Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

Chicken Pesto Pasta SaladMy assistant, Jenni, shared this awesome pasta salad recipe with me. It is delish and so easy to make. In this ungodly heat wave we are experiencing in Michigan, no one wants to spend time in a hot kitchen. This one dish meal is perfect for hot weather and has minimal prep time.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 packets of pesto sauce (I use the jar pesto sauce from Costco)
  • 2-3 boneless chicken breasts, chopped and cooked
  • 1 box of Rotini noodles
  • 1 bag steamable frozen vegetables

Prepare the pesto sauce and the noodles as directed on the package. Chop chicken breasts into bite size pieces and pan sear on stove top.

Cook the vegetables as directed. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and serve. This dish can be served hot or cold. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the salad when reheating.

Easy Tomato, Red Onion, Cucumber, Feta Salad

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Last weekend friends visited for the weekend. We did some boating and then a backyard cook-out on the deck. My friend, Janelle, brought this salad YUM-YUM salad which was ideal for a hot, steamy summer day. Very refreshing.

Thanks, Janelle, for sharing the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 ½ Large Seedless English Cucumber (Sliced and then cut in half)
Approx. 6 cups chopped tomatoes (large chopped, about the size of a grape tomato).  I used Campari and Roma, but you could really use any kind you would like.  (It equated out to 4 Roma’s and 16 Campari).
1 4oz container of Light Feta Cheese
3 Tablespoons of your favorite Balsamic Salad Dressing (I used Maple Grove Fat Free)
1 5.3oz – 6oz Fat Free Plain Greek Yogurt (I used Okios)
2 ½ Tablespoons of Italian Seasoning or you can substitute with 1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
1 teaspoon of minced garlic (I was lazy and used the ‘roasted garlic’ in the jar pre-minced)
1 teaspoon of ground pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
½ Red Onion Sliced (marinated in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for 2 hours or over night)

Here are some tips on making this salad:

If making the day before, you don’t want it to get soggy, so this is how I prepped it:

Chopped all the Cucumber and Onion the night before, and ‘marinate’ the onion. Mix  the ‘dressing’ the night before (yogurt, dressing, garlic, Italian seasoning) and stored in an air tight container.The morning of, chop tomatoes and add cucumbers, salt and pepper and put it into a serving bowl.

When time to eat, add the feta, onions, and dressing to the cucumber and tomato mixture and wawlaa! Add sea salt and ground pepper on the top once it is all mixed together.

Sidebar from Blimpy Girl: I had leftover salad the next day for lunch. I used a slotted spoon to scoop out the salad. It was delish!!

Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Basil, Garlic over Pasta

Basil, Garlic and Tomato Pasta

This is one of the easiest meals ever. Once the pasta is cooked (takes 8-10 minutes),  toss in a mixture of olive oil, fire roasted tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, and onion.

Here’s how:

Cook 8-10 ounces of dry pasta as directed on package. I used half thin spaghetti and half fettuccine. Drain and set aside.

In a deep skillet combine 1/4 cup olive oil. Add one chopped zucchini, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic. Cook until tender, about 6-7 minutes.

Add the following seasonings to the pan:

  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 red pepper flakes

NOTE: Fresh herbs can be used instead of dried herbs. You will need to adjust amounts accordingly.

Fire Roasted Tomato, Garlic, Basil Pasta

Add 1 can fire roasted tomatoes to the skillet (with juice). Mix well; heat through and add cooked pasta.

Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese with a side of fresh spinach. I used a no-fat Italian dressing on the spinach.

That’s it! Easy, Peasie! You are looking at around 480 calories per serving. The recipe given will serve six. Grilled asparagus (six spears) will complete the meal and add only 30 calories. A medium slice of hard crusted baguette bread is 170 calories.

I would personally stick with a serving of the pasta and asparagus.

Tomota, garlic, basil pasta

 

Southern Style Chicken & Dumpling Dinner

Chicken & Dumplings

My grandma was a Southern born lady and cooking was her claim to that heritage. She made the meanest pan of cornbread and the tastiest chicken and dumplings this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

My ten-year old grandson, Carson, is a die-hard chicken and dumpling fan. He loves Cracker Barrel’s dumplings; I told him I could make a pot chicken dumplings just like that, maybe better. The challenge was on.

Making the dough for dumplingsDough Recipe:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter (you can also use a low-fat butter type)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Combine the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter. Once the mix is crumbly, slowly add the milk until you can form the dough into a ball. If dough is still sticky, dust with a handful of flour and incorporate into the dough mixture.

Roll out dough and cut into strips

Liberally sprinkle flour onto a cutting surface. Roll out the dough to a 3/8″ thickness. Dust rolling pin and dough mixture with flour as needed.

Cut dough into strips using a pizza cutter, then cut in opposite direction to form small dumpling squares.

Cut rolled dough into dumpling squares

 

Add a handful of flour to a large platter. Using a spatula or edge of knife lift the squares from the cutting area and place layers of dumplings onto the platter. Coat each dumpling layer (both sides) with the flour. This will help to thicken the chicken broth to a gravy consistency.

Coat the dumpling with flour

Bring 8 cups of chicken broth to a boil; I made my broth from bouillon. Drop dumplings into the broth one at a time. You don’t want the dumplings clumping together. They will, if you put them all into the broth at the same time.

Add dumplings to brothCook the dumplings (uncovered) for 20 minutes over medium heat. While the dumplings are cooking, cut-up 18 ounces of cooked chicken breasts.

You can cut the chicken into strips, coarsely dice, or cube. I prefer cubed.

 

Cook the dumplings until they are no longer doughyOnce the dumplings are thoroughly cooked (no longer doughy), add the cut or chopped chicken meat to the broth.

Add grated carrots to the broth and/or 1 cup of frozen peas. My grandson loves peas, the wine guy does not. I opted for carrots only.

 

Cube, dice or slice the cooked chicken

If you want a creamier gravy, this is the time to thicken the broth with additional flour. To do that, add a handful of ice cubes to a measuring cup along with 1/4 cup water. Stir in 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons flour. Mix well, gradually adding to the broth.

 

Add grated carrots to the dumpling broth

For the record…I won the challenge. My grandson said my chicken and dumplings were better than Cracker Barrel. Maybe he was just sucking up, but the fact that he ate four bowls in one sitting tells me he may have been truthful. Hope you enjoy!

This recipe makes approximately 10 cups of chicken and dumplings. You’re in the neighborhood of 399 calories per 1 cup serving. Trust me, one cup of the dumplings with a side salad is very filling. You can shave 20 calories per serving by using two tablespoons butter instead of three.

Vegetable & Ham Quiche Pot Pie

Ham Pot Pie with Vegetable

I was feeling a bit stressed yesterday afternoon about some business stuff. If I were a smoker, I  would have puffed on a few cigarettes to relieve the anxiety. Instead, I decided to cook something; it proved to be the perfect therapy.

I had no idea what I was going to cook. I shuffled things around in the fridge and found some leftover veggies, a tomato, onion. That was a start. I then spotted two cans of crescent rolls and a half opened container of vegetable broth, so I snagged those as well. And just as I was about to close the fridge door, I spotted some leftover ham.

IMG_3261The idea of a pot pie was planted in my mind, and I ran with it. I was in just the right mood to toss my creativity to the wind and see what happened.

Chopping the ham and veggies was a perfect anti-stress workout. I visualized my business stress with every chop of the blade. Extremely therapeutic.

Add cheese to the pot pie broth Once everything was chopped, I set the veggies aside to make a creamy broth. Broth was made with:

  • 1/4 cup I Can’t Believe It’s Not butter (less calories)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (low salt)
  • 2 teaspoons teriyaki sauce
  • 3 handfuls cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2  to 1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 cups low-fat yogurt
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Add vegetable to the broth

If you want a thicker broth add an egg or two. If adding eggs, you run the risk of the mixture becoming more like a frittata. As a sidebar, this broth also makes a great filling for crepes.

Add the asparagus to the broth mixAdd the cooked asparagus (chopped) to the broth mixture and let sauce simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is cooking, prep a round ceramic quiche dish with the crescent roll dough. If you are lining the bottom of the pan with dough, as I did, you will want to bake in oven for about 8-10 minutes before adding the filling. Otherwise, it may not cook through and be slightly doughy.

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Start by separating the crescent roll triangles. Flatten each triangle with the palm of your hand and place in bottom of quiche pan. Pour a layer of the sauce mixture over top. Repeat another layer of flattened crescent rolls and sauce two more times. The final topping should be the sauce mixture.

IMG_3316I lined the outer edge of the quiche pan with the leftover crescent dough rolled into small ball. A few thin dough pieces were placed on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the dough turns a light crispy brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. I served in 8 x 4 inch Au Gratin bowls.

I placed a cookie sheet beneath the baking dish, to catch any overflow while cooking. I found it to be unnecessary.

IMG_3321Here are the veggies I included in this dish:

  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 12 asparagus stems, cooked and chopped
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli

 

You can also substitute chicken for the ham. If you are using ham, go light on the salt as ham is already quite salty. The dish was very tasty and even the wine-guy liked it. The next time I make this dish, I want to do individual pot pies (in aluminum tins).

Since this was a “fly by the seat of your pants” dish, I wasn’t paying much attention to the calories. The final tally is in the neighborhood of 326 calories per serving ( 8 servings).

 

Bow Tie Pasta Salad

I love cold pasta salads in the summer. Yesterday I had a hankering for one and sought out fresh ingredients that needed to be used up. I found a cucumber, tomato, and asparagus tips that were screaming “Use me”. Onion, broccoli  and bow tie pasta made up the remaining ingredients.

Cut up broccoli, asparagus tips, cucumber and onion.

INGREDIENT LIST:

  • Medium size cucumber chopped, peeled and seeds removed
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup asparagus tips
  • 3/4 cup chopped tomato
  • 1/3 cup hot wasabi peas
  • 1 cup bow tie pasta, cooked
  • 1/2 cup lite ranch dressing
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bow Tie PastaHow To

Add broccoli, onion, asparagus tips and cucumber to the water/vinegar mixture. Allow to sit for 15 minutes; then drain.

Add remaining ingredients to the veggie mix. Stir well. Season to taste.

 

Make approximately six cups. A one cup serving (shown below) is in the neighborhood of 177 calories. It’s generous. If using as a side dish, you could reduce to 1/2 cup per serving.

Once cup serving of Bow Tie Pasta Salad

 

Angry Bird Watermelon Fruit Bowl

This weekend my grandson, Carson, celebrated his birthday Angry Bird style. Besides having an Angry Bird cake and a six-foot, giant-size sling shot, there was the Angry Bird fruit bowl.

Plan on at least an hour to put all the pieces together. But, as you can see, it’s worth the time and effort. Many thanks to the wine guy for running with my idea while I filled 150 water balloons. Here is how the birds and pigs were assembled.

Angry Bird Watermelon Fruit BowlSlice a watermelon in half, and cube into bite size pieces. Cut 4 pieces of watermelon into long strips to form the base for Angry Bird tower.

Place the cubes back into one of the watermelon halves along with honeydew melon balls. The picture doesn’t show it, but we also mixed in strawberries and raspberries with the melon.

The birds were hand-carved with a paring knife, as were the snouts of the pigs. Shaved watermelon skin were secured to the snouts with toothpicks (the toothpicks formed the nostrils). Colored toothpicks = pig ears, carrot tips = bird nose, onions = red bird eyes & mouth/toothpicks are the pupils, toothpicks = green bird eyes and rosemary = bird eyebrows.

A rubber band attached to a V-shaped stick forms the slingshot. Hope you have as much fun with this fruit bowl as we did. It was a big hit at the party and the seeing the smile on our grandson’s face made it all worthwhile.

Roasted Pork Chops in Reduction Fig Sauce

A few weeks back, I ordered some dried figs from Nuts.com. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use them in a recipe and today was that day. Had the Wine Guy pick up some lean center cut pork chops so I could doll them up with my special fig sauce.

Prep and cook time is under 30 minutes and calories are low; just 250 calories for one chop w/sauce and a side of applesauce. I added a mixed green salad to the meal and was still under 275 calories. You will want to double the fig sauce because it is so yumi-licious. The want to lick your plate kind of yumminess.

Here’s the skinny on making the pork chops and fig sauce.

  • 4 boneless center cut pork chops (I only used 3 chops because I wanted extra fig sauce for the chops). You may want to double the fig sauce when cooking four chops as it goes down pretty easy
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (you really need oil and not non-stick spray as you will pan-sear the chops before roasting)

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup dried figs, finely chopped (about 3 figs)

How To

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a large oven proof skillet over med-high heat on stove top. Once pan is heated, add the olive oil and swish around to coat bottom of skillet.

Place pork chops in pan and sear for 2 minutes until nicely browned. Flip chops and cook other side for 2 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the pre-heated oven and roast for 8-10 minutes. Internal temp should be at 145 degrees when you remove from the oven.
Transfer chops from oven to a tented plate while preparing the fig sauce. Prepare sauce in same skillet used for cooking chops. Pour off excess fat, return skillet to stove top on high heat. This is a reduction sauce and the high heat is needed to reduce down the liquids.

Add broth and vinegar to skillet, stir with wooden spoon dislodging any brown pieces left in the bottom of the skillet. Reduce over heat to 1/2 cup. This will take about 5 minutes on high heat. Stir in figs, honey and thyme and cook sauce until reduced to 1/4 cup (now you understand why I suggest doubling the sauce). This should take 1-2 minutes. Add the butter to sauce and stir until completely melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

A Zinfandel or Shiraz wine would complement this dish well due to the sweet elements in the sauce.

Drizzle the fig sauce over the chops and serve. I served with applesauce, but there are plenty of other side dishes to consider. Roasted root vegetables are both easy and a healthy choice they include parsnips, carrots, rutabagas and turnips (root only). Wild rice, Brussels sprouts, fried apples, sweet potatoes or mac & cheese are other options.

5 Minute, 200 Calorie Lunch

It’s been one of those weeks and it’s not over yet. It’s only Wednesday. If there was bad news to be delivered, it arrived on my doorstep. A software crash at work, $700 plus to fix it, one day of lost business data, customer shipping errors, my assistant is off sick and so on and so on. So cooking has been about the last thing I want to do.

But, since eating is necessary to sustain my get-up and go, I had to get up and go to the kitchen to make meals. Today’s lunch took 5 minutes to prepare and another 5 minutes to shovel into my mouth. All 200 calories of it.

A lightly toasted thin bagel slathered with honey mustard, three slices of ultra thin sliced deli ham (Hillshire brand, 99% fat-free) and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese. I popped it in the microwave until the cheese melted, added mixed greens and I was good to go. Oh yah, let’s not forget the three large strawberries on the side.

For quick and easy, it was actually a pretty good sandwich that was filling and low in calories. Make this an open face sandwich and you will cut 65 calories. Add a tomato slice in place of the top layer of bread.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup and Chick Peas

I’ve had this recipe on my ‘to do’ list since last week but was missing the fire roasted tomatoes. The wine guy picked up a can of the tomaters so I’m back in the soup making business.

I would have preferred roasting the peppers on the grill. But, Michigan’s mid-thirties temp forced me to go with plan B. The oven. Roasting the peppers is easy. Removing the skin, pulp and seeds is the messy part. Thank you Wine Guy for doing that part for me.

Here’s what you need to make this kick-butt soup with just a hint of hot.

  • 2 Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth  (no sodium)
  • 1 can crushed fires roasted tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 or 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (I used the kind in a jar)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • Chopped green onions and roasted chickpeas (for garnish)

Roast peppers in oven at a 450 degree setting. Cook until charred black. When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skin, pulp and seeds. Do this over a bowl so you can reserve all the yummy juices for the soup stock.

Don’t get in a tizzy if a few stray seeds are left on the peppers. They add additional flavor to the soup.

Prep the onion, potatoes, and green onion and set aside. Add oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and yellow onion to a large soup pot. Cook onion over low heat until caramelized. (20 minutes, stirring often).

Add garlic, dried herbs, 1/2 teaspoon slat and pepper to the onion mixture. Stir until mixed, then add tomatoes, potatoes, vegetable stock and 1 medium size chipotle pepper. No need to dice the chipotle, it will be emulsified later. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Stirred peeled red peppers and juices into the soup stock and bring to a boil. Turn heat down until soap is simmering.

Remove soup from heat and blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Return pot to heat and simmer for 15 more minutes, until thicken. Taste test. If needed, add additional salt or pepper.

If you want to kick up the level of hotness a notch or two, add a few red pepper flakes. I tend to like a more medium level of spiciness, but if you’re game, go for the heartburn!

Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with green onion and roasted chickpeas. I used pre-roasted chick peas, but you can roast your own (see recipe).

Here’s the down and dirty about this soup’s calories. They’re low, like 88 calories per cup low, and packed with a powerful punch of vitamin C. This soup is also a good source of iron, dietary fiber and vitamin A, not to mention low in unsaturated fat and cholesterol.
Freeze in portions and thaw as needed. This recipe will serve up to 8 people