Healthier Mac n’ Cheese

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Another Sunday morning, and yet again our world has been dusted with fresh powdery snow. I always anticipate the first snow fall come December and love the way it sparkles on a chilly, cozy Christmas night. But once February hits, I am so over it. And here we are in March, the month that is supposed to bring some springtime weather, and we have been pummeled again with another snow storm. I’ve always loved Michigan for the four distinct seasons we get to experience, but this year it feels like we skipped over my beloved fall and catapulted right into this freezing cold eternal winter. And since the weather men are not predicting a big thaw anytime soon, I figured I would make the best of the cold by cooking up some warm comfort food. But rather than whip up a butter filled, heavy side dish, I went in search for a lighter alternative. And after some recipe perusing, a came up with this lightened up mac n’ cheese recipe. The dish is incredibly rich and creamy, but contains no butter or oil and is lightened up with the use of lowfat milk. It served as the perfect side dish to my BBQ pulled chicken, and though it looks and tastes decadent, it will not weigh you down.

Ingredients: Makes 4 servings

  • 1 1/2 cups cavatappi pasta (or noodle of your choice)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup 1% low fat milk
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta until cooked through, set aside
  2. In a large skillet, heat milk over medium high heat
  3. Stir flour into milk and stir continuously until mixture thickens
  4. Stir in cheddar cheese until mixture is smooth and creamy
  5. Stir in spices
  6. Add pasta to cheese mixture and toss until well combined

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Hasselback Potatoes

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At the end of December my mom’s very best friends threw me a beautiful bridal shower. My “aunts”, as I call them, put so much thought and detail into the special day. From the green and white “Michigan State” color scheme to the perfectly festive Christmas centerpieces, everything about it was perfect. They even gave every guest a jar filled with cookie ingredients with an attached recipe.

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Our festive table

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My beautiful bridesmaids and best friends

But one of my favorite details had to be the Recipe Box that they gave me, filled with recipes from all the guests who were able to attend. It was such a sweet and thoughtful gift and will serve as a wonderful memory of such a great day. So now, well after the holiday season has calmed down, I am finally getting around to sampling the recipes that were carefully stuffed into my recipe box. The first recipe I tried was a recipe for Hasselback Potatoes from my Aunt Renee. You slice russet potatoes and sprinkle with herbs and cheese for a delicious and decadent side dish. Make sure you fan the slices out well, or the potato will not bake through all the way. I served these potatoes with a simple pork loin and it was an incredibly delicious dinner.

Ingredients: Makes 4 servings

  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs ( I used a combination of chopped thyme & sage)
  • 4 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preparation:

  1. Scrub and rinse potatoes
  2. Cut potatoes into thin slices but not all the way through
  3. Put potatoes in a baking dish, fan them slightly
  4. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with melted butter. sprinkle with dried herbs
  5. Bake potatoes at 425 for 50 minutes
  6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheeses
  7. Bake potatoes for another 10-15 minutes until lightly browned, cheeses are melted and potatoes are soft inside

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Healthy Chicken Pot Pie

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Anyone living in the Midwest or Northeast is probably well aware of the crazy winter weather we’ve been experiencing. The weather men have even banded together to name this winter storm Hercules.  And seeing as we received a little over a foot of snow in 24 hours, I think that name fits this storm just right. And these chilly winter temps typically makes us all want to stay inside, warm and cozy, wrapped in a blanket or two. Or maybe that’s just me. Yesterday, while I was watching all of those big white snow flakes float gently to the ground, I had the urge to whip up some old fashioned comfort food. However, I’m not a fan of cooking up a meal that is heavy enough to weigh you down. So I went in search for a recipe that satisfied that craving for comfort food while still feeling a little light. And this recipe does the trick. It has all the flavor you expect from classic chicken pot pie but is much lighter and healthier than those pies you find in the frozen food aisle. And with a little help from Pillsbury Crescent rolls, you can enjoy a small taste of that delightful pot pie crust with almost zero work.

Ingredients: Makes 3 individual pot pies, Adapted slightly from MarthaStewart

  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon herbs de provence
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Crescent roll dough, 1 individual roll per pot pie

Preparation:

  1. To prepare chicken, place chicken breasts and chicken broth in a slow cooker and cook on high for 6 hours, or until chicken is cooked through and tender enough to shred. ( I cooked 6 chicken breasts, and used 2 whole chicken breasts for this recipe and saved the remaining chicken to use in recipes throughout the week.)
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat
  3. Add chopped carrots, onions, thyme and herbs de provence and cook until carrots are just tender (about 10 minutes)
  4. Add flour and stir until well incorporated
  5. Slowly stir in milk until mixture is thick and creamy
  6. Stir in peas, lemon juice and shredded chicken
  7. Once mixture is well combined, scoop 1 to 1 1/2 cups of mixture into greased ramekins (the amount of pot pie mixture you use per serving will vary based on how large your ramekins are)
  8. Place the dough from 1 crescent roll over the top of each pot pie
  9. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes, are until crescent roll mixture is lightly browned

Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

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In about a year I will be a married lady. Which means” my single girl” dinners of baked sweet potatoes or a bowl of cereal may be behind me. Because although I find a bowl of oatmeal or a veggie burger to be a perfectly acceptable meal, my husband-to-be might require a little more on his plate. And since I don’t really see myself cooking two separate dinners every night, I thought I should start trying out some recipes that will appeal to both of us. Healthy and light enough for my tastes, but filling enough for Eric. And this lasagna recipe is the perfect combination of the foods we both enjoy. It is chock full of the spinach I love, but it is filled and covered with just enough cheese to keep Eric happy. The recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine, and with 8 servings, it would be a great meal to make on a Sunday afternoon to result in a week full of delicious leftovers. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Recipe Adapted slightly from Cooking Light

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup lowfat milk
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 lasagna noodles
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 (12 oz) package of fresh spinach
  • 5 (4 oz) Sweet Turkey Sausage links
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 ounce shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 ounce fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Preparation:

  1. Combine flour and next four ingredients (milk through bay leaf) in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk. Cook 8 minutes until thick and bubbly, stirring consistently
  2. Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper.
  3. Spread milk mixture onto the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray
  4. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add in lasagna noodles, let boil until noodles are cooked through. Drain and set noodles aside
  5. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add two tablespoons water and fresh spinach; cook spinach for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts
  6. Remove sausage from casings and add to skillet with spinach
  7. Break sausages up with a spoon and let cook  for 5-10 minutes, or until cooked through
  8. Add garlic to skillet and let simmer for 2-3 minutes
  9. To assemble lasagna, place two noodles side by side in the baking dish
  10. Next spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese on top of each noodle
  11. Spread a third of the sausage mixture on top of ricotta layer and top with an additional lasagna noodle on each side
  12. Repeat layers twice
  13. Sprinkle top lasagna noodle with mozzarella and parmesan cheese and cover dish with tin foil
  14. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
  15. Remove baking dish from the oven and turn the oven to Broil mode on high
  16. Place lasagna back in the oven and broil for 2-3 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble and brown slightly
  17. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Bars

Some flavor combinations just scream “comfort.” Cheese and macaroni noodles. Turkey and stuffing. And then there is the delicious combination of oatmeal and raisins. Whether it is in your morning bowl of oatmeal or that classic childhood snack of an … Continue reading

Tomato Basil Soup with Caprese Grilled Cheese

Winter often signifies the time we all want nothing more than to cozy up inside and indulge in heavier, comforting meals. Yet a wintertime diet of comfort food, often doesn’t bode well for those new year’s resolutions and fitness pledges we made earlier this month. So why can’t we have both? Warm, homemade comfort foods that consist of fresh, healthy ingredients. Ingredients that won’t cause a jump in the number on the scale. One that we often rationalize as a mere side effect of those heavier sweaters that appear in our wardrobe in the colder months. Sweaters don’t weigh five pounds, friends. I think we can all admit that. But I have a solution. Why not use all that produce and fresh herbs that we adored in the summertime to create a meal that satisfies those winter cravings. And here we have it. The classic tomato soup dressed up with fresh basil and roasted red peppers. This soup is a perfect Sunday afternoon recipe that will last all week long, and only get better as the flavors settle in. And what better way to complement tomato soup than with its classic counterpart, the grilled cheese. Yet this grilled cheese is a bit fancier than its Kraft cheese relative. Taking inspiration from a caprese salad, this sandwich features fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and homemade pesto. It’s great for dipping in your homemade soup, but it’s also great on its own. So enjoy your snowy afternoon in with some comfort food …without the guilt.

Ingredients:

Tomato Soup:

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup onion, chopped finely
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup roasted red peppers
  • 1 14oz  can fire roasted chopped tomatoes
  • 2/3 cups fat free chicken broth
  • 1 14 oz can diced stewed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons 2% milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped finely
Pesto:
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 fresh parmesan
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5-6 tablespoons olive oil
Sandwiches: for 1 sandwich (can be duplicated for multiple servings)
  • 2 slices Whole Grain bread
  • 1-2 slices fresh mozzarella
  • 1 slice tomato
  • 3 tablespoons pesto
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter or margarine

Preparation:

For the Soup:

  1. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium low heat
  2. Add minced garlic and let cook for 1 minute
  3. Add chopped onion and let cook until onions are tender
  4. Add cherry tomatoes and let cook until tomatoes are soft, mash tomatoes with a potato masher or the back of a large wooden spoon
  5. Transfer tomato mixture into food processor and process until smooth, transfer mixture back into pot and simmer over medium low heat
  6. Place roasted red peppers & fire roasted tomatoes in food processor and process until smooth, but let a few chunks remain in order to add texture to the soup
  7. Pour red peppers & tomatoes into pot
  8. Stir in chicken broth and let mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  9. In the meantime, drain stewed tomatoes until no liquid remains, and add to pot
  10. Stir in milk and sprinkle in fresh basil; add salt & pepper to taste

For the pesto sandwiches:

  1. In a food processor, grind all pesto ingredients together until mixture resembles a thick paste; add more olive oil as needed
  2. Take two pieces of whole grain bread and spread inside with pesto
  3. Layer tomato and fresh mozzarella on bread and spread outside with vegan butter or margarine
  4. Grill sandwiches for 2-3 minutes on each side, until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown

Banana Cupcakes with Caramel & Cream Cheese Frosting

Comfort food means different things to different people. Upon hearing the words, some may dream up images of homemade chicken pot pie or mashed potatoes, while others may think about fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. To me, “comfort food” isn’t … Continue reading