Thursday, June 28, 2012

Satisfying Salads (NOT the Green Kind)

Told ya I'd make up for my week of silence! Here we meet again, along with my 2 favorites of late: chicken & Greek yogurt. I'd apologize for the over use of these ingredients, but you know what? Sorry I'm NOT sorry! With such versatile staples constantly at hand, plus a little creativity, the combination is a busy girl's dream come true!

Throughout high school & almost all of college, I worked at a bagel store during the school year. Coming from a typically old-school Italian family, the bagel store experience exposed me to things I'd only seen from afar & dreamed of trying. Chicken salad was one of those in particular. (American) tuna salad was another. Our shop's versions were just so darn good! And then I learned how to make it....with ingredients like ground up stale croissants (used to give it "body") & an ENTIRE industrial-sized jug of Hellmann's mayo! No wonder they were addictively good. Anything with that much butter & fat cannot be anything less that awesome.

Craving those deli salads (but not the artery-clogging fat & cholesterol), I moseyed on into the kitchen & started playing around with ingredients I had on hand. Greek yogurt, mustard and lemon juice give these salads just the right amount of zing, and the addition of herbs like parsley & dill lends a freshness that is irresistible! Put it on low calorie wheat bread, or eat it by the cupful. But don't take my word for it...try it for yourself and tell us what YOU think!

Slimming Chicken Salad
yields 4 servings; 193 Calories/ serving; 2.2g fat/ serving

  • 12-oz shredded chicken (I used left over roasted chicken)
  • 1 large celery stalk, diced
  • 1 large scallion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 C nonfat, Greek yogurt, plain
  • 1Tbs lemon juice
  • 1tsp mustard (I used stone ground brown deli mustard)
  • 1tsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt (I recommend using pure ground celery seed & salt separately, but this is what I had on hand)
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper   
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
Combine shredded (or chopped) chicken, celery, scallion, and parsley in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl combine yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, celery salt, garlic powder, dill & black pepper. Spoon dressing mixture into chicken mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

*to make tuna salad, replace shredded chicken with 2 7oz cans of your favorite tuna. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Viva La Fajita!

Hey Kids! Sorry for the mini hiatus, but life kind of got in the way of things for a bit. Don't ya hate when that happens? I know I sure do! Thankfully, I've been using this time wisely & taking notes of what yummy creations I'd want to share with you next....

First up, delicious & guilt-free chicken fajitas! I had a lonely boneless, skinless chicken breast hanging out in the fridge yesterday that had to be cooked. The propane tank for our BBQ is dangerously low, and while I don't mind running to the garden center & picking up a full one, I'm not too keen on connecting it myself. Also, it's been so warm lately that turning the oven on wasn't an option either. So, why not chicken fajitas?! They're quick and easy to prepare, packed full of flavor, and surprisingly low in calories & fat (as long as you make a few minor alterations). In the time it takes you to go to the store & buy a fajita spice packet (that's LOADED with sodium, MSG, & countless other preservatives) you can make your own spice mix & marinade.

1 serving includes 2 of those huge-looking overstuffed wrap halves! 

In lieu of flour or corn tortillas, I opted for a flax seed roll-up bread. These things are great! They are about the size of a large flour tortilla wrap, but rectangle in shape. I cut one in half so I was able to make 2 over-stuffed roll-ups with a single serving. Not only do they taste good, but every 2-oz. size roll-up has: 110 calories, 3g of fat, 15g carbs, 9 grams of fiber& 12g of protein! That's some serious nutrition jammed into one delicious wrap!

*Attention Weight Watcher Devotees* I know with the WW point system, especially regarding bread/carbs of any kind, a high fiber content greatly decreases the point value. I'm interested in how many points one of these wraps would be.

And what fun are fajitas without the condiments?! I used 2% plain Greek yogurt as opposed to reduced fat or fat free sour cream. Oddly enough, the Greek yogurt tastes more like good ol' fattening sour cream than actual fat-free sour cream! Plus, it was in my fridge & I'm about convenience if nothing else. Shred some lettuce, wedge a few limes, throw in your favorite jarred salsa & you have yourself a fajita fiesta!

Not feeling the whole messy eat-with-your-hands idea? Try serving this yummy & saucy fajita mixture over my cilantro lime brown rice. Keep the condiments to give it that same special kick. I even made a wrap with the leftovers using 1 whole roll-up, a spoonful of rice, a small saucy helping of fajita mixture, shredded lettuce, salsa & a dollop of yogurt. Seriously impressive.

Chicken Fajitas
Makes 4 servings; 237 Calories; 4.2g fat
(calories & fat includes 1 whole roll-up, 2tbs of yogurt, lettuce & salsa)

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1-Cup button mushrooms, sliced thick
  • 2 large jalapenos, thinly sliced (seeds & ribs removed)
  • 1-2 limes, juiced
  • chopped cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Spice Mix/Marinade

  • 1-tsp chili powder
  • 1-tsp sea salt
  • 1/2-tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2-tsp onion powder
  • 1/2-tsp garlic powder
  • 1-tsp dried oregano
  • 1-Tbs cornstarch
  • 1/3-Cup water

Combine spice mix/marinade ingredients in large Ziploc bag. Add chicken, red bell pepper, onions, mushrooms & jalapenos. Coat evenly & let marinate for at least 15-20 minutes. Coat a large saute pan with cooking spray & bring to high heat. Add contents from Ziploc bag, stirring often. Saute until veggies slightly  soften & chicken is cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in lime juice. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with tortillas or brown rice, crispy cold shredded lettuce, salsa & low-fat Greek yogurt (or fat free sour cream).


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stop The Insanity!!! Why Diets Won't (EVER) Work

80's babies (and those before us) surely remember the slightly crazed platinum blonde with the buzz-cut screaming at you through your TV to Stop The Insanity!!!! Back in the 90's I had no interest in why this woman was yelling or what she was yelling about. But now, at almost 30, I finally get it.I got the message & I stopped my insane thought process & old habits that were seemingly the 'norm'. This post isn't a plug for whatever Susan Powter was/is selling (in fact I've never read her book, watched her short-lived talk show, or heard her motivate the masses). About a year ago, things sort of clicked in my head, and I started on a journey that has forever changed me. Now, I'm excited to share my epiphanies with you!

Thanks to innovation & technology (combined with a degree of laziness that is exclusively a 1st world problem), we live in a society of convenience and instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it NOW (actually we wanted it 5 minutes ago)! Nothing wrong with creating the next-best-thing in the shortest time possible. However, that leads fundamental characteristics such as discipline, commitment, and patience to fall by the waist-side. Who wants to do something the hard way when surely there HAS to be an easier, faster, totally convenient way to replace it, right? Enter, THE FAD DIET...The cabbage soup diet...The grapefruit diet...The apple cider vinegar diet...The...tapeworm diet?! (I kid you not, look it up. And YES, it's exactly what you think it is!) And lets not forget the wide array of diet pills, shakes, cleanses, etc.

For these diet plans and products to gain so much notoriety, there has to be some truth to them, right? Yes, the majority of them will let you shed those pesky 5, 10, 15 lbs in 30 minutes, or whatever their ridiculous claims are. But what happens after that? I mean you can't live on cabbage soup the rest of your life. Grapefruit is wonderful, but I'm pretty sure you need more nutrients than vitamin C to live, and ummm, the whole tapeworm thing? That's just all sorts of gross.
It's a proven statistic that 41% of those who go on diets gain back more than what they originally lost. And yet, the majority of us keep going back for more! Why? What gives? And most importantly, what can we do to stop the insanity of this vicious cycle?

This is undoubtedly the hardest part of the whole weight loss journey; changing the way we THINK. Awareness is key to change. We must start thinking about the term diet for what it really is: an eating program, and one that is individualized & specific to each of us. There are a few basic guidelines that everyone can benefit from: 5-6 helpings of vegetables, 4-5 servings of fruit, at least 30 grams of fiber a day, no more than 20% of our calorie intake should be allotted to fat, around 20% of protein and LOTS of water. Don't try to tackle everything at once. I'm an overachiever by nature, so naturally I attempted to change everything immediately. I repeat, don't do it! YOU WILL FAIL. Instead, take small, purposeful steps. For instance, addicted to soda, iced tea, juices, & everything else that isn't water? Try switching to flavored seltzer water, or make your own unsweetened herbal iced tea at home. Still too drastic? Replace every other glass of soda, juice, iced tea with a bottle of water. Find yourself snacking mid morning or mid-afternoon on unhealthy empty calories? Try replacing your usual snack with a serving of almonds or cup of fruit salad. You will be so surprised at how much "insignificant" changes like these make a difference. And always remember, no matter how small the change, it's still a change for the better you weren't doing yesterday. Before you know it, you will be conquering the small  goals in no-time and be pushing yourself to tackle larger ones.

You should be taking these small steps in other areas as well. No amount of calorie counting will be completely effective without incorporating exercise. Almost anyone has 30 minutes to spare sometime throughout the day. Figure out when that time is, and make it part of your routine. Start small (a brisk walking pace for 30 min a day), and gradually increase when you feel like tackling a more challenging goal. Also, find clever ways to make mundane chores work-out friendly. Park all the way in the back of the lot when you go to the shopping center.  Hold your stomach muscles while you are blow drying/ flat ironing your hair. Do some leg lifts while you're watching your favorite TV show. It sounds silly, but it all adds up.

I may hear some flack for this next part, but I am a true believer in this. STEP AWAY FROM THE SCALE. Numbers are relative. Our bodies are proportioned differently, we retain different amounts of water, we carry ourselves in a different manner. Also, if you start any type of work out program, you will begin to lose fat & build muscle. My strong opinion is to measure yourself. Take a measurement of your bicep, thigh, waist, hips, and any other area u see fit. Keep a journal & maintain consistency in your measurements (ex- measure in the same spot on the same body part every time). To be honest, I couldn't even bring myself to look at those numbers at first. So I got a pair of old jeans that hadn't fit me in a good 6 yrs. every week I'd try them on. Pretty soon not only was a wearing them, but they got the "baggy butt" syndrome & it was time for a new measuring gauge. It may have not been the most scientific way, or even the most accurate way of going about documenting my weight-loss, but it kept me positively motivated.


If you take anything away from my endless rant, please let it be this; Find what works for YOU. Find what makes YOU feel GOOD. It is well worth the extra effort in searching and in taking small steps. It may take a little longer than a week, or a month, but you will see results. And if you are true to yourself and committed to your goal, these results will be LASTING ones.

Happy Eating!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Taste of Summer: Black Bean Mango Salsa, Cilantro Lime Brown Rice & a Little Bruschetta for Good Measure

Ready or not, summer is HERE kids! I dunno about you, but for me that means weekends beach-bumming it in MTK, bonfires, bbqs, and light & refreshing summer meals! Last week lifelong friend Andrea & I decided to whip up a quick meal with ingredients we both happen to have lying around. I was planning on preparing my black bean mango salsa and cilantro lime brown rice for a post. Andrea was craving her mom's addicting bruschetta & happen to come across some great all-natural chicken sausage at the market. Add in a glass of Mionetto Il Spr!z (yes that's how it's spelled) blood orange apertivo, and life really can't get any better. The combination was delightfully refreshing and equally satisfying. It was SO successful in fact, that for a solid 5 minutes, our ENTIRE conversation consisted of "WOW, that was REALLY good." "Like REALLY, REALLY good." "I can't believe how GOOD that was." Hahaha! But don't take our word for it. Try it for yourself to see how great it REALLY is!

Our impromptu dinner party started with a quick and easy appetizer. Bruschetta is basically a delicious tomato salad, crusty bread for dipping included, made bite-size. Now usually I would research my nerdy butt off to find a delicious, satisfying & healthier alternative to whatever original ingredients are called for. But in this case I'm pulling out the Ginzo card. I'm a sucker for Italian bread of any kind, in particular a seeded and/or semolina loaf. So, we just cut the portion size a bit. 2 small pieces per person was more than enough, especially with all the yumminess to come in the next course. Also, the leftover bruschetta mixture is a great salad on its own, and even better as a topping to grilled chicken or a firm, white fish. Andrea made a ginormous size batch because she was preparing to give some to friends and family & to save some for herself for the week. I've attempted to cut it down to a 5 person recipe. Tweak as desired.

Yields 5 servings; 70 calories per serving; 2.3g fat per serving
  • 10 - 1/2" thick slices of good Italian bread
  • 1 Beefsteak tomato, diced
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 5 basil leaves, shredded
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • salt & pepper to taste
Slice bread and set aside*. Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil (make sure to save any juices from tomatoes & add in as well). Add oil, vinegar, oregano, salt & pepper and mix thoroughly. Spoon a small amount of juices from bottom of bowl onto bread. Top with about 2 tablespoons of tomato mixture. Serve immediately.

* We didn't do it this night, but I suggest toasting the bread before hand. It adds texture and gives all those yummy juices somewhere to hang.

Once again, I cannot take credit for the creative genius that is this Black Bean Mango Salsa. More of a salad than a salsa, it too has become a summer staple of the Montauk Moms. Loosely based on a recipe one of them came across many moons ago, it is a great side dish to any protein: chicken, fish, steak or pork (trust me, we've literally tried it ALL). The combination of sweet, salty, sour & spice makes it addicting. Make it ahead of time to let the flavors marry, and try some add-ins like roasted corn left over from last night's dinner (my personal favorite).

Yields 5 servings; 155 Calories per serving; 3.3g of Fat per serving

  • 2 Cups cooked & drained black beans (or 1-16 oz can of black beans, rinsed & drained)
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers finely minced (ribs & seeds removed)
  • 2Tbs cilantro, finely minced
  • 1-2 limes, juiced (depending on juiciness)
  • 1 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • salt to taste
Combine beans, mango, onion, jalapeno, & cilantro in bowl. Add lime juice, EVOO and salt. Incorporate well & set aside at least 15 minutes for flavors to marry.

Next at bat is my mind-blowingly simple Cilantro Lime Brown Rice. Its 3 simple ingredients, but it makes a boring side dish into something to crave & look forward to. You can really substitute any herb and/or citrus in this dish. Lemon & juice, sesame oil & some lemongrass or Thai basil...coconut milk (or coconut water if you're watching the fat), coriander & some fresh mint...whatever, GO NUTS! I do use organic low sodium broth to cook my brown rice. If you are cooking with water, you may want to season your rice a bit more aggressively. I've also found that using a little less liquid creates a drier rice, which is what you want in this dish, as too moist of a rice + lime juice added after can make a gummy mess if you over-saturate & over-mix.

Yields 5 servings; 117 Calories per serving; 1g of Fat per serving
  • 2.5 Cups cooked brown rice
  • 2 limes, juiced 
  • 2tbs cilantro, chopped fine
Cook rice per package directions. While rice is still warm, add lime juice & cilantro. Lightly toss & fluff with fork. Serve immediately.

check out those ingredients, every one of them is pronounceable!
We could have surely made an entire meal of just the above dishes, but Andrea had wanted to try out the new Cajun andouille chicken sausage she had picked up at Fairway. And let me tell you, what a spiffy and spicy addition it was! Bilinski's Cajun Andouille Chicken Sausage is all-natural & made from antibiotic-free raised chicken, with skinless casings, as well as being preservative-free, as well as gluten & wheat free. They're fully cooked - just brown & serve! At 90 calories & 4.5g of fat per link, they are a wonderful go-to item when you're in a time crunch, or just having a lazy day.

And what summer dinner party would be complete without a light and refreshing beverage? Andrea introduced me to a wonderfully light & crisp aperitivo by popular prosecco brand, Mionetto called IL SPR!Z. As sparkling wines go, Il Spri!z has a lovely & natural orange aroma & taste, slighlty sweet with a hint of a bitter finish. At under 100 calories a glass and 8% alcohol content, it truly is a delightful accompaniment to pretty much anything!

Notes: Not sure if you've been calorie counting all the way down this post. If not, let me give you the shockingly manageable grand total. For an appetizer, main dish AND drink, this entire meal came out to be 532 calories and 11 grams of fat. Not too shabby, considering what you absent-mindedly put away during a lunch at some mediocre chain restaurant or, a night out with friends for a meal & a few drinks!