Monday, September 27, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Fall is here, which means lots of baking in my house. One of my favorite fall treats: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins.

3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. light brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable or canola oil
1 3/4 c. (~ 1 reg. can) canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 c. water
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chunks (I use Bakers)
cooking spray (pref. the kind with flour) OR muffin liners


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 24 muffin cups with liners or cooking spray.

Using a mixer and a large bowl, cream together eggs, sugars, and oil. Add pumpkin puree and water. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Whisk to combine and break up lumps. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks. Fill muffin cups 2/3 way full and place in preheated oven. Bake 20-25 minutes or until muffin tops spring back when pressed and a toothpick comes out clean. (16-18 minutes for mini-muffins)  Allow to cool 5 minutes in pan, then remove to a rack to cool.

Makes 2 dozen regular muffins. (I made 2 dozen mini-muffins and 18 regular muffins)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Italian Sausage Peppers & Onions, lightened up

On a cold winter day, this is an awesome dish to make for your family. It is quick, easy, makes enough for a leftover lunch the next day, and even my kiddos love it. Italian comfort food, but lightened up significantly from the original using lean turkey. Want to lighten it up even more? Omit the rolls and provolone and serve it over rice--still a hearty, delicious dinner, and you'll save yourself 85 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving.

A quick prep tip: for years, I cut up bell peppers in a way that took WAY more energy than it should--then I watched a professional chef cut them up, and it has saved me tons of time in the kitchen. To cut up bell peppers, wash them, then set them stem-side-down on a cutting board. Place the blade of your knife into the dimple at the center, and angling the blade toward the outside edge, slice downward, ending with your knife resting on the cutting board about 1/4 from the stem. Basically, you are cutting off the side of the pepper, without touching the seeds or stem. Turn the pepper, and cut off another side. You can remove all the edible pepper in 3 or 4 cuts, and you'll leave all of the seeds and stem intact to discard. From there, you can slice and chop to your hearts content. So easy! Here's a link to a video tutorial, in case you need a visual aid.

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet italian turkey sausage, casings removed
(or look for the new Italian-seasoned ground turkey--even easier!)
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. italian seasoning
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup Marsala wine (if you can't find marsala, it will be equally delicious with any red wine, just add a tablespoon or two of brown sugar to add a little sweetness and balance the acidity of the tomatoes)
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
6 bakery sandwich rolls
6 slices provolone cheese

Pre-heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then add sausage to pan and brown, breaking up into crumbles with a wooden spoon. Cook 4-5 minutes, until lightly browned. Dump sausage onto a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and return skillet to heat.

Turn down burner to medium heat. Add peppers, onions, salt and pepper to the pan and cook until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the italian seasoning and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the marsala wine and stir, scraping up any browned bits of gunk from the bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon. Add canned tomatoes and crushed red pepper and bring to a simmer.

Return sausage to pan and stir. Simmer the mixture of medium-low heat for 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly.

Meanwhile, split sandwich rolls, leaving one side intact (Ever been to Subway? Try to imitate their method for cutting the bread). Spread open the bread and line the inside with a slice of provolone. Place on a cookie sheet and pop under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the edges of the bread and melt the cheese. Spoon sausage mixture into your bread and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional information: 417 calories, 13 grams of fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 860 mg sodium, 15.5 grams of carbs (2.2 g of fiber, 9 g sugar), 24 grams protein.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tuscan-style chicken and white bean soup

Mmmm, is there anything better than a hot bowl of soup on a cold day? I love a good, hearty Italian soup, and when you use rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and canned beans, it is an easy weeknight meal that is sure to please!


2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1 bay leaf
2 quarts unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken stock (I love Kitchen Basics brand!)
1 pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, skin removed, meat pulled from bone and shredded/diced

1 can small-dice tomatoes
2 cups chopped kale (or spinach)
1 can cannellini or great northern beans, rinsed and drained
grated Parmesan cheese (NOT the canned snowy stuff), for serving

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Cook over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent and carrots are beginning to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaf, and Italian seasoning, stir, and cook one minute more. Stir in chicken stock, kale and can of tomatoes, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place half of beans in a shallow bowl and mash with a potato masher until smooth, reserving other half of beans. Stir mashed beans into soup until well incorporated. Dump whole beans into soup, stir, and reduce heat to lowest setting and cook 1-2 minutes, or until beans are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over the top, and serve with a loaf of crusty french bread and a glass of wine. YUM!

Time-saving tip: This soup is ready in 30 minutes or less as written, but if you want to cut your prep time down even more, look in the frozen foods section for bags of pre-cut soup veggies. There are often different mixes that will have pre-chopped carrots, onion and celery. Buy the jars of pre-minced garlic (in your produce section) and just shred the spinach or kale by hand, and you have a meal with no chopping required!

Nutritional Info
Servings Per Recipe: 8
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 179.7
Total Fat: 5.3 g
Cholesterol: 11.5 mg
Sodium: 497.8 mg
Total Carbs: 19.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.8 g
Protein: 14.9 g

Money-saving Tip #1: Chicken Fajitas

You know those pre-seasoned chicken breasts or thighs for fajitas that you can buy at the store? Convenient, right? Just open the pouch, throw 'em on the grill or in a pan, and you can have fajitas in about 20 minutes. I love these things--that is, until I broke down the price of them. OUCH! So, I figured out a much cheaper, and healthier, alternative.

Next time your grocery store runs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts (whichever you prefer) on sale, buy a few packages. The grab a box of quart-sized zipper bags and K.C. Masterpiece's Mesquite marinade in a bottle. When you get home, portion out the chicken into bags, pour 2 Tbsp or up to 1/4 cup of marinade in each bag (just enough to coat the chicken), shake to distribute, and pop into the freezer. Next time you want to make fajitas, just move a bag over from freezer to fridge the night before, and your chicken will be thawed and marinated when it is dinner time the next day.

The pre-seasoned meat in a bag that I buy runs between $7 and $9 at my grocery store for a 2 pound bag. I can buy boneless, skinless thighs for $1.59 a pound, a sometimes as cheap as $1 per pound. Chicken breasts are frequently $1.99 per pound. So, at the highest cost, it is $3.98 for 2 pounds of chicken breast. The bottle of marinade, which will make 6 to 8 bags of meat, is about $3 a bottle, or 50 cents per bag. Add in the cost of the zipper bag, at between 8 and 12 cents per bag (depending on the brand), and you have a max cost of $4.60 per 2-pound bag of seasoned chicken breasts. Buy family or bulk packs of meat when they are on sale, and you can save even more.

Nutritionally, the KC Masterpiece marinades have 100mg less sodium per serving and less preservatives than most of the meat pouches I've compared it to. Since you can customize how much chicken you'll need for your family, there is no waste. And personally, I prefer the KC Masterpiece flavor over every other brand of pre-seasoned meat I've tried.

Prefer beef fajitas? Use the KC Masterpiece Chipotle and Lime flavor marinade and some skirt or flank steak instead--it works just as well!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Smoked Cheddar, Turkey and Apple Monte Cristos

These are a tasty and quick weeknight meal. Makes 2 sandwiches.

4 slices good-quality white bread (you can use wheat, but nothing too 'grainy')
6 thin slices of honey-roasted deli turkey
4 slices smoked cheddar or Irish white cheddar
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/4 cup half-n-half or milk
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 Tbsp. butter
jalapeno jelly

Layer cheese, three slices of turkey, a slice or two of apple and another slice of cheese between 2 slices of bread. Cut off crusts and use a toothpick to secure the layers. (I use a giant round cookie cutter to do this). In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together eggs, half-n-half, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pre-heat a skillet over medium heat and add butter. Once butter melts, dip each sandwich in the egg mixture and add to skillet. Cook until heated through and browned on each side. Remove to plate and serve with jalapeno jelly.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Roasted Zucchini

So simple, so easy, and yet it results in a side dish that is almost a dessert. Slow roasting veggies brings out their natural sweetness, so this is a great way to get your kiddos to eat their veggies.

3-4 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-circles
1 small yellow onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degree. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl, then spread out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tender. Turn oven to broil and broil 1-2 minutes, or until all pieces are lightly browned. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Homemade Granola Bars

I love granola bars, but I hate that when you read the ingredients list on the package, there are about 12 different kinds of corn syrup, not to mention all of those preservatives. So, I've embarked on an adventure of making my own. I can sneak in all kinds of healthy grains, like wheat germ and flax, which gives additional fiber and adds omega-3, omega-6, folic acid, vitamin E and zinc. And with the addition of dried blueberries, you get all of those great anti-oxidants. I borrowed from a few different recipes, tweaked and adapted them to suit my family's tastes--hope you like them!

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup flax meal
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey**
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup dried "cherries and berries mix" (dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries and strawberries)
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 x 12-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of parchment on 2 sides.

Toss together oatmeal, pecans, wheat germ and flax meal on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Reduce oven temp. to 300 degrees.

While the oats mixture is toasting, combine butter, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir constantly for one minute, then pour over toasted oatmeal mixture. Add dried fruit to bowl and stir until combined. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then dump in chocolate chips and quickly toss. (Do not over stir or chocolate chips will completely melt and incorporate.)

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Wet your fingers and press mixture into the pan evenly. Bake 25 minutes, until light golden brown. Allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes, then grasp parchment paper and pull granola out of pan, quickly placing on a flat surface to finish cooling. Let cool completely, 2-3 hours, before cutting into squares. Makes 12-16 bars.

**TIP: When measuring honey, syrup or other sticky liquids, spray the inside of your measuring cup with cooking spray first--the honey will slide right out!