breaking bread is a universal ritual that brings us together. a good meal has the power to heal us, body and soul. all my cooking comes from the heart.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

easy chicken and spinach dishes

Sautéed baby spinach with garlic, avocado, and grilled chicken. Delish! All-in about 560 calories (6 oz baby spinach, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp garlic, half Haas avocado, 5 oz grilled chicken breast, salt and pepper to taste). It's just protein and healthy fats to keep you feeling sated. Because I had the chicken prepped in the fridge already, this dinner took all of 5 minutes to make. It isn't just easy for me to eat right, especially because I love to cook and to eat. It is very hard to make healthy portions for one and sometimes it makes me sad not to have someone to cook for, so I don't put the same effort into cooking for myself that I do for others (uh, yeah, I'm a stupid girl sometimes!).

If I could keep fresh (or frozen) veggies in my boat icebox-turned-fridge easily, I would definitely be getting more bright, colorful veggies and especially dark, leafy greens in my diet. But bagged baby spinach does do pretty well if I use it up quickly and I can easily eat a bag myself at any given meal. I just heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet or wok, sauté some chopped garlic in it, and then toss in half the bag, stir it as it cooks down, and then toss in the other half. I learned this super-quick, tasty technique when I was cooking Brazilian food all the time. Collard greens, couve in Portuguese, are very popular in Brazil, especially Minas Gerais. You lay all the big leaves flat and create a stack, then you roll them very tight, and slice from the end of the roll, making thin collard green "spaghetti." You heat olive oil in a large pot very hot, toss in the sliced collards, and then throw in salt to taste. Much healthier and nutritious than American southern style collards, that's for sure. While I skip slicing the spinach up, larger spinach leaves or other tougher greens will do well with that technique. The best thing about this side dish is you can have it ready in about 3 minutes! It only takes 4 ingredients and it's  packed full of nutrition. 

Here's another yummy chicken and spinach dish... I just sautéed up the spinach as usual, crumbled 2 ounces of light feta on top (half the calories but all the taste), and then topped it with the chopped grilled chicken. It's easy to add whatever other veggies you like; I can see going Greek with some oregano, red onion and, as one friend suggested, olives. If you come up with a good variation share it as a comment!

The other thing I like to have on hand for a quick and simple meal is grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. If there is a Fresh Market near you, (I think they are along the US Eastern Seaboard from the mid-Atlantic to Florida), they have amazing plump chicken breasts on sale for just $2.99 per pound on Tuesdays. I generally buy two or three pairs of breasts and just have to separate them and trim only the slightest bit off (you will never want to eat Perdue or Tyson chicken again once you've had real, healthy stuff). I take a gallon Ziploc bag, add a few tablespoons of olive oil, lemon or lime juice if I have it, a couple tablespoons of chopped garlic, salt (pink Himalayan, sea, or Kosher), and fresh ground pepper. Then I put the chicken breasts in, zip the bag up, and massage the marinade all over to evenly coat the chicken. I just toss the bag in the fridge for one to three days and then grill it all up at once. Once it's grilled I chop it all up and either measure out 5 ounce portions or put it in a large container or Ziploc and measure out what I need during the week. The chicken is easy to heat up, or it's delicious cold with some tzatiki sauce, on a salad, or whatever. The options are only limited by your own palate and creativity.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

baked rigatoni

This baked rigatoni is a great contribution for potlucks, freezes well, and is easier on your waistline than your taste buds would think.


1 16 oz box rigatoni (penne or ziti will also work well) (calories: 1600)
3/4 cup yellow onion, chopped (calories: 50)
4 tbsp garlic, finely chopped (calories: 51)
2 tbsp olive oil (calories: 239)
1.5 lbs ground chuck (calories: 1680)
2 large cans crushed tomatoes (calories: 420)
2 medium zucchini, cut in half-rounds (calories: 63)
1 medium eggplant, cubed (calories: 132)
1 orange bell pepper, chopped (calories: 46)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (calories: 10)
3 oz red wine (calories: 60) (a little extra wine never really hurts...)
2 tsp dried basil (to taste)
1 tbsp dried oregano (to taste--I love oregano!)
kosher salt (to taste)
fresh ground pepper (to taste)
4 cups shredded mozzarella (calories:1280)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan (calories: 166)
14 oz part-skim ricotta (calories: 637)

Serves 12; (Total calories, 6434; calories per serving, 536)


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil and sauté chopped onion until translucent. (A 3 quart pot was full to the brim with this recipe, so if you have a 4 quart or larger pot that would be preferred.) Add chopped garlic and sauté on low a couple of minutes, taking care not to brown the garlic. Add ground beef (I used chuck here but one can try a lower-fat option such as ground sirloin, or spice things up with some sausage as well) and brown, breaking up and stirring frequently. Once the meat is browned, add canned crushed tomatoes, chopped orange bell pepper (or yellow, red, or green if you prefer), basil, oregano, fresh ground pepper, kosher salt, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Simmer on low.

Cook the pasta 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. If you already prepped the zucchini and eggplant go ahead and add them to the sauce, otherwise, prep them while the pasta is cooking and then stir into the sauce. Drain pasta and place in very large mixing bowl. Pour sauce over pasta and stir thoroughly. This recipe will fill two approximately 13" x 9" lasagna bakers. (I prefer Le Creuset-type stoneware, but a glass Pyrex will work fine, too.) Ladle a shallow layer of pasta/sauce mixture into each lasagna pan/casserole dish. Place scoops of ricotta evenly (see photo below), sprinkle half the shredded parmesan on each, then sprinkle each with 1 cup mozzarella. Ladle remaining pasta/sauce mixture into each dish and top with remaining mozzarella. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake 1 to 1.5 hours.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

garlic chicken with rice noodles

Here are the ingredients, clockwise from bottom left: butcher-wrapped chicken, Parmesan cheese, rice noodles, baby spinach, olive oil, pink salt, black pepper, and chopped garlic in the middle.

I picked up the fresh rice noodles at Trader Joe's. The appeal was that they cook in just 1.5 to 2 minutes. Especially in the winter, it helps to minimize the steam created in the boat--all that steam becomes condensation and can lead to mold. Thus, it is handy to have pastas on hand that cook quickly. These rice noodles are refrigerated, but each package comes with two smaller sealed bags of noodles, 6 ounces each. The noodles are very sticky, so I think they'd be very good with a lot of broth, some vegetables, and a few potstickers.

I'll be cooking lots of chicken this month since it is on sale for $2.99/lb. every Tuesday this month at The Fresh Market. I decided to try out the noodles with some chicken.

Garlic Chicken with Rice Noodles


1 tbsp. olive oil (119 calories)
3 tsp. raw garlic (13 calories) 
8 oz. / .5 lb. / 224 g boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed (247 calories)
1 bag (about 3 cups) baby spinach (40 calories)
1 vegetable bullion cube (5 calories)
6 oz. rice noodles (320 calories)
7g Parmesan cheese, crumbled (28 calories)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Total calories: 772
Calories per serving (serves 2): 386


In a large sauté pan on medium heat, sauté chopped fresh garlic and cubed chicken in olive oil. Add salt (kosher, pink, or sea salt) and fresh ground pepper to taste. Add spinach, 1/3 of the bag at a time, until mostly wilted. Add 1 cup boiling water and vegetable buillion cube (or 1 cup vegetable stock). In a separate pot, boil water for the noodles. They do not need a lot of water so a small sauce pan will do. The noodles are extremely sticky, so as soon as they are done, drain them and add them to the chicken and stir in to distribute them evenly. Lower heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Much better served hot than cold! Best served in large pasta bowls. Top with a little crumbled Parmesan. Sorry the picture is blurry... the steam always does that to my photos!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

in vino veritas

I like this simple Rioja from Spain. The bottle was about $10 on sale at my local liquor store.

Wines from Spain and Portugal are a great value. Rather than playing it safe and getting some big-name American or Australian wine, live on the edge and grab a few bottles you've never heard of from Spain and Portugal; if one is a dud you won't be out much moolah and odds are you'll actually discover some new wines you really enjoy.

I like Douro (red) and Vinho Verde (white, slightly effervescent, my fav is by Santola) from Portugal and Rioja (it's a region) and Tempranillo (it's a grape), (both red), from Spain. While I like Garnarcha/Grenache, sometimes they can be heavy for me if not blended with other grapes, so I always drink them with food. You really can't go wrong with some Spanish Marcona almonds, Cabrales and Manchego cheeses, and some Medjool dates paired with a couple bottles of wine and a loaf of crusty bread. Just add some good friends and conversation.

I used the barcode scanner in MyFitnessPal on the Montebuena Rioja, and was told it is 118 calories per 5 ounce glass. A bottle of wine contains five 5 ounce glasses, however, most people pour 6-8 ounces in their glass at a time. Since I'm back to counting all my calories I measured out 5 ounces of water and poured it into one of my new govino glasses to identify where the 5 ounce line would be. Conveniently enough, 5 ounces is right at the bottom of the thumb-indent on the glass so now I can always pour a perfect 5 ounce glass. (This is the larger wine glass from govino; I also have a set of the smaller wine/cocktail glasses.)

I still have plenty of glass aboard, but as I buy new drinkware I am going with shatterproof items for the boat. The govino glasses are super lightweight, shatterproof, recyclable, not overly expensive, and BPA-free.

One lesson learned the hard way...they will start to melt if set too close to a fire or if you pour boiling water on them. So, of my eight glasses, three are now misfits. C'est la vie; if I drink enough wine I forget that it bugs me that they got damaged.

suzy's mac & cheese

Here's my basic recipe for Mac & Cheese from scratch.  It's a comfort-food classic and a simple crowd-pleaser for potlucks. Hope you enjoy!


1 1 lb. box elbows (1600 calories)
4 cups / 16 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1600 calories)
3 eggs (225 calories)
1 cup / 8 oz. light sour cream (300 calories)
1 cup half and half (315 calories)
2 tsp. salt

Total calories: 4,040
Calories per serving (8 servings): 505

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Boil elbows but drain 1 minute before shortest time according to package directions (because they will continue to cook when baked in the oven and you don't want them to be mushy). While pasta is cooking, shred cheese and set aside. Put eggs, half-and-half, sour cream, and salt in a small mixing bowl and whisk together well. Once pasta is drained, put in a large mixing bowl and stir cheese into the pasta. Pour dairy mixture into pasta and cheese mixture, and stir together thoroughly. If you like to add anything special, e.g., bacon or ham, this is the time to stir it in. Pour into a baking dish. Bake, covered, 60 to 90 minutes. (Shallower pans will need less time, deep pans will need more; I keep an eye out for the cheese to get a little crispy and browned at the edges.)

I am a big fan of extra sharp cheddar, (my father was a Tillamook addict), but you can mix it up and use a milder cheddar or blend with fancier cheeses likes Gruyere. Since the cheese is the main event, I think this is the time to buy better quality cheese if your budget permits.

If I weren't trying to keep the calories under control, I might take some shredded Parmesan and mix it with bread crumbs for a topping.

I have a square casserole with a glass lid (pictured above) that is perfect for this because it can go from oven to table to fridge, but shallow casseroles or lasagna pans covered with foil will work, too.

Because this recipe has three eggs, it "sets" and gets firm enough to slice. This won't ever replicate soupy Kraft-style Mac & Cheese, but if you (or your kids) prefer a squishier version, cut out an egg and don't bake quite as long. I tried using 2% milk instead of half-and-half, and while it made it much looser and cut out some calories, the cheese didn't emulsify into the other dairy well and was weird and lumpy, so I think cutting out one or two of the eggs and shortening baking time is the better way to achieve a squishier/looser consistency.

Divided into eight servings, they will not be huge. However, with a bowl of tomato soup or a nice salad on the side, or topped with some grilled chicken, it's just right. You can always divide into larger servings or serve as a side dish.

Monday, January 6, 2014

vegetarian burrito

Lunch today was a yummy low-cal vegetarian burrito. This is a short-cut recipe that just requires heating and assembly. I used a new-to-me product, Lightlife Smart Ground veggie mexi crumbles.

Here's the breakdown:

1 whole wheat tortilla (130 calories)
110 g (approx. 2/3 cup) Lightlife Smart Ground veggie mexi crumbles (120 calories)
150 g (half a 15 oz can, liquid drained out) black beans (132 calories)
1/2 cup reduced fat shredded mexi-cheese (160 calories)
2 tbsp Pace Picante salsa (10 calories)

Total calories: 552.

I sautéed the mexi crumbles in a small non-stick pan, (even with non-stick a little bit of cooking spray helps), and heated the beans in a small sauce pan. Then I just lined everything up on the tortilla, rolled it up, and flipped it over. This is too much filling to fold it closed to eat by hand, but I didn't want to add the extra calories of two tortillas. If I'd had it, I would have first covered my plate with chopped or shredded lettuce, then made the burrito, and maybe added a dollop or two of sour cream.

The Lightlife crumbles were in the refrigerated natural foods section at my local Giant. They have a definite Mexican seasoning to them, but not too spicy. For a pizza topping or a vegetarian Bolognese sauce I would use the crumbles that don't have the Mexican seasoning, so I'll have to pick some up to try. I'm working hard to find more items like this that are refrigerated, rather than frozen. I've always liked the Morningstar Farms products (though these crumbles are much better), but I don't have the freezer space on the boat to keep many frozen foods.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

quinoa with chickpeas and veggie patties

Here's a flavorful diet-friendly shortcut meal. I heated up two Veggie Patch Mediterranean Spinach and Chickpea Patties in a sauté pan. They are 120 calories each and vegan. I find them in the refrigerated natural foods section at my local Giant grocery store. It'd be nice to always cook from scratch, but these little short cuts are healthier and more affordable in a pinch than eating out and help me count and control calories. (A container of 4 is currently $4.49).

Side dish: Quinoa with Chickpeas (makes two servings at 270 calories each)


1/2 cup organic red quinoa (a la Trader Joe's) (320 calories)
1 vegetable bullion cube (5 calories)
2 tsp fresh chopped garlic (~ 8 calories)
1 cup water
245 g drained and rinsed canned chickpeas a/k/a garbanzo beans (207 calories)


Put water in a small sauce pan, add vegetable bullion cube, garlic, and quinoa. Bring to a boil. Drain and rinse one can of chickpeas. (I weighed them on a food scale because it is far more accurate than using the approximate serving information from a can. Calorie counts on nutrition labels are based on weight, so it is much more accurate to weigh food than to guesstimate based on volume.) Stir the chickpeas into the quinoa mixture, stirring occasionally and simmering until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is "done," i.e., the germ ring is visible on the grain. I set aside half of the pot for the next meal. If I had had something green, I would have added it. Maybe stir in a bag of sautéed spinach or top it with some chopped scallions or cilantro.

For 510 calories, this is a heaping plateful of food, bursting with flavor.