Lemon Zucchini Pasta

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My sisters and I grew up with grandparents who had huge gardens!  They may not have been as big as my childhood memories make them seem,  but my sisters and I helped harvest more goodies than you can imagine. We learned to dig potatoes and peanuts, how to pick okra and how to shuck corn, and of course we learned how to snap beans.  I remember sitting outside in the summer and eating fresh watermelon (with salt, of course).  I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve developed such a nostalgia about growing anything that I can manage, and I love using those things in my kitchen.  The fresh zucchini and basil in this dish are so summery tasting!  I wish I could say that I grew the dill.  Our Mammaw often had dill growing in her back flower beds, and it smelled better than any flower.  Good food is a source of such good memories – and this is definitely good food! ~Tracy 

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

Zest from 1 lemon

½ c. finely chopped white or yellow onion

2 c. zucchini, quartered and thinly sliced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ tsp. salt

2 T. finely chopped capers

½ tsp. red pepper flakes

1 lb. spaghetti noodles

3 T. finely chopped fresh dill

3 T. finely chopped fresh basil

2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ c. fresh grated parmesan

½ c. crumbled feta cheese

1 c. reserved hot pasta water from spaghetti

Cook spaghetti in large pot, with salted water, according to package directions.

While spaghetti is cooking, heat olive oil in large, high-sided skillet. Saute onion and zucchini until zucchini begins to soften and onion begins to become translucent. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and capers, continuing to simmer on low for another minute or two.  

Add cooked and drained spaghetti to the pan with the zucchini. Add in lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, and basil.  Toss the entire mixture with the spaghetti to combine. Add in ½ c. of the reserved pasta water and stir (you can gradually add a little at a time before serving if pasta appears too dry). Remove from heat and allow to sit for two to three minutes to begin the cooling process.  Then toss in both the parmesan and feta cheese.

Serve immediately with grilled chicken or enjoy as a tasty meatless pasta dish.

This recipe makes 8 servings at 9 points per serving on all three WW plans. 

Sunday Picnic Chicken Salad

Many years ago, Barry worked at a certain chicken sandwich place — for three years in high school and all five years of college, in fact. When he started working there, he learned to make chicken salad from a VHS training video (nope, we are not spring chickens).

Many years later, he tried to make it from memory – he did not remember. 🙂 His creation was nothing like what they had – it was much better! While I tend to think of chicken salad as a summertime dish, my kids ask for it all year, and they don’t really have to twist my arm to get me to make it any time.

This is such an easy make & take recipe for a big gathering – or a small one. I am persnickety about my hot food being really hot, so when we picnic at the lake (which is one of our favorite family activities after work while we continue to social distance) this chicken salad is a frequent choice for us. I really love it served on a King’s Hawaiian Sweet Roll for a slider sized sandwich, but Barry prefers it on the King’s Hawaiian sandwich slices. Either way, it’s fantastic; I’m really glad he couldn’t remember the chicken joint’s recipe! ~Robin

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Trim any excess fat from the chicken, then cut into chunks to boil. Remove chicken from the water carefully once it’s cooked using tongs and place on a large cutting board (make sure it’s completely opaque in the center). Then finely chop the chicken and place in a large bowl. Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill before serving.

WW Info: This makes 8 generous 2/3 c. servings. On purple or blue, it’s 3 points. On green, it’s 4. Remember to calculate your choice of bread separately.

Taco Poblanos

After a long day with Zoom meetings sprinkled throughout for everybody (which is, I’ll go ahead ahead and tell you as a 100% biased mama, super cute for Kindergarten) the last thing I want to do is cook a complicated meal.  Is “Zoom fatigue” an official thing yet?  Just me?

Anyway, who doesn’t love all forms of tacos?  Whether you’re reducing carbs, going full Keto, or you’re like me and just love peppers, this really easy taco recipe is just what your taco repertoire needs. ~Robin

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A poblano is a really large, slightly sweet pepper, especially once it’s roasted so you’re not going to get a ton of heat, but they can still have a little heat once roasted.  It’s a good idea to use gloves when you’re handling them raw.  In this case, since the meat will be cooked and you’ll just be heating everything together, you’re going to roast the peppers first.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 4 poblano peppers
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (97% fat free)
  • 1 packet of your favorite taco seasoning
  • 1.5 avocados
  • 3 oz. low fat Colby Jack or Mexi-blend cheese (I prefer Colby Jack because its flavor is a little bolder)
  • Pam cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Wash and cut the peppers in half length-wise so you have two pretty equal halves.  Remove the stem from whichever side it ends up on.
  3. Place the halves open side down in an oven-safe skillet, spraying the top of the peppers with cooking spray well.
  4. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until the skin of the peppers begins to blister quite a bit.
  5. Remove skillet from the oven carefully and set aside.
  6. On medium heat in a separate skillet, cook your beef, seasoning with taco seasoning using instructions on the seasoning packet.
  7. Flip the peppers over in the oven-safe skillet so they’re open on top.  The spoon in about 1/8 of the beef into each pepper half.  They may flatten a little but they’ll still hold the contents.
  8. Wash, then cut your avocado in half, lengthwise.  Remove the pit.  Then cube in about ½” sized cubes.
  9. Sprinkle the avocado chunks across the tacos fairly evenly.
  10. Finally, sprinkle with your cheese evenly and return to the oven.
  11. You’re just going to roast these again until they’re heated through well and the cheese is nice and melted – around 8-10 minutes but keep an eye on them.
  12. Serve with your favorite salsa.

WW info:  Makes 8 poblano tacos – On Green, Blue, or Purple:  1 taco = 3 points; 2 = 7 points; 3 = 10 points.

 

Mexican Chicken Cornbread Bake

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I saw a meme the other day that compared cooking during this time of “social distancing” to an episode of Chopped.  That could not be more accurate.  When I schedule and pick up my grocery order, only half of what I ordered is actually in stock, so my pantry is a random assortment of ingredients.  I stand there and stare, trying to figure out what I can put together to make an actual meal.  If you are doing the same, I have a good, pantry-and-freezer-friendly Mexican dish for you.  I know you’re all missing Mexican food right now, so here ya go.  If you lucked out and got chips in your grocery order, that would be great with this too… a real Mexican feast!  ~Erin

Ingredients:

4 cups chopped boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 4 large breasts or 5 medium):  I sprinkle the breasts with 1 tsp. each of chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt, and garlic powder; then bake or grill until fully cooked, let the meat rest/cool a few minutes and then chop.  Store in the fridge if made in advance.

1 (10 oz.) can Old El Paso red enchilada sauce, mild

1 (10 oz.) can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chilies, mild

1 ½ c. yellow corn kernels

8 oz. (2 small cans) Hatch chopped green chiles

1 tsp. chili powder

½ tsp. ground cumin

1 (8.5 oz) package dry Jiffy corn muffin mix (or other cornbread mix – I prefer a sweet cornbread mix)

1 egg

½ c. reduced-fat Mexican shredded cheese, divided

½ c. unsweetened cashew or almond milk (skim milk will work too)

2 T. chopped pickled jalapenos

Chips and salsa, optional – for serving

 

Cook and chop seasoned chicken (see notes on first ingredient); set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Spray a deep casserole dish (slightly smaller than a 9X13) with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together:  enchilada sauce, Ro-Tel, corn, green chiles, 1 tsp. chili powder, and ½ tsp. cumin.  Add 4 cups chopped chicken and stir to coat.  Spread evenly into casserole dish.

In a small bowl, stir together:  dry cornbread mix, milk, egg, chopped jalapenos, and half of the cheese (about ¼ c.).  Pour mixture evenly over the chicken mixture.

Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

WW Info:  This recipe makes 8 servings.  Green plan – 9 points per serving; Blue plan – 6 points per serving; Purple plan – 6 points per serving

Chicken Club Pasta Salad

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Sometimes things “hit me” at random times.   Like in the shower or while driving.   This recipe was born one day while I was driving to work and dreaming of warmer weather.   I made a few notes on my phone (thanks to talk-to-text) and ended up with this great spin-off of a deli classic. It has a great balance of fresh and crunchy mixed with the creamy dressing and avocado.  This are finally starting to warm up a little here in my neck of the woods, and I think this Chicken Club Pasta Salad will be one of the first things you’ll want to make as Spring finally arrives.  ~Kathy

2 c. cellentani (cork screw shaped) pasta, uncooked (whole wheat for lower point option noted in WW info.)

2 c. cooked, diced chicken breast

5 slices center cut bacon, cooked

4 T dill pickles, chopped fine

2 T purple onion, chopped fine

1/3 c. cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

2 c. chopped napa cabbage

1 avocado, diced

½  c. plus 1 T  light miracle whip

1 T mustard

2 to 3 T 1% milk

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp garlic powder

Dash of each of the following:  onion powder; black pepper; and paprika

Cook pasta in salted water, according to package directions.   Drain, rinse and set aside to allow to cool.

Once the noodles are completely cooled, transfer them to a large mixing bowl.  Add chicken, bacon, pickles and onion.  Toss to mix.  Add tomatoes and napa cabbage.  Toss gently to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together miracle whip, mustard, milk and seasonings.  Add more milk if needed.  It should be a slightly thick mixture.  Pour over the pasta mixture and stir to coat.

Add avocado and gently mix to coat, trying not to smash the diced avocado.

Allow to chill for one hour.  Serve alone or with your favorite crackers or toasted bread.

WW Info.:  Makes about 6 cups.  Each serving is 11 Points on the WW Blue Plan, 11 on Purple Plan, and 12 on Green Plan.  For a far smaller point tally, on purple, using whole wheat pasta drops it to just 4 points!

Turkey Italian Sausage & Gnocchi in Brown Butter Cream Sauce

I first had gnocchi at a restaurant in Nashville named Adele’s.  Why had it taken me so long to try it?  I don’t know!  I love pasta and I love potatoes so what could be bad about potato-based pasta?!  I wish I could remember the name of the dish I ordered at Adele’s.  It was gnocchi with a sage browned butter and delicata squash and it was amazing.  Unfortunately, it’s a long trip from Oklahoma to Tennessee, so I figured I needed to create a gnocchi dish of my own at home.

I tried to make my recipe as healthy as possible without losing any of the rich, buttery flavor.  I think I pulled it off.  My family loves this dish.  My daughter likes to add crushed up croutons to the top, for some crunch, but I prefer it just like it is.  A hot bowl of steaming, soft pasta is the best kind of comfort food to me. ~Erin

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1.25 lbs. (5 links) Italian turkey sausage, casings removed

1 (17 oz.) package potato gnocchi

1 Tbsp. butter

1 c. Fat-free half & half

6 cups fresh baby spinach (chopped)

1-2 large clove garlic, minced

¼ c. water reserved from cooking the pasta

½ c. shredded parmesan

½ Tbsp. cornstarch

In a medium stock pot, bring water to a boil to prepare for cooking the gnocchi.

In a large deep-sided skillet, cook the turkey sausage, breaking it into crumbles, until brown; drain on a paper-towel lined plate.  Wipe out the oil left behind by the sausage.

Cook the gnocchi in salted water according to package directions (do not overcook).

Meanwhile, melt butter in the skillet and cook until it turns golden brown.

Add garlic and spinach.  Cook and stir until the spinach is wilted.

Add the cornstarch and stir.  Add the half & half, pasta water, and parmesan.  Simmer until thickened.

Transfer the cooked gnocchi to the skillet and return the Italian sausage to the pan.  Stir to coat.

Serve with extra shredded parmesan or crushed croutons.

WW Info:  12 points per cup on all plans (blue, green & purple).  Makes 6 cups.

Barry’s Secret Ingredient Chili

I have always thought chili was just fine…something great to throw on some Fritos or a hot dog.  I had no idea how much I could love it.  This one is in my top three favorite meals ever, period.  And to his credit, this is my husband’s recipe.  He has tweaked and played with this recipe, then tweaked it a little more over the years to get it juuuust right.  As you’ll see from the ingredients, it does not skimp in flavor.  I seriously don’t even put cheese in this chili (and I’m a cheese fanatic) because I don’t want to do anything to distract from its awesomeness.

And yes, I’m revealing the secret ingredient. You would never, ever know that this chili has oats from the flavor or texture, but it adds just enough of a thickening agent to make this even heartier, making it less like a soup and more like, well, chili!  It’s been a hit at chili cook-offs for years now, and I’m finally sharing it with you as we approach Superbowl Sunday.  Bonus — this can feed a crowd inexpensively, and your party (or you Tuesday – whenever) just won’t be the same without it!  ~Robin

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  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 7 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 T., plus one tsp. chili powder
  • 2 T. cumin
  • 1 T., plus 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 lg. can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans light red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained
  • ½ c. quick oats, uncooked
  • 16 oz. tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground Cayenne pepper (adjusting up or down depending on your spice preference)
  • 1 – 2 tsp. salt (Start with one tsp. and adjust to taste in ¼ tsp increments – it’s a lot of food so you may end up going to 2 tsp.)

In a large stock pot, cook ground beef, onions, and garlic on medium heat. Once beef is cooked and any fat drained, add all other ingredients and continue to cook on medium heat until heated thoroughly and has had a chance for the flavors to blend.  It just gets better and better leftover (I keep it in my fridge for up to three days).  It does freeze very well; I recommend freezing it in small, individual microwave-safe containers so you can grab a serving to take for lunch anytime over the next six months.

WW Info:  4 points/cup on green (9 pts for 2 cups), 1 point/cup on blue (2 points for 1.75, 3 points for 2 cups), and 1 point/cup on purple (2 points for 1.75, 3 points for 2 cups)

Super Simple Chicken Taco Soup

How many times in my life, after a very indulgent food weekend, have I said the words, “I’m going to have eat nothing but baked chicken and broccoli all next week!”?  I’m sure that those who know me roll their eyes as they laugh, because it’s no secret that I am not a fan of self-deprivation. This girl gotta eat!  In fact, I often find that when I try to deprive myself of food that makes me feel satisfied, I end up eating more in the long run.  Just about the only thing that helps me get myself back on track after a few days of eating “all the things” is doing some serious food-prep leg work.  

If you’ve been following around here for long, you know that I am a big fan of soups and stews.  I’m one of those people who can eat a bowl of soup or chili in the middle of an August afternoon.  Soups and stews are super easy to make and can easily fit into my food planning and pre-prepping rotations.  They are also great to help me feel full without going full-tilt down a crazy eating path. This Super Simple Chicken Taco Soup is one of my favorite make ahead meals.  It’s my go-to lunch this week and is saving me after a weekend of eating out.  ~ Tracy 

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Ingredients:

4 medium sized chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

1 can black beans, drained (15.5 oz.)

1 can pinto beans, drained (15.5 oz.)

1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)

1 can diced tomatoes and green chiles, such as Ro-Tel

1 c. frozen corn

½ c. finely chopped yellow onion

½ c. finely chopped red bell pepper

1 c. water

2 T. taco seasoning

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. chili powder

Add all ingredients together in a large stock pot or soup pan.  Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer on low heat for approximately 30 minutes.

Serve topped with your favorite shredded cheese or sour cream.

This soup makes approximately 7 cups and is zero points/cup on the WW Freestyle/Blue plan.

 

 

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

I’ve tried very hard to expose my kids to a wide variety of foods – even the ones that I don’t personally like. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve tried branching out with my own diet as well. I will admit that a part of this “branch out” journey has been due to the fact that I attempt to follow a fairly WW (formerly Weight Watchers) friendly diet these days.
WW allows you to eat as much as you want (within reason, of course) of certain fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. I’m always looking for ways to make those ‘leaner’ foods a larger part of my diet….because I am also all about a larger portion!  I’d tried some other recipes with winter squash but just wasn’t too thrilled with them. Winter squashes tend to have a slightly sweeter flavor, which isn’t usually what I’m looking for as a meal. So, when you can’t find what you want, you make it, right? Hence this Savory Butternut Squash Soup that is more on the spicy side and totally hits the spot.  ~Tracy
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Ingredients:
1 large butternut squash
½ T. chili powder
½ T. paprika
½ t. red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. garlic salt
½ c. finely chopped yellow or white onion
½ c. finely chopped red bell pepper
2 ½ c. fat free chicken broth
¼ c. parmesan cheese
feta cheese for topping, if desired
Preheat oven to 400.
Split the butternut squash lengthwise and place open side down on a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment or sprayed.
Roast the squash for 45 – 60 minutes until fork tender. Baking time will vary by oven and depends upon the size of the squash. Allow your squash to cool to room temperature.
Remove the seeds and stringy area and discard. Scoop out the squash and puree until smooth. If you have an immersion blender they work great for this step.  I use this one.
In a large sauce pan or soup pot, mix the pureed squash with all other ingredients except the feta cheese.
Saute on low for 30 min. Be careful to allow the soup mixture to boil as this could lead to scorching on the bottom.
Serve your soup topped with 2 T. crumbled feta cheese.
This soup makes approximately five 1-cup servings, but this may vary depending upon the size of your squash. The soup is one WW points per serving.
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Pizza Mini Meatloaves

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My husband (Erin’s) has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments for Hodgekin’s Lymphoma. He’s actually doing really well on the treatments so far and has only had minor side-effects, thank God! I pray it continues to go so smoothly. Since he was diagnosed, our family and friends have been amazing and have helped us in so many ways, including filling our freezer with meals. You wouldn’t think home-cooked meals would be that big a deal but, let me tell you, there are days when opening the freezer and choosing a meal to heat up the next day saves a lot of stress and energy. Especially on days he has chemo, it’s nice to be able to come home and heat up a good supper.

Do you ever send meals to family and friends who are ill or having surgery? If so, what do you usually make? I have several go-to recipes to use in these situations but one of my favorites is these Pizza Mini Meatloaves. For starters, they are a recipe everyone will like… what’s not to love about pizza?! They are also the perfect freezer meal because you can freeze them individually rather than in one big pan, like a casserole. The good thing about freezing them individually is that a person can choose to thaw and reheat them all or just a few at a time. Great for lunch for one person or for a family meal! When I make these at home, they rarely make it to the freezer though. My family gobbles them up! -Erin

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