Monday, October 29, 2012

Healthier Home Made Taco Seasoning (No chemicals!)

I make a lot of Mexican food at my house.  One of the staples I am always buying at the grocery store is those little packets of taco seasoning for things like my Scrumptious Quesadillas and Tex Mex Chicken & Rice.  I am going to have to go back and amend those recipes to include today's easy home made fix, your own Taco Seasoning from the spices in your cupboard.

I saw the original recipe on Pinterest, and I made it and it was pretty good, but something was a little off.  I tasted a packet of store bought seasoning and right away I could tell that it was the salt.  Now, if you are watching your sodium, by all means, leave out the salt I put in here.  But if a little bit doesn't bother you, I think it does make a difference in the taste.

Here's what you need:

1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 tsp salt

This will make slightly more than a store bought packet.  A store bought packet has 4 Tbsp (6 servings of 2 tsp) and this recipe has 5 Tbsp (about 7 servings of 2 tsp).  It tastes very much like the store bought version, but if you compare the two you'll notice that this recipe does not make a toxic orange colored seasoning mix.  Nor does the home made version contain any Silica.  Do you know what silica is?  The seasoning packet says it's to prevent clumping, but if you look inside the box of a new pair of shoes or inside a new purse you'll find a little packet that says, "Do Not Eat".  That, my friends, is silica.  If we're not supposed to eat it, what the heck is it doing in taco seasoning?!?

The home made version also has 1/2 the sodium as the store bought kind.  Here is the nutritional information for about 2 tsp:  13.2 calories, 182mg sodium (which can be reduced to just 13.5mg if you eliminate the added salt), 2.5g carbs, .6g fiber and .5g protein.  A regular packet contains 420mg sodium per 2 tsp! 

It's so easy, and I'm sure you have most, if not all, the spices already.  I used an empty bottle of garlic powder, peeled off the label and printed a new label, which I taped on.  Also, I took a Sharpie and wrote the recipe for the mix on the back of the bottle so it will be easy easy easy to see it and mix up another batch.

Get Cookin'!
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rich, Thick, Creamy and Guilt-Free Chocolate Frosting

You might have read my post the other day when I finally came up with, imo, the best "diet" frosting out there.  You would never ever know it was low cal/low carb.  If you want to check it out, click here.

My mission today was to make a chocolate frosting that is just as good as its vanilla counterpart.  I think I came up with a good one.  Here's what you need:
Oops!  I forgot the Stevia...don't forget the Stevia!
1 small box instant sugar free chocolate pudding mix
1 C 1% milk
2 C lite whipped cream
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp Stevia

Mix together pudding mix, milk, cocoa powder and Stevia.  Whip until it's thick.  Mix in the whipped cream until well blended, smooth and creamy.  That's it!

The recipe will cover one 9x13 cake, and 1 serving is 3 Tablespoons.  For each serving there are:  35 calories, 5.3g carbs and 1.4g protein.  Pretty dang good compared to a store bought canister of Betty Crocker or Pillsbury frosting.  Cover and keep in the refrigerator.

My family really likes it a lot, and I hope yours will too!

Until next time,
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Perfect Thick and Rich Vanilla Frosting That's Low Cal But You'd Never Know It

Eureka!!!  I am so excited!  If you've been reading my blog you know that I have a thing for the diet soda cakes (here and here) and that I've been having a hard time finding a recipe anywhere that was a suitable replacement for plain vanilla frosting.  I have been unsuccessful.  Nothing has worked out very well.

What's the solution when you can't find a suitable recipe?  Make one yourself, of course!  So I created my own concoction that is thick enough, has a great vanilla flavor and is creamy and decadently delicious.  And, it's super easy peasy!  (You know I like that part!)  All you need is:
Oops!  Don't forget the vanilla!
1 small box instant sugar free vanilla pudding mix (see *note)
2 C lite whipped cream
1 C 1% milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

*Note:  I used Wal-Mart brand sugar free french vanilla instant pudding mix, and I really like the flavor it has.  I also made a batch using Jell-O brand sugar free fat free vanilla instant pudding mix, and it was a little less vibrant.  If you use a plain vanilla flavor you might consider adding a Tablespoon of Stevia to the mix to give it a little sweet spring in its step.

All you do is mix the milk, vanilla and pudding mix together until it gets thick.  Then whisk in the whipped cream until it is well blended and creamy.

This frosting is different from other pudding frostings I have found because the trick that I came up with is using less milk than the box calls for and adding a splash of vanilla.  When you make the pudding by the box directions, the frosting does not have the right consistency or texture.  I decided to make the pudding thicker by adding in less milk and then finding just the right amount of whipped cream to get the right balance between thickness, fluffiness, taste and texture.  And I did it!

On top of that, it makes an amazing fruit dip!!! (click on pic for a larger view)

The best part?  The nutritional stats!  This recipe will frost one 9x13 cake.  For a 3 Tablespoon serving there are only 32 calories!!!  Can you believe that?!  Compare that to just 2 Tablespoons of Betty Crocker Vanilla Frosting.  That has 140 calories---over 100 more calories than my recipe.  Isn't that amazing?  My frosting has just 5g carbs per 3 Tablespoon serving.   Betty Crocker has 23g carbs per serving of only 2 Tablespoons.  I think it's pretty obvious the benefits in nutrition my recipe has over store bought frosting.

As I've mentioned, I've experimented with quite a few frosting recipes and mixtures.  My oldest daughter, 17, is quite finicky.  She has not liked a single one of them, and has been preferring to have her cake naked rather than have any topping.  Well, she tasted this one and exclaimed, "Delicioso!" and gave me a big thumbs up.  Woohoo!  And, I served it to one of my husband's friends last night and he thought it was excellent too.  This one definitely passes muster for imitation vanilla frosting.  You've really got try this one!  (Cover and keep in the refrigerator.)

Happy Indulgence (but don't go overboard!)
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Home Made Ranch Dressing, Low Cal / Full Flavor

When I first started my "live-it" I ate a salad every day for lunch.  I always had Ken's Lite Creamy Caesar, and I thought it was really great at 45 calories per tablespoon.  But, you need way more than 1 tablespoon for a big salad.  So I had 3 tablespoons, and then the calories really started adding up.  I got away from eating salads because of it.  Now salads can come back into my days because I discovered and modified a recipe for ranch dressing with JUST 8 CALORIES per tablespoon!!!  Yes, that is correct.  8 Calories.

I originally saw a recipe on Pinterest, and I decided to try it.  The main ingredient for the base is Dannon 0% fat Oikos plain Greek yogurt.  I don't really know what caught my eye about this, because I really do not like the taste of Greek yogurt at all.  Made it anyways.  The end result was what I should have expected to begin with.  It had a VERY sharp, almost sour taste to it from the yogurt.  It was not very good.

So in my refrigerator was sitting a big jar of ranch dressing that I just knew was going to go to waste, and I thought what a waste of money.  That's one of the pitfalls of trying so many new things.  Sometimes you invest a lot of time and money into these recipes and they turn out to be kind of horrible.  It was really bothering me all night long, even as I tried to go to sleep.  Then it dawned on me.  In order to counter-act the flavor of the Greek yogurt, I needed to just find something to balance it out.  Finally, at about 1:30 this morning I couldn't stand it any longer, and I just had to get up and tweak that jar of ranch.  I added Lite Sour Cream to the mix, and guess what!  It worked!  Now I have a jar of ranch dressing that is just the right balance with a hint of tanginess, a lot of creaminess, full of flavor, and only 8 calories per tablespoon.  It's a cinch to whip up a batch, so you really should try it.  All you need is:

1 single serving size container of Dannon Oikos no fat Plain Greek Yogurt
3/4 C Lite Sour Cream
3/4 C 1% Milk
1 Packet Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix (NOT the buttermilk kind...the original kind)

Whisk everything together in a bowl, poor into a mason jar or other container with a lid and refrigerate.  You should let it chill for at least an hour to let the flavors really blend together.

It does need to stay refrigerated, too.  I got my Kerr self-sealing mason jar at the dollar store.  I don't know how much they are at the grocery store or Wal-Mart.  I'll have to check it out. 

It makes 2 1/2 Cups of dressing and the nutritional information for 1 tablespoon is:  8 calories, .6g fat, .4g saturated fat, 2.7mg cholesterol, 63.5mg sodium, 11.5mg potassium, 3.8g carbs and .75g protein.

Sara was still awake this morning when I changed the recipe (it's fall break and she thinks she needs to stay up all night).  She tasted it and immediately got some in a bowl, sliced up some cucumber and had a late night snack.  I've been looking forward to having my salad all night long.  Is 7:30 a.m. too early for some leafy greens with creamy ranch? lol

Enjoy your rabbit food!
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Skinnier Cream Cheese Frosting for a Diet Soda Carrot Cake (or whatever kind of cake you want)

I've been making the diet soda cakes quite a lot.  In case you missed that post, click here to see it.  I've done some experimenting since that post.  I've made chocolate cakes with diet Dr. Pepper and diet Cherry Coke.  imo, I don't think it matters what type of diet soda you use, because really I can't taste any difference.  But I've also experimented with the flavors of cake mix, too.  I made a cherry chip cake and yesterday I made a carrot cake.

But, they were always naked (except the first one that I linked you to with the lemony cream topping birthday cake).  I searched and searched for some better recipes for low calorie/low carb frostings, but I couldn't really find any.  I experimented with some chocolate recipes, and they were horrible!!!  Definitely not something I would share here.

Then the other day I got a Hungry Girl email that was all about frostings.  So, I decided to try one of them but instead of Splenda I used Stevia, and less of it.  Here's what you need:
3 Tbsp sugar free vanilla instant pudding
2 1/2 Tbsp Stevia
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C lite whipped cream
3/4 C fat free cream cheese, room temperature

It's pretty easy to whip some up, too.
1.  In a medium bowl combine pudding mix, Stevia, and vanilla with 3 Tbsp cold water and mix well until smooth and thick.

2.  Add in cream cheese and mix well, incorporating the vanilla in with the cream cheese until it is really combined.  It really does make a difference that the cream cheese is room temperature.  It blends much better and easier. 

3.  Add cool whip.  The original directions said to "stir until smooth", but when I just stirred and folded it, the cream cheese/pudding mixture stayed in clumps throughout the whipped cream.
(it's kind of hard to see, but click on it to enlarge it and you'll see what I'm talking about.)  So, I used my hand mixer on low speed with the whisk attachment on it instead of the beaters.  But I'm sure the beaters would work just as well.  Now, the whipped cream with be less fluffy from beating it together with the cream cheese, but I think the end product is much better this way rather than clumps of cream cheese and pudding.  It looked like curdled milk, and it just wasn't appetizing.  Here's what mine looked like after I used the mixer...
And here's what it looked like on top of a delicious piece of carrot cake...

The numbers on this cream cheese frosting are incredible!  This recipe is enough to frost one 9x13 cake, and I cut the cake into 12 servings.  So, for 1/12 there are only 28.3 calories and 3.5g carbs!  Fantastic!  The cake itself has 133 calories and 33g carbs per piece.  Not bad for an occasional dessert, treat or celebration!

The frosting is so much more subtle than store bought full fat and sugar cream cheese frostings you find on carrot cakes.  They are so heavy and overly sweet.  This recipe is lighter, creamier, and not as tooth-aching sweet as those.  It's mild, you can taste the cream cheese and it has just the right amount of sweetness between the Stevia and whipped cream.  And, imo, it tastes even better after it has been covered and refrigerated for a little while.

Hope you enjoy it!
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hearty Vegetarian Chili

My family loves chili, and we have it often.  It is relatively inexpensive, easy to make and very filling...all good things when planning my weekly dinner menu.  I got a little tired of the way I normally make chili.  Also, I have to make 2 pots, one big for the meat-eaters and one small for my vegetarian.  That gets kind of old, so I decided to make it with a few twists and tweaks to update it and bring it more to life.

It's very easy.  Here's what you need:

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15.25oz can black beans
1 16 oz can kidney beans
1 15.5 oz can navy beans (or white beans)
1 15.25 oz can of corn
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (or 1 small can diced jalapenos, hot; you might start off with 1/2 can and then add more to taste)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 packet chili seasoning, hot or mild to taste
1 1/2 C water
a little salt and pepper to taste

It seems like a long list, but it's half canned stuff, and the rest is very basic that you probably have on hand.  I don't know if the tomato paste changed the flavor that much or not.  You can make that optional.  I haven't worked with tomato paste enough to know how much to use and when.  I just thought it might give the diced tomatoes more of a prominent flavor in the mix.

1.  Heat the oil in a pot over medium high heat.
2.  Cook the onions until they are starting to get golden.
3.  Add in the jalapenos and cook just a little more.
4.  Add in the tomato paste and diced tomatoes.
5.  Add in the garlic powder, ground red pepper and chili seasoning.  Mix well.
6.  Add 1 1/2 C water.  Stir it up.
7.  Add in all the beans and corn.  Mix well.
8.  Cover and heat over medium heat until heated through.  If there is too much water for your liking, just take off the lid and cook it for a while, letting it evaporate.  Conversely, add more if you need it.

I served mine topped with shredded cheese and a little dollop of sour cream, and there was cornbread, too.  Those toppings and bread add a lot of calories and carbs quickly, so be careful on your portions.  It was so amazingly delicious.  It wasn't so far out there that it was weird, but it was enough of a change that it was a needed and welcomed change for the better.  I like this one way more than my old chili.  And, I only had to use one pot because it's already vegetarian.  I didn't miss the beef one little bit.  The beans and corn were so satisfying.  The jalapeno and ground red pepper gave it a little kick.  As for the onion and garlic...who doesn't like that combo??? 

My kids and husband loved it.  My husband said, "Now, you can make this again!"

There are about 10 servings of 1 cup, maybe a smidge more or less depending on the amount of water you use.  The nutritional values are really good for this too.  I thought the carb count would be a lot higher because of all the beans, but it was much better than I thought.  There are:  163 calories, 2.3g fat, 578.8mg sodium, 470mg potassium, 28g carbs, 8.9g fiber, 8.9g protein. (4 Points Plus)

I hope you enjoy this easy vegetarian chili recipe.  I think you'll like it!

Merry Eating!
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

3 Minute Prep Time Berry Medley Cobbler (recipe, pics)

It's been a few days since I posted anything new.  I've tried a few things, but they didn't quite work out.  Today's recipe was outstanding, though.  This will be a great treat for a holiday dinner dessert with family and friends, especially if served warm on a cold winter day.

I saw this recipe on Pinterest.  You can find me on Pinterest here and it was on my "Recipes That Sound Really Good" board.  This is as easy as the diet soda cake.  It basically is, but with a few minor tweaks.  Here's what you need:
Any clear diet soda will be good, like 7 up, Sprite or Sierra Mist.  Also, don't use this brand of cake.  It has a ton more calories and carbs than a Betty Crocker or Pillsbury white cake.

24 oz mixed frozen berries.  Try to get berries that are "no sugar added".
12 oz clear diet soda
1 white cake mix

Spread the berries in the bottom of a 9x13 cake pan.
Spread the cake mix over the top of the berries.  Try to break up the big lumps.  Then, pour the diet soda evenly over the cake mix, trying to cover all of the mix.
If there are big dry spots, you might want to gently stir the top around just a smidge to moisten it up a little.  I noticed when mine was cooking that there were some larger patches of plain cake mix that was still powdery.  When mine was almost done cooking I stirred (gently) the dry spots in with the berries a little better and then let it cook a little longer.

Cook at 350F for about 45 minutes.  The berries will be bubbly and the cake should be golden.  Here's what mine looked like, served up warm.
I figured the calories and everything for 1/12 of the cake as a serving.  The calories are depending on the brand of cake mix...I did not use the number for the brand shown.  I used the numbers from a Betty Crocker mix.  There are 163.3 calories, 1.25g fat, .8g saturated fat, 258.3mg sodium, 16.7mg potassium, 37.9g carbs, 3.4g fiber, .8g protein. (4 Points Plus)

This definitely passed the family taste test.  They all loved it warm.  Go ahead and try this one.  It's super easy, but if you don't tell your guests they'll think you spent a long time on it.  It's ok with me if people think I'm Captain Wonder-chef! lol

Eat Well,
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mouth-Watering Crock Pot Beef & Barley Stew

I'm going to tell you right from the get-go.  This was an INCREDIBLE dinner!!!  It was so melt-in-your-mouth good I can't even wait to have some leftovers.  I don't make beef very often.  First, I never seem to cook it right and it ends up being tough.  Second, it's very expensive.  Since I cooked it in the crock pot, though, it was pretty fool-proof.  As for the cost, yes, a beef roast is pretty pricey.  But if you wait for your grocery store to have a sale on them you can get really good deals.  This roast cost $19.53 (yikes!!!) BUT it was a "buy one get one free" sale.  So, for two 3+ lb boneless beef roasts it cost me $9.77 and THAT is a GREAT deal.  Keep your eye on the weekly grocery store sale papers!

I originally found this recipe on dLife, but I made changes to it, as usual.  Here's what you need:

3 lb boneless sirloin tip roast
32 oz low sodium, low fat beef broth
14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes (not drained)
1 lb sliced carrots
2 medium onions, cut into wedges
1 C pearled barley
1 bay leaf
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
A little salt, maybe 1/2 tsp

As for the barley, I found mine in the bulk bins at Sprouts (farmer's market) and it was very inexpensive.  Here's what it looks like raw. 

I cut my roast into 3 pieces.  Then I just added everything to the crock pot, and I put the bay leaf on top so it would be easy to find and take out before serving...remember, you can't eat bay leaves.  The directions for the original recipe said to cook on low heat for 9 or 10 hours or on high heat for 4 1/2-5 1/2 hours.  I put mine on the low heat setting and it was fall apart tender in just 7 hours.  I guess maybe different crock pots cook differently.
This is what it looks like when you first put it in the pot.

When it was done cooking I took out the 3 pieces of beef, put it on a cutting board and shredded it up.  Then I put it back in the crock pot and stirred it all up.  I tell you, I couldn't even cut the meat; it was too soft.  It literally just feel apart under my fork.  Scrumptious!!!  I served it with a slice of sour dough bread, but you can omit that to save calories and carbs.

My whole family just completely loved this.  Sami, my vegetarian, missed out though.  I have some left overs, and I can't wait to dig it into it.  And, if you remember, I got 2 roasts for the price of 1, so I still have another roast in the freezer that I can make this again with.  This is going to be soooo good on a cold winter day.  So thick, hearty and filling.  It's stick-to-your-ribs good.  And I'm not exaggerating. 

This pot will serve about 12 with 1 C servings.  286 calories, 8g fat, 2.8g saturated fat, 66mg cholesterol, 314.6mg sodium, 297.5mg potassium, 22.5g carbs, 4.5g fiber, 30g protein. (7 Points Plus) This is really great on calories, carbs and protein.

This dish will be a crowd-pleaser, for sure.  Again, watch the sales in your grocer's meat department, and when you find a good deal on a boneless beef roast, pick one (or two) up.

Hearty Eating!
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Monday, October 1, 2012

Nutty Quinoa (Recipe, pics)

Originally I found this recipe on dLife, but it was made with brown rice.  It was very good that way, and I'm sure I will make it again that way, but I decided to try it this time with quinoa instead.  Quinoa is awesome.  It's got a very plain flavor by itself, in my opinion, and it takes on the flavors of the things you cook it with.  For example, use chicken broth instead of water for a more flavorful dish.  You can use sweet ingredients, like apples and cinnamon, for a breakfast quinoa, too.  And it's very healthy.  It's got slightly more fat than brown rice, but it edges out brown rice in terms of fiber and protein.  Quinoa, a seed rather than a grain, has all essential amino acids in it for complete protein, whereas brown rice does not.  Both are good to have in your diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan, quinoa is a good source to get complete proteins.

It's very easy to prepare.  Use 1 part quinoa to 1.5 parts liquid.  Put them both in a cold pot, bring to a boil and cover.  Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 more minutes.  Super easy--nothing to it.  Quinoa will expand about 3 times during the cooking process.  This recipe uses 1 1/2 C quinoa and makes about 8 servings of 1/2 C each.  Also, I highly recommend buying your quinoa from the bulk bins at your local healthy food store like Sprouts.  It is a fraction of the cost of the prepackaged stuff.

Here's what you need:
Oops.  I didn't put the chicken broth, oil and red pepper flakes in the photo.  Where was my head at? :)
1 1/2 C quinoa
2 1/4 C chicken broth
2 C rough chopped broccoli slaw
4 Tbsp slivered almonds
1 tsp red pepper flakes (omit if you don't like a kick)
3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
2 Tbsp olive or canola oil
1 Tbsp dried parsley

1.  In a pot heat oil over medium high.  Add in broccoli slaw and cook 2 minutes.
2.  Add almonds, sunflower seeds and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes.  Put into a bowl and set aside.

3.  Put quinoa and broth in the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil.
4.  Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, covered.
5.  Take off lid, add back in the broccoli and nuts, stir, cover it back up and let sit (off the heat) for another 5 minutes.
6.  Stir in parsley flakes.
7.  Serve.

btw, you can always click on the photos for a larger view, too.

This is a very filling little side dish that is packed with nuttiness and great flavors.  I like the red pepper flakes, but my daughter thinks it's too spicy.  It's got great crunch to it.  I served it tonight with Chicken a la King over toast and it made a very healthy, protein rich dinner.

The nutritional info for a 1/2 C serving is:  207.7 calories, 7.9g fat, 1.4g saturated fat, 2.1g polyunsaturated fat, 1.5g monounsaturated fat, 183mg sodium, 235.9mg potassium, 24.9g carbs, 2.8g fiber, 7g protein.(5 Points Plus)

Healthfully yours,
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