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Apr. 22nd, 2015

5:2 Super Low-cal Ranch Dressing (11.5 caloriers per Tbsp.)

Recently two very low calorie ranch dressings popped up on my Pinterest feed, and I bookmarked them for a possible 5:2 salad idea. When I looked at them closer, I realized they were almost identical, but one used plain yogurt as a base, and the other used reduced fat cottage cheese.

The funny thing is, I rarely have plain yogurt on hand, and *never* use cottage cheese, but at that moment I happened to have both ingredients in my fridge, left over from recipes the week before!! I got embarassingly excited, grabbed a pack of ranch mix, and whipped both of them up right away. Both dressings ended up being about 11 calories per tablespoon, which is pretty amazing when compared to about 70 calories in a normal ranch dressing!!

Yogurt vs. Cottage Cheese Dressing

On the left is the yogurt based dressing, which tasted just like bottled reduced-fat ranch. I don't really consider that a good thing! (The original recipe called for Greek yogurt, but the few times I tried Greek it had a very weird aftertaste. I should probably try a different brand!) This dressing didn't look as nice in person either, and was a little transparent and off white.

On the right is the real star, the cottage cheese based dressing. Once you mix in the seasoning, you blend the cheese until nice and smooth, and you are left with a nice, creamy ranch dressing that you won't believe is 'diet'.

Lite Ranch Dressing (11.5 calories per Tbsp.)

The girl who posted the original recipe mixed her own seasonings, but complained that it tasted more like a 'dip' than a 'dressing'. I used the packaged mix on both to compare the bases, but I may try my own seasonings on a future batch. For now I just added a touch of Parmesan cheese and have been scooping up the deliciousness.

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* will vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)


Super Low-cal Ranch Dressing

16 oz. (2 cups) low-fat cottage cheese (360)
1/2 cup water, plus more if needed (0)
1 pack ranch mix (2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp., 78)
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese (76)

1) Add the cottage cheese and water to your blender (or a bowl, if using an imersion blender). Sprinkle the ranch mix and parmesan cheese over the top and blend until smooth.

2) The dressing will thicken when refrigerated, so see how it pours and add another 1-2 Tbsp. of water if needed to thin it out. You can also leave out a few tablespoons to make a thicker dip (the calories will be closer to 12 per Tbsp.).

Calories - 11.5 cal per Tbsp. (Makes 44+ Tbsp.)


Next time I'll be sharing a gigantic salad (over 3 cups!) I like to make with this dressing that is only 100 calories! This little beauty has been making diet days a breeze.

Apr. 20th, 2015

White Chicken Chili

Years ago our church was having a Chili Night, and everyone was excited that one of the ladies had brought her famous White Chicken Chili. And it was delicious! I don't really like regular chili, so I was especially thrilled with this tasty variation. Later we were in the same small group with her, and when she brought the chili one night we all begged her for a copy of the recipe. Then we tried to make it... and it was inedible!

The chicken wasn't the same, the beans weren't cooked, and it was scorchingly spicy! We figured she must change things when cooking and didn't edit the recipe (like using canned beans instead of dried). It happens! But all this time I still wished we had a good White Chicken Chili recipe, and I finally found one here. The recipe is a little vague ~ 3-6 cups of broth, 2-4 cans of beans, etc. ~ so here are the amounts I chose to use, along with a few tweaks I added along the way. This has a mild spice, just enough to tingle your tongue, but feel free to leave out some of the cayenne, or mix in more sour cream and cheese if needed. If our 4 year old son (and I) can handle it, I think you can too. ;)


White Chicken Chili

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* will vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)

1 Tbsp. olive oil (120)
1 large onion, chopped (1.5 cups, 90)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic (6 cloves, 0)

2 (4 oz.) cans diced mild green chile peppers, drained (37*)
2 tsp. ground cumin (0)
2 tsp. dried oregano (10)
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (9)
1 tsp. chili powder (8)

1 cup water (0)
1 tsp./cubes chicken bouillon (5)
3 cans great Northern beans, undrained (891*)
4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (14.5 oz. 493)

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (440*)
¼ cup sour cream (reduced fat, 80*)


1) Heat the oil in a large pot (4 or 6 quart) over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 6 minutes, or until onions are tender.

2) Add the green chili peppers, the cumin, oregano, cayenne, and chili powder. Saute 2 minutes.

3) Add in the water, chicken bouillon, beans, and chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

4) Stir in the cheese and the sour cream. Serve with extra cheese, sour cream, and Sriracha on the side. Serves 5-6.

Calories - 437 for 1/5, 364 for 1/6


Now you and your White Chicken Chili can be the star of Chili Night, haha!
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Apr. 17th, 2015

My Favorite Zumba Girls

I've been doing Zumba workouts for about three months now and try new YouTube videos each time. Along the way I've found a few favorite instructors that post a *ton* of really good videos. At this point I've worked my way through most of their workouts, and while there are always a few I don't care for, I've enjoyed the majority of them. You can find the videos I liked bookmarked here.




Refit Revolution ~ I love these girls. They were already a favorite before I realized they made the video that first got me hooked on Zumba! ("Hot Z Team") They are a Christian group and originally used Christian music, but now generally use Top 40 & other stuff (which, let's face it, is an improvement). On the plus side, you don't have to worry about nasty lyrics with them!

I usually don't like the workouts led by the blonde girl, which is often salsa or country style. I'm assuming they lead the songs they choreograph, but she doesn't lead many of them. (There are also the occasional "instructor training" videos to skip, and I usually bypass the "cool down" videos from any Zumba instructor.)




Linda Edler ~ Linda is fun and full of energy. Most of her music I have not heard before, which is a nice change. She does do a lot of salsa & merengue style workouts, which I'm not a big fan of, but I still like a lot of her stuff.

Another reason I love Linda is for one of her students, Ida. You can see her on the far right above (striped shirt), and then a year later she is leading her own videos and has dropped all of the weight. Very inspirational! ~







Ray Cohen ~ Ray has great moves, fun music, and she will totally kick your butt. Most of her videos were shot during her classes, and are off to the side and shaky at the start. Usually I'd avoid those, but she is totally worth it! On the down side, you will run into the occasional nasty song, but I guess sometimes that's the price you pay for a pumping beat. ;) (She does have the occasional complex non-Zumba dance video mixed in, so don't get scared if you come across one of those!)




Crystal Kitchens ~ Crystal is a new addition to my line-up, but quickly became another favorite. She says she likes to make up her own choreography and you'll definitely come across some new moves in her videos. Sometimes the moves switch a little too randomly, but most follow a nice pattern. Like Ray, she will kick your butt, and you are going to run into the occasional nasty song.


Have you found any Zumba girls you love? Or guys! Since I'm almost through all of their videos I would definitely love any new recommendations.

Apr. 15th, 2015

Recipe Round-up

When I try a new recipe, I usually take a picture, and I'm not really sure why! If it turns out bad or blah, I feel like I shouldn't share it here ("Hey, here's a recipe you totally shouldn't make!"). And even if it turns out good, there are almost always changes I want to make next time, which means I'll need a new picture. I figured I might as well round up a bunch of those pics and post them together, since they don't need a lot of details. At least they can serve as eye candy! A lot of these will be showing up again later, once I've worked out the kinks.


Chicken Cordon Bleu Noodle Bake

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta Bake - I increased the sauce & meat, which was a good choice, but next time I think we'll sub shredded cheese instead of sliced.


Japanese Chicken Wings & Asian Brussels Sprouts

Slow Cooker Japanese Chicken Wings - I followed her directions for cooking these on the stove, and it was OK but didn't really 'wow' us. It was a fun chance to try daikon, though! My husband really liked it.

Also in the pic, Crispy Asian Brussels Sprouts. I took these out early and they were still nearly burnt, so the timing is off, but the sauce was delicious!


Dorito Dogs

Dorito Dogs - A fun recipe I thought the kids would enjoy. And we did too! Next time I'll use half a slice of cheese, and only make about 3 (the leftovers are good, but soft).


Chinese Buffet Green Beans

Chinese Buffet Green Beans - Nice flavor, but a little too mild. I'm not sure if adding more sauce will help, but I'll try it next time!


White Spaghetti Bake, 1

White Spaghetti Bake, 2

White Spaghetti - We love Martha's Chicken Tetrazzini & aren't really looking for a replacement, but this one was pretty different. I liked her suggestion of calling this "White Spaghetti". It turned out tasty, and I'd love to remake it with thin spaghetti or even angel hair pasta for something different.


Cantonese Claypot Rice

Cantonese Claypot Chicken - Delicious! I'd like to use more rice next time around. I didn't add the salted fish or Chinese sausage, but will if I see some at the market.


Singapore Noodles

Singapore Noodles - Something I am tweaking for a diet day. It ended up being super salty because of our curry powder, so I'm going to have to find a new one.


Oyakodon

Oyakodon - Good, but we don't like this one nearly as much as the beef version, Gyudon. And we have plenty of chicken recipes already, it would really have to stand out!


Hoisin Pork Noodles

Hoisin Pork - Tasty, but knowing how high in calories pork is, I'd probably make it with chicken in the future.


African Chicken Peanut Stew

African Chicken Peanut Stew - Have you ever made a recipe, weren't very impressed by it, but a few months later you find yourself craving it? I originally thought this was too close to our Chicken Satay Noodle Soup, but with a lot more work & less flavor, but I'd like to try it again with the sweet potatoes it called for (I used regular potatoes, shame shame).

I'm still not sure if it's a good idea to take pics of recipe trials, but let's face it... I'll probably keep doing it anyway.

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Apr. 13th, 2015

Tofuniku (Sweet Meat & Tofu Over Rice)

I'm sure you're familiar with the word "tofu" already, while "niku" means "meat" in Japanese. This dish is a mix of ground meat and crumbled tofu simmered in sweet sauce and served atop rice, but you can think of it as "tofu-meat" if you want to. The tofu develops a thicker, meatier texture when frozen, so make sure to drain your tofu and pop it in the freezer ahead of time for this recipe. It mixes with the meat so well, you won't even notice it's in there, other than a little color difference (which is usually more obvious than this picture).

Unfortunately I can't find the original recipe I based this on, but I know I made a few tweaks along the way. One was the addition of minced water chestnuts, which add a wonderful subtle crunch and a nice contrast to the soft meat.

Tofuniku (Sweet meat & tofu over rice)

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* will vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)

1lb./16 oz. ground turkey (640)
14 oz. extra firm tofu, drained & frozen (372)
2 tsp. ginger, grated (2)

8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and minced (68*)
4 tsp. sugar (64)
½ cup mirin (360*, see substitution below)
¼ cup soy sauce (40)
2 green onions, sliced thin for garnish (10)


1) In a large pan, heat the frozen tofu over medium heat. When one side has warmed a little, flip it over and scrape off the top layer in small pieces, removing it into a bowl.

Tofuniku cooking, 1

Repeat until the whole block is broken up. It looks a lot like fluffy scrambled eggs!

Tofuniku cooking, 2

2) Brown the ground meat with ginger, about 3 minutes. When almost cooked through, drain any liquid, then add the tofu and the water chestnuts and mix together.

Tofuniku cooking, 3

3) Stir in the sugar, mirin, and soy sauce and cook for 5-6 minutes. To serve, fill a bowl halfway with rice, top with an equal amount of tofuniku, and garnish with green onions. I like to use about 3/4 cups of each, 1/6 of the mixture. (Makes about 4.5 cups total)

Calories - 259 for 1/6, about 3/4 cup
Served with 3/4 cups rice (150) - 409

Tofuniku (Sweet meat & tofu over rice)

Substitutions ~ I use ground turkey or ground chicken interchangeably for this recipe, just add 13 extra calories (per serving) for chicken. If you don't have mirin, you can use 1/4 cup white wine and 2 extra tablespoons of sugar. This is actually a lower calorie option, so subtract 37 calories.


This sweet meat is a hit with kids, and my (nearly) 5 year old son will beg for a bowl if he sees me eating it. I used this as a backdrop for one of his bentos, back when I made those! (My nearly 2 year old daughter currently refuses to try anything new, so she hasn't learned how good it is yet.)

Bento #4: Snow Day

This recipe is very similar to the popular "Soboro", which just uses the ground meat and sweet sauce. It is often garnished with a little scrambled egg for color, and Just One Cookbook has the prettiest arrangement I've seen yet! I love the addition of the tofu and minced water chestnuts though, so I hope you'll give this version a try.

Apr. 10th, 2015

5:2 Sausage, Lentil, & Kale Stew (207 calories)

I've been having fun making lighter versions of some of our favorite recipes. Not all of them can be knocked down to 200, but those that already run low are good candidates for diet days. This stew has about half of the calories of our normal Sausage, Lentil, & Kale Stew, but without halving the serving size.

5:2 Sausage, Lentil, & Kale Stew (207 calories)

(For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* will vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)

2.5 oz. ground sausage (250*)
1 cup onion, chopped (60)
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, broken into pieces (50)
1 cup potato, chopped (100)
4 Tbsp. tomato paste (60*)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic(0)
2 tsp. salt (0)
1 tsp. black pepper (5)
1 tsp. dried rosemary (4)
1 tsp. dried thyme (4)
5 cups water (0)
3 tsp. chicken bouillon (15)
4 cups kale, stem removed, leaves chopped (140)
1/2 cup dried lentils, green or brown (140)


1) In a large soup pot (4-6 quart), cook the sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it apart as it browns.

2) Add the onion, mushrooms, potato, tomato paste, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.

3) Add the water and bouillon, turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Add the kale and lentils and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 minutes, until lentils are tender. Serves 4.

Calories - 207 for 1/4

Apr. 8th, 2015

Chinese Jerky From Ground Pork

Last week I was going through my Pinterest looking for some old bookmarks to delete. While I managed to weed out quite a few, I also found lots of tempting things to make and ended up trying 7 new recipes!

One of those was an interesting technique for making jerky made from ground pork, called Bak Kwa. You spread the ground meat out thinly on a baking sheet and cook it at a low temperature for a while, then broil each side at the end. The results were tender, moist, and tasty! (I forgot to add the red food coloring, but don't think it really suffered.)

Chinese Jerky From Ground Pork

The finished jerky smelled and tasted great, but the combination of fish sauce and sake in the marinade was rank enough to make us wonder if the meat had gone bad! Next time I'll definitely leave those out and try for something closer to teriyaki. I'd also like to see how it turns out with ground turkey or chicken since they are about half the calories of pork!

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Apr. 6th, 2015

Freezing Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is one of those ingredients that most of my recipes only require a few tablespoons of. Even if I buy the tiniest can, I end up with way more than I need, and in the past I had to throw it out on many occasions. Luckily I realized that you can freeze tomato paste, and now I always keep a batch in my freezer in nice tablespoon sized servings.

It's super simple! To do this, first measure out tablespoons of the paste onto a plate or pan, and freeze until hard.

Freezing Tomato Paste, 1

The balls don't freeze rock hard though, so you'll want to wrap them individually rather than tossing them all in a bag together or it will get messy. Cut some small squares of plastic wrap or Press & Seal and wrap up the balls. You can store them together in a ziplock or tupperware.

(The first time I made these, I tried wrapping the balls and *then* freezing them, but the paste froze all in the creases of the wrap & it made it very hard to open them. Definitely freeze first!)

Freezing Tomato Paste, 2

When it is time to cook, I just pull one straight from the freezer, unwrap, and plop it in the soup/sauce/whatever. No need to thaw or measure!

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Apr. 3rd, 2015

Turkey Bacon Egg Boats (95 calories)

A while back I had a pack of turkey bacon to use up & wanted to try making egg boats with them in the muffin tin. (I have a weakness for food made in muffin tins!) I found a lot of recipes using regular bacon, but I wasn't sure if the times & temperatures would be the same. After a while I stumbled on some cooking directions here. They turned out so tasty, and low-cal too!

Turkey Bacon Egg Boats (95 calories), plate

For each boat you will need ~

1 large egg (70)
1 slice of turkey bacon (25-35 calories)
Dash of salt & pepper (0)

1) Preheat oven to 350. Overlap the ends of a slice of turkey bacon and place in muffin tin, flat edge down.

2) Fill the center of the bacon with the egg and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake for 17 minutes (or 15-16 minutes if you are planning on reheating them later).

Turkey Bacon Egg Boats (95 calories), pan


Tips -
  • Anything with egg can be a pain to clean from the pan, so you may want to spray or rub a little oil in the bottom first (it might add 5 calories).
  • The bacon does not crisp up in this recipe & is more like a slice of ham. If you like a crispier bacon, try cooking it in a frypan before adding it.

    These egg boats are super quick to make, and just as simple to make for 1 person or a large crowd. You can play around with toppings like cheese and green onions, and they are easy to customize for picky eaters. You could also beat the egg first and try adding in some veggies & potatoes! Though some days, simple is best. :)

  • Mar. 30th, 2015

    5:2 Scottish Stew (201 calories)

    A few weeks ago I attempted to make a 200 calorie stew roughly based on Lavender & Lovage's Highland Stew. I didn't have any barley at the time, so I really upped the lentil amount and the whole thing ended up a pile of brown-gray mush. Tasty mush, but it did not look very appetizing!

    So I went back to her recipe and worked a lot closer to it this time, mostly just changing the weight amounts to cup measurements. And we ended up with a delicious and colorful dish! Next time I will probably switch to red lentils so the cooking time isn't as long, and regular barley (if I can find it!), but in the meantime I wanted to share the current recipe.

    5:2 Scottish Stew (201 calories)

    (For those of you counting calories, I've added the amount for each ingredient so you can easily make tweaks without having to re-calculate everything. Anything marked with an asterisk* will vary a lot based on what you buy, so make sure to compare your label.)

    4 cups water (0)
    2 cups potato, small cubes (200)
    1 cup diced onion (60)
    1 cup carrots, chopped (52)
    1 cup celery, thinly sliced (20)
    1 Tbsp. minced garlic (0)
    1 Tbsp./3 cubes chicken bouillon (20)

    1/3 cup dried green or brown lentils (93)
    1/3 cup quick cooking barley (160)
    4 oz. turkey kielbasa (200*)
    1/2 tsp. salt (0)


    1) In a large pot, add the water, potato, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and bouillon. Bring to a boil over high heat.

    2) Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the lentils. Simmer 45 minutes.

    3) Stir in the barley and kielbasa and cook for 15 minutes. Serves 4.

    Calories - 201 for 1/4

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