Thursday, February 28, 2013

Italian Sausage Sandwiches with Peppers & Onions

Another great Italian comfort food, and by using turkey sausage and no added oil, you cut down on fat and calories.  This is so yummy!  A huge crowd pleaser, I even made it for my son's preschool potluck dinner this past fall.   This is one of my husband's favorite dinners, and since it's a close cousin to the hotdog, my kids are big fans too.  This is so simple and tastes just as yummy as those you get from a street vendor/food truck.  I made enough for leftovers.  If you get sick of sandwiches, toss it with some pasta and sauce for a quick lunch or dinner. 

Tonight, I served it on whole wheat hotdog buns from our grocer's bakery along side parmesan garlic roasted broccoli and caesar salad (I used Bolthouse farms Yogurt Caesar at only 45 calories for 2 T).  You can find the broccoli recipe here:

Happy Cooking,

Italian Sausage Sandwiches with Peppers & Onions
12 sweet or hot turkey Italian sausages, I used 6 sweet and 6 hot, (cooked them in separate dishes so I could tell them apart for the kids)
2 bell peppers (red bell peppers were on sale this week, but green are fine)
2 medium to large onions
salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Use a 9x13 inch pan for 12 sausages, or if your family is like mine and the kids don't do hot, use 2- 9x9 inch pans (6 sausages in each, split the peppers and onions between them).   You can also cook 6 of each in one pan, just note that the sausages will be mixed up and you won't be able to tell which is which without tasting them.  Works well if you like both, not so well if you are cooking for anyone that doesn't like hot.  Spray your cooking pan or pans with cooking spray or lightly grease with olive oi.

Using kitchen scissors, slice each sausage into 3 even pieces over the pan (sausage falls into your baking pan as you cut).  Slice your peppers and onions and sprinkle them evenly over the sausage.  Sprinkle with a little salt to taste.  That's it!  Quickest prep ever!  Now onto the baking...

This is what gives the dish such great flavor!  Even if you don't actually eat them on your sandwich, they flavor the sausage a great deal.  But who can eat a sausage sandwich without peppers and onions???
This is what one pepper and one onion looks like - enough for 6 sausages.  They cook down a ridiculous amount.

Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees, stirring every 20 minutes or so.  Crank the heat up to 400 degrees and cook for an additional 15-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Scoop with a slotted spoon onto whole wheat rolls and top with your favorite condiments.  I love plain old yellow mustard in massive quantities.  Enjoy!

The sweet sausage...already missing a few pieces that I took out to cool for the kids
The hot sausage for my hubby

Garlic Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan Cheese

We love broccoli!  Everyone in my house eats it, including the kiddos, so its on our menu probably 2 times a week.  Roasting is so yummy, and if you line your baking sheet with tin foil, its zero cleanup.  Bonus!  Please enjoy the latest in roasted broccoli recipes in the barker household.

Happy Cooking!

Garlic Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan Cheese
1 pkg of pre-cut broccoli florets (I usually find organic, but get what you can find.  Not pre-cut is fine too, but I prefer to save my self the prep time)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 T olive oil
salt to taste
1-2 T of grated parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and grease with cooking spray.  Place the broccoli evenly around the sheet, taking notice to spread it out so that it roasts and doesn't steam.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the sliced garlic on top and salt to taste.  Toss the broccoli and spread it out again.  Roast for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your broccoli.  The broccoli will begin to brown, but you don't want to burn it.  After it comes out of the oven, immediately sprinkle with 1-2 T of parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

A delicious change from your regular broccoli recipe!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Healthy brownies???

Low-fat, low-sugar whole wheat dark chocolate chip zucchini brownies - now that's a mouth full!  These are perfect for that chocolate craving you might have, a healthier version of a family favorite.   My toddler is asking for them for dessert and I would much rather he eat these...little does he know that he's eating fruit and vegetables while enjoying a chocolaty treat.  And my husband HATES zucchini, but he had NO IDEA that it was in his brownie.  Ha! 

I just invented this recipe as I went along, having referenced several different brownie recipes and trying not to steer too far from them.  I wanted a fudgier brownie, but I know that can only be achieved with much more oil or butter.  Applesauce makes it moist and is a good substitute for some of the sugar, but it just can't do the same thing as butter or oil when it comes to making it really fudgy.  So warning, if you want a fudgier but still healthier brownie, add more fat. 

Happy Baking!

Low-fat, low-sugar whole wheat dark chocolate chip zucchini brownies
1/3 cup olive oil  (for a fudgier, more dense brownie, increase oil to 1/2 cup or use 1/2 cup of butter)
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup finely shredded zucchini
1/3 cup dark chocolate mini chunks
The cast of characters plus the zucchini below.
Extra zucchini from my mother's garden that I had shredded and frozen for a day like today.
In a medium bowl, mix together the olive oil, applesauce, and sugar.  Add the eggs and mix until eggs are fully incorporated.  Then add the vanilla and the cocoa powder.  Stir to combine.  In a separate bowl, combine the other dry ingredients:  the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Fold the dry ingredients into the wet just until combined.  Be careful not to over mix.  Then fold in the dark chocolate chunks and the zucchini.
The batter all mixed together.

Pour brownie batter into 8x8 or 9x9 inch square pan, sprayed with cooking spray (I use Pam baking spray).  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes with an 8 inch pan, 25 for 9 inch pan.  Allow brownies to cool on wire rack before cutting, about 20 minutes.  Best when slightly warm with a cup of coffee.  Enjoy!!!
Before baking...
And after.  The house smelled delicious!!!
The finished product - so yummy!  A satisfying, healthier dessert.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Quick & Easy Shepard's Pie

This couldn't be easier.  So comforting on a cold winter's day, this lightened up version of a classic comfort food is simply delicious.  I wanted to find an easy recipe that could be made on a busy week night and I struck gold with this one!  It left everybody wanted more.

The entire family enjoyed it and at only about 310 calories per serving, you can't go wrong!  The original recipe calls for an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan, but I used my 7.5x11.5 (I usually call it my 8x10 inch pan, but I actually measured it today!) and the entire pan is 6 servings.   The full nutritional information of the original recipe can be found at the link provided below. 

I served this with a green salad with Bolthouse farms yogurt ranch dressing.  Definitely adding this to our regular meal rotation during the fall/winter times.  Enjoy!

Happy Cooking!
Quick & Easy Shepard's Pie
recipe based on

4 medium sized yukon potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

3 large whole cloves of garlic, peeled

1 lb.  extra-lean ground beef (90% or higher)

2 T flour
1 pkg frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, green beans, peas)

3/4 cup  fat-free reduced-sodium beef stock

2 T  ketchup

3/4 cup light sour cream

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the potatoes and garlic cloves in water in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Bring the water to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, brown the meat in a frying pan over medium heat.  Continue to cook until the meat is completely cooked through.
Do not drain - you need the little bit of fat to create a roux.  Add the flour and stir until it thickens.  Then add the beef stock and ketchup.  Continue to stir until well combined and a thickened gravy is formed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Then add the frozen vegetables and cook 5-10 minutes until warmed through. 

Once the potatoes are tender, drain and return them to the pan with the cooked garlic, sour cream, and 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese.  Mash with a potato masher until desired consistency.  Season with salt to taste.

Pour the beef mixture evenly into a square (8x8 or 9x9) or small rectangular baking pan (7.5x11.5).  Carefully spoon the mashed potatoes on the top and spread over the beef mixture to create a mashed potato "crust".

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.  Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese and bake an additional 2-3 minutes until the cheese is melted.  Allow the pie to rest for 10 minutes before serving.  So simple and yummy!
Straight out of the oven, the gravy bubbling over the mashed potatoes
And what it looks like scooped onto a plate...lots of veggies with a delicious mashed potato topping and an irresistible savory beef gravy. 
What was left after we devoured it :)  Hubby went back for 2nds and 3rds!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Week 8 - Healthy Home Revolution

Almost done with our first two months of intentional eating and exercise!  Have you seen or felt any improvements in your overall health?  I know I have!  And the simple fact that my toddler is trying new things and eating more vegetables is encouraging me to continue.  I hope you will join me!  And I want to hear from you - recipes you've tried, workouts you are doing at home, and overall feedback on the blog.

Below you will find this week's meal plan, including links to any recipes I may be following.  Most of the meals this week will be my own original recipes.  And as always, I'll be posting these recipes and photos throughout the week.

I've also included a few workouts for you to try if you're in the mood to change things up a bit.  I'm always doing something different that way my muscles don't get used to the same thing.  Recently I've been alternating running outside (as long as there is no snow or ice on the sidewalks), stationary bike, kickboxing, Insanity, and other cardio, plyometric, and full-body weight exercises.   

Happy Cooking! (and fitness)

Working on our fitness
Please excuse the name in the link, but here is a great 30 minute workout with no equipment needed:

For your inner-thighs, a hard to reach muscle group:

And two workouts, one for your upper-body, and one 15 minute full-body workout:

Week 8: February 24, 2013

Sunday - lightened up shepard's pie, green salad

Monday- book club dinner at friend's house

Tuesday - husband is working late, but if I'm feeling ambitious, turkey, black bean, and spinach enchiladas.  Otherwise, leftovers :)

Wednesday- italian sausage sandwiches, broccoli, caesar salad (meal I planned on cooking Saturday, but instead made chicken tostadas using leftovers)

Thursday- crockpot pesto ranch chicken, mashed cheesy cauliflower & potatoes, garlic & shallot pan-roasted brussel sprouts

Friday - pizza and movie night

Saturday - date night

Easy & Light Chicken Tostadas

You have probably picked up by now that we LOVE Mexican food.  These past 7 weeks, I've been searching for lower fat and lighter versions of our favorite foods.  I also don't like to waste leftovers and always like to cook extra when it makes sense to use it for another meal.  This is another example of that.  I still had some leftover refried beans and green chilies from last week, along with extra chicken I cooked when I made the tortilla soup.  The corn tortillas were from a recipe I made a couple weeks ago, but they stay very fresh in the refrigerator.  And slowly, a quick 20 minute meal appears.  Baked, NOT FRIED, these come in at about 200-300 calories per tostada, depending on your toppings, (some go heavier on the cheese and sour cream, if you know what I mean).  Perfect for lunch on the weekend or a quick weeknight meal, you won't be disappointed by these delicious tostadas.  My family really enjoyed them and I hope you do too.

Happy Cooking!

Easy & Light Chicken Tostadas
4-6 corn tortillas (depending on how much chicken you want to pile on)
2 T olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked and shredded (made extra when I made tortilla soup)
1/2 cup of fat-free refried beans with green chilies
taco sauce, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, light sour cream, and avocado for topping

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  The chicken - mine was made a couple days ago in the soup, and put aside (didn't use all the chicken in the soup, just used the stock as a method to cook some very flavorful chicken). 

Line two baking sheets with foil, and use a basting brush to brush both sides of each tortilla with some olive oil.  Bake 7 min, flip, and bake 4-7 minutes more until golden brown and crispy. 

This method is great for making your own tortilla chips too - taste deep fried but very low fat.

Now start to assemble your tostada.  The beans act as a glue, so spread a thin layer of the beans first, being careful not to break the crispy tortilla.   Now sprinkle with cheese, chicken, taco sauce, and any other toppings you desire.  THAT'S IT!  So quick, easy, and SO YUMMY!    Serve with a salad or your favorite green vegetable.  I ate mine with some steamed broccoli.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Not Your Average Vegetable

Veggie sides - think outside of the box! Vegetables are so yummy - be creative with what to cook and how to cook them.  They don't have to be just side dishes, they can be the main dish as well.  I cannot think of a single vegetable I won't eat - love them all, and yes, some times they taste better prepared on way than another.  Ever have buffalo fried brussel sprouts with blue cheese dressing?  Amazing, but deep frying them and dipping them in mayonnaise and cheese (essentially) is not the healthiest preparation.  Every time I want my family (or myself) to try a new veggie, I do a recipe search.  I look at several recipes and find one that suits the tastes of our family.  I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new and different today.

First, let's talk about reasons to eat your veggies, as if you need a reason!  Here are a few great veggies and the health benefits of eating them.

Here's a more extensive list of vegetables along with their nutritional facts and health benefits:

And here's another great resource citing benefits, tips on including more in your diet, and even some great recipes to try:

Time Magazine recently released a special issue entitled "What to eat now: your guide to good, healthy food".  I've just started to read through it, and came across an article from Dr. Mehmet Oz about how we do our grocery shopping (totally worth the read) and what is worth spending our money on.  In respect to the topic of this post, he spoke about fresh versus frozen vegetables.  Essentially he stated that there is absolutely nothing wrong with frozen and in most cases, are nutritionally equal.  He mentioned to buy frozen vegetables that were steamed, not blanched, because some vitamins can be lost in the blanching process.  So save yourself some money, and time in some cases, and purchase frozen when it makes sense. 

In conclusion, there is no reason to serve the same old veggies every night.   Spice it up once in a while with experimenting in the kitchen.  Here are a few of these recipes and serving ideas to get you started!

Happy Cooking,

Roasted Autumn Vegetable Salad with lentils and arugula!  So yummy!  Perfect as a main dish or as a side with a roasted salmon.  My picture looks different then the link because I cubed my vegetables to make it easier to eat.  I also layered the arugula salad on the bottom, lentils on top of that, and finally the roasted veggie mixture.  Can't talk this recipe up enough!!!  Made with butternut squash, carrots, and brussel sprouts, seasonal in the fall and winter times.  Highly recommend!!!

The Next Photo is my own recipe, so you can't find it on the internet.  I made it over the summer, when tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini were in their peak season.  I can't even give you a recipe, because I don't remember the exact amounts of each ingredient.  A lot of times I just make it up as I go along, adding a little of this, and a little of that, until it tastes really good.  This was a very successful attempt at a gluten-free vegetable lasagna with homemade tomato basil sauce.  I layered grilled eggplant, zucchini, and portabella mushrooms with fresh mozzarella, garlicky herb ricotta mixture, and homemade tomato basil sauce.  So good!!!  Very filling, and perfect meal with a green salad on the side.  I promise to make this again and post the recipe when I do.  :)

Here's a link to over 10,000 vegetable recipes, including a photo gallery of some winter vegetable recipes from the Food Network.  If you've never used this site, you can search multiple ingredients to narrow your search.  You can even search according to chef or meal part (side dish, main dish, etc.).

And finally, a collection of winter vegetable recipes from Cooking Light:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is the perfect dish - protein, vegetables, low-calorie, low-fat, dump it and forget it.  Both kids loved it and the hubby requested the leftovers for lunch, (and he is NOT a leftover fan).  I found a similar recipe on Pinterest, but I really made it my own, adjusted it to my taste and added more vegetables to it.  You can make it as spicy as you want, but I wanted mine to have just a small kick so it was still very kid friendly.  You can serve this alone, with a side salad, or with a quesadilla or tostada for a Mexican fiesta.  So quick, easy, and yummy!  Enjoy!

Happy Cooking!

Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup
New recipe based on 
1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed (I actually cooked 1.5 lbs of chicken in the broth, but left some of it out after shredding.  I can always use extra shredded chicken for the kids or for my lunches.)
15oz can diced tomatoes, drained
3/4 cup onion, chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped (I had frozen peppers from my mother's garden I used up - they were yellow, but it doesn't make a difference)
1 chile in adobo, seeds removed, and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp chili powder
1  tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups of Mexican beer (I used Bruvado because that's what I had in my fridge, but I'm certain any beer would do.  And if you want to leave the beer out, then substitute more chicken stock)
1/2 cup water
8 oz of spinach, frozen or fresh (I used frozen leaf spinach, in a bag from Wegmans, I just threw it in frozen)
more salt and pepper to taste, if necessary
shredded cheese, tortilla strips, avocado, and light sour cream for topping

Throw everything in your crockpot, except for spinach and toppings.  Cook on low for 4-5 hours or high for 7-8 hours.  Add the spinach in the last hour of cooking, or if you won't be home, add it at the beginning.  It honestly doesn't make much of a difference.

After cooking on high for 5 hours. 
Remove the chicken breasts from the crockpot and shred them (they just fall apart).  I had 3 breasts, 1.5 lbs, so I only added the meat from 2 breasts back into the pot.  I saved the extra shredded meat for a future meal (chicken tostadas...recipe to come this weekend!).  Stir to combine.  Taste to see if you need to add anymore salt or pepper. 
Serve soup by ladling about 2 cups of the soup in a bowl full of 1/4 cup of crushed tortilla chips.  Top with whatever you desire.  I just used cheese and a little more chips.  So yummy!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Holiday Cutouts

A week ago today we baked some cookies, the first time in a long time.  In honor of Valentine's day and my baby girl's 1st birthday, we made cutout heart cookies.  So yummy and way better than anything store bought (and better for you too - no preservatives and additives).  My little boy LOVES to cook, especially measuring the ingredients, so baking is a perfect activity for him. This recipe is amazing! Then again, so is Boston's Flour Bakery, where this recipe came from. Their cookbook is full of awesome, decadent treats and I've loved everything we've made from there so far.   These cookies were great at Christmas, and even better than I remember this time around.  Plus a birthday cookie is better than cake for a teething baby. :)  You can find the cookie and frosting recipe below.  It really is the perfect cookie for any holiday occasion.  Enjoy!

Happy Baking!
Holiday Cutouts
recipe from the cookbook Flour by the famous Flour Bakery in Boston.  You can find more info on the cookbook here:
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 T vanilla extract
2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or handheld mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.  (May take 10 minutes with a handheld mixer).  Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined.  Scrape the bowl and the paddle again to make sure the eggs are thoroughly incorporated. 

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt until well mixed.  On low speed, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture.  Mix just until flour is totally incorporated.  Don't over mix or the dough will become tough. 
Scrape the dough and wrap with a sheet of plastic wrap, pressing down to form an 8 inch disk (about 1 inch thick).  Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or for up to 5 days. 

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees and grease a cookie sheet or 2.  (I use Pam cooking spray.)  Lightly flour a work surface, place the dough on the surface and flour the dough.  Roll out about 1/4 inch thick.  Be sure to keep the rolling pin, work surface, and dough floured to prevent sticking.  Using a cookie cutter, cut out as many of the cookies as possible.  Gather up the scrapes, reroll, and cut out more cookies.  Do this as many times as you can.  (I actually only rolled out half the dough at a time because my work surface was small).  Bake for 11-17 minutes (depending on how large your cookie cutter is).  The cookies will be pale to light brown in the center and golden brown along the sides and bottom.  Let cook on a wire rack or wax paper for 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle.  Proceed to frosting and decorating.

cutting out hearts and a lip shape from a set my mother gave me for Valentine's Day
Be sure your cookie sheet is greased, I used Pam baking spray
Cookies after they come out of the oven.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
found at
I used only 1/2 of a recipe for these cookies.  So yummy!!! Enjoy!

So yummy!!!  A great treat for a special occasion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shrimp Farfalle with Spinach and Sundried Tomatoes

This dish tastes decadent but was made with only 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  And if you really want to go crazy, you can add 1 tablespoon of butter.  But still!  Hardly any fat for a dish that will serve 3-4 adults.  So quick and easy, you'll need to have all your ingredients ready to go as you prepare it.  It takes less than 20 minutes, and I usually start the sauce component 5 minutes before the pasta is cooking.  If you don't like shrimp, chicken can easily be substituted.  You can also make additions or substitutions for the vegetables, such as mushrooms, asparagus, and broccoli.  All would be yummy!  My kids ate some of the pasta I set aside for them along with leftover chicken and carrots.  I'm sure they would have eaten this, but I selfishly wanted to leftovers for myself. 

Happy Cooking!

Shrimp Farfalle with Spinach and Sundried Tomatoes  
1 T olive oil
1 medium to large shallot, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 9oz package of baby spinach
3/4-1 lb of large peeled and deviened shrimp (I cook about 6 shrimp per adult - you can buy these fresh or frozen, but be sure they are defrosted before adding them to the recipe)
1/2 lb of whole grain pasta, I used Barilla Plus Farfalle
1/2 - 3/4 cup pasta water
salt & pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 T butter, optional

Boil water for your pasta, adding some salt and olive oil.  Begin making your sauce 5 minutes before cooking your pasta (given a pasta with a 10 minute aldente cooking time).  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce and do not rinse the pasta.  I was able to scoop the pasta directly from the water into the finished sauce.   Be sure your pasta still has a little bite to it as it will finish cooking in the sauce.

Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an over-sized nonstick skillet.  Saute the shallots over medium heat until almost translucent.  (At this time you would cook the broccoli, mushrooms, or asparagus as well.  I did add a few leftover mushrooms I had in my fridge)

Add the garlic and saute for only 1 minute before adding the wine.  Stir to deglaze the pan.

Add the sundried tomatoes so they can soak up some of the liquid and continue to cook for about 5 minutes until some of the liquid has evaporated, like the picture below. 

Add the spinach and put the lid on the pan.  Allow the spinach to wilt for about 3-5 minutes.  Stir to incorporate into the sauce. 

Add the shrimp and place the lid on again, cooking about 5 minutes or until shrimp have turned bright pink.  Don't over cook them or they will become tough. (You can use already cooked shrimp and just add at the end to re-heat, but they don't taste as good or absorb the flavor as well.)

At this point, add in 1 tablespoon of butter if you wish.  It isn't a lot, but it does make the dish a bit creamier and richer.  Allow it to melt and stir into the sauce.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Now assuming that you've finished your sauce before the pasta is ready, keep the sauce on medium heat.  Add the hot pasta and 1/2 cup of the pasta water along with the the parmesan cheese.  Stir to combine. 

Taste and re-season with more salt and pepper if necessary.  Allow pasta to cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes and the sauce will continue to absorb and thicken.  So yummy!!!

before the sauce began to thicken up...

My serving...I couldn't wait to dig in!

And one more picture of the final product, just for good measure.  Enjoy!!!