla chips) into my salad. This way I’m one in the crowd and I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything.  Other times I simply skip the tortillas and make a “normal” taco salad.
This is one of those bang for your buck type of meals. It’s filled with greens, lean meat and flavorful components (taco seasoning and salsa). For those folks on Weight Watchers you can see there are many power foods in this dish. It’s satisfying, it’s filling and it’s incredibly low in points.
Pictured, I have tossed salad (romaine, baby tomatoes, cucumber and red onion), 3 oz of lean ground beef cooked with taco seasoning, 1 tbsp Trader Joe’s Queso Dip, 1 oz of Trader Joe’s Organic Tortilla Chips, Chi-Chi’s medium salsa and a few jalapenos to balance it all out.  All of this for 6 points plus values!

New Years Eve Dinner – Homemade “Chinese Food”

With New Years Eve the general consensus as far as traditions go is to order in Chinese food.  In years past (4 years ago) I would be one of those individuals jumping on that bandwagon and hauling in some take out.  But in the past few years I’ve actually opted on making homemade Chinese food for New Years Eve.  Since New Years isn’t one of those holidays/celebrations that I truthfully partake in, I rather stay home, relax, cook and enjoy the coming of a new year with my loved ones in the comfort of my own home.
This years menu I decided on a week prior.  I decided to take out a container of my homemade chicken chow mein and decided I’d make a batch of my quick vegetable fried rice, I’d steam up some broccoli and carrots and last minute decided to make some quick boneless pork “spareribs”.
The meal came out perfectly! I had 1 cup of vegetable fried rice (see here), 2/3 cups of chicken chow mein (see here), ¼ oz of chow mein noodles, 2 ounces of boneless “ribs” and a helping of fresh vegetables.
My boneless “spareribs” are actually made from boneless, lean, center cut pork loin chops, cut into strips and tossed with Ah-So sauce, 1 tsp of minced garlic and 1 tsp of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute. I baked them off in the oven, then broiled them for a few minutes to crisp them up a tad. I felt they came out perfectly and gave me that flavor I was looking/hoping for.
My entire plate was only 13 points plus values!  Far more satisfying and filling when in comparison to what I could’ve gotten from my local Chinese restaurant.

Polish Potato Pancakes

Polish Potato Pancakes are one of my favorite “comfort foods” but they’re definitely one of those foods I only have once in a blue moon.  My grandmother made these often when I was a kid and as the tradition goes, my mother made these throughout my childhood into adulthood once in a while.
They’re actually quite easy to make, meaning the ingredients needed are very few, but the grating of the potatoes takes effort. Typically two potatoes in, my arm is sore and I’m wondering what I got myself into (haha).  There are many different graters on the market but the one I use is my grandmother’s old school potato grater (which I admit are hard to find, but can be found if you search for them), which essentially pulverizes the potatoes into little starchy potato “clouds”. While it pulverizes the potato I have to be VERY careful to not let it nick my hand because it’s not a pretty sight if it does.
These can be enjoyed any which way you like. Plain, with sour cream, or my absolute favorite way: with ketchup!
While I did calculate the points plus values for these, I was able to do so by measuring the oil I used in the beginning and measuring the oil I had leftover at the end. I assumed the oil that wasn’t present was absorbed into the end product.
Serves 10. 6 Points Plus per serving. (Serving size varies based on the amount made – I was able to make 20 pancakes making a serving 2 pancakes).
Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds peeled potatoes
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • Salt, to taste
Place a grater over a large bowl and grate potatoes. Feel free to grate to your desired consistency. I prefer the old style grater which pulverizes the potato into a pillowy substance.
Place a skillet with ½ cup vegetable oil over medium heat.
Strain some liquid from your potato mixture. When the potatoes are grated they let off water, using a gentle hand allow the water to strain from it but do not push the liquid out of the potatoes because you want it to retain some moisture.
Combine egg, baking powder and ½ cup of flour into mixture. Combine, then add in the remaining ½ cup. You want the mixture to be loose but thick.
Using a heaping tablespoon, spoon the mixture into the hot oil and allow cooking until lightly golden on one side, flipping and cooking on the other.  Flip the pancakes over to cook for an additional 1-2 minutes per cooked side.  I find the pancakes need to be cooked additionally on each side before removing from the pan otherwise the inner pancake is raw and gummy.
When cooked, remove from the oil and set on a paper towel lined tray. Sprinkle with salt.
Continue cooking until all batter is used.

Raspberry Peanut Butter Balls / Buckeyes

This year I decided to make cookie trays for family and friends. Initially peanut butter balls weren’t on my list of things to make, but when my original idea using my PBCrave Razzle Dazzle Peanut Butter didn’t fit the bill, I decided to whip up a quick batch of these “test run” peanut butter balls.
Truth be told they were SO good, I made a second batch two days later and ended up incorporating these delicious desserts into my trays … and they were one of the show-stopper desserts. They’re your classic peanut butter ball but with a unique twist which makes them truly remarkable.
In case you’re not aware, Razzle Dazzle is sold and made by PB Crave.  The peanut butter itself is a natural peanut butter, which is a blend of red raspberries, wild honey, white chocolate and a delicious dark chocolate flavor.  Unlike typical natural butters this one is actually relatively thick and doesn’t need to be stirred together to reincorporate the oils into the butter.
The points plus/calories associated with each ball truly depends on the amount made. The first batch I got roughly 45 balls, whereas the second batch I made, I got over 60.
Serves 60. 3 Points Plus Values.
Ingredients:
  • 1 16 oz. jar PB Crave Razzle Dazzle
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup butter, softened at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp Crisco
  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
In a large bowl add in butter and the full jar of Razzle Dazzle peanut butter. Using a handheld mixer, beat the mixture together until smooth and fluffy.
Drizzle in vanilla and add in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Blend until the mixture forms a thicker batter.
Line a tray with wax paper, pick up a large rounded teaspoon amount of mixture and roll into a ball. Place the balls on the wax paper and repeat until all mixture is incorporated into balls.
Place the tray into the refrigerator to harden for at a minimum 1 hour.
Before removing the peanut butter balls from the refrigerator, in a microwave safe bowl, combine the semi-sweet chocolate chips and Crisco. Microwave in 30 second intervals, blending the mixture together with a spoon in between.  I found after 3 trips into the microwave, my chocolate mixture was perfectly melted.
Using a toothpick, pierce the balls and dunk in the chocolate. Return the ball to the tray – repeating until all balls are coated. You can use another toothpick to smooth over the pierced holes or you can leave as is.
Return the tray filled with dipping peanut butter balls to the refrigerator to harden. Allow to harden for a minimum of 1-hour.

Turkey Sausage Stuffing


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Stuffing is one of those foods that I look forward to on Thanksgiving. Since it’s my favorite dish and since I’ve been told in the past I make a pretty mean stuffing … I was tasked with making the dish again this year.  In years past I’ve used boxed stuffing (just the plain dried bread pieces) and I’ve also used homemade cornbread, etc. My personal favorite has been the cornbread turkey stuffing, but since my mother isn’t a huge fan of it … I decided to try a different route this year to make all happy.
The stuffing turned out quite well. It was delicious, meaty, filled with delicious filling and spiced just perfectly. As mentioned previously I’d have loved it a whole lot more if it were a cornbread variety … but maybe next time!
12 servings. 4 Points Plus Values. ½ cup serving.
Ingredients:
  • 17 slices Light Italian bread (I used Market Basket store brand), dried
  • 16 oz Jennie-O Turkey Breakfast Sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Smart Balance Light Butter
  • 4 cups fat free chicken broth
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 7 tsp salt free Bell’s Seasoning (I enjoy a bold stuffing flavor, feel free to cut this into 1/3’s and taste testing to your liking)
The day before set the bread out to dry, making sure to flip each slice over halfway through the drying cycle. You can speed this process up by putting it into the oven to dry up – but be careful as it can burn.  I found a good 12-hours and it was perfectly dry.
Cut dried bread into smaller cubes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat melt the butter. Once melted add in the chopped onions and celery. Stirring frequently, cook until the onions and celery are translucent. Transfer cooked mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Using the same skillet, cook the turkey breakfast sausage over medium high heat. Break up sausage into bite sized pieces as the meat cooks.  The sausage will release some liquid; make sure to drain the liquid off to help get some searing on the sausage bits.
Add the onion and celery mixture back into the pan, toss to combine. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper and half the Bell’s seasoning. Stir to combine, then begin adding in large handfuls of the dried bread pieces – incorporating with the meat and vegetable mixture.
In ½ cup measurements, pour the liquid over the stuffing mixture and stir to combine until all ingredients are incorporated.
Sprinkle with remaining Bell’s seasoning, stirring to combine.
Transfer stuffing mixture to a non-stick casserole dish. Bake until the top is crisped – roughly 20-25 minutes.

Rigatoni Cheese and Tomato

There are just some dishes that are too good to want to try to lighten up. One of those dishes is my grandmothers Rigatoni Cheese and Tomato.  This is a dish my grandmother made for years. My aunt makes it occasionally and my mother tends to make it every so often. As traditions pass on, I of course picked it up, but it’s something I’ll only consider making if family are coming over that enjoy it.
This dish is very different in comparison to regular ole macaroni and cheese dishes. Instead of cheddar this is made with good ole American cheese. The cheese is melted down and incorporated with canned peeled tomatoes that are crushed as they’re being added in.  It makes this delicious cheesey, tomatoey sauce that adheres to the pasta as it begins to cool.
This is nota pasta dish you eat while it’s pipping hot. You have to let this sit for about 20-30 minutes for the cheese to cool down a bit and it sticks to the pasta. If you try to eat it hot the cheese and tomato mixture makes a bit of a “soup” and it’s too runny to enjoy the way it should be enjoyed.
Serves 10. 9 Points Plus Values. ¾ cup serving
Ingredients:
  • 1 pound Rigatoni pasta
  • 1 pound American cheese
  • 29 oz. canned Whole peeled tomatoes (do not drain)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook your pasta to your liking. I recommend a step or two beyond al dente.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, add in cheese and season with salt and pepper. Begin to add in canned tomatoes, crushing the whole tomatoes with your hands.
Keeping an eye on your cheese and tomato mixture, mix together gently to incorporate the two mixtures together and melt the cheese fully.  When the cheese mixture is fully melted and incorporated, turn off the flame.
Drain pasta and return back to the pan you cooked the pasta in.  Pour the cheese and tomato mixture over the pasta and stir to combine.
Allow the mixture to sit or 20-30 minutes before enjoying. This dish is best enjoyed warm as this way the cheese and tomatoes are able to adhere to the pasta more.

13-Bean Soup with Chicken Meatballs

13-bean soup is a soup that I’ve been making for over 2-years … but I primarily make it for myself in the fall/winter months because that’s when I enjoy soups/stews the most.  Every time I have made the soup, I change up the flavoring a bit and incorporate different meats into it (chicken sausage, chicken meatballs, diced ham) but this last batch of soup has been the best I have made.
The one thing about this soup is that after it’s put into containers in the refrigerator the bean tend to swell up further and retain the water, so I add additional water to the serving to thin it out as much as I’d like.  I find I enjoy it best the way I make it (by not soaking the beans overnight) because it allows my soup to be on the thicker side.  After the second day I tend to put the entire batch of soup back into a soup pot and add in some boiled Jamaican dumplings. It gives it a bit more body and just makes it feel a little homier.
Serves 17. 1 cup serving. 5 Points Plus Values.
Ingredients:
  • 29 oz. Bob’s Red Mill 13-Bean Soup Mix
  • 1 pack Al Fresco Tomato & Basil Chicken Meatballs (16 meatballs), cut into smaller chunks
  • 20 cups water, plus additional when cooking
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 pound baby carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 packet Goya Sazon Seasoning
  • 3 packets Goya Ham Flavored Concentrate
  • 1 pod Knorr Homestyle Chicken Stock
  • 2 packets Swanson Beef Flavored Concentrate
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
Empty bag of beans into a bowl and rinse. Place beans into a big soup pot and cover with water, leaving about 2 inches of liquid above the beans. Place pot onto an open flame and bring to a rumbling boil then cook for 30 minutes.  When done strain the liquid from the beans using a colander.
Spray the bottom of soup pot with non-stick cooking spray. Add in onions, celery and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add beans and water to the pot, and then stir in chopped carrots. Add in salt and black pepper.
Cover and let the mixture gently boil together for roughly an hour. Stir the mixture occasionally, keeping an eye on the water as it will evaporate and the beans will soak up some of the water.  Add 1 cup of water at a time, as needed.
Sprinkle soup with sazon and ham concentrate, stir in. Add in 2 packets of Swanson beef concentrate and gently stir in the Knorr homestyle chicken stock (make sure it melts completely).
Gently incorporate the chopped up chicken meatballs and stir to combine. Cover and allow to gently boil for an additional hour, until beans are softened and no longer hard/crunchy.
If the soup liquid starts to get low, add in 1 cup of water at a time.

Hungry Girl Candy Corn Popcorn Balls

I received an e-mail from Hungry Girl the week before Halloween which contained a few Halloween treats. Since we were going to have my niece and nephew over before and after Trick-or-Treating I figured I’d make a few desserts to have out.
When I saw the Hungry Girl Candy Corn Popcorn Balls I knew I had to make them. Popcorn balls have always been a fan favorite and I’ve found as I’ve gotten older they’re not something you can find in stores. Years ago popcorn balls were sold packaged individually for Halloween … but I haven’t seen them in a number of years. So I figured I’d give a go at making them.
Making the popcorn balls is quite simple. The most tedious task is standing at the stove and continuously mixing together the butter, candy corn and marshmallows until they are all melted.  The one thing I found to be tedious was when mixing together the additional candy corn and popcorn it gets VERY sticky, especially because the mixture isn’t over a direct flame. Because of this I ended up returning the mixture (even with the popcorn and candy corn) back to the stove to make it a little easier.
To form the popcorn balls, spraying them with non-stick cooking spray was a life saver. I will say … make sure you have someone around to help you because you do need to spray your hands again between almost every ball.  I let them set on parchment paper and when cooled to room temperature I transferred them to a parchment paper lined bowl.
The popcorn balls are INSANELY DELICIOUS! I thought they were fabulous and so did my guest. The leftovers I ended up eating truthfully, one every night for a sweet slightly salty snack. Perfect!
The greatest thing with these is that the recipe makes 10 popcorn balls and each popcorn ball is 111 calories or 3 points plus values!
You can find the recipe here: http://www.hungry-girl.com/weighin/show/2753

Dinner: Country style pork ribs, potato and salad

This is a delicious dinner I had this weekend. Yes, that’s a marvelous thing about Weight Watchers – I can eat homemade barbecue without guilt and it’s deliciously fabulous.
Country style pork ribs were on sale at a local grocery store, so I picked up a pack. Since I was going to be gone for the better half of the day, I asked my mother if she wouldn’t mind making some ribs (she makes the best ribs, BTW). She agreed, so she whipped up a batch – typically she boils them with vinegar, water and an onion and then bakes them off in the oven with some barbecue sauce. Usually it’s a homemade sauce, but she decided to use Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce.
I requested that she leave my ribs aside (after baking for a few minutes) for me to pull the meat off the bone, separate the fat and mix with barbecue sauce. I ended up getting two meals out of it.
What I had for dinner was 3 oz country style pork ribs (off the bone) w/ sweet baby rays bbq sauce (7 ppv), 5 oz potato (3ppv) & side salad w/ 1 tbsp light italian (0 ppv). It was a delicious 10 points plus and worth every point!
QUESTION:
Do you like having barbecue for dinner?

Homemade Chicken Shawarma Sandwiches

Chicken shawarma sandwiches are one of my favorite Lebanese dishes. I enjoy them so much that I purchase the shawarma seasoning at my local Lebanese store and make them at home. Although my shawarma sandwiches are slightly different than a shawarma you’d get at a restaurant.
Incase you’re not familiar with shawarma it’s an Arabic dish that consists of either chicken, lamb, beef, turkey or veal that has been seasoned with spices and grilled or “roasted” on a spit. If cooked on a rotating spit, the meat is trimmed off and added to your sandwich. I’ve had shawarma that way while in NYC, but back at home I’ve always had it grilled or cooked on a hot top. The sandwiches are usually encased in pita bread.
Shawarma can be served up in a number of ways – really depending on where you get the sandwich from.  It can be served with tabbouleh, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, tahini, hummus, pickled turnips, pickle, garlic mayonnaise, hot sauce, etc.
Making the dish at home, I clean and cut up my chicken into small chunks. I then make my shawarma seasoning, which is mixed with water.  The directions call to marinate the meat and grill up after marinating, but I pour the marinade over the chicken, add in tomato, garlic and onion and I bake it off in the oven for roughly 30-40 minutes.  After it’s cooled for about 5 minutes, I add in a few tablespoons of hummus to help thicken the “sauce”.  I serve the chicken, tomato and onion mixture on pita bread, with lettuce, red onion, and tabbouleh.
It’s completely delicious, filling and it’s a nice ode to a classic sandwich.  The whole sandwich pictured is only 9 points plus values. Worth it? You betcha!
QUESTION:
Do you make your own version of a classic sandwich at home?