Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chicken Parm with Toasted Penne

The Mr. got me a subscription to "Cooking Light" magazine, which makes me very happy, especially because I have made the decision to join Weight Watchers, so the added recipe ideas are much appreciated. In the newest edition, the January/February 2014 edition, I was intrigued by the Cooking Class Lesson of the month... a cream-free creamy pasta dish. Say what?

The whole science behind it blows my mind, but essentially you're cooking the pasta like it's a risotto. Using this method, you stir in a little liquid at a time and let it absorb before adding more liquid. This allows the starch from the pasta to be released into the liquid, which ultimately creates a creamy sauce without using any cream or milk {don't worry, it does call for a little Parmesan cheese for good measure} It is also strongly suggested that you toast the pasta first... I know, I'm sorry- mind blowing yet again. It sounds weird, but it actually changes and elevates the flavor of the pasta pretty significantly. And when you're using whole wheat pasta like I did, I think it works even better. 

The original recipe made the pasta as a main dish and included chicken sausage {Yum?!} but I made it as a side dish to serve along with a cheat version of chicken parm and peas. I fully intend to try the sausage version when I'm out of my 2 weeks of Simple Start. Going forward, I intend to do my best to include all PointsPlus+ values per my WW recipe builder, but please check all nutrition for yourself.

ingredients

For the chicken parm...
3 chicken breasts, halved
1 cup tomato basil pasta sauce
1/2 cup fat free shredded mozzarella cheese

For the pasta...
6 cups fat free, reduced sodium chicken stock 
2 Tbl olive oil, divided
8 ounces uncooked penne pasta {I used whole wheat, but regular pasta can be used}
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 Tbl lemon juice
2-3 Tbl Parmesan cheese
Salt + Pepper to taste

instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees - spray a baking dish with non-stick spray and place chicken breast halves into dish. Cover with sauce and place in oven with 30 minutes on the timer. {when there is appx 10 minutes left, sprinkle cheese over tops}
  2. Meanwhile bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a saucepan - do not boil. Keep warm over low heat.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 Tbl oil to the pan. Add pasta and cook approximately 5 minutes, until toasted and starts to brown. Make sure to stir frequently as to not burn pasta. Remove pasta from pan.
  4. Add remaining oil and cook onion, garlic and mushrooms until softened. Remove mixture from the pan.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add pasta back in. Add chicken stock 1 cup at a time, stirring almost constantly, until each portion of the stock is nearly absorbed before adding the next cup. This will take about 30 minutes in total, and you may not need the full 6 cups of stock. 
  6. Once the liquid is no longer being absorbed and the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, stir back in the vegetables, a squirt of lemon juice, and the cheese. 

notes

  • Weight Watchers PointsPlus+ Values: Chicken Parm makes 6 servings, at 4 PPV per serving; Toasted Penne makes 4 servings, at 5 PPV; I served this dish with peas, which add 1 PPV per 1/2 cup serving
  • This would be a great main dish, the original recipe calls for chicken sausage
  • If you make this, please take pictures and post them for me, since yet again I have failed to do so. :o) #bloggerfail


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sweet + Salty No-bake bars

Each hear for the holidays at work, we all go out to a nice lunch, make a donation to a charitable cause, and bring in little treats for each other. We used to do a Secret Santa exchange, but then started doing the donations. In the past we have donated to Toys for Tots, We are the Children, sent money to the soldiers, the Petit Foundation, Hurricane Sandy Victims last year. This year, we decided to keep the donation in-house, and donate to the scholarship fund that has been set up in memory of our friend and coworker Kristin's brother who passed away earlier this year. It sounds like he was a really amazing guy, and she looked up to him immensely. The company he worked for matches all donations 100% which is also amazing. We didn't tell Kristin we were doing it, and planned to share what we were doing during our holiday lunch as well.

For a little sweet treat, I was going to bring the girls cake ball truffles. This coming from a girl who does not bake, I thought it would make the little present even more special. I made a test batch for Thanksgiving and brought home to the royals. They were super easy to make {literally make a box cake, let it cool, and crumble it.. mix in most of a tub of frosting and pop in the freezer for a few to set up. Then you form it into balls, freeze them a little more, and decorate.. that's it} - I decorated them with candy melts and this glittery silver sugar sprinkles. So yum. And although a little bit of a pain, very simple to make. Great. All I had to do before the holiday lunch was grab a box of cake and a tub of frosting.

Days went by between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and my spirit was not spiriting. I found myself dreading going to the grocery store and dreading making these cake balls. Why? No idea. They're so easy, right? So I found myself to literally the day before the lunch, last Thursday. I wanted nothing to do with making these cake balls after work.. but what else could I possibly make?! And then... I saw it. A link to the Curly Girl blog on Facebook... the answer to my prayers. And even better, no bake. No bake?! Leigh Standley, you are pretty much my hero. 

Now, before I share this mouth watering recipe, let me tell you a little about it. Because clearly, I am not good at photographing my adventures... New Years resolution anyone? Anyways: salty + sweet is probably the best combination in a dessert. This combines peanut butter, dark chocolate, and pretzels... um hello to all my favorites. The recipe itself is simple and delicious - I actually ended up decorating the top with my candy melts and sugar glitter to make it fancier {which added a little extra sweetness, but more importantly added color and sparkle, which made it look fabulously festive}

Peanut Butter Pretzel No-bakes ~ Original recipe from Curly Girl Design | Blog 

ingredients:

1 1/2 sticks of room temperature butter
2 1/2 cups + 1/2 cup of salted pretzels, crushed into crumbs
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup + 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter {such as Jif natural, smooth}
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips 

instructions:

  1. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. 
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup of peanut butter and the butter. Mix until smooth. Add in powdered sugar and 2 1/2 cups of crushed pretzels and mix until well combined. Spread mixture into the bottom of the pan and smooth it out evenly.
  3. Combine the rest of the peanut butter and the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals to melt it together. Stir in between and continue until smooth and everything combines. Spread the chocolate layer over the peanut butter in the baking dish, and smooth it out evenly.
  4. Top with remaining 1/2 cup pretzels. 
  5. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cutting into bars and serving. 

notes:

  • These can be made ahead, cut up, and then frozen for later enjoyment.
  • Original recipe suggested using tin foil in the baking sheet, but I found it was hard to spread the PB mixture in, so I just sprayed the heck out of my Pyrex and put it directly in.
  • Make sure your butter is softened... mine had been frozen, and I thought it was to room temp when I started but it didn't end up combining all the way with the PB and you could taste the butter separately. This also could have been because I was using a hand mixer instead of a stand mixer. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Greek Braised Chicken with Spinach and Lemony Orzo

I realized recently that most of the recipes I work off of are found online. Entering my kitchen the other day, I looked back in the corner at the plethora of cookbooks I have... and don't use. Oh. Oops? The cookbook that I pulled out {for my turkey lasagna the other week..} is the WW Annual Recipes for Success from 2011. Old school, I know. 

I found myself flipping through the pages, focusing on the chicken and poultry section. There's something about making chicken that makes me feel boring. It actually sends me back to another lifetime when plain, grilled chicken was a staple in my household and I would need to make it by what felt like the ton. Gross. Now, I always want to make chicken, but there's something holding me back. It was probably knowing that this recipe was out there and I just hadn't found it yet. Holy Hannah... this chicken... I can't. 

ingredients:

For the Chicken + Sauce
6 6-oz skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbl flour
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning 
2 cups fat-free/sodium-free chicken broth, divided
1 Tbl lemon juice
4 medium plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved 
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup or 2 oz crumbled feta cheese {reduced fat if available}
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
Optional: 2 Tbl thinly sliced fresh basil for serving

For the Pasta
1 cup Orzo pasta
1 Tbl chicken broth
1 Tbl lemon juice
Optional: Sprinkle of feta cheese

instructions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, cook pasta according to package.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a bowl {I used a pie plate} combine flour and Italian seasoning. Dredge chicken in flour mixture, reserving the remaining mixture in the bowl.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken and cook 3 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Remove from pan and keep warm.
  4. While chicken cooks, gradually add 1 cup chicken broth and lemon juice into reserved flour mixture, constantly stirring with a whisk until blended.
  5. Add broth mixture to the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until sauce is thick and bubbly, appx 3 minutes.
  6. Return chicken to pan and add the tomatoes, olives, and garlic. Cook 8-10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally. Halfway through cooking time add in spinach leaves to wilt.
  7. When pasta is done, drain and return to hot pot. Stir in chicken broth, lemon juice and cheese if using. 

notes

  • If you don't have Italian seasoning, which I didn't, you can use garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley in the flour mixture
  • Recipe adapted from: Braised Chicken with Plum Tomatoes and Feta found in WW Annual Recipes for Success 2011 cookbook

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turkey Skillet Lasagna-Weight Watchers

Since everyone is in turkey mode this weekend, here is a delightful little turkey recipe, as promised. While this uses ground turkey rather than turkey leftovers, bird is definitely still the word. This is probably one of my favorite Weight Watchers recipes. I have prepared it countless times. It's super easy and surprisingly super flavorful. I hadn't made it in a while, and the boss man requested it. So, I pulled out my trusty cookbook {Annual Recipes for Success 2011} and got to it. I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

ingredients

3/4 lb ground turkey breast
1 cup chopped onion
1 16-oz carton 2% low-fat cottage cheese
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 cups tomato-basil pasta sauce, divided
10 packaged pre-cooked lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cups reduced fat Italian blend shredded cheese

instructions

  1. Heat a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add turkey and onion to pan; cook 4 minutes or until turkey is browned and onion is tender, stirring frequently to crumble turkey.
  2. While turkey and onion cook, place cottage cheese in a food processor and process until smooth.
  3. Add spinach and three cups pasta sauce to turkey mixture. Cook 1 minute until thoroughly heated. Remove from pan and keep warm.
  4. Add remaining pasta sauce to pan. Top with 5 noodles, half of turkey mixture, half of cottage cheese, and half of shredded cheese. Repeat with remaining noodles, and turkey, and cheeses. Cover and cook on medium heat for 8 minutes or until noodles are tender. Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

notes

  • I varied the ingredients slightly... I used a full 1 lb of ground turkey, 1 chopped yellow onion, 1% cottage cheese. I used Simply Enjoy Tomato basil and Stop & Shop brand no-boil noodles. 
  • Make sure your skillet is deep enough- I use the one I use for practically everything, which is I think 2 or 3" deep. And make sure it has a cover.
  • POINTS value: 5 {serving size = 1/8 of casserole} 277 calories; 8.1g fat; 21.3g protein; 30.2g carb; 4.3g fiber; 38mg cholesterol; 1.9mg iron; 612mg sodium; 305mg calcium

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