Veggies, Red Sauce, & Elbows

Stelly and I were left to ourselves last night, which has been rare now-a-days.  What to make for dinner?  I was looking for something quick (obviously) and healthy and the first thing that caught my eye in the fridge was our giant clamshell of Yellow Grape Tomatoes.  Here’s what Stel and I came up with!

Veggies, Red Sauce,  Elbows

Recipe by:  It’s Good to be the Cook
Ingredients:
1 cup Smart Taste Elbows, uncooked (or any other pasta but I like this the best!)
1 1/2 – 2 cups Tomato Sauce (I used Prego Heart Smart)
Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
1 Zucchini
1 Green Bell Pepper
Yellow Grape Tomatoes
Italian Seasoning Mix, Sea Salt, Pepper, Fresh Parsley, Cayenne Pepper
Shredded Parmesan-Reggiano
Directions:
1.  Cut veggies.  Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Dump the garlic, and veggies into the oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Saute for 10 minutes or so or until the veggies are cooked to your liking.  I like mine on the softer side, so I cook them until they start to brown just a little bit.  You can lower the heat to medium.
2.  Meanwhile, boil a pot of water and cook the pasta.  Add a few drops of olive oil and a shake of sea salt to flavor the pasta and make sure it doesn’t stick to the pot!  Cook for about 6 minutes.  Drain.
3.  Once your veggies are cooked, add the tomato sauce, chopped fresh parsley, italian seasoning, and cayenne pepper (for some heat… optional!)  Add the pasta.  Stir to combine.  Add cheese to each individual serving.  Enjoy!

So pretty. Veggies are cut and ready to be sauteed!

I originally thought this would make enough for me to eat for dinner and lunch the next day, which is why I measured the pasta, exactly two servings.  With the added volume from the veggies, it ended up coming out to be a whole FOUR servings.  This means that what I’m eating is 1. cheaper and 2. less calories!  Although I saved on those two important factors, the flavor was still great.  I didn’t share with Stelly, but I do have to share a few new pics of her and our other dog (Sushi) with YOU!

Stella is recently obsessed with waterbottles. She can take the cap off and drink water out of them. No lie. Video will have to come soon.

Sushi and Stella, patiently waiting for me to stop blogging!!

Chicken Parm & Oven Fries

One of Dave and my closest friends, Adam, is a VERY picky eater.  I didn’t realize how nervous I was to make him dinner until after I promised I would do so.  What if he doesn’t like what I make?  What if what I make is too complicated, or I use a spice he doesn’t like?  Ahh!  I figured it was best to start with something I KNEW was his favorite meal:  Chicken Parm.  I obviously had no idea what I was getting myself into here, on a Thursday night after work and pilates class.

Making Chicken Parm from scratch is very time consuming.  Of course you can take shortcuts, buying jarred sauce, or even pre-made chicken cutlets.  For the occasion of having Adam over, I was not taking any shortcuts!  Thank god my Mom came home just as I finished cutting up a few potatoes and a sweet potato to make Oven Fries as a side.  This is definitely not a meal I’d like to take on alone.

The fries are all cut and tossed in oil, salt, and pepper. That's it!

At this point, the chicken has been pounded, dredged, breaded, and is now browning in the pan with canola oil.

The chicken is in a baking dish topped with tomato sauce, and three cheeses!

The finished product: Sweet and Regular Potato Oven Fries! They were well done on the outside and soft on the inside.

The finished product: Fresh Home-made Chicken Parm

The meal was not only a huge success with the normal It’s Good To Be The Cook Family, but Adam loved it too!  We even got to relax and eat in our newly renovated dining room for the first time in almost a year.  The Chicken Parm was served with my Oven Fries, Broccoli, and a FRESH baguette with olive oil to dip.  Everything was a huge success and worth all of our hard work in the kitchen!

Chicken Parmesan (inspired by Neely’s Cheesy Chicken Parmesan)

Ingredients (chicken):

6 boneless Chicken Breasts

1 ¾ cups Flour

¾ cup Seasoned Breadcrumbs

¾ cup Cornflake Breadcrumbs

Egg Beaters (you can use 3 eggs worth… or real eggs!)

Salt & Pepper

Vegetable Oil

Shredded Romano Cheese

Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

Grated Parmesan Cheese

Ingredients (tomato sauce):

1 Onion, chopped

1 teaspoon Minced Garlic

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

2 cans Crushed Tomatoes

Seasonings:  Red Pepper Flakes, Italian Seasoning Blend, Black Pepper, Basil

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Trim the chicken of any fat.  Slice the chicken to make it thinner and smaller cutlets.  Pound the chicken to make it thin and uniform thickness.  This will help it cook faster and evenly.  Season the chicken with a little bit of salt & pepper.

2.  This is a good opportunity to start the tomato sauce, if you are making your own.  Cut the onion and throw it in a small saucepan with garlic and some olive oil over medium-high heat.  You can let this cook for a little while you complete the other steps for the chicken.  Then, add the rest of the sauce ingredients and cover, cooking over medium heat until you’re ready to use it.

3.  Set the flour, egg beaters, and mixed breadcrumbs on separate paper plates.  Dredge the chicken first in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat completely.

4.  Heat just enough canola or vegetable oil to coat a frying pan (plus a tiny bit more).  Place (I fit four at a time) the chicken in the frying pan and heat for about 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.  Do not overcrowd the pan.

5.  Prepare a baking dish, coat with cooking spray.  Place the cooked chicken (it’s okay if it’s not fully cooked, it will finish in the oven) on the baking dish.  Coat the chicken with tomato sauce.  Then, top with slices of fresh mozzarella, a sprinkle of shredded Romano, and a shake or two of grated Parmesan cheese.

6.  Stick in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or longer, depending on thickness of chicken and amount of cheese used.  Once it looks like it’s almost done, turn the oven on broil, leave the door a crack open and monitor.  Once the cheese starts to brown, remove and serve.

Sweet & Regular Potato Oven Fries

Ingredients:

2IdahoBaking Potatoes

1 Sweet Potato

1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Sea Salt, Ground Black Pepper

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Do NOT wash the potatoes.  The more they come in contact with water, the less the oil will stick and make it crispy.  Slice the potato into1 inchthick slices or desired thickness.

3.  Place cut potatoes in a large bowl.  Toss with olive oil (start with 1 Tablespoon, add more if necessary), salt, and pepper.

4.  Place in a baking dish prepared with cooking spray.  Bake in the oven for 45 minutes – an hour or until they are browning and very soft when stabbed with a fork.

Creamy Tomato Balsamic Soup

Soup.  That’s all I could think of when I realized I’d be spending a chilly & windy Saturday night at home alone with my dogs.  With so many recipes, it was hard to pick, but this “5-Star” rated Cooking Light recipe from 2005 caught my eye and I’m so glad it did!

 

Creamy Tomato Balsamic Soup adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients:

1 cup Chicken Broth, divided (I use Better Than Bouillon)

1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar

3 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Low-Sodium Soy Sauce

1 cup Onion, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons Minced Garlic

2 (28 oz) cans Whole Tomatoes, drained

¾ cup Half-and-Half

Garnish: Cracked Black Pepper & Balsamic Vinegar

 

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 500.

2.  Combine ½ cup broth, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in a small bowl.

3.  Place onion, garlic, and tomatoes in a 13×9 inch baking pan coated with cooking spray.

4.  Pour broth mixture over the tomato mixture and bake at 500 for 50 minutes.

5.  Place the entire tomato mixture in a blender or food processor.  Add remaining ½ cup broth and half-and-half.  *Process until smooth.  Garnish with a few drops of balsamic and black pepper if desired.

*Make sure you leave the center lid off of the processor to allow steam to escape.  You may want to put a paper towel lightly on the top instead to avoid splattering.

 

a shot of the tomatoes and onions ready to be bathed by the balsamic sauce...

Nothin' beats a bowl of soup on a cold night!

This soup was fantastic!  I finished a bowl already while writing my post about it.  Whoops.  I do have to mention that the second I put the last half of the broth into my food processor, the entire thing overflowed all over the place.  No one’s perfect, right?

 

 

 

Ratatouille

I guess it was my recent trip to Disney that inspired me this week to make Ratatouille.  Apparently it’s not just Disney movie about an adorable mouse-chef… it’s a yummy and very healthy dish!

I based my recipe off of this “One Pan Ratatouille” Recipe from Sunset magazine.  The recipe is very simple and really quick.  The longest time you’ll spend on this is cutting up all of the veggies, so if you have anyone hangin’ around waiting for dinner… get them to help stir while you cut!

Ratatouille

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil (separated)

1 Onion

1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic

2 (14.5 oz) cans Diced Tomatoes, no salt added

1 Baby Eggplant

½ teaspoon Salt

¼ teaspoon Fresh Ground Pepper

1 lb Red Bell Peppers (or other colors if they are on sale!)

1  Zucchini

1 Yellow Squash

¾ cup Fresh Basil Leaves

Directions:

  1. Dice onion.  Heat 1.5 Tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a giant frying pan or a 5-6 qt pan.  Add onion and garlic and stir often for about 5 minutes until the onion softens up a bit.
  2. Add both cans of diced tomatoes, with the liquid.  Dice the eggplant.  Add the eggplant, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and ½ cup Water.  Bring the mixture to a simmer.  Cover and reduce heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.  Test the eggplant after 10 minutes- it should be soft when stuck with a fork.
3.      Meanwhile, dice the bell peppers, zucchini, and squash.  After the eggplant is soft, add the last 3 veggies and return to a simmer.  Cover and cook until the squash is now soft when pierced with a fork.  This took me about 15 minutes.
4.      Chop the fresh basil and add into the mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste and the remaining 1 ½ Tablespoons of olive oil.

Ratatouille

This dish was so colorful and pretty!  I served ours over whole wheat elbow shaped pasta and added just a touch of red pepper flakes for some spice (duh!!).  I usually don’t make dinners without any type of meat but the Ratatouille was hearty and filling enough to exclude it.

Onion-Tomato-Spinach Scramble & Challenge Update

Good morning!  There are TEN days left of January, and that means TEN days left of my Healthy Lifestyle challenge!  Has anyone been following any of my suggested rules?  If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here for some great suggestions on losing some weight and becoming a healthier person!

 

Here’s an update on how the boyfriend and I are doing:

 

Dave has joined Planet Fitness with me and has been going almost every day since!  Both of us have given up CHEESE for our Rule #2:  Drop one guilty pleasure food.  This has been pretty difficult only for the fact that cheese is on everything!  Remembering to ask for things without cheese when I’m out isn’t easy, but the willpower is there and I haven’t had an ounce of cheese since December!

 

Even harder than quitting cheese, is keeping both of us to my Rule #7:  (make your own!) which for us is absolutely no take-out Chinese food.  We both love Chinese so in order to curb our cravings for the salty stuff, we’ve made our own Asian dishes along the way.  It’s much easier to cook healthier Asian style food at home, when you pick and choose the ingredients and cooking methods.  Steering clear of the breaded & fried items and high sodium, high sugar sauces is totally doable at home.  Also, pick up some low-sodium soy while you’re at it!

 

The most helpful part of my new diet is Rule #1:  Track!  I have been tracking on MyPlate from Livestrong.  The website’s extensive database of foods and brands has grown a ton since the last time I had used it two years ago.  Their My Recipes tab allows you to create your own recipes, entering in the amounts and specific foods you cook, how many servings, etc… then calculating the nutrition info for it.

 

I still need to accomplish my Rule #5:  Try something new.  I am going to try a Yoga class before January is over.  I will do it!!!

 

Personally, with my goal to lose 10-12 pounds in 90 days, I am allowed a little over 1,300 calories a day.  Using the website and tracking my calorie intake as well as calories burned during exercise has kept me totally aware and on track this month.  I have already lost SIX pounds!!!  I couldn’t be happier, but I still have halfway to go.

 

One of the most important components of weight loss is exercise.  This morning was the second snow of the season in Philly and as hard as it was to wake up after looking outside… we did it!  Dave and I woke up at 7:25 and headed over to my gym to take a spin class.  Thanks to the weather, the 8:15 class only had FIVE people including us.  The instructor kicked our asses and we had such a great workout.  It was so nice to be done and back home before 10 am!

 

After a much needed shower, we were starving so I decided to make a healthy but totally satisfying breakfast for us.

 

I’m calling it a “scramble” because I totally did not get the omelet shape down this time.  Oops!!  It was delicious anyways, and perfect with a nice cup of hot coffee.

 

Another Trader Joe’s item that I just have to introduce you to is the Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee Bean grinder.  It’s like $1.99 and will last you forever!  They recommend topping your ice cream, cupcakes, coffee, etc. with a sprinkle of it… but I love it on my toast!  If you’re anything like me and need both salty and sweet, it’s a great little guilt-free touch.

 

This stuff is great!

Using cooking spray in the pan and butter spray on the toast, this hearty meal only cost me 164 calories.  Impressive, right?!

 

How are you doing on your challenge or your own resolutions?

 

Onion-Tomato-Spinach Scramble

½ Cup Egg Beaters, original

¼ Cup Onion, sliced & diced

¼ Cup Tomato, chopped

¾-1 Cup Spinach

2 Slices Light Whole Wheat Bread

Butter Spray

Cooking Spray

 

Directions:

Spray a frying pan with cooking spray and set to medium heat.  Sauté the chopped onions until translucent.  Add tomatoes.  Pour in ½ cup of Egg Beaters or normal scrambled eggs.  Toast the bread.  Cook the eggs until the bottom is fully cooked over the medium heat, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach to the  middle of the egg and fold one side over the rest, as best as you can.  Cook another 4 minutes or so until the eggs are done.  Serve with the toast and a sprinkle of the Trader Joe’s Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee Bean mixture if you have it.  Cinnamon works too!

 

You can use these veggies or try your own!

Blue Cheese Spinach Orzo

Dave and I have been watching a lot of Restaurant Impossible lately.  Robert Irvine is insane… but I think he’s the best!  What I want to know is… with the amount of time he spends renovating these restaurants- how on earth does the man stay in such amazing shape?!  He’s huge!  After watching an episode one night, I was inspired to try one of his dishes on the Food Network website.  His recipe for Blue Cheese & Spinach Orzo won out, and this would be the first time I ever tried making orzo!

Look at those guns!

Blue Cheese is one of my favorites.  Over the past 2 or 3 years, my dad has been addicted to blue cheese, Roquefort in particular.  We always have a nice big hunk in the fridge, and it’s become a staple in my dinner salad.  It just doesn’t taste right without it!  With blue cheese on the mind, this recipe seemed perfect to try out.  The recipe looked like it would make way too much so I made some modifications.

Blue Cheese & Spinach Orzo

Ingredients:

1 ½ tablespoons Butter

1 ½ tablespoons Flour

½ cup Skim Milk

4 Servings Orzo (go by serving size on box), cooked

½ Cup Reduced Fat Gorgonzola

1 tablespoon Roquefort Cheese

Pinch Pepper

Pinch Salt

1 bag Fresh Spinach

1 cup Grape Tomatoes, halved

The funny thing is, I started prepping the ingredients for this dish before realizing I had to make a roux!  This is another first for me in this recipe.  I was nervous but I followed his instructions (as carefully as if he was standing over my shoulder in my own episode of Restaurant Impossible) and it turned out great.

Directions:

Put the butter in a saucepan and heat on the stove (medium high).  Once the butter melts, turn the temperature down and add the flour.  Stir continuously to create the roux, which should be pale blonde in color.  Once you reach that point, reduce the heat even more (low) and add the milk, stirring into the roux.  Continue to stir until the roux has thickened.

Now, add your blue cheeses a little at a time, until it is well blended.  Season with the salt & pepper as you desire (light on the salt, because blue cheese is salty!) and remove from the heat.  Continue to stir.

Once the sauce is prepared, add your cooked orzo, your fresh spinach, and the chopped cherry tomatoes- I used orange grape tomatoes… they looked amazing in there!  Incorporate all the ingredients into the sauce.  Your orzo is now ready to serve!  Good ol’ Robert Irvine says this recipe should have a shelf life of 5 days, so double it up and have leftovers!

This recipe was so simple, even though I had to make my first roux.  I also loved the colors that the spinach and tomatoes added to the dish.  I hope that I can find those orange grape tomatoes at the market again- they were so yummy (see I told you I love them now)!

The finished product!

Happy Friday, everyone!